First Published: The Guardian, March 10, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Arguing political questions by way of historical analogy is invariably a course fraught with ideological pitfalls. Marxists know that history does not–and cannot–repeat itself and that to “prove” the worth of political positions in such a fashion is to throw all considerations of the concrete conditions affecting each situation completely out the window.
And yet dogmatists of various stripes keep on doing it.
The ideological struggle in the U.S. left on the question of Angola–a struggle, incidentally, which has seen the near-total isolation of those who have shamefully opposed the genuine liberation forces in Angola headed by the MPLA–has provided new opportunities for this metaphysical game of historical parallel.
Thus, at a recent public meeting in Philadelphia, Michael Klonsky, chairman of the October League (OL), drew an analogy between the current struggle in Angola and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.
Just as the Franco insurrection in Spain in 1936 was promoted and supported by the German and Italian fascists, with Hitler supplying the weaponry and Mussolini supplying the troops, said Klonsky, so the Soviet Union and Cuba respectively are playing the same role in Angola today. In addition, according to Klonsky, Angola is the Soviet Union’s testing ground for a new war, just as Spain was for Hitler.
True, Klonsky stopped short of calling for the formation of an International Brigade to fight against the Soviet-Cuban “fascist menace” in Angola–although that would appear to be the logical consequence of his parallel. (Would the U.S. “volunteers” for such an undertaking be called the John F. Kennedy Brigade or the Lyndon Johnson Battallion in honor of those U.S. Presidents who refused to “appease” the Russians?) Or perhaps Klonsky felt that in the division of labor among those opposing the Angolan people’s just struggle for national liberation this task was being fulfilled by CORE’S Roy Innis.
To carry the analogy somewhat further. Does this make the MPLA the equivalent of the Franco fascists? Is CIA agent Holden Roberto the 1975 exemplar of Dolores Ibarurri–the famous “La Passionara” who came to symbolize Republican Spain before the world? And what of the British and West German mercenaries or the anti-communist Cuban “refugees” who flocked to the colors of FNLA and UNITA–are they perhaps the reincarnation of those volunteers who came to Spain from all the corners of the earth in defense of the Spanish Republic?
In 1936, the USSR called on the Western bourgeois “democracies” to form a united front against Hitler and to make a stand in Spain. Does Klonsky now advocate a united front by the U.S., South Africa, other bourgeois ”democracies” and whoever else will join in against the Soviet “fascists” and their allies in Angola?
Finally, in view of the refusal of the U.S. Congress to countenance military aid to FNLA and UNITA, will the OL now launch a campaign to “lift the embargo” on these neocolonialist factions much the way U.S. Communists in the 1930s demanded an end to the embargo on democratic Spain?
Surely these are legitimate questions to ask those who would draw the analogy that Klonsky has made.
But clearly there is more involved here than that brand of dogmatism which attempts to solve contemporary political questions by forcing them into the mold of past events. The past, after all, is profoundly instructive. Historical experience has been the cauldron and testing ground for that entire body of revolutionary theory without which the revolutionaries of today would be rudderless.
But the problem with the OL’s historical analogy between Spain and Angola is not primarily with the awkward strains it places upon credulity, although its absurdities are not to be ignored. The real problem is with the content of Klonsky’s parallel.
Were it not for the ”left”-sounding rhetoric which surrounds the OL analysis of Angola–an analysis that is completely consistent with that organization’s views on Puerto Rico, Oman and other critical areas of national liberation struggle–there would be little difficulty in assessing its real substance. (Lest there be any doubts on this point, I am speaking here not simply of the OL but a few other “left” organizations who in their support of neocolonialism in Angola or in their slanders of socialist Cuba fundamentally share the same perspective.)
The substance of that position in practice is that the struggle against Soviet social-imperialism takes precedence over the national liberation struggles of peoples oppressed by U.S. imperialism. For U.S. Marxists, this position amounts to objective collusion with U.S. imperialism and betrayal of certain national liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples.
According to this view, the principal international question at this time is the question of Soviet aggression. In Africa, if the people of Angola complete their struggle against Portuguese colonialism and U.S. imperialism–and make use of Soviet arms and Cuban troops to defeat an invasion of South African troops–this is characterized primarily as a “gain” for Soviet social-imperialism. If, in Brazil, the pro-Moscow Communist Party steps up its fight against the fascist regime and helps build pockets of resistance wjthin the reactionary armed forces, this is described as a serious threat to Brazilian national sovereignty by Soviet social-imperialism. If, in Puerto Rico, the leading pro-independence organization seeks the support of the USSR on the diplomatic front, this is seen as evidence that “it is no longer only one imperialist country which threatens the Puerto Rican people” and that “Puerto Rico has become one of the Latin American areas of sharpest contention between the two superpowers.”
Tragically, a number of organizations in the party-building movement seem to think that their primary responsibility is the struggle against Soviet social-imperialism–even when such a stand may place them in objective partnership with the principal enemy of their own working class as well as the overwhelming majority of mankind, U.S. imperialism.
One cannot help but point out a bitter irony in all this. The movement to build a new communist party in the U.S. has developed, in the first place, in response to the political bankruptcy of the revisionist U.S. Communist Party. The essence of that revisionism rests in the CPUSA’s abandonment of a revolutionary course, the adoption of a strategy based upon the thesis of a peaceful transition to socialism. This strategy of necessity includes a whole set of illusions about the bourgeois state, an idealization of parliamentary forms of struggle, a reliance on petty bourgeois reformism and “progressive” elements in the labor aristocracy. The “vanguard” party is transformed into an association of democratic reformers who, while paying homage to the “idea” of socialism, devote themselves to trying to make the capitalist system somewhat more tolerable to the oppressed masses. When all is said and done, the content of revisionism is summed up as class collaboration because it attempts to divert the working class and its allies away from its revolutionary potential and into the struggle for a set of reforms which would leave the underlying social and property relations intact. Revisionism is thus rightly characterized as opportunism because objectively it curries favor with the ruling class.
But while the struggle against revisionism inspired the rebirth of a Marxist-Leninist movement in the U.S., those antirevisionists who take the side of the U.S. bourgeoisie as it plots counterrevolution against the national liberation struggles are also guilty of class collaboration. Just as the right opportunism of the CPUSA objectively aids the monopoly capitalists, so does the “left” opportunism of certain Marxist-Leninists provide support of a most indispensable kind to U.S. imperialism.
And to put it as bluntly as possible, that’s a hell of a way to build a revolutionary party.