While the global powers take seriously the emergence of socialist and progressive projects in Latin America, the Left in the North does not. The global powers historically have discerned that the Third World project of national and social liberation is a threat to the neocolonial world-system; and accordingly, they attacked with the Cold War ideology, portraying the Third World project as communist and undemocratic, and downplaying its nationalist anti-colonial character as well as its popular roots. The Cold War characterization was a distortion, designed to discredit. But the need to discredit was rooted in the correct discernment that the alternative structures envisioned by Third World revolutionary leaders would be the foundation for the transformation of the systemic unequal distribution of wealth and power that were central neocolonialism. As a threat to the neocolonial world-system, the projects of national and social liberation in Latin America and the Third World had to be destroyed, by any and all means available, including ideological distortions, economic sanctions, and military aggression. Rather than dismissing the Third World revolution, the global powers have taken them seriously as potential threats to their power and wealth, both in the period 1948 to 1979 as well as in the present stage of renewal that began in 1994, when the focus more is on supposed violations of human rights rather than communism.
In contrast, the Left in the North does not take seriously the popular revolution in Latin America or the Third World. To be sure, it condemns imperialism and gives verbal support to anti-imperialist movements. But the Left in the North has not appreciated the Third World revolution as a source of further understanding of the world-system or as an experiential base for understanding the meaning of socialism; it has not sought to develop its understanding through study of the speeches and writings of the charismatic leaders of the anti-imperialist Third World movements. I view this shortcoming as reflecting a subtle form of Eurocentrism.
As I have been developing this blog from the Third World perspective, I have on several occasions felt compelled to write critiques of Leftist intellectuals and activists, noting the tendency of not taking seriously the Third World movement as a source of knowledge. These blog posts have included critiques of: the important US social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein, who in the formulation of the world-systems perspective has moved social science to a more advanced stage; Harry Targ, Professor of International Relations at Purdue University and author of the blog, Diary of a Heartland Radical; Cliff DuRand of the Center for Global Justice and organizer for many years of an interchange between Cuban and US philosophers; Mitchel Cohen, New York based activist whose Leftist activities date to the 1960s; Alan Spector, former President of the Association for Humanist Sociology; Paul D’Amato, Editor of the International Socialist Review; Jeffrey St. Clair, Editor of CounterPunch; Asin Shivani and Les Leopold, authors of articles published in Alternet; the Green Party; and the Marxist Humanist Initiative. To date, fifty-four such posts have been published, and they are placed in the category Critique of the Left.
I summarize here the key points of these critiques, in order to provide examples of what I mean by “the subtle Eurocentrism of the Left,” beginning with Wallerstein. The foundation of Immanuel Wallerstein’s achievement was his encounter with African nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, inspiring him to formulate the world-systems perspective, drawing upon the works of the French historian Fernand Braudel and the Polish economic historian Marian Malowist. But as Wallerstein’s career progressed, rather than continuing on a sustained encounter with the Third World movements of national and social liberation, he increasingly was influenced by French currents of thought, as he participated in the academic world of the West. Accordingly, he did not sufficiently encounter the socialist revolutions of China, Vietnam or Cuba, with the results that: (1) he could not maintain a consistent distinction in his analysis between accommodationist and revolutionary Third World movements; (2) he underestimated the significance of these three revolutions, which managed to persist and to continue to inspire hope among the peoples of the Third World; and (3) he was not able to appreciate the epistemological implications of the Third World project. As a dimension of this limitation, he maintained, in the early 1980s, that the peoples of the world had lost faith in the capacity of the state to respond to their needs, but this view has been shown to be erroneous by the renewal of the Third World project in Latin America, where popular movements are seeking to attain or maintain control of the state, with the goal of directing the state to act in defense of the interests of the people. (See “Wallerstein and world-systems analysis” 3/25/2014; “Wallerstein on liberalism” 4/6/2014; “Liberals or revolutionaries?” 4/7/2014; “Wallerstein on Leninism” 4/8/2014; “Wallerstein on revolution” 4/9/2014; and “Wallerstein, Marx, and knowledge” 4/14/2014).
In contrast to Wallerstein, some intellectuals maintain a perspective that is close to the classic formulation of Marx. This is the case with Paul D’Amato, Editor of the International Socialist Review, and with the Marxist-Humanist Initiative. D’Amato maintains that the Cuban Revolution is not a socialist revolution; but he offers little reflection on the meaning of socialism and little empirical evidence with respect to Cuba. The Marxist-Humanist Initiative is much more reflective, drawing upon the work of Raya Dunayevskaya to maintain that none of the socialist revolutions in practice implemented the transformations of the productive process that Marx envisioned. However, the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, like the International Socialist Review, does not take seriously the discourses and writings of Third World charismatic leaders and organic intellectuals as an evolution of Marxist-Leninist theory on a foundation of a constantly evolving political practice. They thus develop an understanding of socialist transformations in a form inconsistent with the method of Marx, who encountered the working-class struggle in the process of formulating a critique from below of German philosophy and British political-economy (see “Who defines socialism?” 4/20/2016; “Racial inequality in Cuba” 4/21/2016; “A revolution of, by, and for the people” 4/22/2016; “The relation between theory and practice” 9/9/2016; and “Third World socialism” 9/13/2016).
Alan Spector also appears to be drawing upon a classic Marxist formulation. In comments in response to my post, he questions the utility of the nation-state as a category of analysis. I maintained that an analysis that synthesizes Marxism-Leninism and the Third World anti-colonial perspective sees states as necessary actors in both domination and liberation, but this does not negate the fact that class dynamics within nations are important. Indeed, when a Third World nation pursues the radical Third World project, it is because the popular sectors formed by the middle class, workers, peasants, women, and ethnic groups have taken control of the state from the estate bourgeoisie and the political actors that represent the raw materials export sector (“States as actors in the world-system” 7/21/2014).
Spector believes that China has an imperialist orientation toward Africa. I maintained that the possibilities for ascent in the world-system by means of domination and exploitation are very limited today, inasmuch as the world-system has overextended the geographical limits of the earth. Any acquisition of new territories would necessarily be at the expense of the core powers, which would react with hostility and aggression. Recognizing this, China currently is turning to ascent through a strategy of cooperation with other nations, seeking to develop mutually beneficial trade with the nations of the Third World. This is consistent with the strategy of the ancient Chinese empires with respect to territory that was beyond its political control. Inasmuch as the Chinese strategy is an alternative to the imperialism and neoliberalism of the global powers, it is embraced by the Third World governments that seek true sovereignty (see “China and the alternative world-system” 7/18/2014).
Harry Targ’s blog post reflecting on the socialist alternative had some good points, including historical consciousness, but its description lacked some aspects that would be included from a Third World perspective. Accordingly, in my critique of Harry’s post, I maintained that socialists in the United States need to: more clearly identify the socialist revolution as a revolution of the people rather than a revolution of the working class; explain and defend the structures of popular democracy, as a much more democratic alternative to representative democracy; affirm the historic demand of the radical Third World agenda for national liberation and true sovereignty, committing to a transformation of US foreign policy from imperialism and interventionism to North-South cooperation; and affirm that socialism seeks the cultural and spiritual formation of the people (see “May Day and the socialist alternative” 5/18/2016).
Harry’s blog post commemorating the 90th birthday of Fidel reviews Cuban history, including Spanish colonial domination of the island. However, the post describes colonialism as essentially a political phenomenon. In my critique, I maintained that we need to explain to our people the economic foundations of colonialism, for they remain present in the neocolonial world-system (see “Fidel Castro at 90” 8/17/2016).
Jeffrey St. Clair maintains that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is not a revolutionary socialist, because he did not organize protest actions in conjunction with his campaign activities. Les Leopold maintains that we need a new organization of the Left in order to organize a mass protest demanding a financial speculation tax in order to fund free higher education. Mitchel Cohen, in What is Direct Action? Reframing Revolutionary Strategy in Light of Occupy Wall Street, advocates direct action as a revolutionary strategy that seeks to construct alternative communities through the direct implementation of demands, thus liberating its participants from capitalist forms of thinking and being. However, these proposals reflect an exaggerated emphasis on protest and direct action, without seeing them as tactics that are integral to a larger revolutionary plan. If we observe the socialist revolutions that have taken power in the Third World, we find that they developed alternative political parties or political formations, and they used mass protests and direct action as strategies for the organization and mobilization of the people. The leaders and parties give priority to popular education, which they saw as necessary for the taking and holding of political power. Their primary objective was the taking of political power, so that they could subsequently struggle to direct the state in defense of popular interests. Drawing lessons from the experience of Third World socialism, in my critique of these authors, I maintained that we need a new organization of the Left that has the intention of educating and organizing the people, with the long-term goal of taking power. (See “What should Bernie Sanders have done?” 5/2/2016; “Progressive strategy after Sanders campaign” 7/1/2016; “Authoritarianism vs. legitimate power” 5/16/2016; “What is direct action?” 5/9/2016; “The vanguard party model” 5/10/2016; “Connecting to the needs of our people” 5/11/2016; and “The New Left and its errors” 5/13/2016).
The alternative organization or political party that we need must call all of our people, excluding no popular sector. The Marxist-Humanist Initiative has not discerned the evolution of Marxist theory in practice in the revolutions of national and social liberation in the Third World. As a result, adapting the classic Marxist formulation of a working-class vanguard to the identity politics in vogue in the United States today, the call to action of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative excludes white middle class men. In my critique of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, I maintain that this exclusion is a strategic error, because the degree of participation of white middle class men in a popular revolution in the United States will be a decisive factor (see “Why exclude white middle class men?” 9/16/2016).
In this vein, Asin Shivani makes some valid criticisms of multiculturalism, pointing to the need to reconstruct the discourse of the Left in a form that reaffirms its historic goals but that does not exclude working and middle class white men. However, Shivani’s article lacks historical consciousness and ignores the Third World. It does not endeavor to analyze the origin of neoliberalism; and it describes neoliberalism as a policy that expresses itself in Europe and North America, without attention to the dynamics of its application to the Third World. Shavani formulates a typology of ideologies without including the radical Third World project of national and social liberation, or the ideology of Third World accommodation to imperialist and neoliberal demands. (See “Reflections on Neoliberalism” 6/28/2016; “Neoliberalism” 6/16/2016; “What are the origins of neoliberalism?” 6/17/2016; “Ideological frames” 6/20/2016; “Neoliberalism and presidential elections” 6/23/2016; “Neoliberalism, multiculturalism & identity politics” 6/24/2016; and “The future of neoliberalism” 6/27/2016).
Shivani maintains that the state no longer exists in the form that we conventionally view it. Against Shivani, I maintain that states continue to exist and continue to be the principal actors in the world-system: dominating international organizations are controlled by particular states; and when corporations act in their interests, they do so through states that they control. The history of revolutions demonstrates that the road to popular power is the taking of control of the state, so that the delegates of the people, through their management of the state, can direct military power, constrain corporate power, defend the needs of the people, and protect nature. Shivani’s view cultivates hopelessness among the people and condemns them to powerlessness, for it leaves the people without a strategy for struggle (see “The nation-state in a neoliberal world” 6/21/2016).
Harry Targ and Cliff DuRand have been promoting cooperatives in Cuba, which they view as representing a turn in Cuba to “workplace democracy,” seeking to transform the top-down form of socialism represented above all by state ownership of productive and commercial enterprises. I maintain that Targ and DuRand misinterpret current Cuban dynamics. The new social and economic model, approved by the Cuban National Assembly of Popular Power in 2012, is not oriented to “workplace democracy,” but to the improvement of production, in response to the demand of the people for greater capacity to attain material necessities and consumer goods. Moreover, I do not believe that it is appropriate for US socialists to be supporting one tendency over other possible directions in the development of Cuban socialism, inasmuch as such judgments are made by Cubans. Our focus ought to be the socialist transformation of the United States, using the historically significant example of Cuba of a source of ideas for visions, analysis and strategies. (See “The role of US intellectuals, Part I” 8/5/2015; “Fidel Castro at 90” 8/17/2016).
I found the Green Party Platform to be Eurocentric, superficial and unphilosophical. It demonstrates little understanding of: the colonial foundation of the capitalist world-economy; the role of US imperialism in securing an advantageous position for the United States; and the popular anti-colonial movements of the Third World. It demonstrates a stunning lack of historical consciousness with respect to the United States, avoiding analysis of class, racial and gender dynamics and the movements formed by the various sectors of the people in response to these dynamics. Although the Platform calls upon the people to reflection on the meaning of democracy, it does not itself offer an example of such reflection. (See “The Green Party Platform” 8/26/2016; “Can the Green Party evolve?” 8/29/2016).
Why have Leftist intellectuals and activists of the North not studied in greater depth the writings and speech of the charismatic leaders of the Third World movements for national and social liberation? Why have they not seen, in the discourses of the charismatic leaders, the possibility for new understandings of the meaning of socialism and of the evolution of socialist theory on a foundation of practice? Why do they give priority to the study of the popular movements and currents of thought in Europe and North America?
No one would want to suggest that racism is the answer to such questions, inasmuch as Leftist intellectuals and activists historically have protested racism. But there may be a hidden assumption that the future necessary direction for humanity could not possibly be formulated by Latinos, Africans and Asians, a survival of the era in which the peoples of the North were blatantly taught of the inferiority of peoples of color. Although it would be an exaggeration to call it “racism,” it would be reasonable to call it “subtle Eurocentrism.” It has a profound effect, for it prevents understanding of the global structural sources of the abuses and maladies that define our era as well as the necessary political steps for their resolution.
Just as the peoples of European descent in the United States overcame blatant forms of racism during the period 1965 to 1972, they can at the present historic juncture overcome the subtle Eurocentrism that is its legacy. This will be the theme of my next post.
In this post, I have been speaking for the most part of the white Left, and its subtle Eurocentrism. With respect to the movements formed by people of color, another line of commentary is in order. From the period 1917 to 1988, as the working class movement was moving to accommodationist reformism, the African-American movement emerged to formulate a penetrating critique of American society and American imperialism. And the movement effectively used mass action strategies to transform policy and public discourse with respect to race. However, the gains of the movement, crystalized in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, did not include affirmation of two historic demands of the movement: domestic policies dedicated to the protection of social and economic rights; and foreign policies that respect the sovereignty of the nations of the Third World. The proposals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X with respect to these issues were ignored. To some extent, the African-American Movement has lost its way since 1972, in part because of increasing class divisions within the African-American community, and in part because of ideological confusion resulting from the post-1980 restauration project of the Right. It has not been able to formulate a comprehensive plan: for the social and economic development of the black community; and for alliance with other popular sectors in order to protect of the social and economic rights of the people and to transform US foreign policy toward North-South cooperation. Rev. Jesse Jackson indicated the right direction in his presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988, but he was not able to develop the Rainbow Coalition as a mass organization (see “Black community control” 5/10/2015; “The unresolved issue of race in the USA” 6/23/2015; “The abandonment of the black lower class” 6/24/2015; and “The need for a popular coalition” 6/27/2015).
The Chicano Movement of the 1960s formulated a radical political agenda from an anti-imperialist perspective, but with the post-1980 Latino migration to the United States, Latino organizations have come to focus on the rights of immigrants, distancing themselves from the revolutionary and Leftist proposals and projects that have changed the political reality of Latin America. US Latino organizations ought to be more fully connected to the political and ideological tendencies in Latin America, as a dimension of its participation in a popular coalition in the United States.