Ernest Mandel

The OLAS Conference and the
“Principles” of Paul-Henri Spaak

(October 1967)

Source: From World Outlook, 20 October, 1967, Volume 5, No. 33, Paris and New York City
Translated: by World Outlook.
Transcription & Marked-up: by David Walters for the Marxists’ Internet Archive, 2009.
Public Domain: Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

In the September 13, 1967, Le Soir the following piece of prose appeared under the signature of Paul-Henri Speak [Belgian Socialist party leader and minister of foreign affairs];

“It does not mean that one is a ‘rightist’ if he supports the position that the slogans issued at Havana (call for civil war, the will to resort to systematic violence) can provoke grave dangers for the whole world.

“In Europe, we seem to be unaware of this. There is the rumble of revolt in Latin America and the American Blacks have taken leaders who have lost all sense of proportion and all common sense, but we seem to consider such events as completely unrelated to us. We comment on them – I refer to our radio and television – with the serenity and indulgence of people who feel themselves to be secure forever.

“But is it necessary to be a great political seer to foresee what would become of Europe if the theses of Castro, Carmichael or Brown were to triumph?

“How can one fail to understand that we must find solutions for the real and urgent problems confronting us, but that we can only do this if we are united and act together?

“Today it is the American rather than the European continent which is confronted by difficulties. During and after the war it came to our assistance. The hour for repaying our debt has sounded. Even though we find that the United States is making mistakes, even if we find it difficult to accept certain situations, wisdom does not lie in condemning it and moving away from it; on the contrary, it lies in drawing closer to it and jointly finding solutions in conformity with our principles.”

These sentences should be read again and again. They warrant a place in the textbooks. It is hard to say what element is most outstanding; its analytical depth, the elevation of its ideas, or its delicate style.

Are the commentators on our radio and television stations discussing the OLAS [Organization of Latin-American Solidarity] conference with ‘serenity,” that is to day, objectively? Spaak is calling them to order! At a time when American capitalism is being threatened, a fig for all objectivity, which is a priori suspect. It is the duty of the strongboxes of Europe to unite with the strongboxes of the United States. It is the duty of journalists to defend the interests of these safes or shut up. It would be impossible to find a better revelation of the real nature of bourgeois democracy.

There are “some problems” in Latin America. So great a mind as Spaak obviously cannot contest this. But who, then, is called upon to find the solutions for these “real and urgent” problems? The people inhabiting Latin America? Only a knifebetween-the-teeth-Castroite could possibly formulate such an antidemocratic thesis. To Mr. Spaak, democracy consists of delegating to American imperialism the power to settle the problems of Latin America, and in “our” uniting with it in order to help it impose its solutions. That is what is in conformity with ‘our principles.”

“Certain situations” are obviously “difficult to accept.” But “we,” happy bourgeois that we are, satiated by happy Europe, “we” prefer euphemisms, since precise terms have a subversive quality, in fact, they are “Castroite. “ We therefore talk about “situations,” rather than mention fascist and military dictatorships, monstrous infant mortality – in Brazil alone malnutrition causes the premature death of 300,000 infants before they live out their first year – general illiteracy, “universal suffrage” limited to ten percent of the population, atrocious superexploitation, annual incomes which hardly equal the monthly incomes of Belgian citizens, etc., etc.

But if “we” are very discreet about certain regrettable “situations,” “we” make up for it by condemning the “call to civil war,” “the will to resort to systematic violence” emanating from the OLAS conference.

“We” love “order and tranquility.” Obviously the world isn’t perfect. From time to time violence is inevitable. That is why “we” sent our paratroops to the Congo. Obviously our aim was not to overthrow the Stanleyville government but only to “free” ‘our” women and our children. When it comes to Latin America, however, it is forbidden to use violence in order to free millions of women and children from their terrible fate. For that is the kind of liberation which directly threatens the colonial superprofits of the United Fruit Corporation the Creole Petroleum Corporation, the United States Steel Corpoation, and even the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, about whom, “we” admit, we have heard some vague reference in the past…The “call for civil war” launched by Havana is something inad.missable. “We” no longer say that we prefer democracy to dictatorship. Because, unfortunately, the “civil war” which Havana wants is aimed precisely at the dictatorial regimes established almost everywhere in Latin America. No, “we” condemn “civil war” in toto, implying by this (for “we” are never at a loss for logic) that it is preferable to submit passively to fascist dictatorships, concentration camps, the torture of political prisoners, the massacres of strikers, famine wages, a total absence of social legislation, rather than to revolt against such infamous conditions. “Our” German confreres propounded a similar thesis on the very eve of the Nazi accession to power. Since then fifty million dead testify to the validity of this thesis…

The good fellow is no simpleton, however. “There is the rumble of revolt in Latin America,” he writes. Is this due to the “calls” of Havana? Only the blind still believe in the legend that revolutions flare up as if by magic as the result of dirty work by “outside agitators.” If “there is the rumble of revolt” in that area, this is undoubtedly so because the economy is stagnant, because social conditions are execrable, because the possessing classes are decadent, cruel and incompetent, because the peoples have no peaceful means of correcting the situation, because their patience has been exhausted… Hasn’t Paul-Henri Speak read “his” Kennedy? Is he less intelligent than a political leader of American imperialism?

If revolt threatens, what should we do? Should we help the exploited who are revolting, or run to the aid of the exploiters, who put themselves under the protection of the Dollar Empire? PaulHenri Spaak’s “principles” direct him onto the second road. The content of these “principles” is clear: international solidarity of the strongboxes!

But the reader still hasn’t grasped all the subtlety of Spaakist reasoning. “We” condemn the will to resort to systematic violence. For “we” must remain logical with “ourselves.” When two dozen Brazilian field-marshals set up a dictatorship in that country, “we” obviously remained silent (one does not meddle in the internal affairs of another country).

When General Onganla suppressed democratic rights in Argentina, “we” did not raise our voice.

When the Argentine army broke strikes, occupied trade-union headquarters, arrested thousands upon thousands of militant workers, “we” never felt that “our principles” were endangered.

When the Bolivian army occupied the villages of the miners, violated the women, killed hundreds of workers, interned the leading militants in a zone within the country where leprosy reigns, “we” felt it was hardly any concern of ours. When the private armies of the landed proprietors in Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, drive the peasants off their ancestral lands, reestablish forced labor or serfdom, “we” are obviously of the opinion that this is a difficult situation to accept. But “we” rely on the forces of progress to change this scandalous situation “progressively” by means of “peaceful reforms,” purely peaceful reforms.

But when men and women become fed up with seeing their peoples suffer in vain year after year, decade after decade; when working-class militants become fed up with being arrested, tortured and massacred and prefer to take up arms in selfdefense and even to strike a first blow; when the peasants become fed up with being terrorized by private and governmenta) armies and proceed to organize, arm themselves and take back the land which is rightfully theirs, then obviously everything has changed. Then, obviously, violence is no longer “occasional”; it becomes systematic. From then on it warrants an exemplary condemnation executed in due and proper form. That is what Mr. Spaak’s principles proclaim.

And yet, all modern states are the products of revolutions. And yet, the king of the Belgians, for whom Mr. Speak was such a deferential and loyal prime minister, is king only by the grace of a revolution. And yet, the United States Delaration of Independence, so beloved by Mr. Speak, itself proclaims the sacred right of peoples to revolt when injustice can be redressed by no other means. Will Mr. Spaak deny that the social situation in America is unjust and cries to heaven for revenge? Will he deny that nine times out of ten it has proved impossible to redress the situation peacefully, if for no other reason than the fact that the brutal dictatorships tolerate no popular actions, even of a peaceful kind? But Mr. Speak is unconcerned about all these “democratic” truths. American capital is threatened. Yesterday it came to the aid of European capital. Today, this aid must be returned. The reasoning is as simple as that.

Formerly we were told that we had to fight for our country. Then came the turn of democracy. Today country and democracy have disappeared from the vocabulary: “workers, mobilize in defense of the strongboxes, just that!” At least the cause gains in clarity. And so do Mr. Spaak’s principles.

Several months ago Dom Helder Camera, archbishop of Recife in Brazil, who is familiar with the poverty of hisfamished flock, declared: “I am against the use of violence but I understand that it is possible to use it, and I respect these men who have chosen the road of violence.” (He was alluding to the Castroite guérrilleros of Brazil.)

Fifteen bishops recently launched an appeal to the conscience of the world, in which they castigated the poverty of the Third World, Latin America included, and the exploiters responsible for this poverty. They explicitly asserted that because of this fact “certain revolutions” – they could hardly go any further – were legitimate.

Paul-Henri Speak has so identified himself with capitalist interests that he now occupies a more reactionary position than a part of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. It would be difficult for a “socialist” to fall any lower.

Last updated on 29.12.2011