The revolutionary [is] the ideological motor force of the revolution…if he forgets his proletarian internationalism, the revolution which he leads will cease to be an inspiring force and he will sink into a comfortable lethargy, which imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize well. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. So we educate our people.
— Che Guevara in Socialism and Man
“Castillo de MORAL” read the label. Wine named Moral, that’s what Carsten gave me.
That was big of him, a strident Marxist-Leninist who sides 100% with the victims of invasions by imperialists. For him that means no criticisms of those who resist these invasions, such as the current ones in the Middle East and Libya. No admonishment of Taliban, al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and his Baath party and Iraqi soldiers combating the invaders and their Iraqi collaborators.
Incidentally, among the first collaborators was the Iraqi Communist Party, followers of the old Moscow line. They returned from exile to support the US occupiers in its lackey government. They live in its “green zone”. This contradiction has not swayed the Moscow-oriented Communist parties of several countries from backing them—that includes, the Communist Party In Denmark, the US and UK communist parties and others. One cannot be opposed to imperialism and its invasion in Iraq and support one of the main culprits.
Yet we anti-imperialists cannot remain silent about brutal crimes committed by some of the resistance groups against innocent, unarmed civilians who are nearby when a suicide bomber lets go; or those women and girls who are raped and then punished for being raped; or, with some groups, the denial of women to enjoy sex by removing part or the entire clitoris; and, in the case of some, the denial of women to have the same rights as men, or…
This attitude of covering eyes is common among many hard-core leftists. So was it also for most Communists and anti-imperialists when Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe Communist parties were jailing and killing their own critics, many of whom were true communists and anti-imperialists.
Most of the readers of these pieces know this history. Some of us remember the hateful words and wrongful deeds committed by one group against another within our own camps: the Stalinists, the Maoists, the varying shades of red purer than the next. Today, there is less of that but at the same time there is less activity, less passion in support for those the imperialists attack.
We don’t see a Ho Chi Minh, a Fidel, or Che in the Middle East struggles to regain their sovereignty; and we are all too few who are motivated to fight for them, and when fighting do so quite mildly, not like when we fought alongside the Vietnamese.
I contend that this difference is not only because capitalism has won the battle (for now) over most bodies and minds, especially in the rich capitalist countries and not only in the “Christian” West. I contend that the Cuban revolution, and the Vietnamese revolution and their fight for sovereignty against the French and Usamericans were conducted on moral principles.
They fought without torturing the enemy, without killing and manhandling prisoners, and after victory, down to this day, the Cuban government and police authorities do not murder people on the streets or torture criminals in jail, nor torture the political “dissidents” who, more than not, have been paid with US government funds to join its side against Cuba’s government.
Some US soldiers in Vietnam, who later came over to our side, have said that some torture did occur at the hands of Vietnamese communists. If this is true, it was the exception to the rule—don’t believe for a minute that John McCain was actually tortured. Whereas with the Yankees and their European allies, and their allies in the Middle East today, or in nearly all of Latin America yesterday and today in Colombia and Honduras, or in Indonesia yesterday, or the African dictators and Zionist Israelis (the list is long) torture, rape, and wanton murder was and is normal.
Look, if we are to fight this immoral system of profit-making motivated brutality, this disregard for human worth, then we must be different. We must be moral! We must offer a hopeful future for people else why should they join us. We have lost millions of supporters and millions more potential ones because of immoral Soviet-Comecon state leaderships, the wanton slaughter and crimes of humanity committed by Cambodia’s Pol Pot “communists”, the forced recruitments and murder of civilians by the “Maoist-Guevarist” Shining Path guerrillas…
Few leftists place morality on their struggle agenda. I believe it may be so, partially, because Marx and Lenin, certainly Stalin and Mao, did not make “the ethical question” a priority. No, the working class, the masses will fight because they must, in order to survive the dictates of exploitative capitalism. It is an objective, dialectical matter not one of morality, they meant.
Yet these leaders did speak of the subjective need for consciousness, that is: objective conditions may be ready for revolution but if the individual and working class do not see it, do not feel it then revolution does not happen automatically. I contend that the lack of consciousness is a major problem in today’s world—especially among the video war game fanatic youth and their consumer hungry parents (workers) in this era of individualism, in this age of permanent war.
What is ethics and morality?
Morality is rules we apply to live by, in order to be ethical: that is, to care for one another, to live in harmony, in fellowship and peace. Ethics is necessary for our collective survival and that of our surroundings, the earth and the elements. To accomplish this universal ethic, we must share what we make, share natural resources, assure that the planet breathes life and not chemical death. It is immoral to take from others—don’t we parents tell our children that when we send them to nursery school—to make systems that favor some and exploit and destroy others, that require war-making, that destroy other life forms.
Moral rules are necessary for people to cooperate so that we can achieve goals, which we would not be able to dream of if each of us were left on our own. And morals prevent groups’ needs and goals from colliding. If there were no enforced moral rules to decide disputes, we would end in chaos, and no one would be able to achieve any goal.
So what do we put in place of gripper capitalism and its individualism “morality”? I think George Orwell said it well in his essay, “Can Socialists Be Happy?”
The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood… Men [and women] use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars [Spain, for instance], or tortured in secret prisons of the Gestapo [or Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, or a myriad other secret torture chambers in many countries not the least of which are prisons in the US], not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another.
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love,” is the way that Che put it.
Many Christians, who read what the Bible says anyway, should identify with these views. Isn’t that what Jesus Christ is supposed to have stood for?
We must know by now that that is not the philosophy of the self-styled “democracies” of the West. We can’t really call it loving people when, for instance, the nation I was born in has invaded/intervened/conducted humanitarian operations 160 times in 66 nations since World War II.
We must act against our governments’ terrorist wars, “humanitarian operations”, else accept the consequences of shared blame. If we don’t stop the madness it will soon lead to world destruction.
Is it “humanitarian” to arm and aid some Libyan clans who want Gaddafi to go so that they can put in other powerful men, some of whom were Gaddafi’s sidekicks all these “successful” years of cooperation with the rich oil-thirsty governments? Unfortunately, the original massive uproar movement there has been taken over by these power hungry men. We should support the people’s uproar without being beguiled into backing the erstwhile leftist Gaddafi. The distinction is admittedly not easy to act upon.
Nevertheless, we must fight against the aggressive wars wherever they are. We must fight on the public streets and before their offices and bases, and we must support the invaded resistance fighters. Yes, I want the resistance to win over “us”. Some of them may not be the best people or have the best ways of relating to one another or the best laws—I refer to bin Ladin types here—but it is their world that “we” invade to take from them what they have. “We” don’t invade them to bring about “democracy”. No serious person can possibly believe that today.
Beyond condemning the US and its allies’ crimes against humanity, we must be even-handed if we are to be revolutionaries, or just decent people. I do not believe it to be “foolish consistency”, as Abraham Lincoln is so often cited for saying, to look all evil in the eye and call it by its name: evil. And not all the evil is deposited at the Pentagon, White House, Langley, or at Downing Street.
If we want a socially just economy and equality in human relationships (socialism, communism, anarchy…) then we must place love/solidarity/morality in the center.
There was a time following World War II when the Nuremberg Tribunal’s conclusion was widely accepted as a moral principle: “Individuals have international duties, which transcend the national obligations of obedience… Therefore [individual citizens] have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”
That is what Bradley Manning did when he leaked internal cables to the world showing war crimes committed systematically by his government. He should get the Medal of Humanitarian Honor for that not life in a chamber submitted to daily psychological torture. And so must we also back another hero, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks for making available to us the secret information about US+ war crimes, on-going torture, and US diplomats’ take on the world. I have added my solidarity, this time in the form of half my pension fund for Wikileaks defense and existence.
The moral concept of responsibility, the Nuremberg code, is what the “guilty innocent” citizens of the United States need to understand about their governments’ constant wars, and what caused September 11, 2001. Too many American Dreamers have been “good Germans” for too long. Whoever it was who conducted those wrongful acts of terror—and I do not doubt that some elements in the Bush regime were accomplices—they should not be applauded as heroes. But the world that was threatened by those acts has to understand WHY they unleashed their terror, if Arab foreigners were, in fact, the perpetrators or co-perpetrators. They acted as they did because they, and millions and millions more across the Third World, have been and are being subjected to terror and Big Time thievery by all United States governments. Unfortunately, the governments are aided by most of their working class citizens, those who join in the murder and torture as soldiers and secret agents, and mercenaries, and those who turn their heads in the hope of living the life of “ignorance is bliss.”1
They didn’t stop with Afghanistan, purportedly seeking bin Ladin and gang—I knew from the first cry for his blood that they would never find him because they need him wherever he is or isn’t—no they went on to the main target, Iraq, then extended to Pakistan and now Libya.
While writing this series, I have been interrupted to join in small and mild demonstrations in support of the Arabic peoples’ struggles in Tunisia and Egypt, and against the empire’s bombings in Libya. Wikileaks played an important part in this popular movement beginning in Tunisia. The leaks showing how corrupted Tunisia’s Ben Ali government had been was not news to the citizenry, but when it became world known it did encourage people to rebel. They saw the opportunity, sparked by one of their own—Mohammad Bouazizi—in his suicide protest, and felt that they could pull it off with the world’s sympathy. And they were right.
Arabic despots and dynasties and Western imperialists are frightened of the contagious wave of authentic democratic rebellion throughout the Arabic world. The people want an end to their lack of power, and end to the elite’s thievery of their wealth, an end to their endemic corruption and their repression. The West was caught off guard by the rebellion, but now sees the chance to make a populist score by bombing one of the despots, a lesser one than their strongest allies in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahraini where the US Navy is entrenched. The West demands stability=passivity; it must stop the rebellion from becoming successful, which could lead to anti-capitalist movements, too. We must act in solidarity with these people and not the new governments that still back the exploitative system.
Act as we speak
Our world is ruled by one economy, capitalism. We know that capitalism is avaricious by nature; to grow it must become imperialist. That logic fits the good guys too. It is fitting the shoe of the Chinese Communist party and, to a lesser extent, our former Vietnamese comrades—our brothers and sisters victimized by U.S. crimes against their humanity. Both systems’ leaders are today exploiting their own workers. This process also has too good a start in Cuba.
It was wrong politically/morally of the governments of Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua to let down the Tamil population in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka by extending unconditional political support to the Mahinda Rajapaksa government that had just massacred tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in its efforts to destroy the Tiger army (LTTE-Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam).
The long civil war ended in May 2009, and the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) voted, 29 to 12 with 6 abstentions, to applaud Sri Lanka for its victory against the terrorism of the Tigers. The majority resolution was proposed by Sri Lanka itself and introduced by Cuba, at that time the rotating leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of which Sri Lanka is a member.
OK, what is wrong with this scenario? First, Sri Lanka is neither democratic nor socialist. The economy is capitalist based with a good deal of multinational corporation enterprises.
The government murders journalists (at least 34 in seven years) who expose government crimes and discrimination against the minority Tamil population. Discrimination is codified by law and in practice in a variety of ways: language, religion, lack of equal rights to education and jobs. The majority Sinhalese have, on several occasions, conducted murderous pogroms against Tamils, usually led by Buddhist monks and with self-proclaimed leftist parties’ backing. Several thousands of unarmed Tamils have been so slaughtered. Some of the murdering political parties have claimed to follow the paths of Che, Mao, or Moscow’s CP. Today, they partake in the coalition government—United People’s Freedom Alliance—alongside the Rajapaksa family of corrupted mass murderers in the largest party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
This murderous racism cannot be tolerated by true internationalists. The betrayers of Che and internationalism in Sri Lanka include: Janatha Vimukthi Peramana (JVP), which ironically lost about 20,000 of its rebelling young members in attacks against them by Sri Lanka governments, in the 1970-80s; the Communist Party of Sri Lanka; the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party.
The Tigers started off in the late 1970s as Marxists, shouting Che’s name to the heavens. They later murderously eliminated other Tamils in the struggle for independence and sovereignty because of differences over tactics or personalities. They bombed areas and vehicles where Sinhalese civilians were without regard to innocent lives. And they abandoned any Marxist program. They righteously fought for a homeland with sovereignty, which most Tamils wanted, but they forgot all about socialism, people’s democracy, Che’s principles.
The big capitalists on the HRC wanted a resolution that, while applauding Sri Lanka and only condemning the Tigers just like the Cuba-led resolution, asked the Sri Lanka government to look into the possibility that some war crimes might have been committed by some of its own. If so, then the government should deal with it. Rather mild, I’d say.
There was no voice inside the HRC condemning the terrorist Sri Lankan government or the greatest terrorists: the United States and Israel, with China, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, India and many more tagging along. China, though, does more than tag along. It is after big influence and is getting it.2
Then there is the moral contradiction of the Bolivian government of Evo Morales—an indigenous person whose people have long been oppressed by the same forces which have suppressed and oppressed the Haiti black people—backing the 2004 US-France-led coup against the only decent, democratically elected president in Haiti’s history, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Both Aristide and Venezuela’s socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez called his ouster for what it was: a rich-backed local rebellion supported by the superpower-led coup.
After Aristide’s ouster, the US got UN support to occupy the country with 7000 troops, officially led by Lula’s Brazilian government, another contradiction in morality and history. US, France, and Canada had their troops there, too. But when enough Latin American governments sent in collaborating soldiers, the big powers mostly moved out. Since 2007, Bolivia has had 300 soldiers there. They—along with troops from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and, guess who? Sri Lanka—are paid by the UN. In Bolivia’s case, the government receives $1,028 for each soldier but only spends about $300 per solider. Is it money that takes priority over solidarity amongst continental brethren?
It is positive that fellow ALBA governments in Venezuela and Cuba send real aid to the hungry people, who are the poorest in that hemisphere, and all the more so since the last earthquake with over 300,000 killed, a like number injured and over one million homeless.
Praising Cuba for its systematic “human capital export” solidarity should not keep us from real concern about its future now decided by the Communist party leadership at its 6th congress. The new economic package does not deepen socialism and people’s democracy (one in the same), rather it deepens petty-bourgeois production relations and individualistic mentality—worker-capitalists in the making. This so-called “market socialism” will lead to more market capitalism, in reality, with big foreign investors, and tourism, still getting priority.
Communist leaders still lack trust in the working class to run the economy and set political policy.
Workers power should include oversight committees staffed on a rotating basis by actual workers across the country. I firmly support what James Petras wrote:
What especially requires reform is a new system of public accountability based on independent accounting authorities, consumers’ and workers’ oversight commissions with the power to ‘open the books’. Workers and professional control will not eliminate corruption altogether but it will challenge the authorities through independent periodic reviews…Greater accountability within the leadership is necessary but not sufficient. There must be control and vigilance by authorized commissions from below and by a parallel independent general accounting office…a new system of elected representatives to oversee the allocation of the budget to the various ministries and the power to summon responsible officials to televised hearings for a strict public accounting.3
When revolutionary, communist, anarchist organizers are engaged in workers struggles under capitalism, one of their best arguments when confronted by management that their demands are not economically possible is the demand: “Open the books.” So when they are told they now have their own economy, their own Marxist state why can they not see the books?
It is difficult to know why Communist governments in this past century never rely on their citizenry to run things. Even the best of them apparently do not truly trust their own ideology. Maybe they know more than I; maybe they know that if workers held the reigns of real power they would not go the collective way of socialism. If that is so, then what are we fighting for?
Live Well vs. Live Better
I, too, say let us be like Che. For example, when his wife called to ask for use of his government car to take their sick daughter to the hospital, his morality led him to reply that she should take the bus like every other Cuban mother with a sick child.
On a world scale when Che realized that the Soviet CP leadership did not commit itself to a forceful policy of solidarity with the Third World, he criticized them publicly as foreign policy opportunists. I am certain that he would have qualms with his comrade leaders in today’s world for similar opportunism, for lack of fulfilling the promises put forth by communist ideology.
In my opinion, what is worth fighting for is what Evo Morales and the indigenous peoples’ movement stands for in Bolivia: live well, not live better. We discussed this at length during the People’s world climate conference in Cochabamba. I excerpt here from what the Bolivian delegation to the UN presented during that time.
Faced with so much disproportion and wealth concentration in the world, so many wars and famine, Bolivia proposes Living Well, not as a way to live better at the expense of others, but an idea of Living Well based on the experience of our peoples. In the words of the President of the Republic of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, Living Well means living within a community, a brotherhood, and particularly completing each other, without exploiters or exploited, without people being excluded or people who exclude, without people being segregated or people who segregate.
Living Well is not the same as living better, living better than others, because in order to live better than others, it is necessary to exploit, to embark upon serious competition, concentrating wealth in few hands. Trying to live better is selfish, and shows apathy, individualism. Some want to live better, whilst others, the majority, continue living poorly. Not taking an interest in other people’s lives, means caring only for the individual’s own life, at most in the life of their family.”
“The construction of a Living Well vision to counteract Global Crisis in this era of climate chaos and diminished resources in our finite planet, means ending consumerism, waste and luxury; consuming only what is necessary, achieving a global economic ‘power down’ to levels of production, consumption and energy use that stay well within the environmental capacities of the Earth.
In order to adapt ourselves to the true reality of a post carbon era, we will have to satisfy our fundamental needs such as food, housing, energy, production, and means of support from local systems and resources. This means encouraging regional and local self-sufficiency, sustainability and control; economic localization and community sovereignty, local production for local consumption, local ownership using local labor and materials.
Furthermore, Living Well means reallocating the trillions of millions destined for war in order to heal Mother Earth who is injured by the environment issue.
Waking up the ethical and moral values of our peoples and cultures, we can make this new millennium, a millennium of life and not of war, a millennium for Living Well, for balance and complementarity. Together we can build a culture of patience, the culture of dialogue and fundamentally the Culture of Life, a way of life that is not dependent on excessive consumption of non-renewable energy that emits greenhouse gases but is based on the harmonious relationship between man and nature.
“Hagamos lo imposible!” We’ll do the impossible! Che predicted.
Notes and an acknowledgement: I thank the daughter of a preacher for inebriated brainstorming, and more thanks for the most thoughtful of gifts: a bronze sculpture of a fist gripping an angry pen.
- See my piece, “The Guilty Innocent.” [↩]
- See my November 2009 series on the Sri Lanka-Tamil conflict. Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. [↩]
- “Cuba: Continuing Revolution and Contemporary Contradictions”, August 12, 2007. [↩]