Issue 215 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 1998 Copyright Socialist Review


The third option

I would like to disagree strongly with Mike Hemmings's letter about Cuba (December SR).

Socialists, I would argue, should be implacably opposed to the US blockade of Cuba. That blockade is an imperialist blockade, designed to punish the Cuban government for having dared kick out a US backed regime over 30 years ago. But opposition to the US blockade should not blind or silence socialists to the reality of Cuban society today.

Cuba does not have a 'well developed system of direct democracy' as Mike asserts. Cuba's workplace and neighbourhood committees are shells. They act as transmission belts from the top down only, not the other way around. The committees' main purpose is to instil discipline and drive up production.

Cuba's human rights record is dreadful. Intellectuals and journalists who criticise the regime are imprisoned and harassed by the state. Anyone who is gay or who is HIV positive is persecuted.

Mike suggests that Cubans are free to 'discuss openly errors of the past'. But Amnesty International is currently following the case of a doctor who, for the 'crime' of reporting the effects of a rare disease, has been imprisoned for 'anti-state' and 'alarmist' propaganda.

This is not socialism!

On top of that, many Cubans have drowned trying to flee the country on rickety little boats, just like those fleeing poverty stricken countries like Haiti. Of course, Mike may say the poverty they are trying to escape stems from the US blockade. But even if the blockade were taken away, Cuba would still be a class society. It is not 'free from capitalism' as Mike suggests.

The revolution of 1959 saw a minority seize power and attempt to modernise capitalism - not overthrow it - through the use of the state. The regime only adopted the rhetoric of socialism as it got caught up in the Cold War and turned to the old Soviet Union for aid against the US.

Ever since the revolution there has been a minority of state bureaucrats who oversee production. This elite live in large houses and enjoy luxurious lifestyles very different from the majority of Cubans.

As well as a division in power and wealth, state capitalism produces ideological obscenities like we saw in the former Soviet Union.

So Castro recently defended Cuba's possession of land mines because they are 'people's land mines'.

Mike suggests that Cuba faces a two way choice, between surrender to the US or making sacrifices to defend the gains of the revolution. But there is a third option, and that is to fight for a different sort of society altogether. The Cuban ruling class is not going to do that. For workers and peasants in Cuba, however, that option is the only route to genuine liberation.

Socialists don't make such arguments because we enjoy being negative, or because we like lecturing, as Mike says. But I for one am not prepared to hold up a repressive regime as a beacon for others to fight for or as my view of human liberation. Learning the right lessons from the Cuban Revolution can allow socialists to put positive arguments about how workers have the power to break capitalism and create a world free from inequality and exploitation. But that can only be achieved if workers make a revolution themselves, en masse.

Mike might be right to say the left in Britain has a long way to go. But we won't get anywhere if we spread illusions in regimes like Cuba.

Sam Ashman

South London

Something rotten

When Chris Harman argued that the East Asian economic crisis could 'give a big enough jar to the Japanese economy to drive it from stagnation into a thoroughgoing recession' ('Do the Tigers face extinction?', December SR), he could not have known how close we were to the collapse of Yamaichi Securities, Japan's fourth largest stockbroking firm, and the remarkable pictures of the company chairman breaking down on international television.

The Yamaichi crisis brings into even starker focus Chris's argument about the semi-detached relationship of the stock markets to the production process. When he argued that stock market crises do not necessarily reduce the amount of wealth being produced, but that 'a crash is a sign that something is going amiss with the wider system of production', he was explaining very well the coming developments in Japan.

Yamaichi represents the first major crack in an economy which has been second only to the US economy in the post Second World War period, and which has long been held up as the model of stability by free market economists. The firm's collapse reflects not only the anarchic nature of the financial market system, but also the underlying weakness of the stagnating Japanese system of production.

Throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s Thatcherite free market economists were joined by Labour Party leaders such as Blair and Mandelson and alleged former 'Communists' such as Martin Jacques in proclaiming that the supposed stability of the Japanese economy and the rapid and, it was said, stable development of the 'Asian Tiger' economies had proved the wrongheadedness of Marxist economics. We were, they said, wrong to say that protracted economic boom was unsustainable under capitalism, that crises of overproduction and economic slumps would inevitably occur. In fact, the current East Asian crisis not only proves Marxism correct on overproduction, but the inability of economies such as Japan to look to an immediate export led recovery indicates the shallowness of the 'recoveries' of the economies of Western Europe and North America, validating Marx's understanding of the tendency of the long term rate of profit to decline as capitalism progresses.

The crises of the 'Tigers' should also remind many of us of the reasons why we became revolutionary socialists in the first place. Watching the pathetic sight of the 'non-interventionist' South Korean free marketeers of the 1980s scrambling for as much IMF cash as they can get their hands on is disgusting enough in itself. It becomes positively sickening, however, when you consider that in South Korea's northern neighbour there is currently a horrific famine which is killing hundreds of thousands. If Yamaichi looked like farce, Korea is a developing tragedy and a testament to the barbaric priorities of the market system.

Of course the crises of the Asian Tigers, the free fall of the South Korean economy, and the cracks appearing in the Japanese economy do not mean that capitalism is on the brink of its final crisis, or even that a major world slump is imminent. But something is clearly rotten in the free market system and, as Alex Callinicos argued in Socialist Worker following the Yamaichi crash, 'the world economy is probably closer to [global depression] than for many years.'

Mark Brown


Real German resistance

When we hear about history, whether at school, college or in the media, we hear about kings and generals and presidents. We don't hear about people like us who are ruled by the big people. Thus the information we get about the Second World War is about the generals or the presidents. But the great number of victims of the Holocaust and the reports of the survivors show us that history is about ordinary people and their lives.

The big question the Holocaust makes people ask is how could this impossible slaughter happen and why did the German population do nothing against it? Suddenly the historians who usually write about kings, generals and presidents include working class people in their books - as the hypnotised followers of Hitler. It is true that the uncountable crimes of the Holocaust needed a great number of people to make them happen. But it was the industrialised mass murder of the Holocaust that made it so especially horrific. It meant on the one hand the number of people involved in the killings could be cut down to a minimum by the Nazis and on the other hand technical knowledge was needed which was provided by the biggest German industrial groups, which are still very big in business today.

As for working class people in Germany, it is true to say that a lot of people were fascinated and impressed by the idea of the Third Reich and did support the Nazis. But on the other hand there was also a lot of resistance at a very early point. That was why the Nazis quickly smashed all political organisations, including trade unions and even the boy scouts. From then on any kind of resistance was left to individual people who knew that a piece of bread given to a slave worker from a concentration camp could mean their own death and that of their families.

But still there was a lot of resistance - and I'm not talking about the aristocratic generals who are celebrated today for trying to kill Hitler shortly before the end of the war because they thought they had a better idea how to win it. I want to talk about the everyday resistance of working class people. About the people who smuggled leaflets rolled up and hidden in sausages, the mothers who secretly fed slave workers from the little food they had for their own families, the workers who hid Jews in their houses or smuggled them in their boats to Denmark or Holland, the anonymous people who went through Munich writing 'Freedom' on to every wall of the bigger buildings. There were the groups of teenagers who had secret societies outside the Hitler Youth where they would read forbidden books together and exchange often hand copied leaflets.

What about the kids who poured fertiliser in gigantic letters over the rubbish tip of Berlin, so that all the people flying into Berlin to attend the Olympic Games could read 'Away with Hitler', or the students of the 'Weisse Rose' who were killed after printing and secretly distributing leaflets in which they argued for Germany to surrender?

My final example is the case of the carpenter who spent night after night for months hiding in a cupboard in a big restaurant digging a hole into the wall in which he put a bomb to kill Hitler when he gave one of his speeches there. Hitler survived - the carpenter was killed by the Nazis in a concentration camp, just days before it was liberated by the Americans.

You do not hear about these people, neither in your history lessons - not even in Germany where I went to school - nor in the media and not in the new generation of books concerning the Holocaust.

But this is the history of a lot of working class people in Germany. Probably not the majority, but a minority who tried to help within the parameters left to them - as working class people in a terror regime for 12 years.

James Schumann

East London

The spirit of socialism?

I was disappointed with the article, 'In god we trust?' by Paul McGarr (December SR). The account of the development of Christianity as an organised religion and its links with capitalism made refreshing reading. However, towards the end of the article the writer contextualised Marx's famous phrase, ' the opium of the people', with reference to the experience of suffering. This, I believe, is where the article took a wrong turn, as Paul McGarr used this as the basis of an argument that the removal of suffering by socialist revolution will dispense with the need for religion.

My argument is that in a socialist society we will see a lot of suffering removed with the extinction of capitalism, but this will not deal with our internal suffering which will remain. The Buddha taught that life, or samsara, is characterised by perpetual suffering through the experience of birth, ageing, sickness and death. Socialism does not remove these painful realities. I believe that there is still a place for spirituality in a socialist society, with or without religion, and this will enhance the lives of those who practise it, and those about them, as they pursue a life based on the development of compassion and moral discipline.

Peter Smith


Shame about the politics

I first saw On the Waterfront in a religious studies class when I was 13. The priest who showed it to us didn't think it was politically ambiguous (December SR) and nor did I. Judy Cox was absolutely right to praise the film as a magnificent piece of work, but I think she let her enthusiasm cloud her political judgement.

On the Waterfront is precisely not politically ambiguous - it is precisely on the side of breaking class loyalties and informing to the police. All the authority and all the arguments are on the side of betrayal. The case against is put only as an unthinking, instinctive belief which Terry will grow out of. Indeed his betrayal is portrayed as a defining moment in his passage from adolescence to manhood.

As Judy pointed out, Elia Kazan, the film's director, collaborated with McCarthy's witchhunt in the early 1950s. But he wasn't the only one. Bud Schulberg, the scriptwriter, also informed on his friends and colleagues in the same period.

Marlon Brando, in his recent autobiography, described how both Kazan and Schulberg deliberately crafted the film in order to justify what they had done. That's why the case for ratting is put in left wing terms, to make the betrayal seem a heroic sacrifice rather than the cowardly collapse it really was.

It's arguable that it would have been a better film if it had been more politically ambiguous - even at 13 it was quickly obvious to us what the outcome would be. It is important to recognise that On the Waterfront is a great film. It's more important to realise that it's a consciously right wing film, made to justify the red baiting and witchhunting of 1950s McCarthyism. The fact that it's such a powerful and moving film makes it politically worse, not better.

Charlie Hore

North London

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