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."


olching said...

I know Kadar comes in for a lot of stick among the Hungarian right, but I wouldn't list him here. He had Nagy and other executed despite assurances. That, in my opinion, is unforgivable.

Louis said...

Maybe Willi Brandt West German chancellor 1969-74 could be counted. Brandt is looked upon fondly compared to to Helmut Schmidt, regarded as the first neo-liberal.

DBC Reed said...

I'm not sure Ramsay Macdonald was such a turncoat.It could be that he was remaining loyal to the old Henry George-ite strand in the original Labour Party and was averse to taxing earned income to deliver socialism.Practically the last thing he did as Prime Minister in his own right was to pass the 1931 Finance Act which set up a full national Land Value Tax which would have levied people's unearned capital gains from property.Not a good idea then because land values were falling but just what is needed now to stop the tail of housing wagging the whole economy (world-wide and all).

Elmo Lindström said...

You've mentioned Olof Palme, whose murderer I hope is eventually caught and brought to justice. However I am not a fan of Olof Palme's policies, which further extended the welfare bureaucracy in Sweden, so that lazy people got an even bigger welfare check than before, while people who did an honest days work got screwed with even higher taxes.

Now I'm not against socialism. I'm in favour of people who work being paid decent wages rather than the CEOs taking it all. However I'm in favour of actually rewarding people who work while discouraging people to scythe on welfare. Palme's failure to address this issue has paved the way for cronies like Persson and Reinfeldt to take power in Sweden, who do not even care about people who do do an honest days work.

Adam said...

What Europe could do with a Bruno Kreisky today to tell the Zionists where to get off.

Anonymous said...

slome leftists are still treating Milosevic as a dictator,,,witness narconews:

'2:56 p.m.: Ivan Marovic - who as a young man played a major role in strategizing the civil resistance that toppled the Serbian dictator Milosevic, and who spent a few days in Honduras this summer at the invitation of the civil resistance - and I just had a chat online about our observations of what is happening and how it changes everything in Honduras.'

You may be familiar with marovic...founder of Otpor...
a blogger got into a hot debate with Al Giordano of narco news on this fellow:

see dailysketch comment at end of article:



Brett said...

I think this is a pretty fair list, though I believe there's one certainty who should not be there if we are interested in that half of the population who are women.

Here I mean the women of Nicaragua, where abortion is now illegal even to save the woman's life - courtesy of Daniel Ortega as one his first actions in initial month after returning to power in 2006. [Source: ]

Since he "found God" Ortega's administration is actively persecuting leaders of the women’s movement, threatening them with legal suits and fines against their organizations (according to The Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network, LACWHN.)

So, Oretega may have not (yet) sold out to the side of capital, but he has obviously sold out to the Vatican.

Milosevic is a dicey one. I'd tend to guess he was as guilty of war crimes as anyone else.

Keep up the good fight with The Campaign for Public Ownership there! With you all the way!

neil craig said...

However Chavez' success is built entirely on the lucky accident that Venezeula has oil & the fact that Nyerere's country had to go to the IMF in the first place hardly shows his competence.

Both Allende & Palme were assassinated which dreadful as it was does limit their opportunity to sell out.

A more complex case is Lee Kuan Yew who certainly started as a socialist. Harold Wilson told his cabinet he was "as good a socialist as anybody here". The Singapore he built certainly has cradle to grave welfare with better outcomes than our NHS & has been described by the economist Paul Krugman as an example of successful "Stalinist" planning. On the other hand it is also one of the most succesful free enterprise economies in the world.

Did he sell out & if he did would the Singaprease now be better off if he hadn't?

Brett Milosevic was not guilty. At the risk of self aggrandizement may I point to a post where the UK ambassador to Serbia & Bosnia has said that Milosevic's "crime" was lack of "guile" compared to NATO diplomats such as him.

Gregor said...


'So, Oretega may have not (yet) sold out to the side of capital, but he has obviously sold out to the Vatican.'

Is this 'obvious'? Abortion is a very complex issue and there is a good secular case for its opposition. I will not make the case here (many people have done so far better than I could) but I do not see what this has to do with socialism, as the ownership of the means of production.

It seems to me that the political let has developed a very intense social view, which the right does not have. This is how the economic right can have bigots like Littlejohn and gays like Ian Dale who both support privatisation. By contrast the left is focussed very narrowly and ironically the only thing they have rejected is their economic views (which seem vindicated: see Germany and France).

I am with olching on debating Kadar though. Whilst Anglo-American plutocracies are unpleasant, I do think having the right to vote is importnat... even if most votes are wasted on our identical parties and ther FPTP system :-(

Brett said...


Thanks for your comment addressed to me. I think you are generally correct when you say that "the left is focussed very narrowly." That's a big part of why the(genuine) left has unfortunately been repeatedly rejected by so much of the electorate world-wide.

But I really dislike this constant(mainly British) activity of dividing issues and individuals into what is left and what is right. It's dull and uninspiring and completely unproductive.

You say that you do not see what abortion rights "has to do with socialism, as the ownership of the means of production."

Surely, one of the most personal and important aspects of human life (including in a socialist system) has to do with the 'ownership of the means of RE-production.' If half the population do not truly "own" their own sexual organs then I call that a failure of government because it takes away the decision to bear children, or not, from individuals.