Spartacist Canada No. 164
Third World Cheerleading and Cynical Phrasemongering
Haiti: IG Conjures Up Revolution Amid the Rubble
Please see the statement of the International Executive Committee of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), "Repudiating Our Position on Haiti Earthquake: A Capitulation to U.S. Imperialism"
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 952 (12 February), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
Confronting the massive toll of death and destruction in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, Marxists were obliged to underline the history of imperialist depredations that left the Haitian masses utterly exposed in the face of this natural disaster. Workers Vanguard’s front-page article, “Haiti Earthquake Horror: Imperialism, Racism and Starvation” (WV No. 951, 29 January) [see front page of this SC], also documented the role of the Haitian lackeys of imperialism, including the populist Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former Haitian leader embraced by the reformist left internationally. We told the bitter truth: Haitian society had been pulped by the earthquake. The desperate conditions of Haiti today cannot be resolved within Haiti: “The key to the liberation of Haiti lies in proletarian revolution throughout the hemisphere, in which the mobilization of the sizable Haitian proletariat in the diaspora can play a key role.”
We exposed the reformist “socialists” who cheered Obama’s election as U.S. Commander-in-Chief and now plead for U.S. aid without the exercise of American military might, revealing their touching faith in the bourgeois state. Our article also attacked the grotesque and cynical phrasemongering of the centrist Internationalist Group (IG). In the IG’s fantasyland, the earthquake placed workers revolution on the immediate agenda in Haiti: “This small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power, particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police” (“Haiti: Workers Solidarity, Yes! Imperialist Occupation, No!” Internationalist, January 2010). To this end, the IG demanded that “all U.S./U.N. forces get out,” claiming: “This huge military occupation is not intended to deliver aid, but to put down unrest by the poor and working people of Haiti” (emphasis in original). As we wrote in response:
“Notwithstanding the IG’s deranged and grotesque fantasies, there are no good alternatives facing Haiti today. The U.S. military is the only force on the ground with the capacity—e.g., trucks, planes, ships—to organize the transport of what food, water, medical and other supplies are getting to Haiti’s population. And they’re doing it in the typical piggish U.S. imperialist manner. We have always opposed U.S. and UN occupations in Haiti and everywhere—and it may become necessary to call for U.S./UN out of Haiti in the near future—but we are not going to call for an end to such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on.”
The IG seizes on this statement in a subsequent polemic posted on its Web site to revile the SL for nothing less than having “gone over from bending under pressure from the ruling class to outright apology for imperialism” (“Spartacist League Backs U.S. Imperialist Invasion of Haiti,” 30 January). Not only does the IG lie about our position but, by omission, it lies about its own position, doctoring a quote from its earlier statement in order to disappear its call for a revolutionary uprising “particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police.” The IG’s squeamish self-censorship is simply further evidence that this oh-so-revolutionary rhetoric was nothing but vicarious bravado. Has the IG informed the Haitian workers and oppressed masses that now is the time for them to rise up in revolution and drive the U.S. troops into the sea? There is certainly no evidence of this on the IG’s Web site, which has yet to even carry a French translation of their articles on the earthquake.
“Democratic” Imperialism and the Aristide Connection
In fact, the IG’s declarations are not intended for the Haitian masses but for the consumption of the domestic Third Worldist and reformist swamp the IG inhabits. Take, for example, the Workers World Party (WWP), which joins the IG in proclaiming “U.S. Troops Invade Haiti—Pentagon Sabotages Relief Effort, Escalates Suffering” (Workers World, 4 February). With greater honesty than the IG, WWP openly urges the Obama administration to engage in a purely humanitarian mission in Haiti. Workers World approvingly quotes Kim Ives of the weekly paper Haiti Liberté saying, “The earthquake was half a revolution, removing all the government buildings and virtually eliminating the repressive power of the state. That’s why the U.S. is rushing in to replace that state power, to control Haiti’s future and to prevent the people of Haiti from carrying out the other half.”
It should be noted that Ives is a passionate supporter of Aristide, who was toppled from power in 1991 shortly after his election, reinstalled by Democratic president Bill Clinton in 1994 at the point of U.S. Marine bayonets, and removed from office a second time through a U.S.-led invasion force in 2004. We opposed both the 1994 and 2004 invasions and called for the immediate withdrawal of all imperialist troops. Aristide protégé René Préval is now president of Haiti. Our previous article documented the role played by Aristide, Préval & Co. as quislings for the U.S. imperialists in helping to police the impoverished Haitian masses. Yet in its two articles on the earthquake, the IG has only oblique and passing references to Aristide.
It is no accident that the IG largely sidesteps the issue of Aristide. In its second article, the IG warns darkly that the U.S. military may “go beyond the patrolling of Haiti” by the existing United Nations occupation force and “take over the government and impose something like a U.N. protectorate on Haiti.” Put simply, this is a crass prettification of the imperialist occupation that resulted from the 2004 U.S.-led invasion. Haiti has been a UN protectorate in all but name for the past six years: the imperialist occupiers have been the real state power there, lording it over the Haitian masses. Préval was hand-picked by Washington in large part because, as a representative of Aristide’s “Lavalas” movement, he could hope to retain popular support and dampen unrest. Like Aristide, Préval is simply a toady of the imperialists. Exposing this reality is central to combating the widespread illusions among Haitian working people in the populism represented by Aristide. However, the IG’s shrieking about the supposed imperialist “invasion” of a country already under imperialist occupation does just the opposite. It essentially portrays Préval and his predecessor Aristide not as quislings of the imperialist powers but as the embodiment of national independence. The pro-Aristide liberals make this explicit. A petition initiated by the Canada Haiti Action Network on January 21, signed by Noam Chomsky, among others, declares:
“We demand that US commanders immediately restore executive control of the relief effort to Haiti’s leaders, and to help rather than replace the local officials they claim to support....
“We call on the de facto rulers of Haiti to facilitate, as the reconstruction begins, the renewal of popular participation in the determination of collective priorities and decisions.”
The petition goes on to call on the imperialists to bring back from exile “Haiti’s most popular and most inspiring political leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”
The IG, the liberals and the reformists are perpetuating the fraud that Aristide and Préval are capable of some modicum of independent functioning. Under the imperialist occupation of Haiti that began in 2004, disaster relief has not been implemented by imperialism’s corrupt and ineffective agents in the Haitian government, who totally lack the requisite means and ability. Yet we don’t recall the IG screaming about an imperialist invasion when the U.S. and Canada dispatched warships to Haiti after the country was devastated by four hurricanes in the summer of 2008.
To back up its current claims of an “invasion,” the IG simply manufactures its own alternative reality, assuring us that “none” of the U.S. ships “carried cargo for Haiti” and that “U.S. military planes did not deliver anything.” Yet, even the IG acknowledges that the UN has been feeding up to 310,000 people. In the IG’s fantasy version of events, the question of how those hundreds of tons of supplies got to Haiti remains a mystery. The IG might also ponder why the “nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” the USS Carl Vinson, which the IG, in its diatribe against us, adduced as evidence of the U.S. presence in Haiti as purely and simply an invasion force, has already left Haiti along with a number of other U.S. warships.
In our article, we pointed out that U.S. authorities are building a concentration camp at Guantánamo where they can detain any Haitian refugees caught trying to flee the country by sea. At the same time, we noted that the Cuban deformed workers state, despite being under the guns of U.S. imperialism, had opened its airspace to American military planes in order to speed up aid efforts to Haiti. We challenged the IG to declare whether the Cuban government should be condemned for what, in the IG’s twisted logic, can only be seen as support to an imperialist invasion of Haiti. So far, the IG has preferred to duck that question. Yet this issue has taken on considerable importance as the U.S. military camp in Guantánamo has emerged as a key logistical hub for U.S. Navy planes flying relief supplies into Port-au-Prince. Because of the Cuban government’s overflight permission, which Havana has extended until the end of February, U.S. military and civilian planes carrying relief supplies for Haiti from the U.S. can save considerable time by flying directly to Guantánamo.
Nationalist Populism vs. Proletarian Internationalism
The cynicism of the IG’s vituperations against our refusal to oppose the U.S. military providing aid to the Haitian people is revealed not least by the fact that the IG itself did not oppose the deployment of National Guard troops to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In fact, in language similar to what we say regarding Haiti, the IG declared: “Revolutionary communists would certainly not stand in the way of troops actually providing aid or helping rescue survivors” (“New Orleans Death Trap: Thousands of Black Poor Left to Die,” Internationalist, September 2005). As far as the IG is concerned, it’s okay for U.S. military forces to provide aid to survivors of a natural disaster in the U.S., but not in the Third World.
Nor did the IG call for a workers revolt amid the devastation left in the wake of Katrina. Rather they took a page from Martin Luther King Jr. and called for a “march on Washington,” fatuously declaiming: “The sight of thousands of unemployed homeless camped out on the ellipse and the mall in full view of Bush’s White House and the Capitol, recalling the hunger marches of the early 1930s, would send shivers down the spine of the ruling class.”
In its response to us, the IG dismisses out of hand our reference to Leon Trotsky’s 1938 article, “Learn to Think,” sneering: “WV throws in a quote from Leon Trotsky about not interfering with soldiers extinguishing a fire or rescuing drowning people during a flood. But Trotsky was explicitly talking of a ‘national’ army, not an imperialist invasion force.” No. In fact, Trotsky was speaking here of not opposing on principle aid by an imperialist power to a national struggle in a semicolonial country. Trotsky’s example that “the workers would not interfere with soldiers who are extinguishing a fire” was meant to be a self-evident statement aimed at urging woodenheaded simpletons to learn to think. This is clearly too profound for the opportunists of the IG. By the IG’s logic, workers in the U.S. should be actively blocking any aid being shipped to Haiti by the U.S. military.
Adaptation to Third World populist nationalism is what lies behind the IG’s conjuring up fantasies of proletarian revolution in Haiti. The IG shrieks: “Haiti has now joined a growing list of places where, according to the SL, there is no working class. It started off with Bolivia in 2005, then came Oaxaca in 2006, now Haiti in 2010.” Well, it actually started much earlier than 2005. For example, in 1985, when current IG líder máximo Jan Norden was still editor of Workers Vanguard, we wrote in “South Africa: Razor’s Edge” (WV No. 376, 5 April 1985):
“South Africa is the one place in sub-Saharan Africa where there is the possibility for a workers state, because here the black population has been partially absorbed, at the bottom, into a modern industrialized society which can, based on the revolutionary reorganization of society, provide a decent life for its citizens.”
This, precisely, is the rather elementary point for Marxists, that socialist revolution requires an industrial proletarian concentration that is sufficient for overturning capitalist class rule and establishing a workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. And if such is not the case? “Then the struggle for national liberation will produce only very partial results, results directed entirely against the working masses” (Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution ). This is clearly evident in Haiti, where bitter and bloody popular uprisings in recent decades have led to nothing more than the installation of bourgeois-populist regimes ultimately backed by the might of U.S. imperialism.
The same applies in contemporary Bolivia, where measures by the imperialists and the domestic bourgeoisie, centrally the shutting down of the nationalized tin mines, led to the material devastation and atomization of the once powerful mining proletariat. The 2005 “Bolivian revolution” that the IG and other fake leftists enthused over was in fact a plebeian upheaval that resulted in the coming to power of bourgeois populist Evo Morales. And while Mexico does have a powerful industrial proletariat, the struggle in Oaxaca, one of the most economically backward parts of the country, was limited to teachers and sectors of the petty bourgeoisie such as students and peasants. We pointed out: “Although the struggle in Oaxaca could serve as a spark to ignite workers struggle, in itself it does not pose a ‘revolutionary danger’,” as the IG would have it (“Down With Bloody State of Siege in Oaxaca!” WV No. 880, 10 November 2006). At bottom the IG’s glorification of the struggle in Oaxaca reflects its opportunist tailing of the populist milieu around the bourgeois Party of the Democratic Revolution.
The IG notwithstanding, the virtual absence of an industrial proletariat in Haiti, even before the devastation wreaked by the earthquake, is an obvious fact. Despite some modest economic development over the past few years, mainly centered on the garment industry, the financial trade magazine TendersInfo (5 October 2009) reported last fall: “The country now has 25 garment factories that export primarily to the United States and employ more than 24,000 workers, mostly women.” By comparison, the garment industry in Bangladesh consists of 4,500 factories employing more than 2.5 million workers. Of course, Bangladesh is a much bigger country than Haiti. However, even as a proportion of GDP, the economic weight of the textile industry in Bangladesh is almost twice that in Haiti.
However, this does not mean that the masses in Haiti are consigned in perpetuity to imperialist oppression. Again, as we pointed out in our last article, there is a sizable Haitian proletariat in the diaspora, which went unmentioned in the IG’s revolution-mongering around the earthquake. These workers can be a vital link to class struggle by the powerful North American proletariat. But to infuse the multiracial U.S. working class with an understanding of its role as the gravedigger of U.S. imperialism requires a political struggle against the pro-capitalist labor misleaders who chain the working class to its capitalist exploiters, centrally through political support to the Democratic Party.
And here is where the soft opportunist underbelly of the IG’s Third World cheerleading is most exposed. At the time of the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, we called for military defense of that country while stressing the need for class struggle against the American ruling class at home. At the same time, we highlighted our call at the time of the Soviet intervention beginning in December 1979 to “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” In contrast, when the IG initiated a November 2001 Hunter College rally in New York to protest plans by the administration to drive out undocumented immigrant students, IG speakers did not so much as mention the Soviet intervention, for fear of offending those anti-Communist leftists at the rally who had been on the imperialist side against the Red Army in Afghanistan (see “IG Disappears Red Army Fight Against Islamic Reaction in Afghanistan,” WV No. 772, 11 January 2002). While disappearing the one force capable of effecting a social revolution in Afghanistan, the IG idiotically raised the call for proletarian revolution in Afghanistan, where there is absolutely no industrial proletariat, writing in the Internationalist (September 2001): “Genuine communists defend semi-colonial countries against imperialist attack as we fight for socialist revolution against their bourgeois and, in the case of Afghanistan, feudalistic leaders.”
A few years later, the IG went a step further, amnestying the pro-capitalist International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) tops over the May Day 2008 antiwar West Coast port shutdown. That action was a powerful demonstration of the kind of working-class struggle needed against the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But, as we wrote, “the ILWU leadership politically undermined this action by channeling the ranks’ anger at the Iraqi occupation and desire to defend their union into pro-Democratic Party ‘national unity’ patriotism,” and support for Obama as the future Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism (“ILWU Shuts West Coast Ports on May Day,” WV No. 914, 9 May 2008). Thus, we noted that the ILWU tops buried any mention of the war in Afghanistan, which Obama championed.
The IG, echoing its favorite left-talking labor faker, ILWU Local 10 Exec Board member Jack Heyman, screamed bloody murder over our supposed slander. But antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who was a speaker at the ILWU rally and was then running as an independent candidate against Democrat Nancy Pelosi, confirmed what we said. Sheehan told Workers Vanguard that Heyman’s co-emcee at the rally and fellow Exec Board member Clarence Thomas “said that I couldn’t say anything bad about Nancy Pelosi or talk about Afghanistan; I was supposed to stay focused only on Iraq” (quoted in “Antiwar Reformists, Labor Bureaucrats and the Democratic Party: The Syphilitic Chain,” WV No. 945, 23 October 2009)!
To paraphrase the IG: it is one thing to read in history books about former revolutionaries capitulating to programs alien to Marxism, but here we see the process unfolding in real time, before our eyes.