Ernest Mandel

“The US doesn’t control the historical process”

(March 1985)

From Panorama, No.1, March 1985, pp.9-11.
Translation by Peter Gellert F.
Thanks to Joseph Auciello.
Downloaded with thanks from the Ernest Mandel Internet Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ernest Mandel gave the following interview to panorama, in which he talks of some political aspects of the international situation, and in particular, of those related to Central America.

Panorama: What are the main features of the international crisis?

Ernest Mandel: We can narrow the problem down to two levels, two distinct fields, although there is an evident interrelation between them.

The political field and the economic field. Imperialism suffered a tremendous defeat with the victory of the Indochinese revolution in 1975. This defeat had internal consequences inside the US giving rise to the so- called Vietnam syndrome, as the Yankees call it, which implies that for at least a limited period, three or four years, there is a near paralysis of the international capacity for intervention on the part of North American imperialism. To repeat: the source of this paralysis was political and not military; militarily, imperialism has continued the arms race, even in this period. There were sufficient forces, there was no lack of them. But the political will was very much weakened as a result of this Vietnam syndrome; the resistance of the North American masses to new adventures outside the US borders was tremendous.

The political leadership of North American imperialism prepared for a change, and this change occurred in the final part of the Carter administration, but with the Reagan administration it was accentuated and a counterattack was planned: the military budget was drastically increased, rapid intervention forces capable of intervening in many parts of the world were organized, there was a small change in the structure of the North American armed forces in order to allow for more rapid, counter-revolutionary interventions in several places around the world.

That’s to say that during the period of the paralysis, the revolution was able to achieve some impressive successes, of which the downfall of the Shah of Iran and the fall of Somoza in Nicaragua are the two outstanding examples against which the imperialist intervention was limited, not non-existent, but very limited. However, this period came to an end in 1979-80, and from that moment on, a new stage in the imperialist counter-offensive was launched in which, let’s say, the intervention in the Middle East, the support for Israeli aggression against Lebanon and the Palestinian resistance and especially the intervention in Grenada were the most obvious examples.

Panorama: And in relation to the economic field?

Ernest Mandel: With the victory of the Sandinista revolution and the extension of the revolutionary process in El Salvador and Guatemala, imperialism’s determination to avoid the consolidation of the Nicaraguan revolution and to oppose at all cost new revolutionary victories, especially in El Salvador, tremendously increased international attention to this part of the world, and here we have to make the connection, the interrelationship with the economic aspect of the question.

The economic crisis, the long-term depression which the international capitalist economy has experienced since 1974, ten years ago, reached a new recession in 1980, 1981, 1982, in the US and the other imperialist countries.

Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, the dependent semi-industrialized countries were hit a little bit later, in 1982, 1983. And when there was a first recession in the context of this long depression, in 1974-75, imperialism was looking for a way out, let’s say a reduction in the extent of the crisis, increasing credits to the countries of the so-called Third World and the so-called socialist countries in order to be able to increase their exports to these two zones. This brought about an accumulation of debts which provoked a panic at the beginning of the 1980’s at not being able to recuperate payments of these debts, including the interruption of such payments with all the consequences which you know and which I won’t go into here.

This meant that with the recession of 1980-83, a partial recuperation in the sense of once again increasing exports to the Third World and to the so-called socialist countries was impossible. Then, imperialism had to seek a substitute market, and it found it in the sensational increase in military expenditures.

It was the economic logic of the system which determined the acceleration of the arms race. And this obviously had a much deeper aspect than preparing counter-revolutionary interventions in regions such as Central America, the Middle East or Central Africa; it took the form of placing new missiles with nuclear warheads in Western Europe directed against the USSR and the preparation of Reagan’s famous star wars, that is, an entire new phase of the arms race on a world scale.

These expenditures are very high; they represent practically the only source of the budget deficit of the United States which is 200 billion dollars each year during the past three or four years. These are fantastic figures, and they represent an obvious danger since the new nuclear systems which are being built are continually more automated with possibilities for reconsideration continually more limited before unleashing a nuclear holocaust.

It is said, I don’t know if it’s true, these are speculations made by technicians, but it’s said that with the current type of missiles there are only 20 minutes between when signals are received – and they can even be false alarms – and the automatic response: 20 minutes for reconsideration before saving the world from a nuclear holocaust isn’t much.

This implies a military, political, and especially an economic pressure on the Soviet Union: pressure because the Soviet Union has a gross national product considerably smaller than that of the US, let’s say about half, which is to say that the same amount of military expenditures in the two countries means that for the Soviet economy it represents a much greater weight than for the US economy, and if these expenditures are increased, let’s say from 20 to 40 percent, the damage to the Soviet economy, to the Soviet government and population is obvious. It imposes very tragic reductions in the standard of living or in terms of industrial investments in order to keep pace with the North American military expenditures.

Panorama: What is the US government seeking with these policies?

Mandel: Two things or a combination of the two. It hopes to provoke social crisis within Soviet society and inside Eastern Europe through the stagnation and reduction of the living standards of the population, but it especially hopes to force the Soviet leadership to take certain positions around some conflictive zones in different parts of the world: the Middle East and Central America; especially these two areas, in terms of not intervening, of neutralization, which would all help the counter-revolutionary intervention by imperialism.

These are the two main features of imperialist policies, which are a product of the change which took place in the world situation in 1975. But they are combined with autonomous processes of social struggles and social explosions. The imperialists don’t control everything; they don’t control the historical process; they don’t control what takes place in the world; they have their intervention in the framework of the class struggle and in the framework of the anti-bureaucratic and anti-imperialist struggles which develop on a world scale independently of their own plans.

For example, the victory of the Sandinista revolution was not foreseen by the imperialists; they calculated on replacing Somoza with another bourgeois regime and their plan failed; it wasn’t successful. The victory of the Sandinistas in Managua radically changed the situation for them in Central America; it gave an objective stimulus – this has nothing to do with intervention and military aid – it gave an objective stimulus to the revolutionary process in El Salvador and other countries in Central America which in turn unleashed independent, uncontrollable and autonomous processes which US imperialism has had to contend with.

Panorama: How do you view the Central America situation?

Mandel: The most explosive situation is in El Salvador. Imperialism is trying to prevent a military victory, combining military aid for the right-wing, counter-revolutionary forces together with political maneuvers such as returning the Christian Democracy of Duarte to power. But again it is confronted with complications, political and social conflicts which it hasn’t been able to resolve.

The Salvadorian right-wing didn’t accept and doesn’t accept a pseudo-reformist or semi-reformist variant in terms of a governmental solution in El Salvador because it fears, because it’s frightened of any possibility of the development – including legal or semi-legal – of the mass movement of self-defense of the movement’s rights, of its immediate interests, including even minimal economic rights.

The Salvadorian army doesn’t seem capable on its own accord of blocking the developments of the revolutionary forces.

In these conditions, the need of imperialism to intervene with its own military force is on the rise, and this need involves it in a continually more direct confrontation with the revolution, not only in Nicaragua, but also in El Salvador.

This in turn sets off a process of extension of the revolution to other zones in the region or zones of the periphery of the region: the Mexican, Colombian, and Venezuelan bourgeoisies, which are the three most important bourgeoisies, shall we say, the most powerful, who live on the borders of Central America, are frightened by the revolutionary process which is knocking at their door; for this reason they are interested in avoiding military confrontations that are too explosive in nature. That is the main reason behind the Contadora.

At the same time they are interested in limiting and blocking the revolutionary process as well; they want to block the two phenomena: the counter-revolution and the armed revolution, that is, the military conflict, the military explosion and the military confrontation.

At the same time it’s very important for imperialism that there exist conditions of relative political stability in a country such as Mexico or Venezuela. For this reason they don’t want to have an immediate, direct, frontal confrontation with the maneuvers of the constitutional governments of these countries around the question of Central America.

But in the opposite sense, we have social tensions as a consequence of the economic crisis, as a result of the crisis of the international debt, as a result of the solutions proposed by the International Monetary Fund: the austerity policies, the brutal reduction in the standard of living of the masses in all countries of Latin America in order to be able to reduce imports and increase exports to obtain funds for the debt repayment.

Social tensions, even social explosions, such as we have just seen in Brazil, in the Dominican Republic, in Jamaica in the last few days, that imperialist and the national bourgeoisies don’t control, and this too is an element in an uncontrollable situation, an autonomous element which makes the situation more complicated for imperialism.

Drawing a balance sheet of all this, I would say that although the threats of an imperialist intervention are strong, a very concrete threat for our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, although we must maintain the mobilization of the people against this very real threat as a permanent feature, we must understand that imperialism does not control the historical process, and that this process is in the hands of the revolutionaries and the masses, and that today it is possible to offer an independent revolutionary solution to this situation in Central America with many possibilities of extending it to several and some very important countries of Latin America.


Last updated on 5.8.2007