Gorbachev in Havana and London

A new path for socialism? Revolutionary renewal in the Soviet Union and Cuba from FRFI 86, April/May 1989

gorb havana

Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Cuba and Britain, immediately following on from Margaret Thatcher's tour of a number of African countries, gives us another opportunity to examine some aspects of the relation between socialism and imperialism.

Gorbachev has made it clear that he believes the fundamental relations between socialism and imperialism have changed in an interdependent, contemporary world that has to come to terms with human survival in a nuclear age. He has put forward the possibility of a non-militaristic, non-predatory imperialism coming into existence, forced to compete peacefully with the socialist countries. The apparently very friendly relations and mutual regard between Gorbachev and one of imperialism's most aggressive anti-communists, Margaret Thatcher, has to be seen in this context.

However at the very time when Gorbachev and Thatcher were demonstrating this 'new relation' between socialism and imperialism, a very deep shadow was being cast over the whole affair. SWAPO fighters were being butchered mercilessly by imperialism's agents in Namibia. South African paramilitary police, including the brutal Koevoet counter-insurgency unit, had been given the go-ahead to hunt down SWAPO fighters personally by Margaret Thatcher with United Nations authorisation. Not surprisingly, this issue was barely touched upon during the Anglo-Soviet talks.

The dominant pressure behind this reshaping of Soviet foreign policy comes from the paramount need to rebuild the crisis-ridden Soviet economy. Foreign policy has to 'contribute ever more to releasing the country's resources for peaceful reconstruction, for perestroika'. It is necessary to add also that the backward, anti-Soviet and generally reactionary character of the working class movement and the socialist left in the imperialist countries adds to the pressure on the socialist countries to take a more conciliatory stance in relation to imperialism. Neither the British working class movement, the British socialist left nor the British anti-apartheid movement, after all, have seriously attempted to pose a challenge to Margaret Thatcher's foreign policy of sustaining the apartheid regime economically and politically.

Inevitably the political and economic pressures, both internal and external, on the socialist countries have allowed the emergence of forces in those countries which are concerned to reconcile socialism and imperialism. In a recent issue of Pravda International (March 1989), Andrei V Kozyrev, deputy chief of the International Organisations in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, gave expression to this trend in an article entitled a 'Brave New World View'. The following extracts from the article show that while the need to restructure the Soviet economy is the major factor determining the new thinking, the absence of real class politics in the workers' movement in the imperialist countries is also important in explaining the development of this conciliatory point of view.

On the issue of proletarian internationalism, Kozyrev had the following to say:

'By pursuing the logic of anti-imperialist struggle we allowed ourselves  contrary to the interests of our fatherland to be drawn into the arms race and helped to introduce the 'enemy image' and to set up technological and cultural barriers between the Soviet Union and the United States . . .

'Our direct and indirect involvement in regional conflicts leads to colossal losses by increasing general tension, justifying the arms race and hindering the establishment of mutually advantageous ties with the West.'

On the non-predatory character of imperialism, he wrote:

'If, however, one takes a look at the United States' monopolist bourgeoisie as a whole, very few of its groups, and none of the main ones, are connected with militarism. There is no longer any need to talk, for instance, about a military struggle for markets or raw materials, or for the division and redivision of the world.'

On the class relations between socialism and imperialism:

'It is all the more strange to talk about the irreconciliable interests of states with different social systems now that even the class conflict within the capitalist countries largely takes place through the achievement of compromise within a mutually accepted legal framework rather than in the form of harsh confrontation. It follows that the Soviet workers' solidarity with their class brothers in the West far from justifies the thesis of global class confrontation . . .'

And on the relation between the socialist countries and developing countries:

‘The myth that the class interests of socialist and developing countries coincide in resisting imperialism does not hold up to criticism at all. The majority of developing countries already adhere to or tend toward the Western model of development and they suffer not so much from capitalism as from a lack of it. They are interested not in struggle against former metropolises but in co-operating to defend their own international stability, which is what our co-operation with the "Third World" must be aimed at.'

Kozyrev has given voice to what appears to be the dominant trend in Soviet foreign policy. Nevertheless, within the communist movement there are those who oppose this dominant view, and imperialism's recent response to the Soviet Union's international initiatives will inevitably force communists to challenge the conciliationist view of imperialism.

During his visit to Cuba, Gorbachev stated in a speech to the Cuban National Assembly, and in line with the 'new thinking', that the Soviet Union is 'resolutely opposed to any theories and doctrines that justify the export of revolution' and that the Soviet Union has no military ambitions on the continent. However, confronted with the reality of imperialism in Central America, Gorbachev refused to end Soviet military aid to the Sandinista government, attacked the US 'non-lethal' aid to the contras and made it clear that the Soviet Union would only stop sending arms to Nicaragua if the US did likewise throughout Latin America. The Cuban position was expressed by Raul Rao, the Cuban Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs. He said that 'Cuba would continue to claim the right to support revolution in Central America as long as the United States claimed the right to support counter-revolution'. In practice the reality of US imperialism's role in Central America ensured that the Soviet and Cuban position shared much in common.

The Soviet Union has been forced to withdraw its army from Afghanistan. It called on imperialism to reciprocate and help to find a negotiated settlement to the present war. Imperialism's response has been to prolong the war by continuing to send arms and give support to the reactionary Mojahedin. The 'new relation' between Thatcher and Gorbachev did not for one moment cause British imperialism to change its policy of calling for the defeat of the Afghanistan government. The Soviet Union continues to arm and finance the Afghan government.

The current Soviet leadership's theoretical view that it is possible to negotiate with imperialism and achieve a nuclear-free world in no way corresponds to Thatcher's and US imperialism's unbending strategy to modernise NATO's nuclear armoury. Neither does it correspond to NATO's doctrine that nuclear weapons have maintained peace in Europe (and imperialism's domination over the oppressed nations) for 40 years.

Finally the vital test of the current Soviet foreign policy thinking is taking place in Southern Africa. Already in 1987 Soviet speakers were preparing the ground for a change of Soviet policy. A leading Soviet theoretician, Gleb Starushenko, argued for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Southern Africa and advocated far-reaching compromises – ‘no broad nationalisation of capitalist property', comprehensive guarantees to the white minority to make it easier for the white minority to abandon apartheid and reduce racial conflict. Another academic, Dr Victor Goncharov, said that the Soviet Union would like to see more 'flexibility' and 'objectivity' from the ANC and he castigated those who took the view that now is the time to struggle not just for national liberation but also socialism. He believed that socialism would not be achieved in South Africa for 100 years.

More recently, in March this year at a conference in Moscow on Southern Africa, the official Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Gennady Gerasimov, when asked about Soviet support for the armed struggle, answered: ‘What armed struggle? ... How can we support something which doesn't exist?' At the same conference Yuri Yukalov, head of the Foreign Mininstry's Africa department said: 'We don't emphasise the need to enhance the armed struggle' and after speaking of trade and other sanctions, said that their policy 'does not mean that the South African regime should be talked to using the language of threats and by banging one's fist on the table'.

This view has become the dominant one although not without its critics. At the same conference Vasily Solodovnikov, who was Soviet ambassador to Zambia at the height of the Zimbabwean liberation war, compared the apartheid regime to the Nazis and said it had to be fought with arms. He called for the isolation of the apartheid regime and said talks between it and Soviet officials were unacceptable (reported in The Guardian 18 March 1989). As the Cuban Communist Party has stated, it took the defeat of the South African army at Cuito Cuanavale to force them to negotiate over Namibia. At a recent Italian Communist Party Congress in Rome, Jorge Risquet, head of the international department of the Cuban Communist Party, said 'the South Africans would never have negotiated without our military pressure'. The brutal murders of SWAPO fighters in Namibia confirm how dangerous it is to put any trust in agreements made with the South Africans.

Imperialism is determined to protect its interests in South Africa and that means supporting the white minority regime. Even after the recent negotiations to withdraw Cuban troops from Angola and the agreement on independence for Namibia, US imperialism continues to arm the UNITA bandits fighting to destroy the Angolan regime. Margaret Thatcher not only did not hesitate in condemning SWAPO for the recent fighting in Namibia but immediately approved the use of South African paramilitary police to butcher the SWAPO fighters.

Imperialism has not and cannot change its character. It has to be militaristic and predatory in order to survive. The victory of socialism and the survival of the human race require the defeat of imperialism.


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