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International Socialist Review, Summer 1958


Theodore Edwards

“Fuera Nixon!”


From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.3, Summer 1958, pp.79-82, 111.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Cries of “Little Rock” went with the stones hurled at the Vice President. But much more than that is behind the hot reception given a “good will” tour

* * *

THE current epoch of declining capitalism and rising socialism holds no end of surprises for American Big Business and its representatives. Last October, with the Soviet sputniks, came the shocking realization that the US is lagging behind the Soviet Union in certain spheres of technology, science, and education. Seven months later, the Vice President, on a good-will tour of Latin America, was all but ridden out on a rail.

Editorial comment in the capitalist press is indicative of the reaction among capitalist circles. “We need some shock absorbers to help us withstand sudden surprises,” said James Marlow, Associated Press news analyst. The Los Angeles Mirror-News spoke of “the same stunned, unbelieving surprise of a healthy man who has just been told that he has cancer ... If it were a matter of life and death, where could we recruit an anti-Russian mob for a demonstration, except Formosa and Korea? Maybe. We’re in bad trouble abroad ...” Senator Morse spoke of “a major foreign-policy setback.” Walter Lippmann called for a Congressional investigation of the men responsible for planning Nixon’s tour and called it “a fiasco” and “a diplomatic Pearl Harbor.”

Reaction in other sectors was somewhat different. Negroes no doubt found special pleasure in the fact that cries of “Little Rock” went with the stones hurled at the Vice President. Workers seemed to get a kick out of the fact that it happened to Nixon, whom they regard as a McCarthyite at heart.

In all fairness to Nixon, it must be said that what happened to him was not his personal fault. He tried in every way to make friends with the ordinary man and the students in Latin America. He smiled, he waved, he kissed babies, laid wreaths on national monuments, mixed with rural folk and primitive Indians, and put on all the charm and folksiness he was capable of.

Perhaps the tip-off that this routine was not going to work this time was the remark made by a sullen bystander in Montevideo at the very beginning of the tour. Watching Nixon put on his act, this Uruguayan shouted: “Why do you grin and wave like that when the cost of living keeps going up and up?”

When Nixon appeared unannounced at the Montevideo University Law School, he was confronted by Ricardo Yelpo, representing the Uruguayan Student Federation. Yelpo demanded: “Why does the US support dictators in Latin America, such as Batista of Cuba?” Nixon sat down with the law student and tried to explain it through an interpreter. He referred to the “non-interference policy” of the US government in Latin-American affairs and counseled patience. “Democracy,” he said, “comes only by evolution,” and he cited Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia as recent examples.

Yelpo’s question continued to haunt Nixon. “Guatemala,” “Batista,” and “Little Rock” – these were the placards and shouts that greeted him throughout his tour. The garbage, eggs, pebbles, and spit with which he was decorated emphasized the main slogan “Fuera Nixon!” “Throw the Bum Out!”

Many Latin-Americans repeat Yelpo’s question with genuine puzzlement in view of the big pretense made by the US government at being the sterling defender of democracy against all forms of totalitarianism. “But why, why?” Fifteen Venezuelan air-force officers, who fled to Colombia in January this year after an abortive attempt to depose dictator Jimenez, are quoted as asking, “Why does the US government support dictator Jimenez of Venezuela?”

A jet-fighter pilot, trained in the United States, like most of his kind, said: “You know, the idea of this revolution with us really started in the United States. That is when we got to know your democratic system and democratic ideas and we got the notion that our country, too, needs freedom. So, you see, it’s all your fault.” To be sure, their getting such notions was completely unintentional on the part of the US State Department.

The answer to the question asked by Yelpo and the fliers is to be found in the economic relationship between American monopoly capital and Latin America. The twenty republics south of the Rio Grande are cheap sources of raw materials, lucrative outlets for manufactured goods, and a paradise for super-profiteering.

Directly owned US companies in Latin America monopolize more than 30 per cent of its exports. Fabulous profits are drained northward each year from an investment that in 1955 amounted to $7 billion. Profits before taxes were $2½ billion in 1955, an average rate of profit of 33 per cent! Of this amount, $680 million were sent home, while only $350 million of new US capital flowed back into Latin America, leaving it on the short end by $330 million. (The rest of the profits was reinvested on the spot or paid to local governments as taxes.)

The Latin-American governments have pleaded with the US monopolists and their government to help diversify their economies, to raise indigenous standards of living through at least partial industrialization. The economic royalists of the Dollar Republic have remained deaf to the pleas. They are interested only in high-profit cash crops and minerals. The Latin-American countries continue to be cursed with one-crop economies. Their peoples, still engaged mainly in agriculture, subsist on primitive levels, the average annual income still below $500 a year.

Latin-American countries are so dependent upon the US economically that Congress, if it so desired, could topple almost any dictator in Latin America by the mere threat of changing import quotas or imposing higher tariffs. Latin America was the first area of the world economy to feel the recession in the United States. Decreased economic activity north of the Rio Grande signifies decreased exports for Latin America, negative trade balances, inflation, and the threat of social and political upheavals. Whenever the US sneezes, it is said, Latin America catches pneumonia.

Brazil is in the throes of what has been termed “one of the worst economic crises in its modern history.” In the past year the cruzeiro dropped to half its former value. Of the current harvest of 19 million bags of coffee only 10 million bags are expected to be sold. Once more, to keep up the price, coffee will be burned in locomotives.

Argentina and Uruguay are hard hit by drops in wool exports and by growing trade deficits. Bolivia, Peru and Mexico are suffering from the drop in prices of cotton and non-ferrous metals. (Washington, moreover, has still further depressed the price of cotton by dumping its surplus on the world market.) Colombia has unsaleable coffee in storage. Venezuela finds US restrictions on oil imports hard to take.

To compound these troubles, highly vocal American businessmen, agitated over the competition of “foreign” goods, are pressing for smaller import quotas and higher tariffs. Latin-American governments, on the other hand, are urging lower tariff and quota barriers, and, against the opposition of the Administration, are seeking price stabilization agreements.

The fresh difficulties brought on by the “recession” prompted Nixon’s tour. As the New York Times commented:

“While none of the governments presumably expect specific promises and Mr. Nixon probably will not be prepared to make them, the Latin-Americans are looking for some form of reassurance. Psychologically, this could go far, for the time being.”

Nixon’s first diplomatic objective was to do something about the growing trade relations with the Soviet bloc. Colombia has begun to sell coffee to the Soviet Union. Brazil exchanged 400,000 bags of coffee for 14 sea-going vessels and 27,000 tons of steel rails from Czechoslovakia. Argentina agreed to purchase $30 million worth of industrial equipment. And so on.

The “good neighbor” businessmen find Soviet – Latin-American trade ominous. It gives the most graphic and palpable demonstration of the economic successes possible through the nationalization of the means of production; and, by suggesting an alternative to capitalism, has a potentially revolutionizing effect on the Latin-American masses.

The opening up of trade with the Soviet bloc cannot solve Latin-American economic difficulties. It is too small in volume. The Soviet bloc countries are short in precisely the kind of goods needed by Latin America. Nor can these countries afford as yet to subsidize the industrialization of Latin America. The solution lies elsewhere.

The knotty problems confronting the Latin-American peoples in their fight against poverty and oppression can be illuminated by considering Cuba and the recent events there. Of the twenty Latin-American countries, only Mexico, Argentina, and

Brazil have shown appreciable signs of industrial development. Cuba in many ways is typical of the rest of the Latin-American “republics.” Fundamentally, the problem is the same everywhere: A semi-colonial, raw-material-producing economy, economic dependence on the US; more or less open political domination by Wall Street.

The Case of Cuba

A country the size of Pennsylvania, Cuba grows sugar cane for the US. The harvest season, the so-called zafra, lasts from the middle of January until the middle of March or April, a period of from 60 to 120 days. During the zafra, half a million Cubans toil for 60 hours or more a week, at $3 to $4 a day. Following these 60 to 120 days of labor comes the “dead season.” Most of the labor force is laid off until the next zafra. For the next nine to ten months, the Cuban economy barely idles along. Of the total labor force, one-half to one million Cubans work only a maximum of four months out of the year. Their estimated average annual income is less than $400 a year.

The trade unions are dominated by the government, put under receivership at will. Mujal, secretary of the Cuban trade unions, is hated as much or even more than Batista, the American-backed puppet ruler of Cuba. Amply supplied by Washington with tanks, jet planes, and “anti-riot weapons” for “purposes of hemispheric defense,” Batista has ruled Cuba with a terror that compares with that of the Nazis in occupied Europe.

Daughters and wives are raped in front of husbands and fathers, families burned at the stake; arson, whippings, bayonetings, castrations, are everyday occurrences. The police hardly bother to make arrests or prefer charges. Anyone suspected of fighting this butcher’s tyranny is pumped full of lead and thrown into a ditch. Racketeers, hired killers, torturers make up the governmental apparatus of this bloody satrap. Mayer Lansky and associates, one of the Big Six of the American underworld, were put on the government pay roll and have turned Havana into the biggest gambling center of the Western Hemisphere, eclipsing even Las Vegas, Nevada.

General Tabernilla, head of the Cuban army, owns a chain of discount houses, selling electric appliances and household goods at cut-rate prices. General Tabernilla can undersell any merchant of Cuba because his son, commander-in-chief of the Cuban air force, flies in merchandise in military planes at government expense and without bothering about customs or tariff formalities.

All classes of Cuban society oppose Batista’s rule. “Outside of government circles, it is difficult to find anyone ready to say a kind word for General Batista.” “Just about every Cuban met was convinced that General Batista remained in power because of the support of the US embassy in Havana and the US State Department.” These are typical comments by American reporters.

It is not difficult to discover why Big Business supports Batista. The answer comes right out of the horse’s mouth. On April 4, the Wall Street Journal noted: “There is little doubt that many American businessmen here are pro-Batista. One puts it very succinctly: ‘You can do business with Batista.’ Although many admit he may not be the soul of honesty, they ask: ‘What Cuban regime ever has been accused of honesty?’” This statement leaves little to be desired in the way of clarity. It is matched only by the observation of Ward Cannel in the New York World-Telegram that “a democratic government would mean more people to pay off when tax exemptions and other revised laws for business are needed.”

Acting for Big Business, Washington props up dictatorship in Cuba and elsewhere because a dictator is more economical to maintain and insures a higher rate of profit. With arms supplied free under the heading of “foreign aid,” the tyrant protects an $800-million American investment in Cuba by making war on his own people, suppressing their yearnings for freedom and their ambitions for economic betterment.

Liberal landowners and merchants, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the intellectuals, the peasant masses, the rural and urban workers, all seek an end to this “rule of the tommy gun.” Fidel Castro, the leader of perhaps the most radical wing of the middle-class revolt against Batista, is the lawyer son of a liberal landowner in Oriente province. Dr. Grau San Martin heads the most conservative section of the middle-class opposition, counting on Batista-organized “elections” and “legal methods” to change the tyranny. Former president Prio, whose corrupt administration paved the way for Batista’s seizure of power in 1952, now exiled in Miami, heads a less conservative faction. Like Castro, he believes in economic sabotage, terrorist activity and conspiratorial coups as means of ousting the present government.

Prio and Castro are divided on whether or not a military junta is to replace Batista, who the provisional president shall be, and what is to happen to Castro’s guerrilla troops in case of victory. Castro has indicated his willingness to disband his forces provided that the regular army is purged of torturers and headed by a man he can trust not to become another dictator. Instead of a military junta, Castro wants a “provisional government, whose heads are to be elected by some 60 Cuban civic bodies, like the Lions, Rotarians, groups of lawyers and doctors, religious organizations.”

Like the other middle-class opposition groupings, Castro has one eye cocked towards Washington, trying to win its favor by assurances that he is dead set against nationalization of foreign holdings. “Nationalization can never be as rewarding as the right kind of private investment, domestic and foreign, aimed at diversifying our economy.” His program of liberal-bourgeois social reform is pared to the bone:

  1. immediate freedom for all political prisoners,
  2. freedom of public information media,
  3. reestablishment of constitutional guarantees,
  4. elimination of corruption in Cuban public life through establishment of an adequately paid civil service,
  5. an intensive campaign against illiteracy,
  6. land reform – adjustment of owner-tenant relations (“We will support no land reform bill, however, which does not provide for the just compensation of expropriated owners.”),
  7. speedy industrialization and raising of employment levels.

Castro’s main method of struggle is reminiscent of the medieval peasant revolts:

“Our immediate task is the burning of Cuba’s entire sugar cane crop ... Cuba’s principal source of revenue ... If the cane goes up in flames, the army will grind to a standstill, the police will have to disband for none of them will get paid: and the Batista regime will have to capitulate ...”

The burning of the sugar-cane fields has been supplemented by sabotage of communication and transport; terroristic acts carried out mainly by student youth, such as bombing crowded public places, cutting electric power cables, gas mains, attempted assassinations, etc. The seething ferment among the Cuban intellectuals and urban petty bourgeoisie reached such proportions toward the end of March that Castro issued a call for “total war” – which presumably included a call for a general strike, although there is some question about that.

The general strike was a failure. The workers of Havana, mostly Negros, have suffered a long series of sell-outs by capitalist politicians. They are justifiably suspicious of a program that ignores even their immediate demands and denies them any say in the future government of “Lions, Rotarians, groups of lawyers, doctors,” etc. Castro’s methods of struggle appear designed to subordinate struggles by the workers. Moreover, Castro has repeatedly rejected any Communist support. The Communist party of Cuba, the Partido Socialista Popular, with 20,000 members, issued a manifesto on March 13, calling for a coalition government, a trade-union movement free of government control, higher wages, land reform, lower prices, and a better deal from American-owned utilities companies. Castro hastily rejected such support.

The May 4 Worker, voicing the opinion of American Communist party leaders, said in an article entitled Next Steps in Cuba, Unity against Tyranny, that

“[In Venezuela] IT WAS ONLY WHEN THE OPPOSITION PARTIES UNITED LAST SUMMER – THE CAPITALIST PARTIES AND THE COMMUNISTS – AND ORGANIZED JOINT STRUGGLE THAT WHAT SEEMED AN INVINCIBLE DICTATORSHIP BEGAN TO TOTTER AND WAS QUICKLY OVERTHROWN. [Capitalized in the original.] ... The Cuban Communists ... have emphasized two points as indispensable for victory: unity of all opposition forces and the organization of mass struggles ... The Communists have ... opposed both terrorist tactics and mere electioneering because both in different ways fail to grapple with the main problem: organizing the workers, peasants and other sections of the population for their immediate economic and political demands as the springboard for a powerful, united movement that can end the Batista tyranny.”

The Overturn in Venezuela

The reference to Venezuela is instructive. In Venezuela the revolution started with unrest and unsuccessful coups among the air-force and army officers. Then the intellectuals and students entered the arena with demonstrations and manifestoes. Only when a general strike call was issued by the united opposition parties, including the Communist party, did the majority of the officer caste see the handwriting on the wall and join the revolution. Dictator Jimenez fled. With the help of the army, the secret-police building was stormed. The national security police and the police force of Caracas were put out of action or dismissed.

While the fighting was still raging in the streets of the capital, a five-man military junta was formed. It included Colonels Romero and Casanova who had helped crush the New Year’s Day revolt of the air-force and army officers. Although there were some objections to Romero and Casanova, the united opposition parties, including the Communist party, quickly agreed to turn the power over to the military junta, provided only that two civilians, an industrialist and a university professor, be added.

The head of the junta, Admiral Larrazabel, head of the Venezuelan navy, immediately assured the US oil interests that all international obligations would be honored and that oil holdings would not be nationalized. The US State Department at once granted recognition to this “coalition” government.

The Worker is correct in stating that organized joint struggle by the united opposition parties, including the Communists, overthrew the regime. A “coalition” government of sorts was established. There is talk of elections being held later this year. But the fulfillment of the “immediate economic and political demands” of the working masses, such as democratic trade unions, higher wages, land reform, lower prices and a better deal from American-owned companies, is another matter.

The union of middle-class and working-class forces for the purpose of setting up a coalition regime committed to social reform – this is the program advocated by the Worker and by the PSP in Cuba. What happens if this is achieved can be predicted with considerable assurance, for it has happened many times before.

In Venezuela, for instance, if the reactionary officer caste, at present in an uneasy “coalition” with a couple of civilians supposedly representing the united opposition parties in the government, does not stage an early coup – as they are undoubtedly being encouraged to do by the imperialist oil interests right now – then the stage will be set for a repetition of the 1945-48 experience in Venezuela, the Guatemala experience of recent times, of Cuba in the thirties and in the forties, and so on.

In Venezuela in 1945, the Democratic Action party, a liberal capitalist reform party, came to power on the crest of a popular upsurge. A series of economic and social reforms were initiated. But, as Ward Cannel observed, “a democratic government means more people to pay off when tax exemptions and other revised laws for business are needed.” Graft and corruption appeared in the government. The liberal politicians used the government as the best lever for the accumulation of private capital. And the army officers plotted.

American monopolists are frugal people, always looking for ways of cutting overhead expenses. They are also nervous people, afraid of reforms getting out of hand. Accordingly, in 1948 the government of President Gallegos was overthrown by a military junta that installed Jimenez. As Gallegos observed the day after his removal, “US petroleum companies and local reactionary groups were responsible for the coup.”

Before dictator Jimenez there was dictator Gomez. In Cuba, before Batista, there was Machado. We are familiar with the recent examples of Guatemala and British Guiana. The cycle of a short period of liberal reform followed by a long period of dictatorial rule can be traced everywhere.

How can lasting democratic regimes be established when each country is economically dependent on scheming Wall Street monopolists, who arm and support dictatorial machines? Haya de la Torre, leader of the APRA, main prop of the reform regime in Peru, says:

“We must not confuse economic imperialism of the US, of which we approve, with political imperialism which we oppose.” But how can economic imperialism be separated from political imperialism which is its logical and inevitable outcome?

Castro says: “Nationalization can never be as rewarding as the right kind of private investment, domestic and foreign, aimed at diversifying our economy.” Rewarding for whom? The US imperialists will not aim at diversifying Cuban economy. It isn’t profitable.

Nor can democracy be established in Latin America unless the economic power of the monopolists is broken; that power cannot be broken unless Wall Street’s holdings are nationalized. The Worker says that the main problem is “to organize the workers, peasants and other sections of the population to fight for their immediate economic and political demands.” The PSP of Cuba spells out these demands as a coalition government, democratic trade unions, higher wages, land reform, lower prices, and a better deal from US companies. But what confidence can one have in such a coalition government guaranteeing lasting democracy?

The Latin-American workers, as well as workers elsewhere would do well to study the basic lesson of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. After the Russian workers and soldiers deposed the Czar in February 1917, a coalition government was set up. What guarantee did it offer of lasting democracy? What single fundamental problem of the Russian people had been solved? Dictator Kor-nilov lurked behind the liberal quasi-socialist Kerensky. To solve the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in backward Russia – to end landlordism and foreign economic domination, to make possible the diversification and industrialization of the economy – the working class of Russia had to take power in October 1917.

The unification of all opposition forces and the organization of mass struggles – that is correct. But for what purpose, for what program? For a liberal-reform regime that is going to be overthrown tomorrow by the US State Department and local reactionary groups? Lenin’s program – proletarian democracy, a workers regime based on the nationalization of foreign and native capital and the abolition of landlordism – is more realistic.

This is not to suggest that the working class of Cuba or its political parties should not form alliances with Castro or others for specific, limited objectives. Material support against the dictator – Yes. Political confidence in his petty-bourgeois or bourgeois opponents – No. Castro’s program, the reforms he advocates and the class forces he represents, are incapable of solving the basic problems facing Cuba.

Castro subordinates or ignores the Cuban working class in the struggle against Batista. But the PSP of Cuba, with the approval of the American die-hard Stalinist leaders, tries to subordinate the Cuban working class politically to him. The truth is that there can be no democracy and no economic and social progress for Cuba except under a workers regime and under workers democracy.

Someone objects: “But how can a workers regime in any Latin-American country hope to hold out any longer than a bourgeois reform regime against the pressure of American imperialism?” The objection has a certain validity. Latin America is splintered into twenty small and relatively helpless segments. It is State Department policy to maintain this fragmentation as one of the securities for imperialist domination of Latin America.

None of these small countries could stand alone indefinitely against imperialism. That is true. What is needed then is a realistic basis for unifying Latin America. No liberal reform regime can provide this. Unification can come only on the basis of planned economy, the spreading of workers democracy from one country to the next until the Socialist United States of Latin America becomes a reality.

Consider the problem of industrialization in backward areas. Before World War I, Czarist Russia was the most backward country in Europe, based economically largely on the export of wheat. How did the one-crop economy of Czarist Russia become transformed into the second industrial power in the world today? Through the right kind of “private investment”? Through capitalist-worker coalition governments, higher wages, lower prices, better deals from foreign companies?

Was it not a workers revolution and the complete nationalization of industry and even the land that made possible the astounding economic achievements of the Soviet Union? And Russia was a big country, with tremendous geographic and natural advantages, rich in resources and peoples.

The Latin-Americans are impressed by Soviet industrialization. They would like to emulate it. But to emulate the industrialization they must first emulate the Russian Revolution. That is the real secret of the Russian success.

“Democracy comes by evolution,” Nixon counseled the Latin-Americans. The history of his own country speaks differently. Democracy, independence and unification came to the thirteen colonies through a revolutionary struggle against the English crown. Freedom for the slaves came through a second revolution in the 1860s. The independence of Latin America, its unification, and democracy will come in similar struggles against the Tories and pro-Slavery regimes of today.

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