The following talk was presented Feb. 13 at the Havana International Book Fair. Copyright © 2016 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.
And a special thank-you to compañero [Ramón] Sánchez-Parodi for joining us today to present 50 Years of Covert Operations in the US: Washington’s Political Police and the American Working Class. It is an honor to hear from a comrade with his depth of experience on the front lines of battle against Washington. As we are all aware, it’s a battle that has taken on new and even more challenging forms in the last year. The objectives of the imperialist power to the north remain unchanged, while the historical stakes are as great as ever.
Speaking for myself I can say that I have more than once benefited from Ramón’s thoughtful insights into class politics in the US and adjusted my thinking as a result.
Books on US class strugglePathfinder Press is presenting three new titles at the Havana book fair this year, each of them about the class struggle in the US.
Later this afternoon, together with compañeros from the World Federation of Trade Unions and the CTC [Cuba’s trade union federation], we will be talking about Política Teamster [Teamster Politics] by Farrell Dobbs, drawing lessons for today from the most advanced, interconnected battles of the US working class organized and fought during the decade of the Great Depression.
Next Thursday we will be presenting a very special book, The Cuban Five Talk About Their Lives Within the US Working Class. The cover — with a painting by Antonio Guerrero — features the words of Ramón Labañino, It’s the poor who face the savagery of the US “justice” system.
In this book-length interview, given to Pathfinder last August, the Five Heroes of the Republic of Cuba talk about their experiences during the sixteen years they were part of the seven million working people in the US who are either behind bars or living under some form of police-supervised release such as René [González] faced even after serving every single minute of his fifteen-year prison sentence. Their account is a powerful indictment of the capitalist system and the ways in which it destroys human beings, as Ramón so correctly emphasizes.
50 Years of Covert Operations in the US, the third book in this trilogy, focuses on the class struggle in the US from a different angle. It traces the expansion of Washington’s political police starting in the years following the first imperialist World War and the victory of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, when the rulers targeted the newly formed communist movement as well as the anarcho-syndicalists. The book concentrates, however, on the years between the mid-1930s, when the FBI was created by the Democratic Party administration of President Franklin Roosevelt, and the 1970s, when the “Watergate” crisis exploded, leading to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.
In the closing years of the 1930s, one of the great concerns of the US capitalist class was the expanding strength and rising political consciousness of a component of the industrial union movement, centered in the upper Midwest, and led by the truck drivers union in Minneapolis, the “Teamsters.” The biggest worry for the rulers was the effectiveness with which they were expanding unionization of drivers and warehouse workers throughout an enormous eleven-state region of the country, setting an example and helping other fighting unions.
On that solid foundation of struggles, they were organizing political opposition within the labor movement to the imperialist war aims of Washington. That’s why they were framed and imprisoned, as 50 Years of Covert Operations in the US explains.
Witch hunt targets labor upsurgeThe book describes the rapid growth and consolidation of Washington’s “national security” apparatus in the years following the military, political, and economic victory over its capitalist rivals in World War II — both “foes” and “allies” alike.
The postwar anticommunist witch hunt, often referred to as McCarthyism, was not directed first and foremost at artists and writers or communist “spies,” although that is a popular misconception in the US and elsewhere, including — we’ve discovered — here in Cuba. The first objective of the witch hunt was halting and then rolling back the gains of the powerful labor upsurge of the 1930s and integrating the labor bureaucracy more seamlessly into the imperialist state apparatus. In that, the bosses and their government were successful.
50 Years of Covert Operations in the US contains a wealth of information about the US class struggle that we hope will be of interest and of use to readers here in Cuba as elsewhere. Some of the most interesting documentation it presents — especially testimony by ranking US Justice Department officials, as they seek to provide legal cover to government policies that violate rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and its first ten amendments — is the product of a lawsuit brought by the Socialist Workers Party against the US government and its various secret police agencies. These include the FBI, CIA, Military Intelligence, and what today is well known as the National Security Agency.
The SWP suit was filed in 1973 at the height of the Watergate crisis. The scandal exploded when it came to light that the Nixon White House had orchestrated wiretapping, burglaries, and other illegal measures against its domestic rivals in capitalist politics.
The roots of the Watergate crisis lay elsewhere, however.
Above all, the conflict revealed the deep divisions — the birth of fear — within the US ruling class in face of two powerful developments. The first was the mass Black proletarian-led movement that had brought down the system of Jim Crow segregation in the US. It was a genuine social revolution. The second was the way the social dynamic of that victory was accelerating in tandem with growing actions in the streets by millions against the US war in Vietnam.
The repercussions even began to disintegrate military discipline within the US armed forces, and fear among the imperialist rulers increased.
At the time, the entire liberal and left bourgeois political spectrum in the US was calling for Nixon’s impeachment. The SWP’s response was different.
“Instead of that,” we said, “let’s use the US rulers’ crisis to bring into the open their decades of covert operations, to educate the working class and our allies and fight to open political space to fight to defend our class interests. It will be no advance to simply replace one chief executive of the ruling class with another of their choosing.”
A victory for the working classThat is the course we followed, winning broad political support in the process. The final rulings by a federal court judge were not handed down until a decade and a half later. The right to a speedy trial is an empty promise in US federal courts, as our Five Heroes can attest!
In the end, however, the judge rejected the arguments put forward by the government attorneys in defense of decades of disruption and spying on the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance. He issued an injunction saying that no document obtained by the government in ways that violate the US Constitution and Bill of Rights can be “used, released, or disclosed” by the FBI or other federal police agencies.
It is a ruling that stands to this day, one that helps keep open political space for working people and their organizations to speak, organize, and act, to fight on our own terrain, not theirs — in the factories, on the picket lines, and in the streets. It helps us all to defend ourselves against curtailment of constitutional rights against government abuse.
That is where I want to end — on the importance of these questions as part of the class struggle in the US today.
The US national security apparatus has undergone a massive expansion over the 15 years since 9/11, facilitated by technological advances embodied in the Internet and spread of what is called “social media.” Concerns about this among workers and others is one of the elements driving support for the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, for many years a Democrat, now running as a Republican (and, yes, marked by “New York values” the entire time, as the Texas-Cuban has taunted him).
Some on the left in the US think Trump speaks for a deeply reactionary, even fascist, development among sections of the working class. That is a gross misreading. There is no growing ultrarightist, much less fascist, movement in the US today. The direction of motion among capitalist parties and politicians is to the left in bourgeois terms, not to the right. That motion, among other things, has been registered in the bipartisan shift toward opening diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba.
Most people here in Cuba are surprised when we explain that we have no more difficulty selling our press and talking working-class politics with those who attend large Trump election rallies than we do engaging in the same communist propaganda work at Bernie Sanders election events.
The ever-expanding surveillance of and intrusion into every aspect of our lives by Washington’s national security apparatus is hated by the working class. As are arbitrary “executive actions” and “regulation.” And there’s nothing reactionary about that. Smaller government has been a cornerstone of the communist program from 1848 to today.
Reaction to smoldering depressionIt is not Trump’s crude anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim invective that accounts for his showing in initial primaries. It is his slashing attacks on the hypocrisy, lies, and manipulations of the political “establishment.” It is his success in casting himself as an “outsider.” Above all, it is his ability to play on the anxiety and fear generated by the smoldering depression conditions US workers have known for almost a decade, and the feeling of helplessness in face of an imperialist world order that is coming apart at an accelerating pace.
It is the heroin epidemic that is devastating working-class families across the US. It is the deliberately manipulated and camouflaged size of the scourge of unemployment. It is the scandalous lack of medical care and help for young workers who have been torn apart mentally and physically as cannon fodder for Washington’s military actions in the Mideast. It is the numbing and terrifying disregard for human life that marks the spreading class conflicts in the Mideast and beyond.
The ancient mandarin curse, “May you live in interesting times,” is for revolutionaries, for communists, a tremendous opportunity — and responsibility. And that is what we in the Socialist Workers Party will be oriented to, in the streets, factories, and on picket lines.
There are no large-scale labor battles today, no powerful social protest movements. There are many signs of growing resistance, however. There are strikes, fights against employer lockouts, and actions for a $15 minimum wage and a union. There are protests against cop killings that have pressed the rulers, for the first time in many years, to hand down indictments and firings in a number of prominent cases, putting a leash on police violence to some degree.
Above all, there is an unprecedented economic and social crisis unfolding across the capitalist system worldwide. When that crisis breaks, as it will sooner or later, the kind of class battles at the center of the books we are discussing here today will explode once more.
Fifty-five years ago, on the eve of the battle of Playa Girón, Fidel confidently assured the Cuban people, “There will be a victorious revolution in the United States before there is a victorious counterrevolution in Cuba.”
He was right then, and the line of struggle he laid out more than five decades ago remains our common guide to action. We can only add that the political capacities and revolutionary potential of workers and farmers in the US are today as utterly discounted by the ruling powers as were those of the Cuban toilers. And just as wrongly.
Speed the day!
Book on US class struggle has ‘many lessons on battle against political repression’
Havana International Book Fair event presents ‘50 Years of Covert Operations in the US:
Washington’s Political Police and the American Working Class’
Cuba says, ‘Return Guantánamo!’ as Obama plays politics on prison
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