Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Notes on Fidel Castro (part 1) on Obama’s speech to the 60th Session of the United Nations General Assembly regarding Libya, Syria, Palestine, and the Arab Revolutions of 2011

by Gary Tedman

The Fidel text was published online in Granma (English) Havana, dated September 26, 2011


I would like to first point out that I have the utmost respect for Fidel, but at the moment I find the arguments of some socialists and communists to be mistaken, at least in part, and I would like here to focus on a text by him which gives the chance to approach the subject head on.

To begin with, Fidel asks the rhetorical and rather loaded question:

“…what position to adopt on the NATO genocide in Libya?”

The conclusion contained in this question is that genocide has in fact taken place in Libya, conducted by NATO.

Now, asking loaded questions are more a trick of bourgeois law than Marxist science (it seeks to win the argument through rhetorical means), but here we have it. Fidel asserts the intervention in Libya is essentially the same as that of Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and uses the same reasoning to justify it. To justify these assertions, he uses the following evidence drawn from past history:

“Was it not precisely the government of the UN host state which ordered the butchery in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the mercenary Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba, the invasion of the Dominican Republic, the "dirty war" in Nicaragua, the occupation of Grenada and Panama by the U.S. military forces and the massacre of Panamanians in El Chorillo? Who promoted the military coups and genocide in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, which resulted in tens of thousands of dead and disappeared?”

Note that, while all these latter accusations are correct, this does not by itself prove or mean that by default today’s military intervention by NATO in Libya is the same. For each intervention and each revolution, conflict or war has to be judged according to its specific material situation and historical circumstance. This must be done according at least to Lenin’s principles.

“Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the Anarchists. We differ from the former in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country; we understand that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created; and we also differ in that we fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary. We Marxists differ from both the pacifists and the Anarchists in that we deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx’s dialectical materialism) to study each war separately.”

It is a slightly worrying sign when past history is used exclusively to damn certain actions, because history is undergoing development all the time, and things, especially political positions in a time of massive economic crisis, change and often invert. We must study each war separately.

Besides, military interventions by ‘western’ powers have not all been imperialist and negative in history: the most obvious example is the intervention against the Nazi’s in Europe in WWII.

Is NATO’s intervention in Libya genocidal? Did it seek to wipe out all Libyan citizens?

I think this is untrue, I suggest that there are two sides to the conflict in Libya, and this means the situation cannot be reduced to a simple ‘NATO genocide’, ‘against Libya’. It is only possible to assert such a thing by completely separating the popular revolution that began there from its roots in the Arab Revolutions across the region, in Egypt and Tunisia, and the other uprisings that began in Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Oman, as well as the protests in Iraq, and by failing to even acknowledge that the ‘rebels’ in Libya were revolutionary and received de facto support from NATO (yes, not for ‘pure’ humanitarian reasons, but the reasons do not matter much to a materialist, what matters is the act). Does Fidel think that the siege of Misrata by Gaddafi’s forces and the attack on Benghazi should have been allowed to go ahead, to proceed to their conclusion? The answer seems sadly to be, yes. With the firepower available to a modern army it is possible for a relatively small unpopular contingent, a regime, to massacre very many protesting people, perhaps to commit genocide, in order to protect its position. What was possible in the Cuban revolution (the armed guerrilla struggle against the unpopular regime) was not possible in Libya, with its different landscape (desert), number of people, and large number of foreign workers and the pre-planned use by the regime of foreign mercenaries, as well as the particular history of the borders being created to corral the Arab people into different areas capable of being overseen by imperial powers. None of this can be passed over without comment, and, frankly, the attempt to do so points to problems.

Let me skip this next bit of Fidel’s piece, where he refers to the 'race' of certain South American political leaders, I find it embarrassing that a communist should worry about ‘race’ in this way, and refer to Evo Morales as “pure millenary indigenous origin” as if it were by itself a good thing, as proof of something. It is not.

Fidel quotes extensively Chavez’s message to the UN:

“I address these words to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization […] to confirm, on this day and in this forum, Venezuela’s total support of Palestinian statehood: the right of Palestine to become a free, sovereign and independent country. It is an act of historical justice to a people who have carried within themselves, always, all the pain and suffering of the world…”

Of which this support for Palestinian statehood is an exemplary Marxist position, without any doubt. Of the rest of the quotations we can only agree too, Chavez provides a very good, clear analysis of the Israel/Palestine situation.

We move on here to Fidel’s analysis of Obama’s comments on Tunisia and Egypt and the Arab Revolutions.

It is perhaps noteworthy that Chavez, at least in the quotes that Fidel sets before us, do not contain any reference to these massive revolutions, which you might think a little surprising from a communist point of view, and which you might think would have a profound bearing upon the Palestinian situation.


“…A bit later he [Obama] mentions Tunisia and takes credit for the popular movement which overthrew the government in that country, which was an ally of imperialism.
Even more astonishingly, Obama fails to acknowledge that the Untied States was responsible for the installation of the tyrannical, corrupt government in Egypt of Hosni Mubarak who, absconding with the principles of Nasser, allied himself with the imperialists, stole billions from his country and tyrannized his valiant people.”

This is true, but again rather rhetorical, and what can be said of Mubarak can equally be said of Gaddafi, they follow the same mould. And can we really expect a President of the US, even if he were to disagree with past US actions, to openly criticise past US foreign policy under past Presidents? Not really. So a ‘failure to acknowledge’ is not surprising and beside the point. What matters is what this relatively new President of the US does and is doing today. We know that the US supported these tyrannical leaders during the post WWII period and they should be and are condemned for that. What’s harder to explain here is not Obama’s position, but the small element of sleight-of-hand and evasion in this argument of Fidel’s.

Fidel quotes from Obama’s speech:

“Day after day, in the face of bullets and bombs, the Libyan people refused to give back that freedom. And when they were threatened by the kind of mass atrocity that often went unchallenged in the last century, the United Nations lived up to its charter. The Security Council authorized all necessary measures to prevent a massacre. The Arab League called for this effort; Arab nations joined a NATO-led coalition that halted Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks.
"Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli.
"This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.
"All of us have a responsibility to support the new Libya — the new Libyan government as they confront the challenge of turning this moment of promise into a just and lasting peace for all Libyans.
"The Qaddafi regime is over. Gbagbo, Ben Ali, Mubarak are no longer in power. Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him.”

This is the point where Fidel’s logic begins to show the strain of its position. There is an attempt in the following, while commenting upon Obama’s speech, to make us somehow feel sorry for Osama bin Laden and the manner of his killing, and then, the (unproved, even un-evidenced in this article) re-invocation of Libya as a NATO conducted genocide is used to defend the Syrian regime from similar intervention and interference. There is no real challenge to Obama’s remarks on Libya, no grappling with the detail of the story of the conflict in Libya.

In effect, this is an attempt to theoretically defend the very obviously fascist regime in Syria from revolutionary justice, from the same justice as has been meted out in Tunisia and Egypt, against Ben Ali and Mubarak and their regimes.

By implication Fidel’s justification for his position is that US –

“…intelligence services along with those of Israel, systematically assassinate the most outstanding scientists involved in military technology”

This is decidedly weak. In those countries, this, while it may be true, does not mean (pretty obviously) that the peoples uprising in Syria (like in Libya) is any less legitimate. It just means it is complicated.

It is in any case, as Obama’s speech demonstrates with its calls for ‘peaceful transition’, by no means certain that any military intervention on the side of the people of Syria or Yemen will happen from the direction of the US or Europe, and certainly the interests of the US are at this moment on the side of the repressive regime in Bahrain, where a hypocritical reformist agenda is being supported (Fidel notes the US has the naval base there). But it would seem that from the statements of Fidel he would not support any help to the Bahraini, Syrian or Yemeni people either, anyway, so in this sense would be in fact in the same essential (materially speaking) boat as Obama -: the people, through weak theoretical pseudo justifications, must be left to ‘their own’ brutal repression. This kind of conclusion I suggest is not worthy of a communist or Marxist, doing nothing is not an option.

We move on here rapidly to the question of Israel and Palestine in Obama’s speech.

Says Fidel of Obama:

“He then launches into a long lecture explaining and justifying the inexplicable and unjustifiable”

He is right about this, what follows is mealy-mouthed and half baked pseudo justifications for the status quo to remain as it is, and Fidel points out -:

“The least Obama could have done was acknowledge that Israel's own citizens are tired of the squandering of resources invested in the military, denying them peace and access to the basic means of life. Like the Palestinians, they are suffering the consequences of policies imposed by the United States and the most bellicose, reactionary sectors of the Zionist state.”

And Fidel rightly shows how Obama edges sneakily from talking about Palestine into talking about nuclear weapons, and from here brings in the argument against Iran and North Korea, as if this has a bearing (unstated in an open fashion) on what can happen, or be allowed to happen, with the Palestinian situation.

When UNICEF confirms Cuba as the only Latin American country with no child malnutrition I consider this as more important to Cuba than the above theoretical disagreement. However, to the people suffering and fighting in Syria and Yemen, their own circumstances and the foreign support they get is more important to them, even if it is only theoretical support, and I think the position as regards much of the South American progressive leaderships towards their comrades in the Middle East and North Africa is inconsistent and mistaken in many crucial respects.

The Libyan intervention was and is a complex event. It did not happen in isolation from the people of Libya, who were uprising against the Gaddafi regime, nor did it happen in isolation from the revolutions that happened in neighbouring Arab countries, Tunisia and Egypt. This in itself is a great difference, and a crucial one, to that of Afghanistan and Iraq, which were imposed under false pretences. Also the method that NATO and the US used to intervene was different in terms of tactics and strategy: there was to be no occupying force, and the intervention sought approval from the Arab League and not only the UN Security Council.

Whilst the intervention was put forward ideologically as to be on ‘humanitarian grounds’ to protect the civilians from massacre and genocide (from Gaddafi’s forces and their threats), you cannot bomb people in a humanitarian fashion, and so we can see here the limits of the bourgeois understanding of its intervention as far as the UN is concerned. Yet this does not of itself de-legitimise the intervention. It had to be sided, and in fact it was sided. The notion of humanitarian protection was and is a myth that is always present in bourgeois ideology – the myth of the universal middle line, countering the false dialectic of opposed forces of good and evil, and the UN has to stick to this

The reasons for the NATO intervention were probably ‘impure’, in the sense that one consideration was probably the oil resources and that they (the nations represented by NATO) might lose access to them if they lost. Another reason was probably that Gaddafi often pretended to socialist credentials, and the intervention could ostensibly appear as also an anti-socialist intervention at a time when capitalist democracy was under severe threat from internal strife due to the economic crisis, i.e. in Spain and Greece in particular, and it wanted to portray itself as progressive but anti-socialist (famously Gaddafi was thought to perhaps be escaping to Venezuela in a mischievous comment by Hague). That Gaddafi was not socialist in any genuine sense seems to have been shown up even more through the revelations about western collusion with the regime since the liberation of Tripoli and since Gaddafi has reverted to being the terrorist that he always aided while keeping up the rhetoric against terrorism.

But to understand the reasons for the intervention we must understand what it would have meant had the western powers generally sided with the forces of reaction in the Middle East and North Africa, against specifically the Egyptian people. Faced with such an obvious and open reactionary stance, the people of Europe, already angry at the austerity measures being thrown at them, would be far more sure of who their social enemy was. After the Libya intervention, the global bourgeoisie have for once shown a small progressive side, and we must give credit to the people of Europe for pressurising for this. At the same time, though, if the Tunisian and Egyptian people had not struggled quite so hard and not been so brave and resolute, the western powers would have continued to support these regimes in total.

It is clear at the moment that the Arab revolution is not over, that it has many facets, and that the position of the advanced western powers towards them vacillates. The circumstances, however, of the Palestinian people are now greatly enhanced. No longer do they need to see the endless almost ritual violence between the Israeli rightist government and the Palestinian factional leaders as the only ‘solution’, or the fake ‘peace negotiations’. Now the solution appears to be happening by default through the revolutions in the region, and it is with these revolutions that the Palestinians will find their goal, as too will the Israeli ordinary people, who have shown that their voice is also being ignored and that they too are part of the movement.