Monday, September 21, 2009
The Leftists who didn't sell out
This article of mine appears in the Morning Star.
Last month, I listed 10 supposedly left-wing figures who ended up betraying their cause and siding with capital against the interests of ordinary working people once they had achieved power.
And what a sorry bunch they were too - among them the millionaire warmonger Blair, the turncoat Ramsay Macdonald, the hawkish pro-NATO Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Thankfully, there are also examples of leftist leaders who did not betray the people and who, despite enormous pressure from international capital and their political emissaries, stayed on the progressive path.
In doing so, nearly all faced smears, vicious personal attacks and demonisation. Some, such as Salvador Allende and Slobodan Milosevic, ended up losing their lives on account of not sacrificing their principles, while the 1986 murder of Sweden's Olof Palme remains unsolved.
In the list below of 10 leftists who didn't sell out I have confined myself to political figures who became leaders of their countries. There have been lots of fine, principled socialists who have led political parties, such as the 1930s Labour Party leader George Lansbury, but unfortunately did not get the opportunity to lead their countries.
Let's hope the examples of the leaders below will be followed by other brave and principled figures in the years ahead.
The inspirational leader of Venezuela provides a handy litmus test to differentiate the "faux left" from genuine socialists.
The former label Chavez a "demagogue" and sometimes even a "dictator" despite his regular election victories, his frequent use of referendums and his belief in devolving power to local communities.
But for genuine socialists, Chavez is a hero for the way he governs his country in the interests of the majority and for his outspoken opposition to the neoconservative war agenda.
Earlier this year Chavez declared: "Every factory must be a school to educate, like Che Guevara said, to produce not only briquettes, steel, and aluminium but also above all the new man and woman, the new society, the socialist society."
Despite the straitened financial circumstances after World War II, Attlee's post-war Labour governments carried out an impressive programme of social and economic reforms.
In addition to introducing the modern welfare state, providing British citizens for the first time with security from the cradle to the grave, they carried out the most extensive nationalisation programme in British history, bringing the railways, road transport, major industries and the Bank of England into public ownership.
Their greatest and most enduring achievement was establishing the National Health Service, enabling citizens, regardless of income, to receive the best quality health care available.
Charismatic socialist chancellor of Austria who led his country for 13 years, from 1970 to 1983. During his period in office, Kreisky pursued unashamedly egalitarian policies, expanding public ownership and the welfare state.
Kreisky always put the interests of ordinary Austrians first - he famously said in the 1979 election campaign that he'd rather the government run up a budget deficit than people lose their jobs.
A Jewish anti-zionist, Kreisky was one of the leading international champions of the rights of the Palestinian people, inviting Yasser Arafat to Vienna.
The first democratically elected Marxist to become president of a state in the Americas in 1970, Allende carried out a widespread programme of nationalisation and introduced a state system of health care and other radical measures to help the poor.
But foreign capital wasn't happy and Allende was toppled by a military coup in which he lost his life in 1973 and which brought the fascist dictator and friend of Margaret Thatcher, General Augusto Pinochet to power.
In his last address to the people, Allende declared: "Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail.
"Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!"
Outspoken Swedish socialist who was a fierce opponent of US foreign policy, apartheid South Africa and Pinochet's fascist regime in Chile.
Domestically, Palme's redistributionist economic policies helped make Sweden one of the most egalitarian societies on Earth.
In a message of condolence after Palme's assassination in 1986, ANC president Oliver Tambo wrote: "From Vietnam to Nicaragua, from El Salvador to Palestine, from Sahara to South Africa, across the face of the globe, the flags hang limp and half-mast in loving memory of this giant of justice who had become a citizen of the world, a brother and a comrade to all who are downtrodden."
Tanzanian leader and "Baba wa Taifa," or father of the nation, who pioneered his own unique brand of African socialism, outlined in his famous Arusha Declaration of 1967.
Under the programme, all important enterprises were nationalised, foreign loans and investments were kept to a minimum and farming was collectivised under the "Ujaama" concept, under which families in each village were encouraged to pool their resources.
The results of Nyerere's socialist policies were impressive. By 1986, 3.7 million children were in primary school, the literacy rate was up to 85 per cent and infant mortality was down to 137 per thousand. But many of Nyerere's achievements have subsequently been undone by harsh neoliberal policies imposed by the IMF.
The architect of "goulash communism," a liberal brand of communism which led Hungary to be labelled the "happiest barracks in the camp" during the socialist era in eastern Europe.
A modest man who lived simply and who eschewed material gain, Kadar believed that socialism meant doing the right thing by the majority of the population and during his period in power, living standards of the majority grew.
Not surprisingly given the harsh economic climate and rising levels of unemployment, nostalgia for the Kadar era is growing in today's Hungary - even the conservative opposition leader has conceded that for most Hungarians life was easier 30 years ago than it is today.
The problem with Milosevic from the West's point of view was not that he was a Serb nationalist bent on destroying Yugoslavia but that he was a pro-Yugoslavia socialist who tried to hold his country together and who, even after the fall of the Berlin wall, operated an economy in which social ownership predominated.
For getting in the way of the West's plans for economic and military hegemony in the Balkans, Milosevic paid a heavy personal price - dying at The Hague where he was on trial for trumped-up charges of war crimes - charges bought by the very same Western countries that led the illegal bombing of his country in 1999.
Colourful Canadian politician who led his country for all but nine months in the period 1968-84, Trudeau studied under the influential socialist professor Harold Laski at the London School of Economics.
A strong supporter of universal health care, the welfare state and workers' rights, he once wrote that socialists, "rather than water down ... their socialism, must constantly seek ways of adapting it to a bicultural society governed under a federal constitution."
Trudeau was a great advocate of detente during the cold war, leading John Lennon to remark that "if all politicians were like Pierre Trudeau, there would be world peace."
The Sandinista leader played a key role in toppling the brutal US-backed dictator Somoza in 1979 and defied US attempts to topple his radical leftist government in the 1980s.
In 1990 Ortega was defeated at the polls, but after a decade and a half of harsh neoliberal policies which saw many of the Sandinistas' progressive achievements undone, he returned as Nicaragua's president in November 2006.
At a rally to mark the 30th anniversary of the overthrow of Somoza earlier this year, Ortega warned that the US still had imperialistic designs on his country.
"They are going to try and invade Nicaragua. Come and try to invade Nicaragua! Come and try and defeat this people! But we will never be defeated."