Category Archives: Reviews

21st Century Socialism on the Move – Reflections on ‘The Path to Human Development’

By Ivan Drury. Within an otherwise bleak reality of capitalist crisis, Mike Lebowitz has provided us with an eloquent restatement of the case for socialism – The Path to Human Development: Capitalism or Socialism? This short text is now circulating widely in Venezuela, in Spanish, as a pocket-sized pamphlet, has been published in Monthly Review, and is about to be published in Canada in pamphlet format by Socialist Project. Continue reading

Taking Stock of the Bolivarian Revolution: Changing Venezuela by Taking Power

By Derrick O’Keefe. Gregory Wilpert has pulled off a triumph on two fronts with his new book on the Bolivarian Revolution, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso, 2007). Most obviously, Wilpert’s book — in both its scope and (sometimes almost maddening) objectivity — is the most detailed and credible analysis yet published of the Venezuelan revolution, which itself represents, arguably, the single most significant challenge today to the hegemony of global capitalism. Continue reading

Review: Latin America at the Crossroads

Cuban Communist Makes the Case for International Revolution

By John Riddell

Roberto Regalado. Latin America at the Crossroads. Translation by Peter Gellert. Ocean Press (www.oceanbooks.com.au), 2007, US$17.95; América latina entre siglos. Ocean Press, 2007, US$17.95.

This compact book by Roberto Regalado, a veteran member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, strongly reaffirms the need for revolution in Latin America and beyond.

Regalado, a section chief in the Cuban CP’s Department of International Relations, is anything but dogmatic. He is attentive to recent new trends in Latin American economics and politics and respectful toward the diverse currents of socialist opinion. He stresses the importance of the new features of Latin American social struggles: the role of peasants, the landless, indigenous peoples, women, environmentalists, and others.

But his careful and unpretentious analysis leads toward a striking conclusion: only a revolutionary seizure of political power by the masses can open the road to social progress south of the Rio Bravo and even within the imperialist countries.

Advent of neoliberalism

In just 232 pages Regalado provides a handbook of Marxist politics, outlining Marxism’s basic anticapitalist premise and examining closely the evolution of revolutionary and reformist schools of thought through the twentieth century.

The dominant trend shaping the present situation, he argues, is the advent of “neoliberalism”—a concerted capitalist offensive aimed at sweeping away the gains made by working people during the last century and at deepening the subjugation of Third World countries.

Neoliberalism has entailed increased government intervention to increase capitalist profits, which, as Regalado points out, is a symptom of the system’s crisis. Yet ironically, its advent led social democratic parties in imperialist countries to reaffirm that there is no alternative to accepting capitalist rule.

At their best, Regalado says, these parties aimed to rally support for neoliberalism’s harsh measures in return for their more gradual implementation. “After having wagered everything on the welfare state,” he adds, “the bankruptcy of that ideological construction today places … [social democracy] in the public pillory.” Unwilling to consider a perspective of superseding capitalism, its only course is total surrender.

As a result, the outcome of the great reformist experiment in imperialist countries is that “it was not social democracy that reformed capitalism, but capitalism that reformed social democracy.”

Regalado argues that an anticapitalist strategy is urgent not only in the most oppressed nations but also in the richest and most privileged. Echoing a theme often voiced by Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, he sums up his case:

“Rosa Luxemburg posed the problem in terms of ‘socialism or barbarism.’ Slightly more than seven decades after Luxemburg’s death, barbarism threatens humanity’s very existence.”

Collapse of the Soviet bloc

In Regalado’s view, the conditions governing working people’s response to neoliberalism were greatly worsened by the collapse of the Soviet Union and allied Eastern European regimes during 1989-91, which led to a “strengthening of imperialist power, interference, and intervention on a world scale, and the erosion of the credibility of the ideas of revolution and socialism.”

Without attempting a full analysis, Regalado notes two factors that led to the collapse:

  • On the economic front, he quotes Panamanian theorist Nils Castro’s comment that “Stalinist rigidity” led to placing “the priorities of bureaucratic political control and the perpetuation of the regime” above “those of the scientific and technical revolution,” to the point where Soviet productive relations “wound up becoming obstacles” to the development of productive forces.
  • Politically, Regalado notes that “the Soviet Union was not able to combine centralism with democracy.” The ruling party and state “never managed to trust … workers and peasants enough to allow them to exercise the democratic rights that Marx, Engels, and Lenin dreamt for them.” Instead, “the perpetuation of power became the objective” of the ruling elite.

To this forceful analysis should be added the fact that the Stalinist elite pursued power not merely for its own sake but to protect massive economic privileges, frequently placing its narrow interests above those of world socialism.

Regalado notes that “socialist states” in Eastern Europe and Asia and also in Cuba followed “the general criteria of organization and the political and economic functioning of the Soviet Union, without questioning at the time” the so-called “Soviet model.”

This is clearly significant with regard to Cuba’s future path. Stalinist distortions in Cuba have received much discussion on the island. Yet with regard to the Cuban experience, Regalado is too modest. It is important to note the ways in which Cuba is fundamentally different from the other post-capitalist states that Regalado refers to.

Despite a couple of attempts, no privileged bureaucracy conquered Cuba’s Communist Party and government. Cuba’s internationalist perspective, as this book itself testifies, remained firmly oriented to the needs of worldwide liberation. And the Cuban masses have never been repressed and excluded from the exercise of power in the way that they were in the Soviet Union and under other Stalinist regimes.

Latin America thrown into turmoil

The second and longer part of Latin America at the Crossroads takes a close look at the region’s evolution during the last few decades. It briefly outlines the history and character of Latin American society since the conquest and provides an effective survey of major events of recent decades.

Regalado’s long involvement with the region’s politics enables him to provide striking portraits of significant turning points. Notable is his description of the fall of the FSLN government in Nicaragua in 1990. Sandinista errors and weakening Soviet support played a role, he says, but the decisive factor was the implacable U.S. war against the regime.

This forced the Sandinistas into a compromise peace that obliged them to “continue taking steps that weakened the foundations of revolutionary power.” In this context, the 1990 vote lost by the FSLN was a rigged election in which “it faced a certain defeat, although this was not foreseen by the Sandinista leadership.”

Regalado also notes the “violations of sovereignty, independence, and self-determination” represented by the forced removal of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 by U.S. – and, we must add, Canadian – troops and the subsequent fraud, perpetrated with Canada/U.S. support, in an unsuccessful attempt to deny victory to René Préval in the 2006 presidential elections. He criticizes the Latin American governments that are participating in the Haiti occupation for complicity in these crimes.

Neoliberalism’s devastating impact

Following the victory of the Cuban revolution, Regalado states, Latin America witnessed a wave of mass anti-capitalist struggles that placed imperialist rule in question in several countries. During the 1970s and 1980s, however, imperialism was largely successful, through direct intervention and through sponsoring brutal dictatorships, in quelling this wave of struggle.

“Once the ‘pacification’ of Latin America was accomplished and the subordination of the bourgeoisies of the subcontinent reaffirmed, the phase of institutionalizing the new system of continental domination by U.S. imperialism began,” he writes.

The three pillars of this new model, he explains, were affirmation of the forms of representative democracy, establishment of “free trade,” and an increase in direct U.S. military presence and control across the region. Foreign debt was utilized as the initial tool to break resistance by Latin American governments; they were then herded into hemispheric covenants which provided steadily increasing scope for U.S.-sponsored intervention in national politics.

As the U.S.-sponsored coup in 1990 against Haiti’s democratically elected president showed, the new order’s respect for “democracy” applies only to governments that play by Washington’s rules. Moreover, national elections are swayed by arrogant interventions by U.S. government agencies.

Traditionally, capitalist rule and exploitation in Latin America rested on a “system of social and political alliances,” which continued even during periods of dictatorship, Regalado says. During the decades since 1970, however, a “transnational concentration of wealth and political power has been imposed on the region.”

This evolution has “destroyed not only the social and political alliances” on which class rule had previously been based, but destroyed also “the economic and social matrix that would have permitted [this rule] to be restabilized,” Regalado says. This helps explain “why political, economic, and social crisis exploded everywhere in Latin America in the transition from the 20th to the 21st centuries.”

Toward conquest of political power

Despite major gains by popular movements, however, Regalado emphasizes that imperialist domination is still firmly entrenched in Latin America. Even where powerful popular upsurges have taken place, left parties lose far more elections than they win. Victory has come, he states, where the left has accumulated political capital over time and built unified, rooted movements. And even so, left victories in Brazil and Uruguay were insufficient to “endanger the institutional equilibrium.”

“Only in the elections of Chávez and Evo Morales was there a direct link between the weakness of the institutional political system, the rise in the social movements, and a popular political force taking office, in circumstances in which it was possible to break, at least in part, with the restrictions imposed by the model of domination.”

(Regalado’s book went to press too early for him to analyze recent victories of popular forces in Ecuador and Nicaragua.)

Regalado concludes with a ringing reaffirmation of the need for revolution:

“History shows that the reform of capitalism in progressive fashion is viable only in those places and at those moments when it was compatible with the process of capital accumulation. This compatibility does not exist today, either in Latin America or in any other region of the world….

“Sooner or later, the popular content and capitalist ‘packaging’ of the political processes developed by the Latin American left today will lead to an untenable contradiction, because only a revolutionary social transformation, however it may be accomplished in the 21st century, will resolve the problems of Latin America.”

Regalado acknowledges the importance of attempts to redefine the concept of socialism through criticism of the “Soviet model.” He also underlines the importance of socialist democracy, which he defines in terms calling to mind the strengths of revolutionary Cuba:

“A political system … based on mechanisms of popular participation and representation capable of establishing a consensus that guarantees unity of thought and action on the key points of socialist construction and of mutually reinforcing this unity through the free and constructive flow of all ideas and proposals that reflect the diverse interests of the sectors of society for whose benefit such an effort is being undertaken.”

And this, Regalado specifies, requires nothing less than “the seizure of political power” under conditions where “those holding power in the world will cling to it to the very end.”

The Spanish edition of Latin America at the Crossroads, updated from the English version, is being widely read and studied across Latin America. The book thus typifies the way in which Cuba’s example and ideas have served to introduce socialism to a new generation of fighters across the region. This is in itself an excellent reason for socialists and social activists in English-speaking countries to study it closely.

Review: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President

Randall Robinson. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President
Basic Civitas. 280 pages.

Reviewed by Roger Annis

Randall Robinson has written the story of a great tragedy of recent times–the violent overthrow of Haiti’s elected president and government on February 29, 2004. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President gives a blow by blow account of the events surrounding that tragedy.

The author brings impressive credentials to the task. He helped to found the Trans Africa Forum, one of the most established human rights and social justice advocacy organizations in the U.S., dedicated to improving the lot of people of African descent. The Forum has long fought for a fair and respectful U.S. economic and political relationship with Haiti. His work gave him an enduring respect for the ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and his wife Mildred.

Robinson writes with an unapologetic passion for the Haitian people’s historic fight against slavery and colonialism. He situates the tragic events of 2004 on the broader canvas of the racism and imperial arrogance that has dominated the policies of the world’s big powers towards Haiti, particularly those of the U.S. and France.

Why is Haiti so poor, the uninformed observer will ask. Surely, after 200 years of nominal independence the country could do better?

“As punishment for creating the first free republic in the Americas (when thirteen percent of the people living in the United States were slaves),” Robinson replies, “The new Republic of Haiti was met with a global economic embargo imposed by the United States and Europe.”

“The Haitian economy has never recovered from the havoc France (and America) wreaked upon it, during and after slavery.”

Robinson is not trying to write a comprehensive history of Haiti. (Paul Farmer’s The Uses of Haiti fits that bill admirably.) He does, however, provide enough historical background to explain the present-day.

The author rushes the reader back and forth in time and place in an effort to recreate the drama and tragedy of February 2004. “It was Friday, February 27, 2004,” he opens one chapter, “the evening before the last day of Haitian democracy.”

The stage for the overthrow of February 29, 2004 was set in the national election in the year 2000. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president for a second time. The U.S., France and Canada, the three contemporary overseers of Haiti, threw up their hands in exasperation over the electorate’s choice of a man and a political movement dedicated to lifting the burden of their crushing poverty.

Aristide promised improvements to the lot of the desperately poor Haitian majority, and he was a man of his word. The big powers would have none of it. They began an embargo of aid funds to the government, directing funds instead to parallel services operated by “non-governmental” or charitable organizations. Soon they would also block the government’s requests to international financial institutions for loans to finance ambitious education and health care projects

More ominously, money and arms flowed to paramilitary forces sponsored by the venal Haitian elite and drawn from the disbanded Haitian army or purged Haitian National Police. The paramilitaries were safely lodged in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Robinson captures the gravity and drama of the periodic assaults they launched against the institutions of the Haitian government following the 2000 election.

When the paramilitaries launched what became a final incursion in early 2004, they were a small force, no more than 200. They were feared and hated by the majority of the Haitian people. By virtue of an overwhelming superiority of arms, they were able to wreck government rule in cities in the north of the country. But they didn’t have a chance of taking the capital city. That task fell to their international sponsors, and this was done on February 28-29. The U.S., France, Canada and Chile landed troops at strategic locations in the country.

The Aristides were taken by U.S military forces to one of the most isolated countries in the world, the Central African Republic. An Unbroken Agony kicks into high gear as the author tells the story of the delegation he led on a harrowing flight to the Central African Republic on March 14 to rescue them from a quasi-imprisonment. The delegation included U.S. congresswoman Maxine Walters. It had no idea of the reception it would receive from the country’s ruler, François Bozize, a client of French imperialism. After many tense hours, Bozize gave permission to the delegation to leave, its mission accomplished. The Aristides were granted political exile in South Africa, where they remain to this day.

One of the myths perpetrated by supporters of the foreign intervention in Haiti is that Jean-Bertrand Aristide was prepared to leave the presidency and the country in the face of the mounting political pressure against him. The Aristides accepted a U.S. offer to whisk them out of the country, so the story goes. Robinson presents extensive documentation to dispel the myth.

An Unbroken Agony prompted many questions in the mind of this reader. How did the paramilitaries achieve such a devastating impact? The Haitians who overthrew Haitian democracy in February 2004 were a tiny force—their principal leader, Guy Philippe, received less than two percent of the vote in the 2006 presidential election. Were there more decisive steps that the Aristide government could have taken to defend the country and minimize the havoc they caused following the 200 election?

And what has become of Latin American solidarity? Robinson describes the selfless measures of the early 19th century Haitian revolutionaries to aid the independence struggle of the South American peoples led by Simón Bolivar. Today, the majority of the 7,100 foot soldiers of the post-2004 UN-sponsored occupation force in Haiti are drawn from the countries of Latin America, with Brazil — whose president is the leader of the governing “Workers Party” — in the lead. The UN force is responsible for innumerable killings and jailings of pro-democracy fighters following February 2004. Thankfully, substantial aid and solidarity to Haiti from Venezuela and Cuba keeps the banner of Simón Bolivar flying high in Haiti.

Haiti is living an unprecedented economic and social calamity as a consequence of the coup d’etat of 2004. The violent overthrow of its government received little attention or concern from democratic opinion in the world. A shameful silence still reigns.

Roger Annis travelled to Haiti from August 5 to 20 as a participant in a human rights investigative delegation. He can be reached at rogerannis@hotmail.com. You can read his reports from Haiti at www.thac.ca/blog/9.

Review: Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century

Michael A. Lebowitz. Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press. 127 pages

Reviewed by Paul Kellogg

One of the political highlights of summer, 2007 in Toronto, was the visit to the city by author Michael Lebowitz. His packed out talk introduced a Toronto audience not just to recent developments in the revolutionary process underway in Venezuela, but to the rethinking of socialism accompanying that process. For those who missed his talk, Monthly Review has done us the favour of putting out an inexpensive paperback with some of Lebowitz’ writings on the subject.

Begin not with Venezuela, but with socialism. For more than two generations, socialist activists have had a problem. The two great models of socialism on offer – Russia’s state-ownership combined with political totalitarianism, and the West’s social democracy, which accepted parliamentary democracy, but was only two willing to compromise with capitalism – these two models had left millions disillusioned.

Lebowitz frames his whole argument in a rejection of those polarities.

“Socialism … could never be delivered to people from above. It is the work of the working class itself, Marx argued. … Only by rejecting hierarchy and converting the state ‘from an organ standing above society into one completely subordinate to it’ could the state be that of ‘the popular masses themselves, forming their own force instead of the organized force of their suppression.’ Only that ‘self-government of the producers’ could be the form of state by which people emancipate themselves and create the basis for a socialist society.”

Simply for the restatement of this profoundly radical vision of socialism from below, this book would be worth the purchase.

But Lebowitz’ point is not to simply reclaim socialism in the abstract. He points to the concrete struggles unfolding in Venezuela as offering at least the possibility of operationalizing this stirring vision.

In this, while respecting the role of president Hugo Chávez, he does not see him as the chief actor. In fact, Lebowitz argues, after the failed coup attempt against him in April 2002.

“[T]he crushing of the April coup did not put the sword in the hand of the Bolivarian Revolution. On the contrary, Chávez – uncertain of how deep his support was, especially within the military – proceeded very cautiously. … Capital retained all its positions of power.”

The key event, according to Lebowitz, was the mass response to the bosses’ strike which followed the coup. There were “months of daily struggle, and this battle was won by the masses, who were prepared to struggle to support what they saw as their government and who transformed themselves in the course of transforming circumstances.

“The slaveholders’ revolt had put the sword in the hands of the masses. And, this time the government responded without any efforts at conciliation.”

It is after this assertion of the power of the masses, that Chávez began taking money from the oil companies in a big way, and ploughed it back into education and health, “the basic prerequisites of human development” in Lebowitz’s words.

“Barrio Adentro, the program bringing Cuban doctors into the poorest neighbourhoods, began in April 2003 … Mission Robinson, the basic literacy program, began in July … And mission Mercal, building upon the government distribution of food during the general lockout, was established in early 2004, bringing significantly subsidized food to the poor.”

Lebowitz documents how this process radicalized the thinking of Chávez.

” ‘We have to reinvent socialism,’ Chávez declared in his closing speech aat the 2005 World social Forum … ‘It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition. … [W]e cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union.”

This thinking, Lebowitz argues, “was a logical continuation of a path that began with the rejection of imperialism, neoliberalism, and the logic of capital.”

Buy this book. There are, of course, some things that require further discussion.

Lebowitz, for instance, believes that the Caracazo, the great uprising in 1989 “ultimately signified very little.” It is not clear why he says this as later he argues that one of the lasting effects of this rebellion “was the military revolt of 1992 that its brutal suppression stimulated.”

This is not a quibble. The great strength of Lebowitz’ book is the way it puts the action of the masses at the centre of politics. To not give adequate weight to the accomplishments of one of these mass actions, is a worry.

More generally, we need an ounce of caution to attach to the wonderful renovation of socialism coming out of Venezuela.

Venezuela is a terribly poor country. The barriers it faces between an economy crushed by imperialism and a “society of associated producers where each individual is able to develop his full potential” – these barriers are staggering.

We need to support Venezuela in its assertion of sovereignty and independence from imperialism whether or not the masses of that country are able to make a breakthrough towards socialism.

Lenin, Trotsky and the Russian socialists, 90 years ago, knew that in their very poor country they could begin a socialist transformation. But they also knew, and were proven tragically correct, that without solidarity – and revolution – in the rich countries, their socialist breakthrough could not last.

Canada is one of the rich countries. We need to build now the poltiical traditions capable of forging the solidarity that revolutionary movements in the Global South will require.

Lebowitz has offered us a very useful weapon in that struggle.

Buy it now.

A shorter version of this review was published in Socialist Worker (Canada)

Review: A People’s History Of Science

Clifford D. Conner: A People’s History Of Science: Miners, Midwives, and “Low Mechanicks. Nation Books, New York. 544 Pages.

reviewed by James Haywood

“The scholars’ role will receive less attention here because traditional histories of science have done a more-than-adequate job of explicating it; the purpose of a people’s history of science is to direct the spotlight toward the generally under-appreciated artisans, for a change.” (p281)

Clifford Conner reclaims science for the working people. Chapter by chapter he analyzes and refutes myths, lies and distortions about science. From ancient nomads in Asia to clock makers in 16th Century Europe, Conner describes the role of working people as true creators and advancers of science, and demonstrates that the so-called “Great Men” and thinkers of science, so acclaimed in bourgeois circles, built on the empirical work of artisans, sailors and simple peasants.

Conner was a member of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, and was heavily involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. A strong trade unionist with a long list of jobs from all different industries, in fact on his website he admits, “career stability was not my strong suit.” He has since retired from formal employment and writes about history full-time.

Throughout the book, accepted theories and assumptions about great scientific advances are dismantled and exposed. For example, the racist theory of the “Greek Miracle” of the sixth Century B.C.E. is looked at in detail, and the likes of Plato and Aristotle are exposed as scientific reactionaries whose approach to nature was thoroughly anti-materialist.

Similarly chapters on the “Scientific Revolution” expose the ways in which sexist male scientific elites suppressed the work of ‘old women’ apothecaries, whose medical practices were vastly superior to their own.

Conner argues that the “Great Men of Science” owed most, if not all, their fame and theories to ordinary workers, artisans and farmers whose constant use of nature in their work that created the understanding of the environment, seas, forces, chemicals and space that created what we today consider as science. Some of the famed ‘Great Men’ borrowed this knowledge and created great formulae and theorems, others out-and-out robbed workers and artisans of their creations. But Conner also pays homage to the many inventor artisans whom are lost in history due to their illiteracy and/or the snobbishness of literate scholars.

The book’s strength is undoubtedly rooted in an enormous amount of research. There are pages of footnotes and references for every chapter. One need only look at the 25-odd pages of the bibliography to understand the extent of the work that Connor has put into this book.

But another great strength of this book is that, in the last few chapters, it moves from being a well researched history of science into a handbook that workers and Marxists can use to understand the world around them.

Conner shows that science will not by itself solve problems imminent in the capitalist system such as poverty and starvation. He points to the “Green Revolution” as a major example of this in practice. Between 1970-1990, “…while per capita food supplies rose almost 8 percent, the number of hungry people also went up, by 19 percent…..[It was not] increased population that made for more hungry people. The total food available per person actually increased.”

I recommend this book to all those who wish to advance the interests of the working class. It does more than correct history. Conner eloquently shows that, as Goethe wrote, “in the beginning was the deed.” It is the act of doing, of action, that creates and tests theories and ideas. The many (mainly women) herbalists in small ‘backward’ tribes who knew more cures for illnesses than the ‘advanced’ colonialists did not necessarily know more theory than the European elites, but by their actions they were creating real science.

For me personally, A People’s History of Science confirms that Marxism is also a science, that you can have the best theory in the world, but revolution is an act, not a formula. As Che Guevara said, “To be a revolutionary doctor… there must first be a revolution.”

Review: Build It Now

Michael A. Lebowitz. Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press. New York, 2006. 127 pages

Reviewed by James Haywood

This book consists of several talks and essays written by Michael Lebowitz during 2004 and 2005, years in which he participated first-hand in the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. Since its release, his new book has had a significant impact in Venezuela, and was recently featured by President Hugo Chavez in his regular television show “Alo Presidente!”

Lebowitz’s book aims to flesh out the concept of 21st Century socialism – made famous by Chavez and the Bolivarians –counterposing it to both Stalinism and social democracy.

This book should have a place in every socialist’s collection. It relates basic conceptions of Marxism to the Venezuelan process today. However, a failure to look at the experience of Soviet Russia in Lenin’s time and the Cuban revolution make this book, at times, somewhat abstract.

Marxism is a political act

The book starts with an outstanding introduction to basic Marxist theory. Lebowitz stresses that Marx “wrote Capital as a political act, as part of his revolutionary project.” (page 29) In other words Marxism does not view the world through a set agenda of formulas. Marxism is about using and developing theories in response to reality.

Lebowitz goes on to explore the main ideologies justifying capitalism, specifically neoclassical economics and theories associated with the British economist J.M. Keynes. His discussion of Keynesianism is of greater interest because of its influence in the workers’ movement. In brief, its basic concept is that “workers could gain without capital losing.” (page 35) Both approaches are essentially alike, Lebowitz says: they propose different mechanisms for the government to “support capital’s requirements” in order to “make capital happy to invest.” (page 37) The labour movement needs a true alternative, Lebowitz says, based on stimulating “the solidarity that comes from an emphasis upon the interests of the community rather than self-interest.” (page 42)

Lebowitz convincingly describes how such a policy, carried out by a government with mass support, could create “non-capitalist sectors” in the economy (e.g. state-run enterprises) which could defend such a government against a “capital strike” by the bosses — a clear reference to the Venezuelan experience.

In Lebowitz’s view, Third World countries like Venezuela can achieve “endogenous development” — which serves the interests of the population, not imperialism — “but only if a government is prepared to break ideologically and politically with capital, only if it is prepared to make social movements actors in the realization of an economic theory based upon the concept of human capacities.” (page 42)

Alternatives?

Lebowitz claims that the biggest obstacle to socialism is “TINA” (There Is No Alternative), i.e. the idea pounded into the mentality of workers and exploited in Latin America is there is nothing worth fighting for. But surely Cuba is on their doorstep as a living example? Unfortunately there is no mention of Cuba at all.

Lebowitz does well to refute the anti-statist conception that all governments are necessarily repressive, using Venezuela as an example.

He also attacks the Stalinist model, represented above all by the Soviet Union. Interestingly, rather than attack the undemocratic political system, he criticizes the Soviet Union from a different angle:

“The Soviet Union took the form of immense factories, mills and collective farms.… We must acknowledge that small enterprises may both permit greater democratic control from below (thus developing the capacities of the producers) and might better preserve an environment that can serve the needs of the people.” (page 71-72)

More fundamentally, he warns, “socialism cannot be achieved from above through the efforts and tutelage of a vanguard that seizes all initiatives and distrusts the self-development of the masses.” (page 72) Surely this bold statement is aimed against not only Stalinism but elements within Chavez’s own movement who consider themselves above and beyond the masses.

The Yugoslav Experience

Another section of the book, entitled “Seven Difficult Questions,” poses tasks for the Venezuelan movement for workers’ control by discussing the Yugoslav experience of “self-management.” Lebowitz provides detailed information on an experience not often discussed within the left, taking up problems such as factory competition, managerial responsibilities, and the politicization of workers.

Among his fresh and challenging questions: “What responsibility do workers in self-managed enterprises have for the unemployed and the excluded? Who is responsible for creating jobs?” (page 79)

Still, he appears to evade the central problem: Yugoslavia was ruled by a privileged bureaucracy, in the Stalinist mode, which depoliticized its working class.

Lebowitz does well to point to the fact that self-management in and of itself is not socialist. The final question, which takes this up, is called, “How can solidarity between worker-managed enterprises and society as a whole be incorporated directly into those enterprises?” (page 83) Small worker-managed factories can and have existed under capitalism, he points out. What makes the character of this socialist is how production is intertwined with the needs of society: is the enterprise running to make a profit or as part of a planned economy to meet people’s needs?

In Yugoslavia, he says, the “focus was on self-interest rather than the interests of the working class as a whole.” (page 84)

Venezuela Today

Lebowitz’s book comes alive when he takes up the Venezuelan revolution today. He provides a brief but effective account of how the Bolivarian movement led by Hugo Chávez evolved – from his early days in power as a champion of a capitalist “third way,” through the right-wing lock-out and coup attempts, where he saw the power of independent mobilizations by working people.

The insights are fresh and compelling, reflecting Lebowitz’s experience as a socialist living in Venezuela, deeply imbedded in its revolutionary process.

He stresses that “the traditional organized working class [has been] less of an actor in this revolution” than the poor in the neighbourhoods. (page 102) But this changed — to some extent — after the lockout and the formation of a militant union federation (the UNT). Examples are given of workers taking over abandoned or capital-starved factories and managing the workplaces themselves.

Lebowitz warns that “there is nothing inevitable about whether the Bolivarian Revolution will succeed in building that new society or whether it will lapse into a new variety of capitalism with populist characteristics. Only struggle will determine this.” (page 116)

And the greatest barrier in this struggle comes, he says, from “people wearing the red shirt who are opposed to the revolution.” The greatest threat comes “from within the Bolivarian Revolution itself.” (page 115)

Lebowitz also argues that “the Bolivarian Revolution has also put Marxism back on the agenda.” This is certainly true, but the book would have been strengthened by considering the relationship of the Venezuelan movement to Cuba, which boldly put Marxism on the agenda 46 years ago. This relationship has found expression both on the plane of ideas and materially, through the tens of thousands of Cuban medical and other experts serving in Venezuela.

The book closes by touching on Che Guevara, For Che recognized “that it is necessary to act vigorously to eliminate the categories of the old society, particularly the lever of material interest, and to build the new human being.” Lebowitz says that “Che’s Marxism is embodied in the Bolivarian revolution.” (pages 117-18)

Lebowitz’s book is far from clear on how this is to be done. Paraphrasing Marx, he says “the idea of human society is sufficient to defeat the idea of barbarism.” (page 52) and calls for “governments who “reject the logic of capital.” He avoids reflection on previous revolutionary experiences in Russia, Cuba, and elsewhere. If this sounds a bit vague, it may reflect the evolution of the Venezuelan process itself. Recent speeches by Chávez have been more specific on the need to build a new state apparatus based on the masses (see Socialist Voice #108)

But the book has an overriding merit. It explains why we are fighting capitalism. Do we just want an end to war and better wages? Lebowitz argues that our goal is nothing less than the full development of human potential, something capitalism just cannot achieve. Lebowitz’s socialism is one that rejects social democracy and Stalinism; it is a socialism based on workers’ democracy. The task now is to build parties and movements that can make this idea a reality.

Review: Holding the Bully’s Coat

Linda McQuaig. Holding the Bully’s Coat. Doubleday Canada, Toronto. 2007. 304 pages

Reviewed by Yves Engler

Linda McQuaig’s new book Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the US Empire is far better than most on the subject of Canadian foreign policy. Unfortunately, that is damning with faint praise indeed.

For much of the past year I have been doing research for a new book about the history of Canadian foreign policy from an internationalist, working class perspective. What I have learned, quite frankly, has shocked me. That a writer as good as [Linda] McQuaig can avoid so much that has been wrong with Canadian foreign policy was almost as surprising.

The problem is nationalism.

Like much of the nationalist left, McQuaig fails to discuss the destructive nature of Canadian capital around the world. Instead it’s [as] if all the bad things Canadian companies do are the fault of the USA. But, it is clear, with the aid of Canadian diplomacy, Canadian corporate interests, past and present, have preyed on communities around the world, acting in exactly the same fashion as better known U.S. companies.

In the environmentally devastating mining sector alone, there are currently more than a thousand Canadian companies working abroad.

In Guatemala, Canadian-owned nickel company Skye Resources has spurred the forcible eviction of Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities. All the while the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala tries to discredit opposition to the mine. In Ecuador, Canadian-owned Ascendant Copper Corporation hired paramilitary forces to attack community opposition to its mine (see the June 2007 issue of Z Magazine for an in depth article on the topic). Similarly, Barrick Gold continues the development of the Pasuca Lama mine project in Chile despite thousands of protestors.

Historically, Caribbean nationalists have long opposed the considerable presence of Canadian banks in the region. With financial operations across the Americas, Canadian banks are demanding the inclusion of NAFTA’s Chapter 11-style accords in the trade agreements Canada continues to push in Central America and the Caribbean.

McQuaig, an anti-American Canadian nationalist, lauds former Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson in Holding the Bully’s Coat. Ironically, Pearson did as much as any politician to move Canada in the direction of the US empire (and away from the British empire). Pearson’s strong support for Israel’s founding can be partially explained by his pro-US sentiment. It is important to remember that Pearson won the 1963 election at least in part by denouncing Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker’s refusal to station US nuclear missiles on Canadian soil. After he won the election, the missiles came to Canada.

McQuaig’s reverance for Pearson emanates from his role as “founder” of UN peacekeeping during his time as Canada’s foreign minister. After Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt in 1956, Canada helped establish a UN peacekeeping force to smooth over hostilities. Supporters of Canadian “peacekeeping” usually overlook the fact that Canada supported the UN mission to Egypt at the behest of the US government, which opposed the British, French and Israeli invasion (even threatening to cut off Britain’s much needed IMF funding in opposition to the offensive). Although he had sided with the Americans, Pearson sought to help Britain and France “save face.” Canadian peacekeepers were initially rejected and ultimately expelled from Egypt under accusations of imperialism from President Gamal Nasser.

McQuaig (and much of the Canadian left) fail to discuss why Canada initiated peacekeeping missions. Most often, peacekeeping was Canada’s contribution to the Cold War. As right-wing historian, Sean Maloney, in Canada and UN
Peacekeeping: Cold War by Other Means – 1945-1970
asserts, “during the Cold War, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, all permanent members of the Security Council, remained aloof in several difficult circumstances as a sort of plausible deniability. Canada was the West’s champion in the Cold War UN arena.”

Contrary to popular understanding, Canadian internationalism has rarely been at odds with American belligerence. As far as I can tell, Canadian peacekeeping missions have always received support from the US. During the Cold War, the US did not dispatch soldiers for UN peacekeeping, which made Canada’s contribution especially important.

Ignoring the power politics that have historically driven UN peacekeeping has resulted in unwitting support by much of the Canadian left for the imperial agenda.

Western mining companies, for instance, benefited from the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Congo during the early 1960s as Belgium’s colonial rule came to an end. Threatened by Patrice Lumumba’s desire for increased national control over Congo’s resources, Belgium and the US worked to eliminate the Congolese prime minister. Canada provided important military logistics and political support to the UN force largely responsible for Lumumba’s assassination.

After combing through hundreds of books on Canadian foreign policy, I have come to the surprising realization that pro-US Canadian commentators are often clearer about the motives behind our foreign interventions than those on the Canadian nationalist left. Having constructed a Canadian identity in opposition to US imperialism, many Canadian nationalists are forced to mythologize the history of Canadian foreign policy.

Responding to the myth that Canada has primarily been the defender of peaceful independent internationalism, pro-US commentators argue that Canada’s foreign interventions were not merely benevolent. According to the pro-US writers, they have been designed to further this country’s interests, in particular maintaining close relations to Canada’s largest trading partner.

Contrary to the mythology of Canada as a force for good in the world, this country has a legion of skeletons in its foreign policy closet. From the troops that joined the British in Sudan in 1885 to the thousands of soldiers who pillaged and murdered the Boers during the war of 1898-1902 in South Africa, Canada has long sided with empire.

Precipitating the Cold War, Canada sent troops to halt the Russian revolution and then sided with the fascists in 1936, blocking weapons and volunteers from Spain’s elected government, all the while arming the Japanese as they occupied Korea and massacred the Chinese. In the first major UN military operation, Canada sent 27,000 troops between 1950-53 to fight in Korea — largely as part of the US campaign against nationalism and communism in East Asia.

A former historian of the Canadian army in NATO and employee of the department of national defense, Maloney writes: “On twelve occasions between 1915 and 1993 Canadian naval forces were used for ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’ in the region [Caribbean and Latin America], to ‘exert a delicate and discreet threat [short of declared war] to secure national objectives.’ Notable operations included Mexico (1915), Costa Rica (1921), El Salvador (1932), St. Lucia (1958), and Haiti on multiple occasions since 1963.” In the case of El Salvador, a Canadian naval ship provided important support to the dictatorship putting down an indigenous rebellion that ultimately led to the execution of famous El Salvadoran revolutionary, Farabundo Marti. Like all of McQuaig’s books, Holding the Bully’s Coat is well crafted and clear. It can even be seen in some measure as politically useful. There is no doubt that the Canadian identification with both the UN and peacekeeping was a factor in Canada’s unwillingness to participate in the invasion of Iraq. (Although we should not forget that Canada trained Iraqi police, sent a naval vessel to the region and deployed troops to Afghanistan to relieve US troops for Iraq, etc.)

But while McQuaig’s promotion of UN peacekeeping is preferable to US unilateralism, there is a danger in her failure to discuss the predatory nature of Canadian capital, the skeletons in the Canadian foreign policy closet and the politics that often drive UN missions.

In the case of Canada’s UN sanctioned intervention into Haiti, the nationalist left was all but silent in the face of this brutal crime. After constructing a framework that idolized the UN, and Canada’s history within the organization, it became difficult to criticize the UN occupation of Haiti and Canada’s role in overthrowing Haiti’s elected government. Ignoring the truth is always dangerous.


Yves Engler is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical. Both books are published by RED/Fernwood and available at www.turning.ca or http://infoshopdirect.com/redpublishing/ in the US

Review: Cowboy in Caracas

Charles Hardy. Cowboy in Caracas: A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s Democratic Revolution. Curbstone Press, Willimantic, CT. 2007. 145 pages

Reviewed by Derrick O’Keefe

For admirers and critics alike, the polarized discussion around the radical political process unfolding in Venezuela in recent years has often taken the form of a debate over the motivations of the country’s fiery president, Hugo Chavez. Whether he is cast as a demagogue, a dictator, or as a heroic saviour of the poor, the argument about what is known as the Bolivarian Revolution inevitably seems to get reduced to an argument about the man who infamously called George W. Bush “the Devil” from the pulpit of the United Nations.

Missing in the action of this battle of Bush vs. Chavez – which is the title, in fact, of a new account of “Washington’s War on Venezuela” by U.S. lawyer and activist Eva Golinger – is the context that gave rise to what is today arguably the world’s most radical and significant political movement. The world knows precious little about Venezuela before Chavez, who was first elected in December 1998. And that’s where Charles Hardy’s unique new book, Cowboy in Caracas, comes in.

The writer of this North American’s memoir of el proceso and the years predating Chavez’s explosion onto the scene, Hardy is not your typical foreign correspondent, nor a mere revolutionary tourist.

The author, in fact, as a Catholic priest working for the Maryknoll missionaries, lived for years in Nueva Tacagua, one of the teeming poor barrios on the hills that surround the Venezuelan capital. There for a number of years in the late 1980s, Hardy shared the reality of the poor majority.

In those years, respectable foreign commentators lauded Venezuela as a stable democracy and reliable supplier of cheap oil, and the desperate poverty was invisible. Hardy brings it out into the light. Along with his co-habitants of cardboard walled tenements, he describes enduring torturously scarce clean water, a total lack of sewage, and little to no access to health care, education and meaningful employment. Hardy’s privilege, as an American, allowed him to escape the barrio one day a week, and thus to observe some of the arrogance and racism of Venezuela’s elite.

His status as a Man of God may have helped him escape death during el Caracazo in 1989. A forgotten episode that took place several months before the Tiananmen Massacre in China, the police and armed forces savagely repressed protests and riots against a series of unpopular neo-liberal austerity measures. During these dangerous days, Hardy risked his neck to keep residents of Nueva Tacagua alive. It is estimated that as many as 3000 died during el Caracazo. But in those days the seeds of a new Venezuela were planted. Among those outraged by the bloodshed, and galvanized to rebellion, was a young army officer named Hugo Chavez Frias.

Charles Hardy left Caracas in the early 1990s, only to return a couple years later, no longer as a missionary. He has stayed and observed with great hope the popular movement that has so angered the rich of Venezuela and, indeed, the powers-that-be throughout the world.

To get an idea about where the country is heading, this book is a good place to start. His memoir serves as a useful reminder that the historic events of today haven’t emerged merely from the exhortations of a charismatic politician. Instead, the Bolivarian Revolution can better be understood as the long overdue expression of the hopes of millions of people who are no longer resigned to their fate and without hope. 

Review: Independent Politics – The Green Party Strategy Debate

Howie Hawkins, editor. Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate, Haymarket Books. Chicago, 2006. 328 pages

Reviewed by Derrick O’Keefe

Did the last presidential election campaign in the United States represent the nadir of Ralph Nader’s long and remarkable public life? Or, was it instead the rottenness of the two-corporate party system that hit new lows in the run-up to the 2004 election?

The ugly spectacle of Campaign 2004 is the topic of Howie Hawkins’s Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate. Hawkins, a long-time labour and social justice activist, comes down strongly in favour of the Nader-Peter Camejo campaign, which ran in spite of an official “safe states” strategy adopted by the Green Party under nominal presidential candidate David Cobb.

Independent Politics includes contributions from leaders of both sides of this acrimonious debate, one that dominated discussion amongst much of the Left in the United States throughout 2004. The likes of Norman Solomon, Cobb and renown peace activist Medea Benjamin defend the “Anybody But Bush” strategy, only advocating Green votes in safe states, while Camejo, Nader, Jeffrey St. Clair and others explain why they believe in running a full-scale third-party campaign.

Hawkins’s book is a useful reminder of the corruption and predominance of corporate, militarist interests inherent in the Democratic Party. It helps to understand the dynamics already underway in the preliminary jockeying for the 2008 presidential race. John Edwards and Barack Obama are, to some extent, positional themselves as the “anti-war” candidates to the left of Hilary Clinton, and yet both Obama and Edwards have been unequivocal in their support of Israeli aggression and occupation. With precious few exceptions, in fact, “anti-war” Democrats in Congress and the Senate frame their calls for troop withdrawal from Iraq in terms of shoring up the interests of the U.S. Empire, in many cases calling for a massive redeployment to Afghanistan.

Back in 2004, a significant segment of the anti-war movement subordinated itself to the interests of Kerry, even though the Democratic candidate was running an aggressively pro-war campaign. The aristocratic, charisma-deprived Kerry began his war for the White House by “reporting for duty” at the party’s 2004 convention, which was a veritable pro-war rally. Al Sharpton’s thundering, way-over-time speech – “Bring the troops home, and send Bush back to Texas!” – was a wonderful exception to the Kerry rules, along with Dennis Kucinich’s quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination.

For the Left in the United States that can’t, and won’t, stomach working in the Democratic Party, the Green Party is the most significant independent electoral force. In addition to community activists and environmentalists, the Greens tent includes a number of former members of socialist and Marxist formations. Camejo is a notable example, having once been the presidential candidate of the US Socialist Workers Party, a group that long ago reduced itself to sectarian irrelevance.

Camejo and Hawkins, especially, make a convincing case for building the Green Party as a vehicle for both advancing the cause of diverse social movements and independent working class political action, in opposition to the official US labour movement’s overwhelming orientation to the Democratic Party.

For those of us in Canada, Independent Politics evokes a haunting Phil Ochs lyric, ‘There but for fortune, go you or I’. Even as powerful forces within labour and the NDP push for a more Blairist, Democratic Party approach, the tradition of independent politics – of a “labour party” in the traditional sense of being free of all corporate money and control – has not been wiped out completely.

Even though many veterans of the Left in Canada may feel like we’re at a bit of nadir ourselves, we can be thankful that our forces are not as dispersed and marginal as those in the United States. And we can take heart from those who, faced with bluster and opprobrium from liberals and even from myriad “progressives”, continue to struggle for a genuinely independent Left in the belly of the US beast.

Originally published in 7 Oaks Magazine

Reviews: Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Richard Dawkins

Reviews by Barry Weisleder

Noam Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival, America’s Quest for Global Dominance. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Co.. New York, 2003. 278 pages

Hegemony or Survival lives up to its title. The prolific MIT professor of linguistics and philosophy explains how the American ruling class has long been in the business of imposing its will over an ever expanding domain of lands and peoples. Its behemoth state was built on the decimation and displacement of aboriginal tribes, the seizure of vast Mexican lands, and the conquest of Spanish possessions in the Caribbean and South-East Asia. Power was consolidated by the concentration of wealth, the suppression of organized working class opposition, and the penetration of foreign markets. US elite interest in world affairs often masqueraded as ‘spreading democracy’, but was actually about maximizing the conditions for private profit extraction.

Chomsky provides a telling example:

“The rise of fascism in the inter war period elicited concern, but was generally regarded rather favorably by the US and British governments, the business world, and a good deal of elite opinion. The reason was that the fascist version of extreme nationalism permitted extensive Western economic penetration and also destroyed the much-feared labour movements and the left, and the excessive democracy in which they could function.”

Chomsky’s sarcasm, as in the “excessive democracy” phrase, sometimes confounds his meaning or devolves towards cynicism. But his trenchant critique resurrects: “Like Saddam Hussein half a century later, (Nazi Germany) retained substantial Anglo-American support until Hitler launched direct aggression that infringed too seriously on US and UK interests.”

(Lest we forget, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King was also a Hitler admirer through the 1930s, and later turned away a ship load of Jewish refugees.)

The American ruling rich employed nationalist protectionism to promote home industries, and resorted to gun boat diplomacy to subdue resistors to its hemispheric hegemony. Protected from the ravages of European and Asian conflagration by two oceans, the US voraciously conscripted public funds to amass and deploy an enormous war machine, and graduated to post-WW2 super-power status. Its prime objective then became the elimination of the other super-power, whose post-capitalist basis posed a permanent obstacle, if not an active challenge, to the world capitalist system.

“Concern over Soviet economic development and its demonstration effect persisted into the 1960s, when the Soviet economy began to stagnate, in large measure because of the escalating arms race that Soviet Premier Khrushchev had sought desperately to prevent.”

Chomsky describes the 1962 Cuban missile crisis in this context, along with a series of bloody US (direct and indirect) interventions to thwart movements for social change from Iran to Nicaragua, from Palestine to Grenada, from Indonesia to Chile. The official excuse offered was “containment of the USSR”, and the derivative “war against state-sponsored terrorism.” The heavy irony inherent in the extensive global conduct of US state terrorism (as in the 1989 bombardment of civilian neighborhoods and the killing of thousands of Panamanians just to flush out a single man, the former US client-dictator Manuel Noriega), was not lost on many Latin Americans.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the stated rationale for US aggressive exertions shifted to a more frank, if not novel, expression.

Washington now speaks of “preventive” as opposed to “pre-emptive” war. It thus asserts the right to intervene with force against any nation whose leadership the US claims is considering the development of weapons of mass destruction. Naturally, this criterion does not apply to itself or to its client states. Nor is the approval of the United Nations or adherence to international law required.

And with that Chomsky walks us through two invasions of Iraq, the exorbitant US subsidy and integration of the colonial-settler state known as Israel, the erosion of civil liberties in the west, the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and the establishment of key US military bases in proximity to rich Central Asian oil reserves, and most worrisome, the placement of weapons of mass destruction in outer space — a zone the US intends to ‘own’, not just control.

What hope is there for our endangered species? Chomsky’s answer seems to come up a bit lame:  “the slow evolution of a human rights culture” will act as the “restraining influence on state violence.” This will be supplemented by “popular activism” and “global justice movements.”

But isn’t the problem “the system?” And aren’t there signs of a revolutionary challenge to it?

***

Noam Chomsky. Imperial Ambitions, Conversations on the Post-9/11 World, Interviews with David Barsamian. Metropolitan Books. New York, 2005. 226 pages

This fast flowing dialog traces some of the same ground as Chomsky’s  Hegemony or Survival, but delves more into strategic questions, though not always rewardingly.

Chomsky returns to the theme of ‘state security’, Washington’s long standing excuse for foreign intervention. He relates how this is often a hard line for other states to swallow. When Mexico refused to go along with President J. F. Kennedy’s terrorist attacks on Cuba, “the Mexican ambassador said, ‘If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing.’”

Elite distrust of democracy and the masses goes back to the foundation of the American republic, so the political establishment has a lot of experience stealing elections and distorting the truth. Chomsky is the expert on how the ‘consent’ of the powerless majority is ‘manufactured’, including by a kept corporate media. From there it is a short journey to an “embedded press” in zones of foreign military occupation, and to gag laws that curtail domestic dissent and put swarthy immigrants and selfless lawyers like Lynne Stewart in jail.

Long before anti-communism was invented, the US rulers employed their own aggressive nationalism against the aspirations of defenseless, oppressed nations. Now it’s the “war on terrorism,” which was well underway but benefited by a big boost after September 11, 2001. “Clinton’s bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 effectively created Al Qaeda,” says Chomsky.

The price tag for this manufactured war is manifold, including the reality that “Forty-five million Americans have no (health care) coverage whatsoever.” Add to that “thirty years of either stagnation or decline in real wages, with people working longer hours with fewer benefits.” While “Household debt is out of sight … corporate debt is very low. In fact, corporations are making huge profits” and “barely pay taxes.” Money for militarism is diverted from already disintegrating public schools, hospitals, roads, and water services.

Next on the chopping block is Social Security, which Americans are being falsely told they cannot afford because they are living too long. The author asks, “Who paid for (the baby boomers) when they were newborns until they were twenty?” In “the 1960s, when this generation was coming of age, in fact there was a huge increase in funding for schools and other programs for children, at a time when the government had less income than it has today.”

So what’s behind the drive to destroy Social Security and all the rest? The book argues it’s a drive to reverse the past gains won by labour and other social movements, to the benefit of Wall Street and the capitalist fraternity, who use ‘national security’ propaganda to dull our senses.

You might ask, is the ‘war on terrorism’ turning the US into ‘a failed state’? And who will come to the rescue, if not the awakened ranks of the other global super-power, the vast legions of anti-war, progressive humanity, including its potentially explosive US section?

Such an awakening, the stirrings of which were evident in the massive immigrants’ rights protests across America on May 1, 2006, need to be nurtured by teachings that promote political independence from the institutions of capitalist rule. Herein lies a fundamental weakness of the work at hand.

Chomsky’s indignation at the Empire’s crimes dissolves disappointingly into the poisonous brine of lesser-evil politics. Hardly pausing for breathe, after exposing the ‘liberal’ Bill Clinton edition of anti-democratic subversion and military aggression, Chomsky the self-conscious libertarian lobbies for votes… for the Democratic Party — which for well over a century has been the main war party of US imperialism. After devoting thousands of pages, and a myriad of examples of the fundamental similarity and common class loyalties of the Democrats and Republicans, Chomsky feebly submits:

“These may not look like huge differences, but they translate into quite big effects for the lives of people. Anybody who says, ‘I don’t care if Bush gets elected’ is basically telling poor and working people in the country, ‘I don’t care if your lives are destroyed.”

But who destroyed the lives of over 50,000 US soldiers (not to mention millions of Vietnamese), and who cut welfare, health care and education in favour of more cops and jails in America if not the Democrats? And who joined the nearly unanimous vote in Congress to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, and who are amongst the front rank of loyal supporters of Zionist apartheid, anti-Cuba terrorism, militarism and subversion of democracy from Indonesia to Somalia to Venezuela?

Chomsky reveals that his “views grew out of the anarcho-syndicalist tradition.” He affirms his “belief in the value of classical liberal doctrines …. Enlightenment ideals — rationality, critical analysis, freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry.” In this way he exposes the extreme limitation of his outlook and “ideals”.  He does this … insofar as he fails to challenge the political monopoly exercised by the capitalist minority … insofar as he capitulates to at least one of the lying, cheating, murderous political gangs of the plutocracy … and insofar as Chomsky declines even to speculate on the prospect of working class self-emancipation, an essential step towards which would be the formation of an independent party based on working class organizations and a set of policies that would advance the basic class interests of the overwhelming majority of Americans. That is the tragedy that dulls the brilliance of Chomsky’s body of work, these two books being no exception

***

Tariq Ali. Pirates of the Caribbean, Axis of Hope. Verso. London and New York, 2006. 244 pages

Tariq Ali, radical pundit, novelist, film maker, political agitator and a former leader of the Trotskyist movement in Britain, shows how the abject failure of the neo-liberal agenda in Latin America has radicalized a new generation and given rise to a series of radical regime challengers to the capitalist status quo.

His focus on Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, for obvious reasons, could not be more timely.

Though some cynics try to liken Hugo Chavez to yesteryear’s Argentinean populist dictator Juan Peron, Washington seems to know better. It has again and again attempted, through its local henchmen, to remove the repeatedly re-elected Venezuelan President, and to derail the Bolivarian revolutionary process.

Venezuela’s considerable oil wealth is not new, but the determination of the movement led by Chavez to conquer poverty, illiteracy and disease, and to build an integrated Latin American counter-weight to the US in the form of a continental fair trade and cooperation pact (ALBA) is. It is rightly seen as a serous threat to imperial interests. Combine that with a vision of “twenty-first century socialism” and plans taking shape to replace the bourgeois state with “communal councils,” then add the construction of a unitary grass roots revolutionary socialist party to lead the transition to socialism in Venezuela, firmly allied to revolutionary Cuba, and you have the makings of an epic confrontation with Washington.

Tariq Ali presents his own global balance sheet.

“On the credit side (for the US rulers), … China … remains as mute as Russia, India and Eastern Europe…. the EU is firmly back on side.”

“On the debit side, American control of the Middle East is slipping.” And in Latin America, “new social movements had thrown up new political leaders. They were insisting that, despite the fall of the Soviet Union, the world as still confronted with old choices. Either a revamped global capitalism with new wars and new impoverishment, chaos, anarchy or a rethought and revived socialism, democratic in character and capable of serving the needs of the poor.”

Ali’s ambiguity about whether the social democratic wealth-redistributing policies of Venezuela, joined last year by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, and now by Ecuador and Nicaragua, will be sufficient to empower the masses and break the imperial stranglehold, is definitely a weakness.

But his failure to articulate what is to be done (apart from organizing international solidarity) does not negate the value of his vivid portrayal of the cowardly, short-sighted, narcissistic, decadent Venezuelan business elite. Ali’s treatment of one Teodor Petkoff, a socialist turned neo-liberal who edits the venomous anti-Chavez daily Tal Cual (As It Is), is a highlight of his tragic-comic account.

Valuable too is Ali’s sketch of Simon Bolivar, the nineteenth century liberator of Spain’s American domain, his enduring relationship with his revolutionary atheist tutor Simon Rodriguez, and to Manuela Saenz, Bolivar’s lover and political soul-mate. The story touches down in Haiti where the first revolution that overthrew slavery and French colonial rule enabled Bolivar to take respite there. He resumed his long military campaign against Spain in 1817 after being supplied with food, money and arms by Haitian revolutionary leader Alexandre Petion.  May Venezuela soon return the favour!

Bolivia became Che Guevara’s grave yard in 1967 when he was betrayed by the Stalinist Communist Party and suffered isolation from the indigenous people in the rural interior. In contrast, the mass mobilization of urban and rural laborers of Aymara descent, along with some of the reduced ranks of the industrial proletariat, rich in revolutionary tradition, combined to bring down the neo-liberal Sanchez de Lozada regime in 2003. These forces then catapulted Evo Morales into the presidency in December 2005, the first fully indigenous person to hold such an office in Bolivia or on the continent. Triumphal visits to Havana and Caracas signaled the beginning of a wave of change in terms of literacy and health care services, the nationalization of gas and oil resources, the start of land reform and a re-write of the constitution to integrate and empower the indigenous, historically excluded, majority.

Pirates of the Caribbean persuasively depicts a situation pregnant with revolution, and thus with hope, despite the book’s failure to outline a strategy for their realization.

***

Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, New York, 2006. 406 pages

Dawkins, a science professor at Oxford University, caused a stir in Canada when he appeared on a CBC-TV Newsworld debate show recently. The fact that his book went to number one on the best seller charts really rankled the defenders of blind faith.

Dawkins, trying not to take himself too seriously, makes the case that it is impossible to know absolutely whether God exists, only that the existence of God is extremely improbable.

He defines an atheist as “somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles — except in the sense of natural phenomenon that we don’t yet understand.”

Early on he quotes Albert Einstein, who theists often wrongly claim as one of theirs:

“Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism. The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.”

Some philosophers who wish to cling to a thread of mysticism argue for the ‘lazy God’ theory, akin to the notions of the eighteenth century deists: God created the universe, then stood back and let everything take its own course. Of course, this doesn’t exactly make a strong case for worship or prayer, since the deity is decidedly inactive, unoccupied and superfluous.

But like all other God theories it still begs the really big question:  Who or what created God? Dawkins puts it this way: “A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. His existence is going to need a mammoth explanation in its own right.”

Theists, bereft of scientific proof for their beliefs, often find it more convenient to go on the offensive. ‘Intelligent design’ proponents (who seek to re-write school science text books) aim to put a sophisticated face on hokey creationism. Some argue:  How could complex life, including complex organisms like the human eye, occur? If not by design, did they occur just by chance?

Dawkins’ retort is effective:

“Design is not the only alternative to chance. Natural selection is a better alternative. Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves:  who designed the designer? Chance and design both fail as solutions to the problem of statistical probability, because one of them is the problem, and the other one regresses to it. Natural selection is a real solution …. a solution of stunning elegance and power …. natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so.

“The creationist completely misses the point, because he …. insists on treating the genesis of statistical improbability as a single, one-off event. He doesn’t understand the power of accumulation.”

To illustrate his point, Dawkins goes on to discuss the primitive eye of the flatworm, and the somewhat more complicated eye of the nautilus, as steps on a continuum.

The God Delusion would be glaringly incomplete without paying a lot of attention to the various ideologies of delusion. He examines the huge scriptural contradictions within Christianity, and suggests that this is also the case for the multitude of other religions. He excoriates the vicious cruelty sanctioned by faith — the intense bigotry, oppressive discrimination, and blatant female and child abuse perpetuated in its various names.

For the purposes of generating a civilized society, Dawkins maintains, humanity has no need of the irrational crutch of ages, that we are quite capable of respecting individual and collective rights on a secular basis — in fact humanity is much more capable of doing so free of religious baggage.

The book is brimming with delightful quotes that promote critical thinking. “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”

Alas, Dawkins is not a historical materialist. When he strays into the realm of politics and sociology, he tends to reduce national oppression to a matter of pure religious bigotry. Whether it concerns Irish nationalists in the British-occupied Orange statelet, or Palestinians under Zionist occupation, or Arabs and Muslims suffering harassment in North America and Europe, Dawkins fails to see, or at least to explain, that in capitalist class society the ruling elite fosters bigotry in an effort to justify social inequality, to lower their costs, to maximize their profits, and to divide so as to rule.

He does not attempt to explain the origins of Christianity, Islam, or any religion as an expression of distinct class interests at their genesis. One must look elsewhere for that, such as in Karl Kautsky’s seminal Foundations of Christianity (1908).

The God Delusion is an informed, articulate, humanist response to irrational, reactionary ideologies. It does not purport to be a guide to the new world that free thinking humanity yearns to create. Nor should it be regarded as an impediment to collaboration with Liberation Theologists, anti-imperialist Muslims or anti-Zionist Jews.

But it is an important component of what activists need today — ammunition against the Empire.

*****

Editors’ Note: Other leftwing reviewers have been much more critical of The God Delusion. Readers may find these reviews of interest.

Review: Mike Davis, Planet of Slums

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums. Verso, 2006.
reviewed by Derrick O’Keefe

Later this year, from June 19 to 23, Kofi Annan and company will converge on Vancouver for the third World Urban Forum, a grandiose-sounding gathering of United Nations bureaucrats, academics, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Were the esteemed gatherers really planning to sink their teeth into the problems of the 21st century city – rather than staying in luxury hotels, enjoying the early summer weather and issuing platitude-laden proclamations – they might take as their starting point Planet of Slums, the latest insightful book by radical urban theorist Mike Davis.

The author of City of Quartz (the definitive critical examination of Southern California’s urban landscape) delivers, once again, his trademark scorching polemic. An honest portrayal of the disastrous plight of the world’s urban poor, as is presented in Planet of Slums, calls forth no less than indignation, and Davis – unlike too many obfuscating scholars – is blunt and meticulous in assigning blame for the current state of affairs.

Mike Davis has never been shy in broadcasting the urgency of a situation; for this, in fact, critics have branded him a Chicken Little (his other recent book also happens to deal with the threat of Avian Flu). Last fall’s abandonment of hurricane-stricken New Orleans, however, should be enough to once and for all acquit Davis of scare-mongering charges. In 2004, he wrote a prophetic article about the dangers of neglecting to adequately prepare for disaster on the Gulf Coast:

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city’s poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean’s daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the “large group … mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods” who wanted to evacuate but couldn’t. (“Poor, Black, and Left Behind,” Mike Davis. Mother Jones, September 24, 2004.

The conditions described by Davis, of course, are not some potential future scenario; they are a brutal, contemporary reality. Planet of Slums begins with a survey of the phenomenon of urban growth, concentrating on the mega-cities of the underdeveloped world where inequality rates and economic segregation dwarf even those of a city like New Orleans. The facts are staggering; the squalor and suffering created over a generation of neo-liberal globalization is truly Dickensian:

There is nothing in the catalogue of Victorian misery, as narrated by Dickens, Zola, or Gorky, that doesn’t exist somewhere in a Third World city today. I allude not just to grim survivals and atavisms, but especially to primitive forms of exploitation that have been given new life by postmodern globalization – and child labour is an outstanding example. (P.186)

Child labour is a reality, in fact, for tens of millions of the estimated one billion slum dwellers worldwide. Davis dispatches the arguments of the apologists for the interests of capital with a mountain of evidence. For instance, he exposes the glorification of the ‘informal sector’ as dynamic entrepreneurialism. In fact, the devastation of the formal, not to mention unionized, employment sector has created a mass reserve army of labour forced to eke out their survival hawking wares, scrounging through trash, begging, being prostituted, or otherwise trading their quality of life for a semblance of a livelihood. 

Davis’s prose can be dizzying, jumping as it does from example to example of slum living conditions across the continents of the Global South, from Rio de Janeiro to Kinshasa to Mumbai, and many points in between. Responsibility is pinned on the workings of international capital and its institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and on myriad governments. The NGO sector, whose advance has been concurrent with the retreat of the state during the neo-liberal era, also comes in for sharp criticism, being described as “soft imperialism”:

…Third World NGOs have proven brilliant at co-opting local leadership as well as hegemonizing the social space traditionally occupied by the Left. Even if there are some celebrated exceptions – such as the militant NGOs so instrumental in creating the World Social Forum – the broad impact of the NGO/ “civil society revolution,” as even some World Bank researchers acknowledge, has been to bureaucratize and deradicalize urban social movements. (P.76)

Planet of Slums concludes with some preliminary assessments of the implications for humanity in the 21st century of the radically expanded landscape of urban poverty. The traditional emphases of the political Left – landless peasantry in the countryside and formal sector labour movements, for example – will need to shift along with the social and geographic locations of the poor majority. Indeed, some of the most inspiring political struggles of recent years have been waged by those making up the bloated and marginalized ‘informal sectors’ of the world’s major cities, from the hillside barrios of Caracas, to Port-au-Prince’s rebellious slum of Cité Soleil, to the segregated banlieues of Paris.

The powers that be have already begun preparing for the new urban theatre of poverty, war, and resistance. Davis details the importance that Pentagon military strategists now place on MOUT, or Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain. Stressing realistic training (including in North American cities), the MOUT doctrine is a brutally rational perspective for the planners of empire. The battle lines of an unequal urban world are clearly drawn in the unreconstructed poor neighbourhoods of Baghdad, where the young militia fighters in the slum of Sadr City “taunt the American occupiers with the promise that their main boulevard is ‘Vietnam Street’” (P. 205).  

A rare academic who refuses to soft-pedal his anti-capitalist analysis, Mike Davis has, with Planet of Slums, reinforced his standing as one of our most important public intellectuals. He has indeed produced a must read for anyone seeking to understand and change the vast inequalities that scar our world and its cities. 


This review was first published in the webzine Seven Oaks.

Marxism and the Venezuelan Revolution (Book Review)

Alan Woods. The Venezuelan Revolution: A Marxist Perspective. London: Wellred Books (wellred.marxist.com) 2005.

reviewed by John Riddell

TORONTO, CANADA – Can a small Marxist current hope to influence the course of events in times of a revolutionary uprising, or are they condemned to an existence of sideline critics, never to influence the broader working class movement?

A new book by British Marxist Alan Woods puts that question to the test in a most challenging way — in the midst of the unfolding Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. The Venezuelan Revolution: A Marxist Perspective consists of 14 articles written by Woods between the failed pro-imperialist coup of April 2002 and the Bolivarians’ turn to socialism in early 2005. Published earlier this year, the book has much to teach us about the role of Marxists in a revolutionary upsurge.

Many revolutionary-minded groups or parties in the world have been skeptical and standoffish toward Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. It confounds their self-conceived truths: much of the Bolivarian leadership came unexpectedly from the officer corps; the Bolivarian program was not openly socialist in its beginning stages; its course of action corresponded to no one’s blueprint. President Hugo Chávez was pegged by most of them as a radical bourgeois figure.

By contrast, the current led by Alan Woods, the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) (www.marxist.com), grasped the importance of the Venezuelan uprising soon after the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. It has devoted considerable resources to building an international solidarity campaign, Hands Off Venezuela (www.handsoffvenezuela.org).

The IMT understood early that Marxists in Venezuela should support the Bolivarian movement and be part of it, rather than stand back and criticize it from the sidelines. They have worked with energy and some success to influence the Bolivarians, gaining favorable mentions from Chávez himself.

Expropriate capitalist property

Alan Woods’ main point, reflected in each of his articles, is that the Venezuelan revolution cannot stop half way, leaving the U.S.-backed right-wing oligarchy in control of decisive sectors of the economy and state apparatus. “The counterrevolutionary forces are not reconciled to defeat,” Woods states. “They are increasingly desperate … determined and violent.”

Venezuelan working people must expropriate capitalist property and lay the basis for socialism, he argues. “Either the greatest of victories or the most terrible of defeats.” (Pages 110, 133)

This basic premise of Marxism, confirmed at each stage of the Venezuelan struggle, has won an increasing hearing among the Bolivarians. Chávez now ridicules the notion that Venezuela can find liberation within capitalism.

Learning from Chávez

Another key lesson is not stated explicitly, and may be unintended. Woods articles show how Marxists can learn from a living revolution.

In the opening chapters, written from London and Buenos Aires just after the 2002 coup attempt, Woods is close to dismissive of Bolivarian leader Hugo Chávez. At that time, Woods wrote that Chávez is “inclined to be inconsistent” and has “often displayed indecision.” He “temporized and attempted to conciliate the counter-revolutionaries” which was “a fatal mistake.” (Pages 16, 20, 43)

The book then breaks off: there is a gap of 16 months before the next article.

Then, in April 2004, Woods attended an international conference in Caracas in which Chávez, displaying his characteristic cordial generosity, set out to forge a link with Woods, one of the most prominent international solidarity activists. Woods learned that Chávez was not only keenly interested in Marxism but was familiar with the British Marxist’s own writings. “He told me he was not a Marxist because he had not read enough Marxist books,” Woods commented. “But he is reading them now.” (Page 62)

The next part of the book is a treasure: two slashing polemics against sectarian attitudes toward the Venezuelan movement.

“For the sectarian mentality, a revolution must conform to a pre-established scheme,” Woods writes. The sectarian “establishes an ideal norm and rejects anything … that does not conform.”

Woods ridicules those who would build the revolutionary party by proclamation. “Three men and … a drunken parrot gather in a café in Caracas and proclaim the Revolutionary Party.” And if the masses do not join, the sectarian says, “Well, that’s their problem.” (Pages 65, 83) These ideas are not new, but coming to us from the battlefields of a living revolution, they ring with great authority.

In the pages that follow, Woods writes with warm respect of Chávez, “the man who inspired this magnificent movement and provided it with a leadership and a banner.” (Page 162)

Crucial omissions

Nevertheless, the Marxism advanced in Alan Woods’ book remains incomplete.

Cuba: The Venezuelan Revolution condemns U.S. attacks on Cuba, but not a word can be found in this book of Cuba’s role in the Venezuelan revolution. Yet Cuba’s revolutionary leaders have had a much stronger influence on Venezuela’s Bolivarians than all the smaller Marxist currents put together.

The political alliance of Hugo Chávez with the Cuban Marxists began a few months after Chávez was released from prison in 1994, when he went to Cuba for discussions with Fidel Castro. Since Chávez’ first election to president in 1998, Cuba has contributed tens of thousands of volunteers to deliver health, educational, and recreational services to Venezuelan working people. The two governments have a close diplomatic, economic, and political alliance. The book’s silence on this important alliance creates a highly misleading picture of the Bolvarian revolutionary process. It raises a crucial question: does the author view Cuba’s role in Venezuela as positive or negative?

Anti-imperialist alliance: And what about ALBA? The Bolivarian Agreement for the Americas (ALBA) is the Venezuelan government’s proposal for non-exploitative economic cooperation among Latin American countries. It was advanced in 2003 as an alternative to imperialist-directed “Free Trade of the Americas” fraud. Cuba endorsed ALBA in its December 2004 treaty with Venezuela.

ALBA’s appeal and relevance was made astonishingly clear at the recent summit meeting in Argentina of political leaders of the Americas. The imperialist “free trade” proposition was proclaimed dead on arrival by the masses who rallied there and, not coincidentally, gave Chávez a hero’s welcome.

Woods does not mention ALBA. Does he perhaps have it in mind when he warns Venezuela against relying on “friendly relations” with Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba. (Page 119) The international, anti-imperialist dimension of the Venezuelan revolution is simply disregarded throughout the book

Democratic tasks: Woods does not take up the ongoing democratic tasks of the Venezuelan process. Such struggles as that of Venezuela’s people of color for equality; that of women pressing into political life and demanding their rights; that of workers in the “informal sector” striving for a secure livelihood; that of the oppressed indigenous peoples to which the Bolivarians have given such close attention — all are neglected. Nor does Woods acknowledge Chávez’s role as a defender of the world’s ecology against capitalist devastation.

Woods also fails to give clear support to the struggles of peasants who wish to divide up the great estates, arguing instead that the estates should operate as collective farms. (Page 172)

All these questions are crucial to forging the revolutionary alliance necessary to overturning capitalism in Venezuela. By omitting them, the book displays a limited understanding of the complex dynamics of the Venezuelan revolution.

Nationalizing capitalist property: Woods presents the need to nationalize capitalist property in a purely administrative way. “For the immediate expropriation of the property of the imperialists and the Venezuelan bourgeoisie…. An emergency decree to this effect must be put to the National Assembly,” Woods wrote soon after the failed coup in 2002. (Page 17)

But working-class nationalization — as opposed to a capitalist transfer of formal ownership — can only be carried out by a mass movement of working people who have become convinced through experience that there is no alternative and who are ready to assume management responsibility. Provided the workers are not forced into premature action, they must prepare for the challenge of managing production. Otherwise, for example, their expropriation of foreign-owned companies may lead to their immediate shutdown for lack of raw materials, technical inputs, and customers.

There is a sameness in The Venezuelan Revolution: the articles span three years but advocate an identical course of action — immediate expropriation — at every turn. The book displays no sense of tactics, no sense of when to advance, when to pause, when to sound out the enemy’s willingness to compromise, when to form alliances.

On all these points, The Venezuelan Revolution fails to convey key lessons of the Bolshevik-led revolution in Russia, lessons that are well understood by Cuba’s revolutionary leadership.

Woods sees in Venezuela a dichotomy between two currents: on the one hand, petty-bourgeois revolutionary democracy, led by Chávez; and on the other, Marxism, represented in his view above all by the IMT’s own Revolutionary Marxist Current. (Page 93)

But on the key challenges facing the Venezuela revolution, the record of the Chávez leadership is stronger than the course proposed by The Venezuelan Revolution. The Bolivarians’ course has led not to defeat, as Woods warned, but to victory after victory.

Toward a revolutionary party

Judging by this book alone, the political line of Alan Woods and the International Marxist Tendency is inflexible, one-sided, and veers off course. Yet the IMT, as Chávez himself has acknowledged, has made an undeniable contribution to the broader Bolviarian movement of which it is part.

Surely there is a lesson here for all of us in the splintered and fragmented international socialist movement.

The revolutionary party for which we strive will be built through living processes like those we see in Venezuela today or in Cuba before it. Under the impact of an upsurge of struggles, new leadership forces will converge with the best forces in existing currents to form a unified movement. All existing currents will be challenged to subordinate their prized separateness to a broader purpose.

It is to the credit of Alan Woods that he and his current have been able to travel at least a part of that road together with Venezuela’s revolutionary Bolivarians.

Canada And The New World Order: The Case of Haiti

Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton. Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. (Fernwood Publishing, 2005) 120 pages, $14.95

Reviewed by Roger Annis

Two leading activists for the right of the Haitian people to sovereignty have just published an account of the Canadian government’s sordid role in the overthrow of democracy in that island country. Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority tells the story of the foreign invasion and violent coup that overthrew the constitution and elected government of Haiti in February 2004. It places the Canadian government squarely at the center of the coup plot and its aftermath.

Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was kidnapped and forcibly removed from the country by U.S. military forces on February 29, 2004. He now lives in exile in South Africa. Members of his government, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, have been in jail for more than one year. Much of the infrastructure of national and local government, social services, and local economy has been disbanded or left in disarray.

The government’s overthrow was carried out by troops from the United States, Canada and France, and a small but well-armed and financed paramilitary force drawn from the disbanded army and police forces of the dictatorships that ruled Haiti prior to its first election in modern times, in 1990. “Since the toppling of Haiti’s democratically-elected government,” write Engler and Fenton, “a human rights disaster has unfolded.”

A terrible repression has reigned for the past 20 months at the hands of the national police of the coup regime and a UN-sanctioned foreign military/political occupation force. (The latter numbers 7,500 troops from more than a dozen countries.) Several thousand Haitians have died, hundreds sit in prison–most without charges–and untold numbers have taken refuge in internal exile or fled the country. The repression has targeted, above all, the popular base of Aristide’s Lavalas party.

The book sketches the history of Haiti and the events since the coup. It zeros in on Canada’s role, and much of the information contained is a result of extensive travel, research, and interviews.

One of the strengths of the book is the detailed information it provides on the destabilization campaign that was waged against democracy in Haiti by the governments and pro-imperialist think tanks in Washington and Ottawa. When Aristide was elected president for a second time in 2000, this time by 92 per cent of voters, the would-be colonizers of Haiti threw up their hands at the prospect of using the electoral process to create a viable and pliant alternative to Aristide and his movement. Plans were set in motion to undo the results of the election and rid the country of Aristide.

Many readers of the book will be surprised to learn of the central and decisive role played by the Canadian government and its agencies in the destabilization effort. Aid and loans to the Haitian government were sharply curtailed after 2000. Funding of so-called non-governmental organizations in Haiti was directed exclusively at those opposing the government and the Lavalas movement. A propaganda war was unleashed, portraying Aristide’s government as violent and repressive.

Another important revelation in this book concerns the role of Canadian non-governmental organizations in the destabilization campaign and subsequent justification of the coup. It cites, among others, the role of the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière, an organization based among the major trade unions in Quebec; the Ottawa-based Rights and Democracy, originally founded by, among others, Ed Broadbent; and the Quebec umbrella organization l’Association québécoise des organismes de cooperation internationale. These and other NGOs present in Haiti are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.

The book takes a searing look at the mainstream media in Canada, slamming it for its silence or misrepresentation on Haiti. “Canadian media may be willing to criticize U.S. foreign policy, but if Haiti is any indication, they are much less interested in criticizing their own state’s adventures abroad.”

The three countries that invaded Haiti continue to play the decisive role in the running of the country. They appointed a puppet governing council. Canadian government officials, including from Elections Canada, are playing the key role in organizing a fraudulent and unconstitutional round of national elections this fall or winter. (Election dates have twice been postponed, the latest postponement being a projected November 20 “election” for a new president). Canadian police agencies, including the RCMP, are training the Haitian National Police (HNP), a repressive force responsible for countless deaths in the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.

The Lavalas party is, for all intents and purposes, banned from running in the election. A party suffering immense violence and pressure, sections of it are fracturing and joining the electoral process. The popular choice of the party, Catholic priest Father Gerard Jean-Juste, has been in prison since July 21 of this year and is therefore disqualified from running.

Massive violations of human rights in Haiti by the HNP, the judicial system, and the United Nations occupation force have been documented by a series of reputable institutions and studies, including Amnesty International. Indeed, the latest report decrying human rights violations comes from the UN itself—on October 14, the UN official responsible for human rights in Haiti described the situation there as “catastrophic”!

Yet Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Pettigrew, has dismissed the earlier human rights reports as “propaganda”. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Paul Martin and Quebec Premier Jean Charest made the first visits ever to Haiti by their offices, in November 2004 and June 2005 resp., in efforts to bolster the coup regime. While there, Martin declared there are no political prisoners in Haiti.

Other governments beg to differ. The coup regime in Haiti is not recognized by Venezuela, Cuba, South Africa, and most Caribbean island governments. The 15-country Caribbean association CARICOM suspended Haiti’s membership following the coup and has rebuffed recent pressure and threats from Canada to lift the suspension.

Canada justifies its action in Haiti by a new doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect.” It is pressing the United Nations to legitimize the doctrine. According to the doctrine, the great powers of the world may be free to invade or otherwise violate the sovereignty of countries as they choose. In Paul Martin’s words to the United Nations General Assembly on September 16, “Clearly, we need expanded guidelines for Security Council action to make clear our responsibility to act decisively to prevent humanity’s attack on humanity. The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is one such guideline.”

The facts presented by Canada in Haiti are very compelling. The Canadian government stands accused of the forcible overthrow of the constitution and elected government in Haiti. It backs a post-coup regime accused of violations of human rights of massive proportion.

Despite the disaster that has since unfolded, the people of Haiti, miraculously it would seem, have found the means to protest in their thousands and tens of thousands for the return of their constitution and duly-elected government. The authors of Canada in Haiti argue that we have a duty to speak out and organize in that people’s defense.

For information on solidarity with Haiti in Canada, go to the website of the Canada Haiti Action Network.