[News] Western left intellectuals and their love affair with the attempted ‘color revolution’ in Cuba

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Tue Jul 27 01:56:22 EDT 2021


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Western
left intellectuals and their love affair with the attempted ‘color
revolution’ in Cuba
Analysis by Josh Bergeron | July 26, 2021
------------------------------

Chicago, IL - Noam Chomsky, Gilbert Achcar, Paul Le Blanc, Suzi Weissman,
Tithi Bhattacharya, Charlie Post, Robert Brenner, Gayatri Spivak, Alex
Callinicos, Ashley Smith, Eric Toussaint, Marc Cooper, Etienne Balibar.
These are a handful of the over 500 signatories on an open letter directed
to the blockaded Cuban government on July 12 demanding "respect for the
democratic rights of all Cuban people" and the release of "dissident
Marxist" Frank García Hernández and his comrades from jail after the
protests of July 11.

These signatories are high-profile academic socialists in the U.S. and
Europe, featured prominently in the publication catalogue of Verso and
Haymarket Books, or on the editorial boards of online journals like New
Politics, Tempest, Spectre, Socialist Worker, and other ex-International
Socialist Organization (ISO)-now-Democratic Socialists of America (DSA),
Socialist Equality Party, or UK Socialist workers Party related outlets.
Their work also frequently appears in more mainstream left outlets,
such as *Jacobin
*and *the Nation*. Their opinions on the left reach a wide audience and, in
some cases, carry significant weight.

Their petition circulation effort drew major support on social media in the
days after the initial protests in Cuba, helping to stitch together a
left-reinforcement to the edifice of the mainstream press, which described
the event as an uprising by "political dissidents'' against an "oppressive
bureaucratic regime" in the pursuit of democracy and freedom of expression.
The definition of “freedom” pursued and the political orientation of the
protesters in question differed between the tales spun by the *New York
Times *and those of the Socialist Worker, but the story was the same:
Repressive government arbitrarily detains political dissidents.

And while these signatories differ among themselves over their
characterization of the Cuban government and its revolutionary tradition -
ranging from the view that Cuba is a “state capitalist” that harbors no
revolutionary potential to the view that the once-revolutionary state has
become an intransigent bureaucracy that is still preferable to the
neoliberal model - all seem to find common ground with co-signer Gilbert
Achcar’s warning about “the anti-imperialism of fools.”

Achcar condemns those who oppose U.S. imperialism no matter its target,
because he believes this misses the “nuanced” view that U.S. imperialism
might be instrumentalized by popular movements in the pursuit of their own
liberation. Our “knee-jerk” rejection of the notion that any positive could
ever come from the machinations of empire, in Achcar’s formulation, puts us
in the camp of “defending murderous regimes.” Ostensibly, sharing
co-signature real estate with the likes of Achcar would suggest that the
other petitioners agree with him that anti-imperialism is not always a
principled position and the events in Cuba are an example of a situation in
which they do not want to end up on the side of “fools.” So without further
investigation, they and 500 others signed an open letter condemning the
Cuban government for its “repression and arbitrary detentions” of “critical
communists.”

*An alternate view from the ground*

On July 17, a different narrative emerged from the mouths of Frank García
Hernández's Cuban colleagues themselves. The Comunistas collective
Editorial Board, of which García Hernández is a founder, published an
account of events that was much more balanced and far less negative in its
appraisal of the Cuban government and its response to the protests than the
narrative that was promoted by the petition’s signatories. Rather than a
repressive response to an organic anti-state uprising, they portray the
events of July 11 as unprecedented protests with a variety of origins and
compositions, some legitimate and others manufactured. In their account,
the protests were composed of three flanks: a small group of U.S.-funded
counterrevolutionaries with massive reach and influence, a small group of
anti-state intellectuals with legitimate grievances that were co-opted by
the reactionaries, and a much larger group of "non-political" demonstrators
demanding an end to austerity and shortages a crisis which the Comunistas
Editorial Board attributes, with some reservations, almost entirely to the
exacerbating U.S. blockade and global pandemic. In short, the most
explicitly anti-government slogans and orientations were crafted and
carried by the U.S.-funded counterrevolutionaries, whereas the majority of
the demonstrators lacked a cohesive political consciousness and simply
wanted a reprieve from their very real material hardships. As the Editorial
Board asserts, "The protests did not represent a majority. Most of the
Cuban population continues to support the government."

Notably, this closely mirrors the public address of Cuban President Miguel
Díaz-Canel, who stated, “The protests involve many revolutionary citizens
who want an explanation for the current situation in the country, but are
also contaminated by groups of opportunists who take advantage of the
current crisis to undermine order and generate chaos.” And while Díaz-Canel
expressed full faith in the Cuban people to engage in productive dialogue
to resolve the present crises, his calls for revolutionaries to take to the
streets to defend the nation against opportunistic attacks and
U.S.-financed subversion campaigns was met with scorn from the
self-described “anti-campist” or “third campist” Western left.

For these Western left critics of the Cuban state, Díaz-Canel’s calls for
popular defense of national sovereignty represented a cynical demand by the
Cuban state for its supporters to engage in vigilante violence against
dissidents like Frank García Hernández. The fact that Frank’s comrades -
who engage in frequent criticism of the Cuban government themselves - did
not subscribe to this narrative of events nevertheless did not discourage
the petitioners from propagating the perspective that Frank García
Hernández’s arrest was the smoking gun evidence of Cuba’s authoritarian
roundup of “critical communists.”

*Arbitrary detention or safeguarding the revolution?*

No such roundup took place. The arrests that did occur followed outbreaks
of violence and vandalism after mostly peaceful and unharassed protests in
a number of cities, which the Comunistas collective describes as: "Violent
groups carried out acts of vandalism, attacking communist militants and
government supporters with sticks and stones." The Cuban police and
defenders of the revolution engaged in kind. In other words, according to
this collective of Cuban critics of the state, the violence was largely
carried out by counterrevolutionary forces against government supporters
and other communist partisans. This resulted in scattered arrests.

This is a far cry from the narratives emerging out of the U.S. corporate
media and academic left circles, which characterized the violence as a
one-sided repressive crackdown by an intransigent bureaucratic "regime" and
its paid supporters against dissidents striving for freedom and plenty.

Nevertheless, Frank García Hernández and some others were arrested - the
catalyst for the petition. Frank's comrades at the Comunistas collective
address this too. It turns out, García Hernández was not arrested for being
a "dissident" participant in the protests. In fact, García Hernández is a
member of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) who merely watched but did not
partake in the protests and was arrested by “confusion” as he put it. Frank
García Hernández and another intellectual named in the petition, LGBTQ
activist Maykel González Vivero, who did participate in the protests, were
picked up after a nearby act of counterrevolutionary violence resulted in
injuries and vandalism late in the night. By García Hernández’s own
admission, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next
day they easily proved their innocence and were released without incident.
According to his colleagues at Comunistas collective, "During his little
more than 24 hours of detention, Frank affirms that he did not receive
physical abuse, nor any type of torture." No other person associated with
the publication was arrested or targeted.

But here a key detail emerges. Frank's release actually preceded the
publication of the open letter demanding his release by his "comrades" in
the U.S. and Europe. And while Comunistas collective maintained their own
criticisms of the Cuban government, their characterization of the genesis
of the protests, the response of the government to the protests, and the
appraisal of the revolutionary process in general, differ significantly
from the ostensibly "progressive" critics of the Cuban government in the
U.S. and Europe who organized the petition to release their friend who had
in fact already been released. Again, these significant discrepancies have
not been addressed by any of the prominent signatories and circulators of
the petition.

In fact, on July 17, the day that the Comunistas blog collective published
their retrospective of the protests and arrests, some of the U.S.-based
petition endorsers republished the original petition in Tempest Magazine
without mention of any of the above critical divergences from on-the-ground
reports. Further, the editorial board of Tempest broadened the appeal to a
call for the release of “all detainees in Cuba.” Even the Comunistas
collective demanded only the release of the detainees “as long as they have
not committed actions that have threatened the lives of other people.”

In the week that followed the July 11 protests, the Open Letter left were
confronted with an excess of evidence and investigative research
documenting the existence of U.S. alphabet agency subversion projects, tens
of millions of dollars funneled into counter-revolutionary activities,
coup-propagating social media bot farms and other examples of hybrid
warfare that served as the backdrop of the unrest. And yet, they maintained
their political line that all arrests were arbitrary and illegitimate. One
signatory even asserted that the duty of the left in the West is to support
all such protests, “whatever people's politics involved in these struggles
- against whatever states and ruling classes, even those who falsely claim
the mantle of ‘socialism.’” This is, of course, a tacit endorsement of the
reactionary tail that wags the dog of these astroturfed “color
revolutions,” disguised as they are as organic movements of workers and
oppressed peoples.

*Whither opposition to empire?*

Taken in isolation, a charitable reading could view signing such an open
letter as a political slip-up brewed in the fog of war that is a developing
foreign event. But for many of the most prominent left signatories, this
was the only public statement or call to action made regarding the
unprecedented events in Cuba. Too few matched their outrage of the arrests
with equal outrage over the ongoing illegal blockade of the island by the
U.S., and even fewer (close to none) circulated open letters or petitions
calling for anti-imperialist solidarity with Cuban sovereignty against the
now well-documented imperialist provocations that played an important role
in the outbreak and international media coverage of the protests in Cuba.

Even after statements of support for the gains of the Cuban revolution came
from all corners of the world, demanding an end to the illegal blockade and
hybrid warfare, the signatories spared little attention for the very real
threat of escalating imperialist intervention. When the mayor of Miami
called on the U.S. government to bomb Havana, none of the open letter
endorsers change their tune. None came to the defense of Black Lives Matter
after the organization’s condemnation of the U.S. blockade brought them
heavy backlash. At most, as in the petition itself, the blockade and
imperial provocations were mentioned as an almost unrelated preamble to the
real point, despite their absolute centrality. No open letter was signed
and circulated by this group of Western academic leftists demanding an end
to the blockade after the 29th consecutive UN General Assembly majority
vote to end the economic siege in June, and neither was there an effort on
their part to circulate the campaign to send millions of much-needed
syringes to the island to help put Cuban-made COVID vaccines into Cuban
arms. When President Joe Biden announced that he would not change course on
Cuba and called the nation a “failed state” without reference to the
blockade, they issued no scathing open letter. They did not collectively
come to the defense of a patriotic Cuban woman who was censored on Twitter
after she demanded that the UN Human Rights Council stop using her image as
the symbol for the anti-government protesters, when in reality she was in
the streets of Cuba defending her revolution. Similarly, their silences on
the ongoing violent U.S.-backed state repression of a months-long popular
uprising in Colombia, or the years-long popular uprising in Haiti, grew
more pronounced with the circulation of this petition. Their priorities
were laid bare.

When confronted on social media about this unfortunate discrepancy between
stated ideological commitments and real political actions, many of these
prominent signatories responded by blocking, unfriending, ignoring, or
dismissing criticisms and questions. When they did respond, it was often
full of slanders against “tankies” and “Stalinists” and strangely even one
reference to Assad. Those that disagreed were accused of supporting
“repression” and “ignoring voices on the ground.” No intellectually honest
reference was made to the voices on the ground of the 100,000 Cubans who
took to the streets of Havana in defense of their revolution. No mea culpas
were issued after even Reuters was forced to admit that the media had
fallen for lies and manipulations about the protests and the repression
that ostensibly followed. Their perception of events, one must assume,
remains the same as it was on July 12. Their own political orthodoxy, it
seems, left little room for "dissident Marxists" engaging them in criticism
among comrades.

On July 22, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a new round of sanctions on
Cuba, which he promised were “just the beginning.” The Biden
administration’s intransigence - and its cynical hypocrisy in denouncing
“mass detentions and sham trials” in Cuba that presumably does not describe
the U.S,-run torture camp known as Guantanamo Bay - saw a rapidly organized
response in the pages of the *New York Times* on July 23. In a full-page
advert, the People’s Forum, Code Pink, the ANSWER Coalition and over 400
“former heads of state, politicians, intellectuals, scientists, members of
the clergy, artists, musicians and activists from across the globe,” issued
an open letter to the U.S. government demanding the end to its economic
warfare against the Cuban people. Here is an example of the kind of public
statement with prominent endorsers that places the responsibility for human
rights abuses at the feet of U.S. imperialism and that expresses solidarity
with the working and oppressed people of the globe who resist empire. A
rare few signatories of the July 12 petition directed against the Cuban
government did sign the “Let Cuba Live” letter in the *New York Times*,
including Noam Chomsky. One can only wonder what the political priorities
are of those who condemn the imperialism of their own government only after
first making demands and criticisms upon the targets of that imperialism.

*Beware the “anti-anti-imperialist left”*

File this away as one more example of Western academic socialists and
progressives being captured by the ideological manipulations of U.S. State
Department propaganda and their own internalized colonial chauvinism toward
revolutionary projects in the Global South. Other targets of these
petitions and open letters in recent years and months have been Venezuela,
Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. Notably, all are targets of ongoing and
well-documented subversion operations, economic sanctions and electoral
interference by the United States, something that is rarely remarked upon
by the signatories. The outraged open letter from prominent leftist
intellectuals making demands upon anti-imperialist counties and other
targets of Western imperialism is one of the most insidious and effective
propaganda efforts by non-state actors in the imperial core, as it serves
to confuse and disorient the broader left within the belly of the beast,
weakening our capacity to collectively undermine and resist the U.S.
empire, thus relegating the burden of the struggle against imperialism to
the revolutionary peoples of the Global South alone. This is a dereliction
of our revolutionary duties.

As progressives and revolutionaries living within the empire, we must
express an unqualified and unwavering solidarity with Cuba and all targets
of U.S. imperialism, and we must organize to put an end to U.S.,
aggression, political interference and economic strangulation so that Cuba
and all working and oppressed peoples of the world can breathe.
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