In 1946, Winston Churchill proclaimed that an “Iron Curtain” had descended over Europe, as the army of the Soviet Union continued to occupy the countries of Eastern Europe, where they had advanced in securing a military victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. Churchill also was concerned with the rapid growth of communist parties in France and Italy as well as the civil war in Greece. There thus emerged the idea of the containment of communism, and the Marshall Plan was conceived as a project of economic assistance to help the nations of Western Europe to contain the communist threat (García Oliveras 2010:88-89).
What really was and is communism? Nearly 100 years before Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began The Communist Manifesto with the words, “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.” Marx and Engels were referring to the movement of workers, artisans, and socialist intellectuals, which they understood to be the foundation for a revolution from capitalism to socialism (see “Marx and the working class” 1/6/2014; “Marx on the revolutionary proletariat” 1/14/2014). In the age of Marx and Engels, workers, especially factory workers, suffered long hours, inadequate pay, and terrible working conditions. Communism was a movement that sought to organize workers for the collective self-defense of their rights and dignity. And communism had a radical idea. Rather than pressuring the capitalist class to make concessions, the communist intention was for the workers themselves to take power, to take control of the state, so that the state during a transitional socialist stage to communism would promote the interests of the workers and not the interest of the capitalist class.
The Russian Revolution was the concrete manifestation of this hope. Adapting Marx’s concepts to the conditions of Russia, which consisted mostly of peasants, Lenin formulated the notion of a revolution of workers and peasants, led by a vanguard of the industrial working class. During the insurrection, the workers had developed soviets, or workers’ councils, in order to make decisions and organize actions. Lenin thus saw soviets of workers, peasants, and soldiers as the central mechanism for the expression of popular will, and as a more advance alternative to bourgeois structures of representative democracy. In addition, Lenin discerned that the advancing conditions of technology and commerce require that the socialist transformation be global in scope; socialism could not be developed in a single country. Inasmuch as the majority of the peoples of the world were of the colonized and oppressed peoples and nations, Lenin recognized the importance of nationalist revolutions in these countries for the success of the global revolution. He formulated the concept of the self-determination of peoples and nations, and the Russian Revolution came to the support of the oppressed and colonized nations in their struggles for self-determination (see “The Russian Revolution (February)” 1/22/2014; “The Russian Revolution (October)” 1/23/2014; “A permanent global revolution” 1/27/2014; “Ho reformulates Lenin” 5/7/2014; “Ho synthesizes socialism and nationalism” 5/8/2014).
That Marxism-Leninism and political activity inspired by it are threats to the capitalist class is self-evident. In response to this threat, anti-communism emerged as an ideology that functioned to defend the interests of the capitalist class through the discrediting and delegitimation of Marxism-Leninism. The central ideological maneuver of anti-communism has been to focus on repressive measures in the Soviet Union after Lenin in order to portray communism as totalitarian, and to pretend that the repressive measures that emerged in the Soviet Union in the age of Stalin are characteristic of communism in all of its particular national expressions. Anti-communism avoids analysis of the factors that led to the emergence of a bureaucratic counterrevolution in Russia, which placed Stalin at the head. Similarly, it evades examination of the characteristics of the Russian Revolution in the time of Lenin or the characteristics of communist parties and nations in other lands. It selectively gathers evidence in order to present a distorted image and to justify a political and military campaign against communism.
With the emergence of anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial movements in the Third World in the twentieth century, communism evolved to a new stage. Communism arrived to be a synthesis of, on the one hand, Marxist-Leninist concepts that had been formulated in the context of the workers' revolutions in Western Europe and Russia; and on the other hand, a perspective rooted in the nationalist movements developed in response to European colonial domination of the peoples, nations, and kingdoms of the world. The most advanced examples of this synthesis were formulated by Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro. In the case of Vietnam, nationalism was formulated originally by the class of Confucian scholars, in which Ho was formed (see “Confucian scholars and nationalism” 4/29/2014; “Who was Ho Chi Minh?” 5/2/2014). In the case of Cuba, nationalism was rooted in the thought and political leadership of José Martí; and it was further developed by the popular movement of the radical petit bourgeoisie, students, workers, women, and peasants during the era of the neocolonial republic, a movement that shaped the thinking and consciousness of Fidel (as we shall see in future posts). Both Ho and Fidel forged creative syntheses of their particular nationalism with Marxism-Leninism. They saw that the colonial domination of the nation and the exploitation of the popular classes were integrally tied, so that the nation could not be liberated without ending class exploitation, and class exploitation could not be eliminated without ending the domination of the nation by the colonial powers. They led their nations in revolutionary struggles for genuine independence and social transformation, seeking to establish the protection of the social and economic rights of the people. Both revolutionary projects undertook extensive land reform, necessary for social transformation, but which also became the source of significant opposition, since it represents a significant step in the transfer of power from an agricultural bourgeoisie to peasants, workers, and radical intellectuals.
China is a unique case. Since the Chinese empire was never conquered and peripheralized by the Western colonial powers, its revolution emerged in a context different from the Third World in general. But in a manner similar to Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong contributed to the evolution of Marxism-Leninism by adapting it to Chinese conditions. He led a communist movement in which the peasantry, and not the industrial working class, was the leading revolutionary class. Following the triumph of the revolution in 1949, cooperatives and mass organizations were formed, and the Chinese Revolution adopted a policy of support for national liberation movements in Asia. Accordingly, China provided arms and military advisors to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam during its wars with France and the United States.
For Western capitalism, with the triumph of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the communist threat in Asia became as serious as that of Europe. In addition to communist governments in Vietnam and China, there also were significant communist movements in India and Indonesia, and a guerrilla war had emerged in Malaya. With the initiation of the Korean War, US President Harry Truman proclaimed that communism had gone from a strategy of subversion to a strategy of armed invasion and the conquest of independent nations (García Oliveras 2010:89-90). By 1952, the United States, Great Britain, and France were declaring their commitment to resist “communist intentions of conquest and subversion” as well as Chinese and Russian “aggression” (García Oliveras 2010:93-94).
Thus, anti-communism evolved to apply the doctrine of the containment of communism, originally developed with respect to the Soviet Union, to Southeast Asia and the Third World. Accordingly, anti-communist ideology portrayed a world in which newly independent nations were threatened by “communist subversion,” and in which nations that had not fallen to communism could be influenced by the Soviet Union or China and thus could become part of the “communist orbit.” In accordance with these assumptions, Third World revolutions seeking national liberation from colonial and neocolonial domination were viewed as communist threats to democracy and to the West.
In reality, Third World manifestations of communism are not a threat to democracy, if we have an understanding of democracy that is freed from ideological distortions. In developing popular councils, in seeking to protect the social and economic rights of the people, and in promoting the self-determination and sovereignty of nations, communist movements have developed a more advanced form of democracy. In seeking to develop political structures that place the decision making process under the control of the popular sectors, communism challenges bourgeois representative democracy with the more profound alternative approach of popular democracy. In seeking to establish an international system of sovereign nations, international communism threatens not democracy but the neocolonial world-system. As a threat to the control of the political process by the capitalist class and to the systemic advantages provided to core nations by global neocolonial structures, communism must be attacked by all available means, including ideological means. Thus, in an Orwellian inversion, the Western powers attacked communism, a more advanced form of democracy, justifying their actions by proclaiming that they are defending democracy from the threat of communism.
As an international movement that seeks to transform structures of domination, socialist and radical national liberation movements and governments develop relations with one another. The anti-communist discourse portrays this as “communist subversion.” But movements and governments that seek to develop alternative global structures have a right to develop relations with one another, in accordance the principles of the right of nations to sovereignty and the right of persons to freedom of association. All nations have the right to support social movements in other lands, if they do not interfere in their political affairs. For example, nations have the right to establish educational institutions for international students and activists, educating them in accordance with their political culture and revolutionary values, as was done by the Soviet Union in the case of Ho Chi Minh. And nations have the sovereign right to provide military assistance to friendly nations that request it, as was done by the Soviet Union and China with respect to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Such relations of solidarity and mutual support have historically occurred among socialist nations, and it continues to occur today among socialist, progressive and independent nations. Their forming of such relations, in accordance with their rights, does not justify military aggression and political interventionism by global powers, whose ideological maneuvers convert the virtue of international solidarity into something subversive and sinister.
Ideologies are distortions. They have an element of truth, as they must, if they to be credible. But in gathering and marshaling evidence, they ignore important facts, thus creating a picture that is a fundamental distortion of reality. Ideologies are functional: they serve the interests of the powerful and the privileged. Ideologies function to manipulate the people in order to attain its support and participation in a foreign war of conquest or in a campaign of domestic repression. Ideologies can be used cynically by political elites, who themselves are not taken in by their distortions, but who appreciate their manipulative power. But more commonly, elites have a strong psychological need to justify in their own consciences the privileges that they possess, so they also tend internalize the ideological distortions. This occurred with respect to the policymakers who launched the US war in Vietnam, as we will see in the next post.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
García Oliveras, Julio A. 2010. Ho Chi Minh El Patriota: 60 años de lucha revolucionaria. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, communism, ideology