Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

’...Fan the Flames’

First Published: The Guardian, July 14, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Is the October League (OL) moving toward a political truce with U.S. imperialism?

The question would have been considered unthinkable at one time. But as the OL flails in all directions trying desperately to justify its crude class-collaborationist stand on the question of Angola, the likelihood grows that it will find itself obliged time and again to rise to the support of U.S. imperialism in its counterrevolutionary efforts elsewhere.

What other consequences can be expected from their international line of “directing the main blow at Soviet social-imperialism?” At the moment, the OL is visibly embarrassed by the frank exposition of China’s current foreign policy which was espoused by William Hinton (see Guardian May 5) and subsequently confirmed by Hugh Deane (see Guardian July 7).

In an article in the current issue of the OL theoretical journal, Class Struggle (Spring-Summer 1976), former Guardian staffer Carl Davidson charges that “the Guardian distorts an interpretation of China’s foreign policy by William Hinton to claim that China has dropped the united front against the two superpowers.”

Who will be impressed with such nonsense? After all, the Guardian (unlike the OL’s newspaper, The Call, when it comes to quoting from us) did not quote Hinton out of context or selectively edit his remarks. It printed them in full. If our analysis of those remarks represents any kind of “distortion,” readers will be able to judge for themselves since all the relevant materials are available to them.


Since Davidson has himself raised the question of “distortion,” however, let’s see how well he fares when his own work is involved. The article cited above is titled “Angola: The Guardian’s Treachery,” which offers a fairly accurate feeling for the piece’s general polemical style. As you might expect, insofar as it discusses Angola itself, the article is little more than a tortured and dutiful defense of the OL position which is undoubtedly all too familiar already to the readers of these pages.

But the article does one thing. It demonstrates that the OL’s objective support of U.S. imperialism in Angola remains consistent. In Davidson’s view, the events of the past half year–the repulsion of the South African invaders, the triumph of the MPLA forces–all add up to one thing. Angola “has been sabotaged.” Angola, he says, “far from having defeated imperialism has been invaded and is presently occupied by an imperialist power and its allies.”

The inexorable result of this analysis has already been reflected in the pages of The Call which has been calling for “worldwide protests” and “thundering denunciations” of the Angolan government for alleged suppression of those the OL considers to be the “genuine” freedom fighters. But it is obvious that the only criteria employed by the OL in deciding who is “genuinely” for independence is their opposition to the MPLA.

Davidson refers to “the genuine independence struggle” which he says “continues to develop in Angola, targeting the Russians and Cubans.” What is this but slightly disguised support for that counterrevolutionary armed opposition to the popular government now being waged by remnants of the two neocolonialist “liberation” organizations, a resistance which is being financed by those U.S.-based multinational corporations still unreconciled to having lost their valuable investments and properties in Angola.

To justify this stand–in fact, if one may borrow a favorite OL term, to “prettify” the role of U.S. imperialism in Angola–a certain massive disfigurement of the facts is required. Thus Davidson claims that not only FNLA (whose leader, Holden Roberto, had been on the CIA payroll for 15 years) and UNITA were receiving U.S. support, but that the MPLA was as well. The way to “prove” this incredible assertion is to invent a contradiction within the U.S. ruling class with different forces backing different movements. According to this scenario, “Gulf Oil pursued the tactic of trying to buy influence within the MPLA via the revenues from its Cabinda operation (Gulf today shares Cabinda profits with MPLA.) Others, also working through the CIA, followed the same tactic toward the other liberation movements. Thus funds from the U.S.–U.S. imperialism’s own version of sham support, real betrayal–went to all three groups while top policymakers wrangled among themselves.”

All one can really say of the above is that it is a tribute to the inventiveness of the human mind which can find such a hitherto elusive rationale for an indefensible conclusion. But what is conveniently left out in the above explanation is the fact that Gulf’s royalty payments to the MPLA government were frozen precisely at the most critical point of confrontation in Angola, and that Gulf itself was financing yet another phoney “liberation” organization, the secessionist Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC), a group totally run by Zaire. To infer from Gulf’s obligation (enforced by the MPLA) to pay royalties on its oil to the Angolan people that this was similar to U.S. imperialism’s purchase of Holden Roberto as its puppet speaks volumes–not about Angola, of course, but of that political myopia which is unable to distinguish between oppressor and oppressed.


The OL’s capacity for fantasy, not having been overtaxed by the effort cited above, next ventures into what at first seems a somewhat more esoteric realm. To demonstrate the Guardian’s “treachery,” Davidson quotes from a Guardian Viewpoint (Nov. 26, 1975) in which we say that the principal contradiction in Angola “is the struggle of the Angolan people for independence, self-determination and social progress versus the forces of Western imperialism who are seeking to salvage what they can from the defeat of Portuguese colonialism, by an assortment of neocolonialist maneuvers.”

Now Davidson does something interesting with the above, a view which we have no compunctions about defending as an accurate and scientific description of the actual situation in Angola at the height of the U.S.-backed South Africa invasion. First, he eliminates the phrase “who are seeking to salvage what they can from the defeat of Portuguese colonialism.” It is doubtful that these 14 words were excised merely to save space. There is a significance to that phrase. It locates the situation in Angola in the real world and is the key to explaining precisely why the U.S. was obliged to change tactics and to stake its interests on backing for neocolonialist forces within Angola.

This is followed, then, by an astounding statement. “Note,” says Davidson, “how the vague term ’social progress’ appears here. It is a pretty word inserted to cover for the Soviet intervention and instigation of civil war.” The illogic of this comment is so monumental that at first one is tempted to let it stand as its own best refutation.

Is this the best the OL can do to substantiate what it calls the Guardian’s “flag-waving, cheering and foot-stomping support for Soviet social-imperialism in Africa?” Has political debate been reduced to finding elusive code words whose secret meaning can be fathomed only by the October League? If this is not a political clutching at straws, what is?

Well, there should be no mystery as to what the term “social progress” means. The Portuguese colonialists and U.S. corporations who backed FNLA and UNITA knew precisely what it meant. “Social progress” meant that the stated political program of the MPLA–as well as its whole history– made clear that it was the one organization with the social program to ensure that Angola’s hard-won independence would not be sacrificed on the altar of neocolonialism.


But having discovered a convenient way of proving anything one’s heart desires, Davidson is not about to let it go. He takes it one step further. Citing a Guardian Viewpoint which says that Kissinger’s “new” Africa strategy is to keep a firm neocolonialist grip on Botswana, Zaire and Zambia, Davidson charges that “this is a call by the Guardian for the USSR to make war against these states.”

In the face of such a crushing demonstration we are almost awed into silence. Still, other questions are provoked by Davidson’s response. Does OL believe that neocolonialist regimes hold sway in these countries or not? Does OL think that the Mobutu government, the direct legators of those who murdered Patrice Lumumba, whose own troops comprised the bulk of the FNLA forces in Angola, is a genuinely “independent” state in Africa? And if the peoples of these countries rise up to demand genuine independence, where will OL stand? Will it stand with the Pentagon in its efforts to suppress popular revolution in these countries, echoing Washington’s fully anticipated charges that its opponents are all Soviet agents? (Vorster has already made clear what the standard excuse for suppression in southern Africa will be.) Will OL call for “superpowers out of Zaire” when the political descendants of Lumumba settle accounts with the Mobutu regime?


For even daring to consider the question of the political character of different African governments, Davidson charges the Guardian with “a racist slander.” Here, perhaps, is the most desperately shameless comment of all. For months, the OL proclaimed as fact that “all of Africa” was supporting the neo-colonialist “solution” to the Angolan question and opposing the presence of Cuban troops and Soviet aid. But not once, to this very day, has the OL seen fit to quote the comments of the recognized progressive leaders of Africa such as Samora Machel, Julius Nyerere, Luis Cabral, Sekou Toure and others–all of whom made statements that make a farce of OL’s “all of Africa” phraseology. If there are more accurate words than “racism” and chauvinism to describe the actions of a U.S. organization which puts words in the mouths of African leaders and suppresses the views of those anti-imperialist leaders when they differ with its own, we have yet to hear them.

One additional fantasy requires mention. Many forces have been following the Guardian’s stand on Angola and related questions with considerable interest. This is hardly surprising, since this newspaper has articulated the views of many thousands of staunch anti-imperialists who have been sincerely troubled by the position taken by the People’s Republic of China on this question. And any number of newspapers have seen fit to comment on the Guardian’s views.

But Davidson has now translated this development into the most sinister plot of all, a previously undetected “dialog that has been going on meanwhile between the Guardian on one side and the revisionist CPUSA’s organ, the Daily World, on the other.”

As could have been predicted, the Daily World has commented on the Guardian’s position, as have The Call, the Militant, and a number of other publications. All have tried to score whatever political capital they could in their commentaries. But to suggest that we have been engaged in a “dialog” with any of these papers is to adopt an ostrich-like view of reality. One might say, actually, that between The Call and the Guardian there has been something of an exchange, since we have undertaken to refute directly and by concretely taking up their arguments their general line on Angola.


But having “discovered” his plot, Davidson is obliged to “prove” its existence. The proof? The Guardian’s issue of May 5 containing the articles by Wilfred Burchett, William Hinton and our own Viewpoint which launched the recent discussion around questions relating to the international line of our movement. “These declarations did not occur in a political vacuum,” charges Davidson. “They were a response to a direct CPUSA demand addressed to the editors. The Guardian editors agreed to the CPUSA’s demand, followed the CPUSA’s bidding and accepted the CPUSA’s “leadership.”

What a convenient way of looking at reality! This is what the irrefutable ideological assault of dogmatism finally comes down to: butchered quotations, secret code words which only the OL can decipher and finally, the coup de grace, instructions from Gus Hall.

What are these but the bizarre contortions of those who are trying, by way of political hysteria, to disguise what can only be called class-collaboration? And there, perhaps, is the most ironic part of all. For the OL would have us believe that it alone is staunchly clutching the torch of revolutionary leftism and defending it from the assaults of all manner of “centrists” and “revisionists.”

But slice it any way you want, it is only by straining to the breaking point those usages of vocabulary by which most people recognize reality that one can find anything “left” in an organization of U.S. “anti-imperialists” lining up with their own ruling class and the South African racist regime against the liberation of the Angolan people.