First published on Sanhati
“How long yet will the madness of despots be called justice, and the justice of the people barbarity or rebellion? How tenderly oppressors and how severely the oppressed are treated!”
The informal discussion held in Geneva on the 21st of September regarding Canada’s proposal to debate the outcome of Sri Lanka’s ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) was revealing on the position of various countries that participated.
First and foremost, to even give legitimacy to the LLRC, a sham commission set up by a racist state in order to show that it cares for the people it has butchered and enslaved, is a fundamentally flawed proposition. This is but part of the agenda of certain western powers to initiate a discussion on Sri Lanka that focuses solely on human rights violations in Sri Lanka without taking into account the political demands of the Eelam Tamil people, have token prosecutions and token devolutions of powers, and maybe, a regime change without disturbing status-quo of the majoritarian political structure of the Sri Lankan state. The hidden logic is that such a process will whitewash the crimes of elements within their own polity who encouraged Sri Lanka’s campaign of state terror. Countries like India, Pakistan, China and Russia – who have openly supported the genocide of the Eelam Tamils – were hostile to even these token gestures, probably apprehensive of a possible exposure of their direct involvement and/or a questioning of their own treatment of national liberation struggles and people’s movements in their territories. And there were countries like Cuba who whole heartedly backed Sri Lanka under the argument of ‘anti-imperialism’.
Cuba and Venezuela (not to mention countries like Iran and Gaddafi’s Libya), who indeed are anti-American, have also stood by the Colombo regime in their war on the Tamil people. But the question radicals need to ask is whether they are genuinely anti-imperialist, that is, whether they promote a dialogue among movements of the oppressed peoples of the world, as a progressive left movement is meant to. If anti-west/anti-Americanism should be the only criteria for gauging standards of a revolutionary movement, then the Taliban should be the most progressive outfit in the world. But if progressiveness should be gauged by, in Che Guevara’s own words, “indignation at injustice anywhere in the world” and a political solidarity with emancipatory liberation struggles, then the ‘pink left’ countries like Cuba and Venezuela fail pathetically. James Petras points out how, despite claims to ‘anti-imperialism’ Chavez betrayed solidarity with radical movements in order to consolidate his own regime’s economic interests, giving the example of Venezuala’s arrest and deportation of activists affiliated to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in order to placate an ally in a murderous Colombia.
It is the creed of Robert Blake, the US Assistant Secretary of State who gave Colombo full support to execute its genocide of Tamils by means of war against the LTTE, who are also responsible for providing extensive funding to reactionary regimes like that of Colombia to brutally crush movements of indigenous people, popular classes and peasantry like those led by FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) by similar means. It was no coincidence then that after the military defeat of the LTTE, military think-tanks and pro-state intellectuals in Colombia started considering the Sri Lanka model as an effective way of crushing radical movements in their territory in a similar fashion. Now, by endorsing a genocidal Colombo, these pink left countries are directly endorsing the war on indigenous peoples, nationalities and progressive movements in countries like Colombia, Peru, Turkey, India etc – this is the only logical conclusion that their sad arguments can lead to.
Petras has also pointed out in the article earlier referred how Stalin’s deals with Hitler were a strategic disaster for the people of Soviet Union. But how much ever the then Soviet regime could be criticized for such arrangements of convenience, at no point did the Soviets endorse Nazism as a philosophy or hail Hitler in his military successes against other nations. No communist justified the atrocities of Nazism by pointing out atrocities of, say, French colonialism. For example, Aime Cesaire, a trenchant critic of colonialism, constantly criticized the hypocrisies of the colonial powers that denounced fascism but committed atrocities in their colonies – but that did not lead him to endorse Nazi brutalities. The argument of Hitler, which was as cruel as it was ridiculous, that critics of Nazi violence were unjustified because even the colonial powers have been brutal, was treated as a farce by all progressive leftists and rightly so. A progressive does not have the option of choosing between and justifying farces that dehumanize people. But the Cuban leadership seems to have exercised that option…
A darling intellectual in these countries is Sri Lankan diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka who campaigned amongst these so-called anti-west countries that the war on the Tamil people was an ‘anti-imperialist struggle’ – his counterparts in the west did a campaign that the war on the Tamil people was a ‘war on terror’. Jayatilleka, a self-proclaimed leftist, is one who believes that the Sinhalese are an ancient civilization like the Mayans, who may be threatened to extinction by a global Tamil conspiracy and thus, they need to be militarily strong and colonize the lands of the Eelam Tamils – failing to do so will lead to “the North converted into another Kashmir“, he argues. A Tamil intellectual remarked that when one reads Jayatilleka one gets the feeling a Jew would get should she flip through Mein Kampf, only that Jayatilleka (mis)quotes Marxists to justify a racist polity. Those on the Indian left are all too familiar with how writings of Marx and Lenin were twisted by the revisionist clique of CPM to justify implementation of neo-liberal policies in Bengal and Kerala, to quell popular protests in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh, and to vilify national liberation struggles both at India and abroad. But one is yet to hear (the author seeks to be corrected if mistaken) a CPM intellectual stooping to such levels of calculated absurdity that is generally associated with unapologetic communalists like the Subramaniam Swamys of India. An apologist of fascist violence parading under a leftist façade, with abstract slogans of anti-Americanism, showering praises on the likes of Deng Xiaoping and Vladimir Putin, Jayatilleka won allies among the pink left in Latin America.
On the other hand, Viraj Mendis, an activist of the Sinhala radical left who is in exile for resolutely standing by the struggle of Eelam Tamils, points out the confluence of world powers in backing a despotic Sri Lanka and its genocidal campaign. “The process of Genocide is continuing here too. It is happening inside these buildings here in Geneva.” he said, addressing a Pongu Tamil rally. In Geneva, the representative of Cuba supported Sri Lanka with the argument that “If you want to engage in this kind of ID why don’t you prepare a decision for a dialogue on detention centre in Guantanamo or bombing of NATO in Iraq, Afghanistan?” By supporting a Sri Lankan state, whose nationalism is based on a native variant of Nazi concepts of blut (Sinhala racial-cultural supremacy), lebensraum (the living space required for the superior race) and which completed its anschluss (forcible annexation) of the areas of Tamil Eelam in May 2009 accompanied by what can only called as a campaign of wanton pillage, rape and murder, countries like Cuba turn out to be ethically and politically no better than the imperialists they claim to oppose. By justifying and endorsing a successful genocide like what happened in Mullivaikaal under the name of opposing atrocities in Iraq or Afghanistan, these countries are not aiding the people whom they claim to support by any stretch of imagination.
If a banana republic like Sri Lanka that executed one of the worst mass murders in South Asia with the aid of several world powers is allowed to walk free, what will act as a deterrent for much stronger countries that hold similar intentions towards similar struggles? The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan had recently warned Kurdish civilians that unless they differentiate themselves from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), “they are also doomed to pay the price”. He was one of the leaders of state to congratulate Sri Lanka on its ‘successful war on terror’ and the Turkish government has also upheld the Lankan model for dealing with the PKK (partisans to the PKK goal, who have also extended solidarity to the Eelam struggle in a true spirit of internationalism, were also apprehensive of this possibility). Now, what does the ‘socialist’ Cuba convey to the PKK and the Kurds by its endorsement of the Sri Lankan solution?
The regimes in Cuba and Venezuela not only appear as what a Tamil leftist described as “clowns in the arena of left politics”, they end up as political opportunists by supporting mass murderers and despots like Rajapaksa who virulently implement neo-liberal policies in deed, but put up a sham ‘anti-Americanism’ in words. Maybe the radical left or whatever is left of it in Cuba should reread Lenin who said that “Victorious socialism must necessarily establish a full democracy and, consequently, not only introduce full equality of nations but also realise the right of the oppressed nations to self-determination i.e. the right to free political separation.” Maybe that would restore the red color to the pink left governments of Latin America and enable them to look at a fascist Sri Lanka and the Tamil Eelam struggle that is fighting against it differently.
Genuine anti-imperialism does not lie in mere abstract anti-American/anti-west sloganeering. In the wake of a ‘post-national world’ discourse framed by apologists of multi-national capitalism and equally regressive capitalist-bureaucratic models as upheld by states like Turkey, China and Russia – both aiding the logic of genocidal states like Sri Lanka, anti-imperialism in concrete requires solidarity with national liberation struggles and their progressive representatives. Anything else is mere social-opportunism that can only promote a world-wide strengthening of forces of reaction. And then history will not absolve the pink left states, but condemn them to its dustbins.
50 years ago, on this day, an army of a scruffy young men in olive green uniform marched into Santiago, toppling a US-backed military regime and heralding a new age. Cuba has never been the same after that day. As the world enters 2009, the Cuban Revolution celebrates 50 successful years.
Five years, five months and five days before the January 1st of 1959, a band of 165 rebels led by Fidel Castro, the architect of the Cuban Revolution, launched the famous attack on the Moncada barracks. Though the attack was a failure in itself, it marked a turning point in the history of modern Cuba. Castro, who went into hiding after the assault, was eventually arrested on August 1953. During his trial on the 16th of October the same year, Castro made the historical 4 hour long “History will absolve me” speech, condemning the US-supported Batista regime and declaring the legitimacy of the Cuban Revolution. Though condemned to 15 years in prison, Castro was released on May 1955 owing to popular pressure against Batista, and was exiled to Mexico. And it was in Mexico that he met another of his kind – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. On November 1956, Fidel, his brother Raul, Che and 79 other revolutionaries sailed for Cuba on the Granma to launch yet another armed struggle against the regime. Though receiving initial setbacks, the revolution triumphed, and the Revolutionary Government was officially installed on January 8th 1959.
The going, however, has not been smooth for Cuba thereafter. Economic reforms introduced by Castro brought Cuba in direct conflict with the imperialist designs of the US. Though the Revolution was pronounced to be a Socialist one only in April 1961, the US broke diplomatic relations with Cuba by January 1961 and curbed trade, besides carrying out various acts of sabotage against her ever since Castro took over. In fact, by September 1960 itself, eight conspiracies to assassinate Castro were uncovered. The documentary 638 ways to kill Castro provides a more detailed account of the various attempts at Castro’s life by American agents. The US was also not averse to promoting various acts of terrorism, ironically, something which it is against today, against Cuba’s sovereignty. In February 1962, John F Kennedy ordered a complete trade and economic embargo on Cuba which continues till today. The US sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis were all testing times for the puny island roughly the size of Tamil Nadu. That Cuba resisted all these arm-twisting tactics by the American imperialists and their global allies has to be largely credited to the grit and vision of the individual called Fidel Castro.
Assuming powers as the head of the Cuban state on February 16th, 1959 at the age of 32, Castro was the longest serving head of state when he officially resigned on February 11th 2008. Castro has seen no less than 10 US Presidents, the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the opening up of global markets, liberalization of China, new anti-imperialist movements across the globe – in short, every event that shaped the political and economic scenario of the world today. Numerous leaders of Latin American states, including Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, not to mention leaders of revolutionary movements across the globe, consider Castro to be an icon and the Cuban Revolution as an example that the oppressed have a shot at a better life in this world.
50 years after the Revolution, the Cuban economy continues to remain a state-planned economy, with great focus on human development. Ranked 51 in the Human Development Index of 2007, Cuba has 1% of the population below the poverty line and 1.9% of the population unemployed. With education being a state subject and with compulsory schooling from the age of 6 to 15, Cuba has achieved 100% literacy for both men and women. As regards health, with the abolition of private medical practice, and with the allotment of over 16% of the GDP to public health care, the advances made by Cuba have been phenomenal. Medical services are provided to over 98% of the population. The Infant Mortality Rate of Cuba is at 5.1 deaths per 1000 live births and the Life expectancy at Birth is at 78.3 years. All this despite the various sanctions imposed upon the little island by imperialist powers. A comparison of this data with that of India’s, which boasts of a 9.6% economic growth, would expose the inadequacies of the liberalization package that has been pushed by successive governments of the “world’s largest democracy” since 1990.
The Cuban Revolution is most relevant today. At a time when imperialism has taken new forms and imperialist forces work through a network of international agencies like the World Bank and the IMF, where economic failures have degenerated into ethnic conflicts, the need for a counter-imperialist revolutionary force cannot be overstated. Viva la Revolucion.