“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.” Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
A specter is a threat, a real possibility. A phantom is a ghost, an apparition, a spirit. Specters pertain to the real world, but phantoms do not; phantoms enter the real world only in the form of fear of them. As an ideological maneuver in response to the threat embodied by communism, the powers-that-be converted the specter of communism into a phantom, everywhere present, seeking to destroy all that is good.
The specter of communism was discerned by Marx on the basis of his encounter with the movement of workers, artisans, and socialist intellectuals that sought to defend the interests of the working class (see “Marx illustrates cross-horizon encounter” 1/7/14). The specter was a real threat to the established order; it was expressed most strongly in France and Germany, and it culminated in the Revolution of 1848. The threat emerged again at the beginning of the twentieth century, in the form of movement by workers and peasants in Russia, including the formation of councils or soviets (“The Russian Revolution (October)” 1/23/2014). Later, in the middle of the twentieth century, the specter would be translated to the colonized peoples, who from 1919 to 1979 would form movements of national liberation against European colonial rule, which also included class struggle against the national bourgeoisies in the colonies. The anti-colonial popular impulse also would be expressed in Latin America, as popular anti-imperialist movements and revolutions challenged neocolonial structures from 1919 to 1979. Accordingly, theoretical reflection on political praxis, embodied in the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, came to be reformulated by the charismatic leaders of the twentieth century, who synthesized Marxism-Leninism with traditions of anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial revolutions, a dynamic most advanced in the cases of Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro (see various posts on Marxism-Leninism and its evolution). The specter appeared to have died in the period of 1980 to 1995, but since 1995, it has been reborn and has proclaimed socialism for the twenty-first century. A new generation of charismatic leaders has been lifted up by the movement of the peoples: Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, and others.
Thus, the specter of communism has been a real threat, although it has not always been known by this name. It has been continually evolving, reformulating its understanding, integrally connected to the movements of the people, and in the process, establishing structures that can provide the foundation for a more just and democratic alternative world-system.
Since the 1840s, the global powers sought to contain the specter emerging from below. Their most powerful weapon was political repression. But also important was ideological manipulation, that is, the generation and dissemination of ideas that distort reality and confuse the people, for the purpose of defending the interests of the powerful.
A central ideological weapon during the course of the twentieth century was the conversion of the specter of communism into a phantom. It became a ghost, with evil intentions and ominous powers, that appeared everywhere.
A fundamental step in the ideological maneuver of the communist phantom was to distort the image of the specter of communism, to present it as something that it was not. It was portrayed as totalitarian; as denying human rights; as negating freedoms of speech, press, and association; as a repressive system in the same league with fascism; and as repressing religion. In disseminating this distortion, the maneuver preyed upon the ignorance of the people: efforts to construct the alternative electoral structures of popular democracy were presented as denying the right of the people to vote; the quest to free the press from bourgeois control by restricting bourgeois ownership of the media of communication was presented as the violation of freedom of the press; and political conflicts with the church, allied with the wealthy, were presented as negations of freedom of religion. The fall of Leninism to Stalinism in the Soviet Union in 1924 was not analyzed, thus facilitating the presentation of a totalitarian image of communism. And the manifestations of communism in the colonized regions were presented in a form that downplayed their nationalist character, thus establishing an image of an international conspiracy directed by a totalitarian state. In an Orwellian ideological maneuver, the neocolonial powers presented themselves as defenders of democracy, while presenting the movements seeking liberation from colonial and neocolonial domination as threats to democracy, and as threats that were everywhere. In reality, what emerged was a movement for human and national liberation from the structures of colonial and neocolonial domination that had been imposed through conquest and force by Western European powers from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. This global anti-colonial movement indeed has been and is present everywhere, because humanity possesses a tremendous thirst for social justice.
Being a neocolony with significant US cultural and ideological penetration, the communist phantom appeared in full force as an important dimension of Cuban political culture from the period 1946 to 1962. With the adoption of the agrarian reform plan, and the clear identification of the Cuban revolution as a radical anti-neocolonial revolution (see “The defining moment of the Cuban Revolution” 9/24/2014), the ideological maneuver of the Communist phantom became a key component of the subversive counterrevolutionary plan of the United States (Buch and Suarez 2009:204), which we will discuss further in the next post.
The phantom of communism is still with us today. Because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, the phantom has a different appearance. Today, the phantom, everywhere present, violates human rights and supports terrorism, making necessary the military intervention of the global powers.
In any nation in the world-system today, the key to nullifying the ideological phantom of our time may lie in learning important lessons from the triumphant Cuban revolution and its charismatic leader: understand the concrete needs of the people; formulate a program for addressing these concrete needs; develop a plan to take power; implement the program with decisive action; and promote the political education of the people for the long term. This is possible, if we think and act with intelligence, creativity, and commitment. It appears to be impossible, but it is possible, because the global elite is demonstrating its inability to intelligently and morally guide the development of the world-system, and because the specter from below today emerges with more force, understanding, and commitment than ever.
Buch Rodríguez, Luis M. and Reinald Suárez Suárez. 2009. Gobierno Revolucionario Cubano: Primeros pasos. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
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