First Published: May 1983.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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The latest imperialist-backed offensive against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua is evidence – if it were needed – of the threat which Reagan and the Pentagon chiefs see to the stability of Central America following the overthrow of Somoza in 1979 and the upsurge of guerrilla struggle in EI Salvador.
But to draw from Reagan’s opposition to the Sandinistas the conclusion that the regime is necessarily the type of regime which Marxists would advocate would be a serious mistake. Since the seizure of power by the FSLN, there has been a debate in the Trotskyist movement over the character of the petty bourgeois leadership, the limits of its struggles against imperialism, and its relationship to the working class of Nicaragua.
Involved here are also more general questions of how revolutionary Marxists should relate to ‘anti-imperialist’ movements and governments led by petty bourgeois nationalist forces. Should the political and organisational independence of the working class be subordinated to the ‘anti-imperialist’ leadership?
Or do we not have a duty to champion at all times that independence and to insist upon the leading role of the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle?
The Workers Socialist League has consistently argued for the political independence of the working class. But a very different view has been put forward by the leadership of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Embracing wholesale the political positions of Fidel Castro’s Stalinist regime in Cuba, the SWP has extended uncritical support to the petty bourgeois Sandinista leadership and to the leadership of other cross-class ‘fronts’ in Central America.
In arguing their position, the SWP seeks to compare the Nicaraguan revolution with their picture of events in Cuba, and to contrast it with events in the Algerian revolution.
We reprint below the first part of a contribution examining these arguments, originally presented by John Lister to the 1980 international summer school of the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee. The second part, dealing in more detail with the Cuban revolution, will appear in our next issue.
In their Minority Theses on the Nicaraguan Revolution (which were rejected at the World Congress of the USFI) the SWP specifically compares and contrasts the Nicaraguan Revolution with revolutions in Cuba and Algeria. They say:
“. . . the revolutionary process now under way in Nicaragua bears many resemblances to those which occurred under the workers’ and peasants’ governments established in Cuba and Algeria . . .”
The Theses go on to stress the SWP’s view that in both Algeria and Cuba the bourgeoisie was initially more confident than in Nicaragua; and that the revolutionary process was less developed in Cuba and Algeria than in Nicaragua. They declare that formally speaking their decision to designate the Sandinista regime as a “workers’ and peasants’ government” is supposed to mean that,
“the outcome of the fundamental contradiction between the class character of the workers’ and peasants’ government and the capitalist state still hangs in the balance.”
As I will show later on, it is only a formal reservation on the part of the SWP. In practice the SWP position allots to what they call the “workers’ and peasants’ government” powers and capacities that would belong only to a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat.
In Algeria, the SWP explains, a workers’ and peasants’ government under Ben Bella was rolled back under imperialist pressure to revert to capitalist control under Boumedienne. In Cuba, on the other hand, they say,
“despite the absence of a Leninist party, the anti-capitalist measures carried out by the revolutionary Castro leadership, relying on mass workers’ mobilisations, could not have been rolled back short of a full-scale civil war . . . A workers’ state had thereby been established.” (!)
Such an account (escaping any reference whatever to the role of world Stalinism in relation to Castro!) is clearly the outcome which the SWP anticipated for Nicaragua. They proudly inform the USFI World Congress that Trotskyists can watch contentedly, since (unlike the SWP) the FSLN has announced its intention to launch a “vanguard party rooted in the masses”. They go on to claim that the Kremlin’s strategy for peaceful coexistence in Central America is being boldly resisted by the Cuban regime (neatly escaping the fact that without huge cash subsidies from Moscow Castro would be unable to offer any aid to anyone!)
And while stating that: “the presence of bourgeois figures in the Nicaraguan junta and cabinet is not a mere decoration” the SWP stress that
“it would be a blunder to conclude from this that progress . . . can be furthered by agitation around the slogan ‘Bourgeois ministers out of the government!’”
This, they inform us, would be “infantile leftism” as would any move to
“promote the false idea that the government is a bourgeois coalition regime or that the FSLN is depriving the masses of their democratic rights in order to reconsolidate capitalist powers.”
Such democratic rights are unnecessary, suggest the SWP, and a call for a constituent assembly superfluous because the FSLN itself is already building a revolutionary party and
“a centralised system of democratic workers’ and peasants’ councils to assume governmental powers.”
How do we know? Because the FSLN leaders have told us so! And the Sandinistas, according to the SWP, are far superior to any fuddy duddy Trotskyists seeking to implement their boring, old Transitional Programme: The Sandinistas they suggest, are an exciting new breed of “revolutionists of action” emerging empirically by some miraculous (and undisclosed) process from the midst of the spontaneous mass struggles of the oppressed.
History will judge the Fourth International, the SWP proclaim, neither by its ability to build independent revolutionary parties, nor by its ability to chart an independent road for the proletariat in petty-bourgeois-Ied movements in order to advance the struggle to the dictatorship of the proletariat: all that is now unnecessary. Now the FI will be judged
“by our capacity to link up with these currents, to integrate ourselves in them, learn from them, and help (help!) steel them politically in the programme of Leninism.”
Hopefully as a result
“the door would be opened further to a process that would lead to the Castroist leadership, the FSLN, and other revolutionists linking up with the Fourth International in steps towards the building of a mass world party of Socialist revolution.”
It seems unlikely that the prospect of explicitly recruiting the SWP to his Stalinist Party after years of loyal service from them would be a very weighty factor in Fidel Castro’s deliberations in Central America! But such crude expressions are clearly an embarrassment to the USFI majority, who threw out the SWP’s undiplomatic phrases; while pledging the assistance of remaining “organised militants” in Nicaragua to the Sandinistas to lend a hand in any FSLN project to build a vanguard party.
So it is from the practical and programmatic questions raised by the Nicaraguan revolution, and the need to respond to the abject political confusion and liquidationism of the USFI, and not from any abstract academic interest that we are driven in the period to look again at the question of petty-bourgeois nationalist movements and the kind of regimes they set up.
We must look at the question as one which has repeatedly arisen in the post-war period. Because the USFI continuously act and respond as if they were born yesterday, we are in no way obliged to follow their example in analysing the world from a piecemeal and subjective standpoint.Limits of nationalism
In many of the most backward capitalist countries the material basis has not been created for a capitalist class to develop and entrench itself with any significant independence from imperialism.
The lack of domestic industrial development brought a corresponding restriction on the numerical growth of the proletariat as a distinct class in society, except as the workforce of multinational firms utilising cheap labour. The resulting plunder fuelled a nationalistic resentment that has been shared by the exploited peasantry, by the workers, by the small traders annoyed at their subordination to the multinationals and by would-be large-scale capitalists dependent upon the IMF and imperialist bankers for their finance and upon the world market for the sale of their goods. In many instances this mounting feeling also found its reflection in sections of the armed forces in which aspiring petty bourgeois sought a career denied them elsewhere in a backward and dependent economy.
These are internal material conditions in which petty bourgeois forces, as the most articulate and often most numerous exponents of an anti-imperialist nationalistic politics, in the absence of any developed alternative leadership from the proletariat, can emerge at the head of militant struggles which embrace a wide, cross-class alliance of forces which while all fighting the imperialists are in fact engaged in pursuing fundamentally diverse objectives.
When such struggles take place in the context of a weakened imperialism, they have been seen to achieve a measure of success in inflicting setbacks on colonial exploitation and in asserting a certain measure of renewed independence.
But while these material conditions can enable the petty bourgeoisie to place itself at the head of the struggle against national oppression and against imperialist puppet dictatorships, they do not change the unstable nature of the petty bourgeois as an intermediate vacillating stratum that emerges balanced between the two main poles of society: the strength of the proletariat and poorest peasantry, and the power of imperialist finance capital.
Though the petty bourgeois forces can conduct armed and political struggle, even to the level of taking power, they never acquire the same self-confidence and the same established weight of state machinery as the big bourgeoisie. They thus never acquire the same kind of ability to confront and crush the movement of the masses. For the petty bourgeois, the question is generally to find the means to manipulate, divert and defuse the struggles of the working class, rather than to engage in frontal collision. This is attempted by deliberately creating conditions that strengthen the alliance of the new regime with the peasantry with the military apparatus and with their petty bourgeois class brothers – the technicians and managers – in the newly nationalised concerns.
Petty bourgeois regimes therefore combine a universal initial verbal leftism, to placate the rising militancy and aspirations of the newly liberated masses, with practical steps to shackle workers and peasants politically and organisationally within the bounds set by the requirements of the petty bourgeois rulers and their bourgeois masters. Talk of “socialism” in general is combined with continued links with capitalism for as long as this remains a possibility. And only in the case of Cuba has this option been definitely cut off – by the action of the imperialists!
In looking at some of the post-war petty bourgeois revolutions and regimes, therefore, I hope to be able to draw out more clearly some of the general lessons of such struggles. I will point to the fact that it is the rightward moving and pro-capitalist developments in post-revolutionary Algeria and not Cuba that have been the prime “model” for the evolution of such revolutions. It is the inadequacy of the existing leadership and their inability to create healthy workers states and not any abstract longing on our part for a role in the class struggle that proves the objective political necessity for the building of independent Trotskyist parties to lead the struggle.What happened in Algeria?
So what happened in Algeria?
The Algerian war of independence was a protracted, barbaric and bloody affair. The national struggle in Algeria, whose roots go back to the 1930s, reached new peaks in the post-war period, encouraged by the weakness of French imperialism during the war, and sparked into anger by the meagre concessions offered by De Gaulle in 1944.
In May, 1945 an upsurge of militant riots by Muslims in Algeria was met by unrestrained butchery from the French army and the colonialists, with CP backing. Figures of those killed after the May riots range from 1,000 to 80,000. A figure of 15,000 seems well established.
One of the more right-wing nationalists, Ferhat Abbas, was arrested at this point. On his release he formed the Democratic Union of the Algeria Manifesto (UDMA) which called, moderately, for an autonomous secular Algerian state within the French union. The UDMA scored electoral successes, but was so tame that it failed to make any headway with the French.
The UDMA faded away, adopting a tactic of boycotting elections. And in its place the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties (MTLD) was launched by Messali Hadj. It demanded a sovereign constitutional assembly and a withdrawal of French troops.
As the MTLD faced a barrage of repression and ballot-rigging a split took place in its ranks and increasingly the underground military wing gathered support. In 1949 it launched an attack on the town of Oran, led by Ben Bella. After the failure of its mission, Ben Bella escaped from prison to Cairo in 1952.
Messali Hadj gradually evolved towards a position of Pan-Arabism. But the divided MTLD gave birth to a Revolutionary Council for Unity and Action (CRUA). This was the body that was later to become the FLN. Its goal was simple: armed struggle against the French. It divided the country into six regions, under separate commands. It also built a substantial external guerrilla force.
In 1956, the FLN was joined by Ferhat Abbas and by a motley bunch of religious and other leaders. Messali Hadj (whose MNA was subsequently to be supported by the SLL / OCI) stayed outside this united bloc and eventually struck a squalid deal with the French.
The FLN congress drew up a programme for a Socialist Algerian republic, and planned a terrorist offensive. It began with a huge bombing campaign.
The French replied with savage repression of the Muslims: torture, internment, summary shootings of prisoners. Electric fences were set up along the Tunisian border. The French army detachment was stepped up, under the new French Socialist premier Guy Mollet from 120,000 to 400,000. A “liberal” general was recalled and replaced by a hard-liner. Tunisian border villages were bombed.
Yet the scope and cost of the action was forcing the French imperialists simultaneously to negotiate with the FLN. Talks began in secret in Morocco. As this became known, anger grew among the colonists, and the new De Gaulle government as a concession to them increased the army of occupation to 500,000.
The FLN fought on. They set up a provisional government in August 1958 including the imprisoned Ben Bella and Ferhat Abbas. They scented that De Gaulle was being driven towards a climbdown. But the final deal was a long time a-coming.
In September 1959 De Gaulle acknowledged the Algerians’ right to determine their own future, unleashing a revolt by the colonialists backed by sections of the army. Talks continued for over two years before the Evian agreement of March 1962, which agreed to a ceasefire and an independent Algeria after a transitional period, but it spelled out limits within which the new regime would have to stick in order to preserve its subordinate relation to French imperialism.
The referendum in July 1962 brought a 91% vote for independence. The colonialists packed their bags and left in droves. Ninety percent of the Europeans left, leaving behind them a shattered economy and 70% unemployment.
The FLN government was physically divided into three camps. There was a “centre” majority; an opposition around Ferhat Abbas; and a “left” opposition grouped around Ben Bella, whose position centred on a large scale agrarian reform involving expropriation of large estates, peasant cooperatives and state farms, as well as a state monopoly of foreign trade and an anti-imperialist foreign policy.
This line won a majority at the FLN Tripoli conference. So when the “centre” leadership under Ben Khedda tried to move against Ben Bella by removing the FLN commander-in-chief Boumedienne, a formidable political / military alliance was formed between Ben Bella and Boumedienne.
These two set up their own political bureau in opposition to Ben Khedda’s provisional government, and began to win support.
But the in-fighting between the FLN leaders had little to offer the working class. It is conspicuous that as Boumedienne’s troops began to march on Algiers in September 1962, they were countered by massive demonstrations organised by the Algerian trade union confederation, the UGTA. This minimised the violent confrontation. But Ben Khedda was ousted and Ben Bella / Boumedienne at once implemented a purge of FLN candidates, wiping out one third of those standing in the September 20 elections and replaced them with loyal supporters and non-entities.
Ben Bella, now in a bloc with Ferhat Abbas, took the prime ministership, and immediately banned Messali Hadj’s PPA, the Algerian CP, and the Party of Socialist Revolution (November 1962).
And all of the FLN’s organisations, with the exception of the trade unions were brought under central control.
January 1963 saw Ben Bella remedy that omission in spectacular fashion. The podium of the UGTA conference was taken over by Ben Bella supporters at the start of one morning session; and, that afternoon, delegates returning found their seats taken by Ben Bella’s thugs, who declared the need for the UGTA to comprise 80% peasant delegates! This was Ben Bella’s answer to UGTA opposition to his dictatorial policies.
Yet in March 1963 came some concessions to the mass movement: decrees were passed legalising the UGTA committees that had taken over abandoned French estates. It was declared that “self-management” (with elected workers’ committees alongside a state appointed director) was now the basis of “Algerian socialism.” As Ben Bella tightened his grip (taking over as FLN general secretary, president, commander-in-chief, head of government) Ferhat Abbas was driven out. Alongside the dictatorial moves went the nationalisation of remaining European estates under “self-management” (October 1963).
It is important to note that in the course of these events the USFI, influenced of course by Pablo as an advisor in the Ben Bella regime, and the US SWP were loud supporters of the progressive moves being made by these petty bourgeois leaders.
Joseph Hansen, writing in The Militant, applauded the fact that “Ben Bella’s first appeal is to the peasantry.” He pointed to what he called “the already evident tendency of the revolution to develop in the socialist direction . . . Ben Bella”, he argued, was “a leadership which intends to move in a socialist direction, but which lacks Leninist clarity.” Ben Bella’s takeover of the UGTA was not even reported in The Militant, while the French Pabloites actually focussed their attack not on Ben Bella but on the UGTA!
Yet The Militant gave two whole pages to the March nationalisations and “self management” decrees, with Hansen declaring “the tendency of the Algerian Revolution to develop in the socialist direction has grown stronger.”
He made no report however of the April budget, in which Ben Bella increased spending on the army and police, taking on French-trained gendarmes.
Only from such a selective and subjective standpoint is it possible to portray the Ben Bella government as a ‘left-wing’ body, one making progressive moves towards the masses and against imperialism. But from the standpoint of the struggle for revolutionary leadership, an objective, all-sided assessment of the Ben Bella government was essential, one that exposed its continued links to imperialism. Ben Bella was attempting to secure a foothold by balancing between token concessions to the militancy of the masses alongside practical measures to strengthen the state apparatus on which the power of the petty bourgeoisie and capitalism rested.
The state sector of agriculture and industry, providing lucrative and influential positions for Ben Bella’s petty bourgeois supporters, offered both the means for fostering the emergence of an increasingly prosperous layer of businessmen, and a convenient medium through which the Algerian economy could remain linked to the world capitalist market.
It is in this context that the state takeovers of industries in the neo-colonial countries must be understood as part and parcel of the search of petty bourgeois nationalist leaders for a solid material basis to perpetuate and consolidate their control.
Trotsky in ‘Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay’ discussed exactly this question when he discussed the actions of the ‘left’ nationalist Cardenas government in Mexico in 1940:
“The nationalisation of railways and oilfields in Mexico has of course nothing in common with socialism. It is a measure of state capitalism in a backward country which in this way seeks to defend itself on the one hand against foreign imperialism and on the other against its own proletariat”.
“The management of railways, oil fields, etc. through labour organisations has nothing in common with workers’ control over industry, for in the essence of the matter the management is effective through the labour bureaucracy which is independent of the workers, but in return, completely dependent on the bourgeois state”.
“This measure on the part of the ruling class pursues the aim of disciplining the working class, and making it more industrious in the service of the common interest of the state, which appears on the surface to merge with the interests of the working class itself”.
This description fits the Ben Bella strategy like a glove. We will see how it relates to subsequent petty bourgeois led revolutions. But we do not need to leave Algeria to see that such moves are by no means confined to the ‘left’ wing of petty bourgeois nationalism.
Ben Bella balanced precariously after his rise to power, between rival opposed factions. A pro-imperialist wing had opposed his apparent socialist commitment and any gesture towards ‘self-management’. And a more ‘Marxist’ left wing unsuccessfully pressed him to proceed rapidly to the major question of nationalising the French and US oil holdings and industry.
In 1965 Ben Bella railroaded his middle-of-the-road Algiers Charter through the first FLN Congress, and proceeded to crush many of his remaining fellow old FLN leaders in the subsequent party split.
But among his opponents was now the source of his original strength: military leader Boumedienne. As Ben Bella prepared for a renewed gesture of leftism as a fanfare for the planned Afro-Asian conference scheduled for June 1965 in Algiers, Boumedienne prepared a pre-emptive coup against Ben Bella to preserve his own position. Ben Bella had apparently planned to release sections of the Marxist left from prison, to issue a call for the formation of popular militias, and to order the arrest of Boumedienne and the rightist FLN leaders.
But such moves were being prepared solely from above: they had in no way been prepared through mass action or mobilisation. Neither the workers, whose union confederation had been annexed by Ben Bella, nor the peasants who resented his dictatorial rule and elimination of many old FLN leaders, waged any struggle to defend him against Boumedienne. And in September 1965 the Boumedienne regime felt strong enough to round up leftists and CP members.
Was Boumedienne’s rightist policy fundamentally different from that of Ben Bella? Only in that it actually increased the state role in the economy!
It was under Boumedienne in 1966 that a state construction company was set up; distribution of income from oil and gas industries was placed under state control, eleven foreign owned mines were nationalised, as was the property of absentee owners. Insurance was placed under state control. A national bank was formed in July 1966. These moves into the very centre of the economy were far more sweeping than those of Ben Bella in the preceding two years, at a peak of the revolutionary mood of the masses.
Boumedienne’s balancing between such populist moves, which strengthen and enlarge the base of the petty bourgeoisie, and imperialism, was shown by the signing of a 20 year deal with the French in April 1966. And the new options open to such regimes, using the Soviet bureaucracy as a lever, in forcing the deals with imperialism, were shown in 1967 when the French refused to take their agreed wine quota: Algeria turned at once to the Soviet Union, which stepped in to take half the wine exports and supply technical aid in mining and military training.
It is in this context that we should understand that it was not Ben Bella in the wake of the revolutionary war in the early 1960s, but Boumedienne, in a political haggle over prices in 1971, who carried through the nationalisation of a controlling interest in the French oil firms and the takeover of natural gas and pipeline interests.
Essentially the same regime remains in control in Algeria to this day, balancing delicately between on the one hand the demands of the imperialists and the vagaries of the capitalist world market, and on the other hand the revolutionary potential of the Algerian proletariat, whose exploitation takes place not so much directly at the hands of the large-scale Algerian bourgeoisie, as indirectly at the hands of the oil monopolies and multinational firms through the medium of the state-run enterprises in oil, gas, and heavy industry.
The armed struggle that overthrew the shackles of French imperialism did not succeed in breaking the bonds of imperialist exploitation for the Algerian masses. The proletariat found no leadership capable of placing it at the head of the liberation struggle and spearheading the struggle for the socialist overthrow of capitalism in Algeria.
This, then, was what happened in Algeria. And, as must have been clear in the account of the events, it is the Algerian revolution which really provides the model for the development of petty bourgeois nationalist regimes in the post-war period.The Algerian model
Let us look at the distinctive features which run in common through the Algerian revolution and subsequent petty bourgeois led movements.
The first feature is the emergence of a left talking cross-class political ‘front’ (the FLN) in which the proletariat is subordinated to the national petty bourgeoisie and sections of national capitalists.
Not all such fronts necessarily wage armed struggle to secure this limited objective of national independence.
Julius Nyerere’s TANU, for example, which secured the support of the black working class as well as poor peasants and petty bourgeois layers, successfully negotiated the independence of Tanzania from the British imperialists, using the lever of increased working class militancy as reflected through the TANU-led union federation, the TFL.
Within three years, however, the TANU leadership was forced to call on British military support to crack down on an army mutiny and the threat of solidarity strikes.
Just as Ben Bella moved in thugs and FLN heavies to take over the Algerian unions, Nyerere in 1964 used martial law restrictions to dissolve the TFL, replace it with a state-run union, the NUTA, and ban all parties other than TANU.
It was not until the revolutionary challenge to the rule of Nyerere’s petty bourgeois regime was long gone, that in 1967 he announced a programme of nationalisation and state participation in banking; trade and industry. Compensation was paid and profits were guaranteed to the imperialists who remained.
Elsewhere similar fronts have come to power in much more protracted and violent struggles, such as the MPLA in Angola, FRELIMO in Mozambique, ZANU in Zimbabwe and the FSLN in Nicaragua. But while diverse elements within such fronts (ranging from the urban proletariat to the rural peasantry, from the intelligentsia to agricultural labourers, and even some disaffected sections of capitalists) can unite in opposition to imperialism and its puppet governments, the taking of power rapidly demonstrates the class divisions that remain.
Almost invariably the successful seizure of power is followed by a greater or lesser period of acute governmental crisis, in which the contending class forces and their representatives raise their demands. And in every instance the proletariat faces an anti-socialist alliance of intelligentsia, prosperous peasants, small businessmen and administrators, which seeks to subordinate the unions and workers’ demands to the new ‘national interests’.
This indeed is the second common feature of petty bourgeois led revolutions. While workers, denied an alternative, revolutionary leadership, look to the nationalist forces to answer the demands which have driven them to lend their support, the petty bourgeoisie looks first and foremost for means to tame and control the working class! The struggle to stabilise Neto’s MPLA government in Angola involved not only the military defeat of the imperialist-backed FNLA / UNITA forces, but also the use of Cuban and MPLA troops to repress mass struggles by workers in Luanda itself and impose the authority of the new pro-capitalist hirelings. Only by establishing his power over the working class could Neto hope to prove his worth either to the Stalinists in Havana and the Kremlin or to the multinational oil monopolies that continue to exploit Angola’s natural resources.
Similarly in Zimbabwe, the first moves of the white-run army of the Mugabe regime were against strikes and demonstrations in Harare and other urban centres.
Over in Nicaragua, the FSLN has opposed strikes and made repeated attempts to fuse the trade union federations into a single, Sandinista-led confederation that would therefore tie the working class to the policies of their petty bourgeois rulers.
More obvious perhaps is the repression of the workers’ movement that follows on the other major form of petty bourgeois nationalist movement: the military coup.
Thus the coups by Nasser in Egypt, the Ba’athists in Iraq, Gaddafi in Libya, and the Derg in Ethiopia, have all been followed by a combination of apparently anti-imperialist moves combined with the crushing of any independent movements by the working class and poor peasantry.
This combination of anti-imperialism and fears of the mass movement provides the background to the third common factor of petty bourgeois-led regimes: the extensive role played by the state apparatus in an economy within which there is no native big bourgeoisie strong enough to compete with the multinationals and undertake the necessary developments of raw material extraction, transport and heavy industry. As administrators, technologists, supervisors and managers, the petty bourgeoisie sees the advantage of extending the apparatus of the state to fulfil such functions: as would-be capitalists in their own right, they see the necessity to create favourable economic conditions for industries producing consumer goods and other small scale items to develop. Thus the state-capitalist or ‘statist’ development of the economy in countries like Egypt or Algeria can be seen as providing a protective greenhouse atmosphere for the raising of an embryo national bourgeoisie. In Ethiopia the extension of nationalisations and land reforms are part of this pattern, they are also an attempt of the narrow military clique in the leadership of the Derg to secure a broader base of support in the form of a network of state functionaries and employees.
In Mozambique, the sweeping nationalisations that followed the military defeat of the Portuguese colonialists have already begun to be rolled back as the Machel regime, recognising its affinity to world capitalism, its dependence upon international loans and upon the South African economy, openly seeks to foster a native capitalist class alongside foreign investments.
In Nicaragua the pattern of selective nationalisations cuts like a winding road around the vested interests of the anti-Somoza bourgeoisie that to a greater or lesser degree supported the FSLN in its anti-dictatorial struggle. Banks have been nationalised, with the support of the international bankers! Elsewhere, Somozist property has been expropriated, but little else. Instead the focus is on using these state holdings as part of a joint plan of production with the remaining capitalists, while the FSLN opposes strikes and fights to increase production.
But none of these nationalist regimes could hope to survive in the longer term if they simply set their faces against every element of the mass movement. Instead they all share a willingness to head off mass pressure into anti-imperialist gestures, and to placate the peasantry with such measures as limited land reform.
Strong verbal opposition to US and other imperialist powers is often combined with varying degrees of material links with the deformed workers’ states. These links provide ‘left’ credentials, valuable cash, technical and military support, and a useful bargaining counter for driving a more advantageous deal with imperialism.
Angola, for instance, has allowed the maintenance of oil supplies to Gulf Oil and other monopolies, and the unrestricted capitalist exploitation of the minerals in Cabinda. But this has been combined with a policy of flirting with Comecon, the maintenance of a garrison of 3,000 Cuban troops, and extensive military links with the USSR.
In other instances, such as Algeria, Libya, etc., the anti-imperialist gestures have focused on declarations of support for the Palestinian struggle and a willingness to continually raise oil prices (one anti-imperialist gesture which conveniently also eases the economic plight of the nationalist regime!)
Populist techniques such as the ‘self-management’ schemes in Algeria and Tanzania, and Gaddafi’s ‘arming’ of the Libyan people in a kind of giant Home Guard (while opposition parties and Marxist literature are outlawed), are being echoed in the Sandinista Defence Committees (CDS) in Nicaragua, through which the petty bourgeois leaders seek to consolidate their hold over the mass movement unleashed by the defeat of Somoza.
We should bear in mind that these techniques are not confined to the neo-colonial countries: in Portugal after 1974, the petty bourgeois officers of the Armed Forces Movement utilised neighbourhood and factory committees as a means of diverting the mass movement of Portuguese workers into containable channels. The key to understanding such committees is not the influx of workers and urban petty bourgeois at their base, but the secure political control over them at the top exercised by the new regime (either directly, by its own nominees, or through the obedient assistance of Stalinist and reformist hangers-on).
Thus, in Nicaragua, the popular ‘militias’ are being steadily welded into a capitalist state against attack from either the imperialists outside or the Nicaraguan working class at home. In Zimbabwe, one of the key provisions in the independence deal was a scheme for the integration of Mugabe’s and Nkomo’s guerilla forces into the machinery of the capitalist state. The difficulties of filtering out the most militant elements appear particularly acute in Zimbabwe, where the continuity of exploitation by white settlers and foreign imperialist holdings has not even yet been concealed by so much as token nationalisations. Whole detachments of guerrillas remain in limbo, unable to pursue the struggle for which they took up arms, and are isolated from the process of capitalist consolidation being carried through by Mugabe.
Indeed Zimbabwe is a particularly difficult test for the imperialists and for the Mugabe leadership, since a loss of control over the process could trigger a renewed wave of struggles in Namibia and in South Africa itself. This would jeopardise the increasingly beleaguered apartheid / capitalist state and destabilise the whole area. This is the situation feared by both the capitalists and by the Stalinists, who fought tooth and nail to contain the Zimbabwe struggle and even now stand in the way of action by either Angola or Mozambique to counter South African raids.
The fifth and final major factor which runs through these experiences of petty-bourgeois nationalist movements is their relationship with world Stalinism. It is crucial to understand that without the continued existence and relative strengthening of the degenerated Soviet workers state and its bureaucratic leadership in relation to imperialism in the post-war period, petty-bourgeois nationalist movements on the scale we have seen would have been virtually inconceivable.
From the Kremlin leaders, they have been able to seek material assistance, military protection, political guidance and ideological support in their moves to balance between the imperialist powers and their own working class and poor peasantry.
As a nationalist, parasitic ruling caste itself, the Stalinist bureaucracy is ideally suited to provide expert guidance to the emerging petty-bourgeois leaders in their delicate tasks. In particular the Stalinist theory of revolution by stages is ideal as a cover for the consolidation of power in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie.
But of course the Kremlin bureaucracy and its fellow ruling Stalinist bureaucracies rest upon nationalised property relations in their own countries. It is these property forms that provide the only guarantee of the survival of the bureaucracy as a privileged ruling stratum. The foreign policy of the Kremlin therefore is quite unlike that of social democratic governments in capitalist countries. Through seeking to collaborate with imperialism against revolutionary movements the Stalinist bureaucracy takes as its premise the need to defend the foundations of the workers states (in bureaucratic military fashion). It is this underlying antagonism between the workers’ states and imperialism which underlies the willingness and ability of the Stalinists to seek diplomatic and military advantage by lending support to certain anti-imperialist movements which they hope to annex and use for their own objectives.
At the same time the internal defence of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its influence in the international workers’ movement requires that it uphold at least a token commitment to anti-imperialist struggles internationally and in place of any strategy for world proletarian revolution, the provision of political and material aid to petty bourgeois movements provides a convenient answer for this.
The post-war political situation has further created conditions for the strengthening of petty-bourgeois nationalist movements, and underlined the weakness of imperialism.
The French imperialists found themselves unable to retain control over Indo-China, sections of the Middle East and Algeria. The British imperialists were forced to surrender direct control over colonies in the Far East, India and Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa. In part this weakness flowed from the economic after-effects of World War II; in part from the relative weakening of French and British imperialism in relation to US imperialism (as symptomised by the Suez fiasco of 1956).
It is significant however that fear of direct Soviet intervention to defend nationalist movements against imperialist attack has only very recently emerged as a factor in the imperialists’ calculations. In Vietnam, for instance, only five years ago the USA was allowed to involve a huge arsenal and 500,000 soldiers, engaged in the most barbaric bombing offensive against the Stalinist-ruled North, without a finger being lifted by the Kremlin or Peking bureaucrats.
It is only in the period since the defeat of imperialism in Vietnam that the role of the Cuban troops in Angola and the military support from Cuba and the USSR to the regimes in Mozambique and Ethiopia have raised the issue of Soviet intervention, possibly prompting a more widespread confrontation.
Even now the possibilities of this an extremely limited and open to doubt For instance, whereas it seems clear that the Stalinists stand to lose considerable face if US imperialism and the Central American gendarmes moved in to invade Nicaragua, it seems very unlikely that either Cuba or the Kremlin would lift a finger to prevent imperialist intervention or to assist a left, petty-bourgeois nationalist take-over in El Salvador, elsewhere in Latin America, or indeed in many parts of Africa.
The role of Stalinism centres not so much on the open or tacit military support offered by the Stalinist bureaucracies (crucial though this was in the case of Cuba and Angola) but the material and financial support they are prepared to offer in order to buy their way into the favours of what are often the extremely fickle and unreliable petty bourgeois leaders who succeed in establishing themselves.
It is the availability of such aid and technical help which means that it is now not automatic that the petty bourgeois leaders, after an initial honeymoon period of leftism, find their way back to a humiliating and subservient deal with imperialism. It makes possible the maintenance for quite a long period of vigorously anti-imperialist and pro-Soviet regimes: but it makes their existence and their political positions dependent upon the approval and strategic and tactical interests of the Stalinist leaders. And, far from Cuba being the ‘model’ for a series of colonial liberation struggles, twenty years of experience have shown that the Cuban revolution was the exception, in which the global policies of Stalinism, coupled with the weakness and tactical errors of imperialism, created conditions for the establishment by a petty-bourgeois nationalist leadership of a deformed workers’ state.Next issue: what happened in Cuba?