Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

U.S. foreign policy and the world today: Interview with Mae Ngai of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L)


First Published: Forward, No. 5, Spring 1986.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Philippines, Haiti, the arms race, South Africa – these are some of the issues that Mae Ngai discusses in the following interview conducted by editors of Forward Her views represent those of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist). The interview was conducted in New York City at the end of February 1986.

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What is your view of the Reagan administration’s foreign policy, especially in light of the events in the Philippines and Haiti?

When Duvalier of Haiti and Marcos of the Philippines learned that they had lost the backing of the U.S., they knew their dictatorships had come to an end. The U.S. was heavily involved in engineering their escapes. Now Reagan and many political forces are congratulating themselves about how the U.S. has helped the cause of democracy in the world.

But their memories are rather short. It was U.S. support for these dictators that enabled them to reign so brutally for so long. The U.S. changed its position only after the people in Haiti and the Philippines had made it virtually impossible for Duvalier and Marcos to continue in power. What the U.S. was concerned about was not democracy, but in preventing the situations from becoming further “destabilized.”

But the way that the U.S. handled these crises was more sophisticated than how it dealt with similar challenges in the past, such as in Iran. This time, the U.S. did not get caught sticking with the old reactionaries and alienating the new forces. Rather, it worked to try to ensure that U.S. interests in Haiti and the Philippines would continue to be protected.

These events show that Reagan has refined his tactics, but we don’t think his policies have changed in essence. We think he is still trying to pursue an aggressive foreign policy to regain U.S. global supremacy.

What do you think will happen now in the Philippines?

The overthrow of Marcos was a tremendous victory for the Filipino people. The millions who rose up to force Marcos out and put Corazon Aquino in power were showing their deep desire for democracy.

Although Marcos is now gone, the situation is still volatile. It remains to be seen what Aquino’s government will do, especially now that millions of Filipinos have been activated and have high expectations. The U.S. is also very worried about the growing power of the revolutionary forces under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. The Philippines is too vital to U.S. military and economic interests to risk any weakening in U.S. influence there. We here in the U.S. must continue our struggle against U.S. interference in the Philippines and support the Filipino people’s struggle for democracy and self-determination.

Do you think that the events mentioned above and the activity around arms control talks with the Soviets reflect a change in Reagan’s foreign policy?

There has been no basic change. Reagan’s foreign policy is still aimed at making the U.S. the number one superpower in the world. Reagan, with his arms buildup, including his “Star Wars” project, hopes to achieve military superiority over the Soviets. He also continues to threaten to send U.S. combat forces into the third world, such as in Nicaragua. The U.S. is now the more aggressive of the two superpowers.

The present situation is especially dangerous because he has succeeded in rallying substantial portions of the U.S. ruling class around his aggressive foreign policy. He has also built an extensive social base of support for that policy. These give him considerable flexibility and power.

What do you think are the prospects for arms agreements between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in the foreseeable future?

We may see some sort of arms agreement in the next several years since the current arms race is so costly for both sides. The military budgets of both the U.S. and Soviet Union are huge and wasteful. Neither side is really interested in peace, but both may want to make the arms race more orderly without jeopardizing their respective military advantages.

The Soviets would like to be able to devote more resources to their domestic economy, which is in trouble. Also, the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan is proving quite costly. These factors explain in part why Gorbachev has advanced several dramatic proposals to control the arms race.

The U.S. government also has its own budget problems and is under pressure from the public to cut back on military expenses. Public sentiment strongly favors arms reductions. So it’s possible that U.S. and Soviet negotiators may find some common ground. The key thing, however, is that the people have to continue to put pressure on the superpowers to get them to change their policies.

What is the League’s view of the Soviet Union today? At one time you believed that capitalism had been restored there. In light of China’s present view that the Soviet Union is a socialist country, has the League changed its position?

Let me just briefly answer the second part of your question first.

The League develops its views independently of the Chinese Communist Party or any other foreign country or party. We respect the views of communists in other countries, but our opinions are based on our own analyses.

We have a study commission that is studying the class nature of the Soviet Union. That commission’s work is not yet completed, so at this time the League has no formal position on the Soviet Union’s social system. Nevertheless we are very critical of many of the Soviet Union’s foreign and domestic policies.

We believe that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, like its earlier invasion of Czechoslovakia, is an act of overt aggression. We do not accept Soviet rationalizations for such actions. They say that their occupations of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan are simply defensive measures against Western imperialism and constitute “internationalist aid” in furthering the revolutions in those countries. But these claims are groundless.

First of all, the people of each country must make their own revolution. No genuine people’s revolution is “imported.” Secondly, even though US. imperialism meddles in Eastern Europe and in the Soviets’ border areas, this does not justify invading a sovereign country. The presence of the Soviet Union in those regions far outweighs that of the U.S.

The Polish people’s opposition to the Soviet Union has indigenous and historical causes which cannot be dealt with by pointing the finger at the U.S. and by armed occupation and intimidation. Likewise, the Afghanistan problem cannot be solved through an occupation by tens of thousands of Soviet troops.

The recent Soviet pitch to Marcos when the U.S. was abandoning him is further evidence of the Soviets’ self-serving foreign policy. The Soviet Union quickly announced its acceptance of the legitimacy of the Marcos vote count and congratulated his “re-election.” They also expressed sympathy for Marcos at the hands of what they characterized as U.S. bullying. But their opportunistic ploy collapsed when Marcos had to flee the Philippines.

Domestically the Soviet government maintains a bloated and repressive bureaucracy. Minority nationalities are restricted, and the democratic rights of the people are severely limited. In our view, a country that is socialist should not do these things, at least as we understand socialism.

Certainly the socialist society we seek to build in the U.S. would not carry out invasions of other countries and deny democracy to the people.

What is your opinion of the political changes in the Soviet Union?

The congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has just started so I can’t comment on that, but it appears that Mikhail Gorbachev wants to implement a number of important changes in Soviet economic policies. He has begun to address some problems that have plagued the Soviet Union, including alcoholism among workers and lack of enthusiasm for work, slow growth, low productivity, bureaucracy, corruption, and a weak and unstable agricultural sector. The Soviet leadership is considering experimenting with less centralization of decision-making and the use of more market forces. It remains to be seen what the impact of these steps will be.

In the foreign policy arena, Gorbachev has not yet taken any drastic steps, although he has given a somewhat better appearance to Soviet foreign policy. For example, Gorbachev dropped some hints that he may be open to a political settlement in Afghanistan, and I’ve already mentioned the arms proposals.

There is ferment in the Soviet Union, and we will have to watch closely what will happen. We hope that the Soviet Union will turn its attention to improving the living conditions of its citizens, withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, and adopt a different policy in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

How does the League view the national liberation struggles going on in the world today? Does the League think the U.S. will directly intervene in Central America?

We support national liberation struggles against U.S. imperialism because we have the same enemy, U.S. monopoly capitalism.

Because U.S. imperialism recognizes its vital stake in the third world, it intervenes in those struggles. Spokesmen for U.S. imperialism have said that if revolution sweeps Central America, the repercussions will be felt through Mexico all the way into the U.S. These predictions are right to a certain extent.

We have to take Reagan’s threats to intervene directly in Central America seriously. He ordered the invasion of Grenada and is already conducting massive military operations on the border of Nicaragua. U.S. “advisers” are throughout Central America, and of course the contras in Nicaragua are completely bankrolled by the U.S.

At the same time, we should recognize that U.S. imperialism will send U.S. troops into combat in Central America only as a last resort. Some U.S. policy analysts believe that U.S. policies have been relatively successful. They believe that these policies have caused some problems for Nicaragua and have bolstered the government of El Salvador. The U.S. thinks it is achieving its objectives without the use of U.S. troops for the time being.

Progressives in the U.S. must build a powerful movement to oppose U.S. interference in Central America. We must build broadly and with sophistication since it is unlikely that the U.S. bourgeoisie will again engage in an undeclared war, as happened during the Viet Nam War, and allow a vigorous peace movement. Any U.S. invasion of Nicaragua would probably be preceded by a declaration of war or some form of legal restriction on domestic dissent. Once an invasion has begun, the U.S. will make it extremely difficult to protest. That is why it is imperative that activity to stop U.S. intervention in Central America be stepped up now.

What is the League’s view regarding the situation in South Africa?

The struggle of black people in South Africa for the overthrow of apartheid and the establishment of black majority rule has intensified greatly over the last year. The Botha regime has used every trick in the book to try to quell the liberation struggle, but has failed.

The liberation struggle is developing in many different arenas, including in the black townships, among black workers and, increasingly, in military actions against the government. And as the struggle unfolds, it is becoming more organized and more coordinated.

A measure of the strength of the struggle is that the South African economy has recently begun to suffer. Some Western banks and corporations are pulling out of South Africa, not out of any support for the black masses, but out of fear that South Africa is no longer a safe place to make money.

The black people of South Africa will liberate themselves, but the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S. can render valuable assistance. We in the U.S. must try to force the U.S. government to withdraw its support for apartheid. Our stand must be to respect the liberation struggle in South Africa and build support for it.

What is the League’s relationship with China? What are the League’s views of China’s present domestic and international policies?

The League is an independent Marxist-Leninist organization. We receive no financial support from any foreign country or party, directly or indirectly. Neither the League nor its predecessor organizations were formed or encouraged to form by the Communist Party of China or any other group.

We understand that for a short time in the 1960s and 1970s China conducted extensive relations with many Marxist-Leninist organizations that formed in opposition to the line of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. These relations were part of the split in the international communist movement. In the United States, groups such as the Progressive Labor Party, the Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party, and later the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) were a part of this. The League and its predecessor organizations, however, were not.

We believe that the communists of each country understand best the conditions of their own country. Their revolutionary struggle succeeds or fails on the basis of their own efforts and analysis. Communists therefore should respect the efforts of Marxist-Leninists in other countries and should not make sweeping pronouncements about the practice of other Marxist-Leninists. This is the attitude we take towards China today.

The Chinese people are trying to construct socialism according to their conditions and have been experimenting with many economic reforms. Many of these are new to the experience of socialist construction, and it will take some time to evaluate them. Some things are encouraging, such as the tremendous growth of the economy and improvement in the living standards of the people. Other aspects warrant some concern, such as the growth of corruption and bourgeois thinking. Overall, however, our opinion, based on study and firsthand reports, is that the situation in China has improved over the past several years.

With regard to its foreign policy, we believe China is playing a positive role in the world. It supports national liberation struggles, such as those of the Palestinians and South Africans. For example, during the Israeli siege of Lebanon, China gave the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) an extra million dollars in gold, a considerable sum for a developing country as poor as China. After the U.S. attacks on Nicaragua, China stepped up by several fold its trade with Nicaragua.

China opposes U.S. interference in Central America and elsewhere. It calls for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea. China also vigorously condemns the nuclear arms race.

At a time when most other countries are increasing their military budgets, China has actually cut its expenditures and is reducing the personnel in its standing military force by about 25%. This sets a positive example for other countries.

What is the League’s view of Cuba?

We have always supported the Cuban revolution. Some people now in the League were among the first to go to Cuba in the 1960s in various work brigades. We believe the Cuban revolution was one of the great revolutions of this century, taking place on the doorstep of U.S. imperialism.

We condemn U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the refusal to develop normalized relations with the Cuban government. One of the demands in our political program calls for normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

While we are critical of some aspects of Cuban foreign policy, we feel it is important to see the problems that the U.S. and Soviet Union have created for Cuba. The U.S.’s unending hostility toward Cuba has led it to seek aid from the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union has gained a lot from this relationship. We are critical of the role of Cuban troops in Ethiopia who are objectively supporting the Mengistu regime’s suppression of the Eritrean people’s struggle. It is not in the interests of the people of Cuba to send its young people to fight and die in a foreign land against other oppressed peoples fighting for liberation. Cuba’s one-crop economy and lack of industrialization are also due in part to Soviet pressure.

But we place much of the blame on the U.S. Under U.S. economic, political and military pressure, Cuba suffered severely and made the choice to seek aid from the only source open to it – the Soviet Union. That the Soviet Union had its own reasons for aid and exacted a price for its aid is to be expected. The most important thing for U.S. progressives to do is to demand that the U.S. end its attacks on Cuba and normalize relations.

What are the League’s views of the Middle East?

The Middle East is the most volatile region in the world today. Civil war is destroying Lebanon. Israel continues to terrorize the people of Lebanon and deny the Palestinian people their homeland. War is still going on between Iran and Iraq.

People in the U.S. must condemn the U.S. government’s policy of supporting Israeli aggression and terrorism and opposing the Palestinian people. The denial of a homeland for the Palestinian people is one of the root causes of the turmoil in the Middle East.

U.S. imperialism wants to control the region and deny the ability of the Arab people to control their own lands, which is why the U.S. tries to keep the area in upheaval. Because of the strategic location and natural resources of the Middle East, all the industrialized countries of the world, especially the two superpowers, are actively involved in the area. With so many different local forces and external powers involved, the situation is complex and dangerous.

Relatively speaking, the U.S. is now in a weakened position in the Middle East. The danger is that the U.S. will provoke conflicts or try to intervene in an effort to rebuild its position.

What is the League’s view of terrorism?

We oppose terrorism. This past year a number of horrible terrorist acts have taken place that took the lives of many innocent people. Acts such as the hijacking of airliners, the Achille Lauro, or the airport attacks are contemptible, no matter what the avowed purpose. Such acts have been universally condemned, including by Yasser Arafat and the PLO, which makes a distinction between actions against military targets and innocent civilians.

In fact, several of these terrorist acts were aimed at discrediting the PLO and its efforts to find a solution for the Palestinian question. The PLO has been the target of terrorist acts by Israel, as with the bombing of its headquarters in Tunis. The PLO has also been attacked by Arab splinter groups, such as that of Abu Nidal, who is said to be responsible for the assassination of a number of PLO officials.

While opposing terrorism by individuals or small groups, we also oppose “state terrorism,” such as that conducted every day by Israel against Lebanon and the Palestinians, or the U.S. against Nicaragua.

How do the League’s views on the international situation differ with those of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Line of March (LOM), and assorted Trotskyists?

I can only speak generally about some of the differences, but before I do I want to stress that the League’s position is that all groups on the left, including those you mentioned, should try to work together when we can. At times we have unity, such as in opposing U.S. intervention in Central America or in supporting the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The left needs to be more united and less sectarian in its practice.

Most groups on the left oppose U.S. imperialism’s policies of militarism, intervention, subversion, anti-communism and anti-revolution. We should be able to work with one another around many issues and struggles.

Nevertheless, some major differences do exist. With regard to the CPUSA, we do not agree with their strong support of the Soviet Union and whatever it does in the world, from the invasion of Afghanistan to interference in Poland. We believe the CPUSA should maintain a more independent line and oppose what clearly are not socialist acts.

The Line of March is more extreme in its pro-Sovietism. The LOM maintains that the Soviets should be even more aggressive in spreading their influence around the world. The LOM identifies the spread of socialism with the expansion of the power of the Soviet Union. The LOM calls for the increase of Soviet armaments, identifying them with the strength of “socialism” in the world.

Furthermore, the LOM belittles the importance and strength of the struggles of the third world. The LOM believes the third world cannot do much without relying on the Soviet Union and criticizes those who want to pursue an independent and self-reliant path. We do not agree with this view.

The LOM also believes it has a responsibility, even duty, to develop a “correct line” for other struggles. The LOM has done this for the Palestinian struggle, the Middle East as a whole, El Salvador and elsewhere, pointing to some forces as revolutionary forces and others as incorrect. The LOM seems to have come up with a class analysis of the domestic situation for just about every major struggle in the world. This is quite a feat, but one which is not based on reality and is sectarian and splittist. Doing this from here in the U.S., the LOM is guilty of a “left” form of great nation chauvinism, i.e., that they know what is best for the third world.

The LOM also has the view that support of the Soviet Union should be an implicit, if not explicit, principle of unity for the anti-interventionist struggles in the U.S. and engages in sectarian maneuvers in order to have a “smaller but purer” movement. This is clearly wrong and we oppose it.

The League’s view is that we should respect the struggles of the people of other countries and oppose foreign, especially imperialist, interference in them. Our responsibility is to make the revolution in the U.S., not to decide who is more revolutionary than whom in other countries. The left should strive to build the broadest possible movement to oppose U.S. interference, aggression and intimidation of the third world, and oppose specific policies and threats as they arise.

There are many different Trotskyist groups, but they share some views. The Trotskyists generally belittle the national liberation movements under the guise of supporting “workers’ revolutions.” They do not support revolutions that are broadly national democratic in scope. For example, the Trotskyist Spartacist League calls for a “workers’ revolution” for South Africa and attacks “non-proletarian” elements in the struggle. They deny the revolutionary power of the anti-apartheid, democratic movement now sweeping the country and actually attack the national democratic struggle.

The Trotskyist groups take similar positions on many of the struggles now taking place in the third world. Because they attack the mainstream of the world revolutionary struggle, they often play a destructive role under “leftist” rhetoric. Because of their slogan-mongering, the Trotskyists frequently make it difficult to build a broad movement against U.S. imperialism.

What does the League view as the internationalist tasks of the left and progressive forces in the U.S. today?

The left and progressive forces in the U.S. have an urgent responsibility to oppose the escalating danger of U.S. intervention abroad and its insane nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. We need to build a broad movement against intervention, for peace, and against the threat of war.

We must take seriously the dangers of fascism and war. The aggressive posture of U.S. imperialism abroad affects us domestically. The strong social basis for Reaganism in the U.S. has provided a powerful backbone for Reagan’s aggressive foreign policy. In turn, Reagan has used international developments to build up chauvinism and a right-wing climate in the U.S.

This does not mean that we should stop our efforts to change policy, or that our efforts have been in vain, since broad dissatisfaction with Reagan does exist and the opposition to his policies can suddenly spread. The student divestment movement is an example of this. But it does mean that Reagan and the right are in a strong position, and there is continued danger of a further move to the right.

Any move to use U.S. troops in extended combat overseas will directly result in stronger repression at home. If the U.S. further pursues its interventionism, it will clamp down on popular forces at home. And by popular forces, we should be clear that this means not just the organized progressive forces, but the social forces that would be opposed to war, i.e., the African American and other oppressed nationalities, sectors of the labor and working class movement, students and intellectuals, and women.

Therefore, it is necessary to see that the opposition to U.S. imperialism’s aggressive foreign policies is a component part of the struggle to defend and expand democracy in the U.S. And likewise, the struggle to broaden democracy here, such as through the Jesse Jackson campaign, strengthens the social base which would oppose aggression.

In this context we must see the fight against war and intervention as one front in the overall struggle against Reaganism and the right.