The Harris article also makes observations with respect to “dissident Sandinistas,” which have implications for our understanding of current imperialist strategies. He writes that, following the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in the 1990, some Sandinistas split and formed the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS for its initials in Spanish). He maintains, “When the MRS left the Sandinista party, they took with them almost all those who were better educated, came from more privileged backgrounds, and who spoke English.” They are not, he argues, a progressive alternative. “They are now comfortably ensconced in US-funded NGOs, regularly making junkets to Washington to pay homage to the likes of Representative Iliana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio to lobby in favor of the NICA Act.” In addition, they have little popular support in Nicaragua, having attained only 2% of the vote in national elections.
Harris believes that the ties of the MRS to activists in the United States may explain the fact that “some North American left intellectuals are preoccupied with Nicaragua’s shortcomings while not clearly recognizing that it is being attacked by a domestic rightwing in league with the US government.”
I have observed a similar phenomenon with respect to Cuba and China. Dissident English-speaking intellectuals, with supposedly leftist credentials, criticize the socialist projects in their nations, in a form consistent with ethnocentric assumptions in the USA (including the Left). These “leftists” have relations with intellectuals and think tanks of the English-speaking world. They play an important role in disseminating misinformation in the societies of the North, in spite of their very limited influence in their own nations. With respect to Latin America, this phenomenon is part of a larger imperialist strategy: wage economic war (sanctions, hording of goods), finance local gang violence, and distort the international debate through the major news media. The goal is to facilitate regime change in nations that stand against the neocolonial and neoliberal world order. Such nations are not only seeking to protect their sovereignty, but also seeking to participate in the construction of an alternative, more just world order.
All of this has been observed by Cuban journalists and academics with respect to Latin America. They see it as a new form of imperialism, made necessary by the fact that the old forms of imperialism have become discredited.
I talked recently (in English) with a young Cuban, supposedly leftist intellectual, who uses the phrase, “social movements within the Revolution.” The concept has a dignified history in Cuba. In the early 1960s, Fidel called upon women to forge a “revolution within the revolution.” And environmental issues can be seen in this way, in that in the 1970s and 1980s, some academics and leaders were calling for greater direction of resources toward environmental problems, and they achieved a breakthrough during the “Special Period” of the 1990s, because ecological forms of production and transportation could also be more economical. To a certain extent, the current gay rights movement in Cuba could be seen in this way, although, if popular debates on the proposal for a new Cuban Constitution are any indication, a proposal that would provide the constitutional foundation for the legalization of gay marriage seems to be generating significant popular opposition.
However, my “leftist intellectual” comrade, even though he seeks to place himself in this noble tradition of social movements within the Revolution, does not seem to me to belong to it. Rather, he appears to be indulging in a disinformation campaign against the Cuban Revolution, exploiting the ignorance of Cuba in the US Left. For example, he insisted that the Cuban Constitution of 1976 established the Cuban Communist Party as the highest legal/constitutional authority in the nation, which he found undemocratic and unacceptable. This claim concerning the authority of the Party was based on Article Five, which defines the Cuban Communist Party as the vanguard of the nation and as the highest directing force of the society and the state. But the claim ignores a whole bunch of other articles of the Constitution that give specific authority to the National Assembly (elected directly and indirectly by the people), including the authority to elect the executive branch and to enact laws. The Cuban Constitution sanctions a structure in which the Party leads, teaches, and exhorts; and the delegates of the people decide and govern. This is very difficult for people in the United States to understand, because in the USA, assumptions have been shaped in an entirely different social and political context, in which the political and ideological necessity of a vanguard party is not imagined. It seems to me that the young Cuban “dissident,” probably driven by egoism and immaturity, takes advantage of this political/cultural obstacle to understanding, in order to present himself as an important intellectual critic of the Revolution. With the consequence that, to the extent that he gains influence, confusion in the North is deepened.
The conversation with him prompted me to write a blog post, “The Party and the Parliament in Cuba,” posted on June 19, 2018, in the category Cuba Today.
With respect to Cuba, the issues that seem to germinate in the “critical” US Left are authoritarianism, human rights, income inequality, racial discrimination, and gay rights. This focus distracts from the central point: Cuba, China, and Vietnam are developing alternative political-economic systems, in which the states play a major role as formulator, regulator, and principle actor in the economy, with space for various forms of property in the economic plan; and in which structures of popular democracy, distinct from representative democracy, have been developed and are continually developing. These nations are developing in practice an alternative to the prevailing structures and norms of the political economy of the modern world-system. Moreover, they have registered important economic and social gains, they are politically stable, and they enjoy popular legitimacy. Meanwhile, other nations (Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and the Ecuador of Correa) have moved in a similar direction, albeit principally with structures of representative democracy, rather than popular democracy. The socialist and somewhat socialist nations have been joined by progressive governments (the Argentina of the Kirchners and the Brazil of Lula and Wilma) in an effort to transform global neocolonial structures, replacing imperialist interventionism with mutually beneficial relations. The Left in the North sees these global dynamics only partially and superficially, and therefore it is incapable of grasping their significance with respect to the political projects that they ought to be proposing in their own nations.
One of the reasons for the Left’s blinders is its tendency to distrust authority in any form, even the charismatic authority of exceptional leaders who are lifted up by popular movements, and the bureaucratic authority of states in which such popular movements have taken power. It tends to be cynical toward popular movement leaders after they come to state power. The tendency may be rooted in a subjectivity in which a person enjoys casting himself or herself as always the rebel. Or it can be based in the demonstrably false intellectual assumption that power always corrupts. Whatever its source, the distrust of authority in any form makes the U.S. Left vulnerable to the new imperialist strategy of partnering with “leftist” intellectuals in the dissemination of the supposedly authoritarian and/or corrupt characteristics of socialist and progressive governments.
The tonic for the infirmity of distrust for authority in any form is personal encounter with the movements of the neocolonized of the world. If a person from the North desires to understand; if she or he places that desire above other desires, including those pertaining to successful careers; if she or he, in accordance with this desire, seeks personal encounter with the movements of the Third World; if she or he takes seriously the words of the other and permits her or his understanding to be challenged at its roots; she or he may well find that the peoples in movement of the Third World believe that significant leaders and movements have taken and are taking important steps in construction of a more just, sustainable, and democratic world. This belief is itself a dimension of a world-view defined by faith in the future of humanity and by belief in the duty of all to participate actively, with courage and with sacrifice, in the building of a better world. By and large, the Left in the North has not encountered the Third World in movement, and this is the epistemological foundation of its limited capacity to understand.