The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The International Situation

Jul 30, 1986

I. In the past year, the domination of U.S. imperialism over the world order continued without any fundamental changes, without any conflicts which endangered that domination, neither in the imperialist countries themselves, nor in the underdeveloped countries. At the same time, despite the tougher anti-Soviet rhetoric of Reagan, the U.S. has not really called in question its detente with the Soviet Union.

II. Nonetheless, over the last three years, the United States government has been preparing a change in its foreign policy, a change consisting of a greater willingness to commit U.S. military force to defend imperialism’s world order. This change was announced by the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. It was reaffirmed in another part of the world by the U.S. bombardment of Libya this spring.

After the defeat of the U.S. in the Viet Nam war, the U.S. government was extremely hesitant to engage U.S. military forces in conflicts anywhere in the world. The majority of the population was opposed to any new military adventure abroad. And the U.S. bourgeoisie feared getting its military bogged down in another Viet Nam war that could develop into another impasse. So instead it searched for political solutions to its problems. It relied on other forces, using those of governments allied or tied to it to keep order, or even using the Soviet Union and China to keep order in their spheres of influence. This policy was marked by detente.

However, as time went on, the U.S. government took measures to recover from this paralysis. And it began to prepare the U.S. population for the possibility of an eventual new U.S. military engagement. While the taking of U.S. hostages by the Iranian students appeared as proof that the U.S. military could not intervene, the possibility of intervention was raised, and a long warlike propaganda campaign began to offset the traces of Viet Nam in the mind of the U.S. population. The acceptance by the U.S. population of the Grenada invasion and the Libya bombing lays the ground for an eventual direct U.S. military intervention.

Of course, this does not mean that the U.S. can intervene, or even that it would want to, at any time or place. In 1982 and 1983, when the U.S. sent troops to Lebanon, it quickly withdrew them when it became clear there was the danger of getting bogged down in a long war. Still, the U.S. government has indicated a greater willingness to commit U.S. troops – if the situation presents itself.

III. In the Western European countries, the social situation is similar to that of the United States. With the economy stagnating, the bourgeoisie has succeeded in extracting more profits from the increased exploitation of the working class. Although there have been a few isolated struggles, such as the British miners strike last year, in no country has the working class yet organized itself in any kind of massive way to fight against these attacks.

One reason why the imperialist bourgeoisies have had such a free hand in carrying out their policies throughout the world is that they haven’t been challenged by their own working class. The working class has not even asserted itself to maintain its previously attained standard of living.

IV. Last year, U.S. imperialism was faced with the problem that dictatorships it has long supported in Haiti and the Philippines were threatened by mass upsurges in which people took to the streets in massive numbers. The U.S. found political solutions for both crises. From the top, the dictators were eased out. They were replaced by other political people tied to U.S. imperialism. So in both cases, potentially explosive situations were defused, seemingly at a relatively small cost to U.S. imperialism.

V. Last November, the revolts rocked the city of Gonaives and generalized throughout Haiti. The goal of the movement, which had begun over a year ago when food riots erupted in response to IMF-mandated increases in food prices, became the ouster of the Duvalier dictatorship. This revolt confronted U.S. imperialism with the problem of whether or not to reinforce Duvalier, whose dictatorship, having no social base of support, had been imposed on the population through the systematic use of terror.

The U.S. chose not to send troops to prop up the dictator, clearly because it was not judged worth the risk. The risk was that the U.S. troops could have faced a hostile population. Not only could U.S. troops have been bogged down, but military intervention could also have led to a spreading of the struggle to other parts of the Caribbean Basin. The U.S. took the less risky step. It opted for a political resolution. Before the confrontation in the streets could shatter the state apparatus, the U.S. eased Duvalier out, replacing him with a military junta made up of Duvalier’s cronies, at the same time moving to strengthen the Haitian state apparatus.

General Namphy’s hold on power has not been without problems. It has not regained full control over the population. Activity in the population continued after Duvalier fled. The Haitian masses have continued to take matters into their own hands, identifying and executing members of the Tontons Macoutes. Haiti was swept by a wave of strikes and street demonstrations which had as its focus to remove people connected with Duvalier. In this mass revolt, the people have entered into the political life, wresting their own political rights. However, up until now, the poor masses have not found the way to build up their own mass organizations, which could give them some independence and power in front of the state apparatus.

VI. Ferdinand Marcos was the second U.S.-supported dictator to be sent packing this year, with the U.S. government easing the way. The popular movement which preceded his removal had lasted for years, both in the countryside and the cities. In the countryside there had been mass strikes of plantation workers that were bloodily repressed and a growing guerrilla war, during which the Communist Party’s New Peoples’ Army found growing support. Marcos’ army was not able to uproot it, and it came to control almost 20 per cent of the countryside. In the process, the government army began to decompose.

A section of the Philippine bourgeoisie put itself at the head of the mass movement, particularly in the cities, opposing Marcos for their own ends. That section of the bourgeoisie, represented by people like Aquino and Laurel, had been squeezed out, by the completely corrupt Marcos regime, of what they considered to be their share of the wealth created by the workers and peasants. They succeeded in channeling the anger of the urban and rural masses into elections.

Yet it was the activity of the urban and rural masses that actually forced Marcos out. It was they who had carried on the struggle for years. It was the urban masses who met the Marcos’ tanks and marines sent to crush the Aquino opposition and who won those troops over. And it is these same masses who even confronted the Aquino government, liberal face and all, when a strike of civilian workers erupted at the U.S. military bases at Subic Bay and Clark.

Certainly since Aquino was put in power by the masses of people who fought against the Marcos regime, many still have illusions in her government. However, the same conditions for the workers and poor persist in the country. The workers and poor can be driven once again to seek a solution in the streets, once again taking on the forces of order. In that sense, the U.S. may have done little, confronted by a difficult situation, except to buy time.

VII. By removing its two dictators, Marcos and Duvalier, the U.S. succeeded in defusing potentially explosive situations. However, in so doing, the U.S. runs two risks. First it allows people in other countries of the Third World, where the situation is similar to that of Haiti or the Philippines, to draw the conclusion that it is possible and even not so difficult to overthrow a U.S.-supported dictatorship, that U.S. support of the dictatorship is not unshakeable. Second, it shows that when people take to the streets it is possible for them to force a change of the regime. Therefore, while U.S. imperialism safeguarded its interests in removing two of its dictators, it also implicitly encouraged similar movements in other countries. This is manifested in South Korea, where the opposition to the regime says that it is carrying out the same fight as the fight that the Philippine opposition carried out in the Philippines. In Chile, the opposition was clearly encouraged in its fight against Pinochet, whose removal has been widely discussed in the last period.

VIII. In the last year, the Middle East, the area of the world which had over a long period been swept by struggles, seemed to reach a kind of deadly equilibrium.

Certainly, all the contradictions, all the antagonisms remain in the region. In Lebanon, where the more than decade-long conflict has not at all been resolved, there is still no central state apparatus, no real power to impose any order on the country. On the other hand, throughout the Middle East the revolts and rebellions seem to arrive at an impasse. They do not challenge or threaten the bounds of the imperialist order.

Nonetheless, the Middle East itself remains extremely explosive and unstable. The deterioration and misery in Egypt has given rise to fresh outbursts, fresh challenges to the rule of one of imperialism’s dictators. A riot of draftees in the police force, which attacked the symbols of wealth and privilege in Cairo, served as a warning of the discontent that seethes in the slums. And yet all that Mubarak had to propose were... new austerity measures in order to meet Egypt’s debt obligations.

The Palestinians, who have been attacked and dispersed by all the major powers in the Middle East, from U.S. imperialism and Israel, to Syria, Jordan and the various warring factions in Lebanon, still remain a source of uncertainty and instability for the area, just as they have for decades. However, if the Middle East has reached some kind of stalemate, its history and the social conditions all point to the probability that this is only temporary.

IX. The struggle of the black masses against the apartheid regime in South Africa has continued now for almost two years. So far, the apartheid regime has not been able to smash the revolt. This poses a problem of a more serious order for imperialism than a dictatorship like Duvalier’s or even Marcos’ going down the drain. Unlike those dictatorships, the South African regime has a social base: that of the white population. They loyalty of the whites is based on the privileges that they receive and accept at the expense of the oppression of the vast majority of black and colored people. The whites are willing themselves to defend their privileges. This reinforces the apartheid regime, making it not only a more efficient cop for imperialism in South Africa itself, but also an aggressive enemy of all the popular movements throughout the region. It is the engagement of the whites which allows South Africa to play a role for imperialism in southern Africa similar to the one played by Israel in the Middle East.

In the face of the struggle by the black masses to liberate themselves from the apartheid regime, U.S. imperialism has strongly supported the apartheid regime. Of course, at the same time, some representatives of U.S. imperialism criticize apartheid from time to time. To the extent that this is not merely rhetoric aimed at creating an image for some politician in the U.S., it is a way for imperialism to position itself so that, if the apartheid regime is smashed, U.S. imperialism won’t miss a beat and, on a friendly basis with the new rulers, will be able to continue exploiting the South African working class. However, at that point, U.S. imperialism will have lost in the apartheid regime an efficient cop, not easily replaced. That reason added to the fact that the apartheid regime has a strong social base, means that the U.S. would not intervene in South Africa as they were able to do in Haiti or the Philippines. The overthrow of the regime will come only through an extension of the struggle of the South African population.

X. In most of South America, U.S. imperialism’s own special preserve, there was a less serious level of struggle in the last year than in other areas of the underdeveloped world. Up until now, U.S. imperialism has been able to impose harsh austerity measures on the workers and peasants in order to keep some of the interest payments coming in on the mass debt owed to the banks of the imperialist countries. These austerity measures have been imposed in the most important cases by democratic regimes, which were able to do so without engaging major confrontations with the working class and peasantry.

The working class fought against the austerity measures, but at the same time, concerns with the elections produced by the so-called “democratic opening” have taken the attention of the workers away from directly challenging the democratic governments. In this sense, from both U.S. imperialism’s and the particular national bourgeoisie’s points of view, the democratic regimes have played their role, so far deflecting the struggles of the working class.

How long these regimes can continue to play such a role is questionable.

On the other hand, the military dictatorships have not necessarily been more efficient than the democratic regimes in keeping order in recent years. It’s why there was the move to the “democratic opening.” Even in the Chile of Pinochet – which has been ruled by a harsh military dictatorship since 1973, when the Chilean military, acting for U.S. imperialism, overthrew the Allende government and smashed the working class – wide-scale opposition has mounted. This movement has even developed to the point that U.S. imperialism is today faced with the question of what to do with another of its faltering props.

The problem for the bourgeoisies of the South American countries, and behind them American imperialism, is that the threat of a massive explosion exists, which neither democratic regimes nor military regimes are proof against. The austerity measures have turned much of Latin America into a tinder box. At the same time, the recent experiences of struggle of the working class have contributed in many countries to its own organization. This working class, which in recent years has seen a rapid increase in its numbers and relative social strength in many countries, has been testing its own forces.

Due to the growing contradictions in this part of the world, there is the ever-present possibility of an explosion. Since the working class is relatively large and is at the center of the economic and social life, it has a great possibility to lead these struggles – under the condition that a revolutionary proletarian party, representing the interests of the working class, is built up. But this remains to be done.

XI. Central America is the one area where the U.S. has taken an outright aggressive stance over the last year. For U.S. imperialism, the fact that the Sandinista regime came to power in Nicaragua as a result of a revolutionary overthrow of Somoza; that the Sandinistas maintain the goal of developing the country independent of U.S. domination; that they accept aid from Russia and Cuba; and that all this is happening in the U.S. “backyard” makes the Sandinista regime a permanent symbol of defiance of U.S. imperialism. Most importantly, the Nicaraguan revolution remains an example for people fighting against U.S.-sponsored dictatorships in other countries, an example that has been taken up in mass struggles in Guatemala and El Salvador, an example that could spread, most importantly, to the bigger countries of South America and Mexico.

To try to smash the struggles in El Salvador and Guatemala, the U.S. has bolstered the military there with massive aid. Since Duarte’s election in 1984, the U.S. has obviously felt it had a freer hand to carry out the major thrust of what had been its policy: an enormous reinforcement of the Salvadoran military, allowing it to crush any resistance by the population and defeat the guerrillas. Massive U.S. aid has continued to expand and be used to modernize the Salvadoran military. The U.S. spends at the rate of 1.5 million dollars a day in El Salvador. Today, El Salvador has the largest air force in Central America; it has increased its military ten per cent since 1984, and tripled its helicopter fleet. Over the last year, the Salvadoran military has carried out major attacks on the civilian population, with massive use of napalm and white phosphorus in bombing raids. The army has burned crops and killed, wounded or displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes, driving them into government camps. Twenty per cent of the Salvadoran population today are refugees.

Similar, if lesser, amounts of military supplies and money have been funneled into Guatemala, where they have also been used by the army against the Guatemalan population.

To attack Nicaragua, the U.S. created and funded the Contra forces and enforced embargoes and sanctions on Nicaraguan trade. Nicaragua has paid dearly for the attacks of the last period. Its economy has been disrupted by Contra attacks and sabotage. The civil war has already cost it 1.5 billion dollars, just to defend itself. It has lost trade and possibilities for economic development which in turn mean a worsening of the lives of the population. A quarter of a million people in a country of less than four million are homeless as a result of the war. Over 300 schools and health centers have been destroyed. This is the price that U.S. imperialism has demanded from the Nicaraguan people for the audacity of thinking that they could rid themselves of Somoza and gain independence for their country.

XII. So far this policy has allowed the U.S. to exact a big price from the peoples of Central America. But the regime in Nicaragua retains popular support with no possibility of the Contras coming to power. And the struggles in El Salvador and Guatemala have not been crushed. The civil war in El Salvador, in fact, has expanded; it is a war of attrition which saw no major victories for either side in the last year. Given the seemingly unlimited supply of military hardware in the hands of the regime and its better organized and larger army, the guerrillas have turned away from major offensives and to smaller attack forces. They harass army troops; disrupt the functioning of the country and the economy by attacking railroads, power and telephone lines, and occasionally enter the cities. This continuing inability of the U.S. surrogates to pacify all of Central America raises the possibility of direct U.S. intervention, an intervention that it has methodically planned and set in place for years. Honduras has been turned into a major staging area with 14 military bases, eight air strips, all constructed by the U.S., and more than 21,000 semi-permanent U.S. troops. For several years now, the U.S. has staged military exercises each of which has involved tens of thousands of U.S. troops and warships, the feature of which was a mock invasion of Nicaragua.

Last spring Reagan issued a joint communique with the president of Honduras promising U.S. support in the event that Honduras was attacked – a pretext for a future U.S. intervention in Central America – a foreshadowing of the events we saw at the beginning of this April. Costa Rica has been prepared also as a secondary staging area, with bases constructed there too and more U.S. troops sent in to accompany the Costa Rican National Guard.

Yet, the U.S. still hesitates to send its own troops into combat in Central America. The whole debate between Congress and the White House over aid to the Contras illustrates fears within the bourgeoisie that the road to war could lead them to being bogged down in a new Viet Nam. Nicaragua may be a small country, near the United States, with a large Contra force actively fighting it; the Grenada operation might have been judged a success; but no one has the illusion that to launch an attack against Nicaragua will be in any way as easy.

XIII. The ostentatious show of U.S. foreign policy – with the spectacular invasion of Grenada, high tech bombardment of Libya, the propping up of the Contras and the hysterical propaganda that has accompanied all these actions – has contributed to a climate in the U.S. which aims at making it clear that, if the U.S. government deems it necessary, the U.S. will intervene militarily; that the consequences of the Viet Nam war are definitively forgotten.

Of course preparing for is not the same thing as making the turn itself. And much of the warlike rhetoric and actions in fact have been staged as a justification to increase the military budget. But the same interests of the U.S. bourgeoisie which lead them to subsidize their profits through military spending, will eventually – and we don’t know how soon that eventually will

be – lead them to defend their profits through war. The hysterical propaganda that today serves to justify the sacrifices of the population to pay for the military spending also serves to prepare the population to accept going to war in the future.

XIV. On the scale of the world, the Soviet bureaucracy has long played a double role. On the one hand, the Soviet bureaucracy is one of the main forces in the world maintaining the status quo, first within the borders of the USSR and its own sphere of influence, but also in other countries which look to the USSR. The bureaucracy’s own weak social position leads it to assert a very tight grip on the peoples it controls. Any rebellion, any movement in Russia or within its sphere of influence is, of course, a threat to the bureaucracy’s control. But when the Soviet bureaucracy tries to crush the rebellion in Afghanistan, this also serves as a brake on struggle in the whole Islamic world. And when the bureaucracy showed its willingness to break a large and powerful working class movement in Poland, it thus discouraged the working class at least in Eastern Europe, if not in the Western countries as well.

Certainly the U.S. tries to take advantage of rebellions against the Soviet bureaucracy, as a means to weaken the USSR. The U.S. supplies some arms to the Afghan rebels, helping them continue to fight – of course not enough to win – enabling them to tie down several Soviet armies. The U.S. uses the Soviet repression against Polish Solidarity for propaganda purposes. But in no way is the U.S. actually opposed to the bureaucracy’s attempt to smash such popular movements. Just the opposite. The smashing of a popular movement within the USSR’s sphere of influence can serve as a stabilizing factor throughout the world.

On the other hand, despite the bureaucracy’s role of safeguarding the status quo, the mere existence of the Soviet Union remains an encouragement for revolts against imperialism’s domination. Moreover, sometimes the bureaucracy, in order to gain allies and influence, provides material assistance to nationalist regimes trying to gain space in the imperialist world order, regimes such as those in Cuba and Nicaragua in the U.S.’s own “backyard,” or Angola on the border of South Africa.

XV. The changeover from the old generation of the bureaucracy to the younger one, represented by Gorbachev, does not signal any kind of change, either in the Soviet bureaucracy’s willingness to serve as guarantor of the world status quo, or in its stranglehold on political life in the USSR. The withering criticism of the economy and the problem of the bureaucracy’s weight on it, brought up at the recent Congress of the Russian Communist Party, are in essence nothing that the bureaucracy hasn’t admitted before. Neither are the recommendations, which have to do with more efficient handling of an economy freed from the weight of the bureaucracy. Of course this is impossible. The only way to wipe out bureaucratic behavior would be to bring the regime under the democratic control of the population. But this the bureaucracy cannot do, since it would mean the end of its privileged place in its own end. The only way out of the problems of the USSR is the overthrow of the bureaucracy by the organized working class, that is, a political revolution. Despite all the pious talk by the representatives of imperialism about the need to “democratize” Soviet society, such a revolution could constitute a mortal danger to imperialism. For the working class to seize power in the Soviet Union would be a tremendous impetus to the world revolution.

XVI. This year the strains in the relations between the United States and the USSR certainly don’t mean that the U.S. is ready to junk the policy of detente which has been very useful for it. Each time there has been a flurry of warlike propaganda, with questions raised about relations between the U.S. and the USSR, this has been quickly followed by some demonstrative reaffirmation of the status quo. The most obvious example of this was the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva which followed on the heels of the U.S. economic embargo against Nicaragua. Nonetheless, the U.S. government has made the point this year to wonder out loud about the usefulness of detente. The U.S. resumption of arms testing and its refusal to enter into a new arms control agreement, which carries only symbolic significance anyway, was a way for the U.S. to underline the strains.

Even today, the very existence of the Soviet Union means that imperialism doesn’t have its hands free to deal with popular upsurges throughout the world. For this reason, behind imperialism’s struggle to control the underdeveloped world, looms the eventual fight with the Soviet Union. If U.S. imperialism gets involved in a lengthy war, or series of wars in underdeveloped countries, it cannot long avoid taking on its main competitor. If it didn’t, it would allow the Soviet Union to profit from the U.S. being tied down in a war or wars.

Certainly, there is nothing in the short term situation today which forces the United States to attack the Soviet Union. But the fact that today, even while the U.S. government retains its detente policy, it nonetheless makes a moral preparation for war with the Soviet Union, shows what is its long term perspective.