Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Socialism as hero-worship

Last weekend I attended a debate entitled "Fidel Castro: Friend of Cuban Workers?". The speakers were Paul Hampton from the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), and Stephen Wilkinson from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. It was an extraordinary event, that at one point seemed about to collapse into disarray, with the Cuba Solidarity speaker apparently on the verge of walking out.

The reason for Wilkenson's evident rage, bewilderment and disbelief was not that he had been heckled, personally insulted or denied the right to put his case (none of those things happened: he was listened to in silence and applauded politely by the predominantly AWL audience). It was, apparently, that he had never heard anyone "claiming to be from the left" who argued (as Hampton did) that "Fidel Castro is not a friend of the's just irrational, and I'm not prepared to listen to anyone who says that". The guy was obviously totally furious, and although he finally decided to stay for the rest of the debate, he was still ranting and raving at the end.

Wilkenson's rage and disbelief were clearly the result of a genuine belief that Cuba under Castro represents "socialism", and that anyone who disses Castro is dissing socialism itself: he regaled us with impressive statistics about Cuba's health service and education provision. Hampton did not dispute these statistics, but countered that these were not measures of working class socialism, and that bourgeois-democratic, capitalist Sweden could come up with equally impressive statistics on health and education. The important point about Castroite Cuba, from a Marxist point of view, is the lack of genuine trade unions and the repression of working class democracy. Hampton also made it very clear that his political hostility to Castro and the Stalinist ruling class of Cuba, does not imply any support for the US economic embargo or for the US-backed Miami opposition, even when they take the form of "trade unions".

But none of this was good enough for Wilkinson: "You're either for the revolution or against it", he declared, adding that Castro's Cuba is the "main opposition to the USA in the world", and that that fact alone was sufficient to require unconditional support (I've paraphrased that last bit, but Wilkinson did not demure when I, from the floor, described it as a "my enemy's enemy is my friend" argument).

Clearly, with Castro now on his death bed and brother Raul poised to take over, these arguments are going to become more immediate and more important. IMHO the AWL and Paul Hampton failed to recognise that Wilkinson and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign have majority support within the British trade union movement (their "Latin America 2006" event on 2nd December, for intance, is supported by the T&G, the GMB, Amicus, SERTUC and Tribune) : whereas a the "third camp" position put forward by Hampton is, presently, very much in the minority within the British labour movement.

It is also the case that, unfortunately, a form of left-wing hero-worship has infected large sections of the British left. Apart from the long-established Castro-worship, we now have uncritical adulation for populists like Venezuelian president Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia. This western adulation comes, mainly, from petit bourgeois "leftists" like Tariq Ali (whose latest book, Pirates of the Caribbean, praises not just Castro, Chavez and Morales, but also Ahmadinejad, Muqtada Al-Sadre and Hassan Nasrallah), and the racially-sick, self-hater and groveller Richard Gott, whose racial twist to this whole business adds an additional element of nausea.

Unfortunately, however, it isn't just the likes of Ali and Gott who are now promoting this latter-day "socialism from above" hero-worship of castro and (in particular) Chavez: people who should know better like the Trotskyists of Socialist Appeal now compete with followers of Ken Livingstone and "Respect"/SWP, for the favours of Chavez. The decline (but not disappearance) of the working class seems to have lead these erstwhile "revolutionaries" to look for charismatic leaders to create socialism from above. Ironically, many of those who now subscribe to this new version of Stalinism, still promote Hal Draper's definitive demolition of socialism from above "The Two Souls of Socialism" (currently published by the Chavez-loving, Respect-supporting British SWP!)

For a far more detailed an analytical critique of the new Stalinism, have a look at Paul Hampton's article "The new manana socialism from above", on the Workers liberty website.


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