The following article was originally published in Socialist Voice No. 7 (Fall 1978).

Carter’s Twisting African Policy

by Sy Landy

Imperialism in Africa is plagued by unremitting crises. From the point of view of the bourgeois rulers whose job it is to keep every country safe for foreign exploitation, it must appear that instability is seeping out of every pore. No corner of the African continent is free of upheavals, and several neo-colonialist regimes are collapsing under the challenge of mass unrest and secessionist rebellions. Where European colonialism still holds sway directly, the very real threat of a military defeat for the Smith-Muzorewa regime in Rhodesia points up the danger for South Africa itself, the cornerstone of imperialist power and exploitation in Africa. And here is the huge modern Black working class, the key to a successful communist revolution throughout the continent.

The reaction of Jimmy Carter to all of this has been nothing short of desperate in recent months. The imperialist chieftain of the West has tried, unsuccessfully, to pin the continent-wide unrest on the Russian-backed Cuban troops who are propping up the Angolan and Ethiopian governments; in particular, Carter worked himself into deeper and deeper quicksand with his accusations that Cuba had supported the Katangan invasion of Zaire. At the same time, he has given open support to the French Foreign Legion’s interventions into Zaire and Chad to shore up tottering regimes and to Zaire’s surrender of its central bank and Finance Ministry to the International Monetary Fund, both blatant throwbacks to an old-style imperialism that the United States has supposedly learned will no longer work.

Russia’s Stabilizing Role

What is the reason for Carter’s apparent turn to a more hostile position toward Russia and Cuba? For most of his first year in office, while he peppered the Russians with “human rights” charges both at home and in their East European bailiwick, he pursued a policy of accommodation to the USSR’s growing role in the world at large. During and after his campaign he downplayed Kissinger’s bleats about the dangers of Communists in government in Western Europe. In October 1977 he invited the Russians to engage in a joint “special responsibility” of the great powers to settle matters in the Middle East. His UN Ambassador, Andrew Young, has several times praised Cuba’s “stabilizing” role in Africa with Carter’s concurrence. Has Carter really done an about-face, as the U.S. right wing undoubtedly hopes? Has he returned to an “inevitable” cold war strategy, as some leftists believe?

When Socialist Voice last analyzed Carter’s foreign policy in issue No. 4, we described it in terms of the profound effect that the rise of the “New South” had on Carter’s view of the world. He obviously believed that emerging, even “revolutionary,” mass forces could be turned into stabilizing elements if they were accommodated with a share in the growing capitalist prosperity. Wasn’t this the lesson of the black rebellion in Dixie as understood by the Carters? But the post-war boom is now long over and the revolutionary upsurges occur in a period when the working class is in accelerating motion. Consequently we predicted:

The stabilization of the moment should fool nobody. Rebellious masses are beginning to move throughout the world. The petty-bourgeois leaderships of the colonial revolutions, including even the most extreme Stalinists, have demonstrated their inability to escape from the capitalist orbit. The mass struggle has no alternative if it is to succeed but to continue through proletarian socialist revolutions to break free from imperialist super-exploitation, since world capitalism can afford no new plums for its semi-colonial dependencies.... Carter’s strategy of a controlled change – limited accommodation without fundamental change – cannot work. At best it will succeed for a time in Europe but it can only court additional destabilizing trouble in the rest of the world.

Our prediction was right on the mark. That indeed is what has happened. Carter’s administration, in contrast to Kissinger, had accepted the role that Russia was carving out for itself of stepping in to support popular front nationalist movements in order to restrain the masses behind them from trespassing beyond capitalist limits (see Socialist Voice No. 1 on Angola). The two state capitalist nations, Russia and Cuba, could influence national liberation struggles in a way that no former colonial power could. Russia’s residual if bastardized claim to the October Revolution is coupled with its ability to provide arms; Cuba, a “third world” country itself which had made its own anti-imperialist revolution twenty years ago had even greater legitimacy. But Russia and Cuba could not hold every outbreak of the mass struggles, even with the connivance of their nationalist misleaderships within the boundaries that imperialism can live with.

Europe is in the throes of mounting instability precisely where the Communist Parties are strongest. The French bourgeoisie in the pre-election period earlier this year threatened a major hemorrhage of capital over its exaggerated fear of a popular front electoral victory. Italy totters on the edge of a disaster for the bourgeoisie. In Africa, the debt-ridden neo-colonial regimes preside over economic misery side by side with giant imperialist investments – a deadly combination.

The Carter administration oscillates in pressuring the Russians to loosen up at home, while it takes a more truculent stance in Western Europe and the rest of the world. Its line towards the European CPs hardened. Its initial warmth towards the openings toward economic relations with imperialism on the part of Vietnam and Cuba diminished. Over Africa, Carter vented his spleen against the Russians and Cubans. There are several reasons for this change in stance.

The American press has pointed to Carter’s need to appear tougher in order to secure his political base at home. This is true, but it is related to the inability of his policies to succeed in a world in crisis; the reasons beneath his conjunctural electoral needs are more decisive.

The threat of Africa’s bourgeois society falling apart brought an urgent need for a renewed imperialist presence in the area. A post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America would hardly support foreign adventures. An intervention in Africa that meant suppressing Black revolts would hardly sit well with American Blacks. Carter hoped that the threat of a “red menace” would gain some more mileage. Most important was also the impetus given by the Russian and Cuban presence to radical upheavals despite the intentions of these regimes. The massive Cuban military presence in Angola and Ethiopia proved that military victories were possible even against what had once been heavy odds. Thus the Angolan MPLA with Cuban aid defeated an invading army from South Africa, and the Ethiopians shoved back Somalian forces which had swept over most of the Somali-populated Ogaden region. Wouldn’t any African rebel force then believe that it could win its struggle if the Cubans backed it up? Carter undoubtedly wielded his increased bellicosity in order to tighten the screws on the Russians and Cubans and get them to do a cleaner job of stabilizing the region without letting the mass unrest get out of hand.

Castro vs. Carter Over Katanga

For Carter, the invasion of the cobalt and copper-mining town of Kolwezi in Zaire’s Shaba (Katanga) province by the Congo National Liberation Front (FNLC) forces based in Angola seems to have been the last straw. He blamed the affair on the Russians and Cubans even after Fidel Castro had forcefully denied any Cuban participation.

But Carter was not even to get the satisfaction of Castro’s admission of such a limited responsibility. Castro not only denied aiding the Katangan FNLC, but he added that he had tried, unsuccessfully, to stop its invasion of Zaire. What’s more, Agostinho Neto, president of Angola, both confirmed Cuba’s “innocence” and added that Angola would disarm the Katangan forces based on its territory and send them to refugee camps. Carter’s accusations had proved to be not just false but the opposite of what Cuba had done. Carter had to virtually admit this. Only a small coterie of reactionaries, administration hacks and political charlatans accepted the “proofs” of Cuban-Russian control over the Katangans offered by Zaire’s neo-colonial President Mobutu and the CIA. Carter’s subsequent claim at a press conference that Cuba “could have done much more” to stop the rebels was a sharp about face from the charges of aid, inspiration and control, but it at least had the virtue of placing Castro on the correct side of the stabilizing fence.

There is some evidence that if the Katangan FNLC was linked to any foreign imperialism it was not Russia but Belgium! According to the May 28 and June 12 issues of the journal Afrique-Asie, Nathanad Mbumba, the FNLC’s leader, has stated his desire “not to attack the civilian white community living in Kolwezi but, on the contrary, to install, within the limits of possibility, a climate of cooperation.” Mbumba’s climate of cooperation went so far as to propose a “revolutionary committee” to run Kolwezi that would include Belgian representatives of Gecamines, the state corporation that is managed by Belgian investors. Other reports indicate that Belgium might have at one point encouraged the FNLC in order to depose the disastrously corrupt and incompetent Mobutu regime, against the intentions of their French rivals. One reason for Carter to hype up the “red menace” was to give the United States leverage enough to intervene on its own and not have to rely on junior partners like the French and Belgians whose own interests can blow situations apart instead of stabilizing them. The strongest imperial power has to be able to act as arbiter for the whole system as much as possible and to protect its own exploitation as well.

Covering up his embarrassment over the Cuban role in Shaba, Carter reversed his publicly hostile attitude towards Angola and sent another Black diplomat, Donald McHenry, to speak directly with Angolan officials to cement Neto’s promises with respect to Zaire. According to a front-page report in the June 28 Washington Post, this visit was eminently successful:

The Angolans told McHenry they were interested in preventing raids by Angolan rebels based in Zaire into Angola. Some officials have said that this concern could provide the basis for a mutual Angolan-Zairean pact not to allow each country to be used as a base area for military forays into the other.

Moreover, the runaway efforts toward mutual stabilization may even have extended to Namibia, the South African colony of Southwest Africa whose rebel movements have traditionally been based in southern Angola:

Sources said Angola has demonstrated its concern over Namibia by putting new restraints on rebel soldiers of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) who have used Angola as a base area.

Even if these “sources” represent the wishful thinking of U.S. imperialism, the reference is significant. For Neto and Castro’s indecent willingness to show which side they were on when the question of African stabilization was at stake must surely have discouraged those liberation movements, such as SWAPO, that still hoped for Russian, Cuban and even Angolan assistance in their struggles. No doubt Cuba will still be willing to back up SWAPO and Angola will still permit it the use of Angolan bases, but there can be no threat to the West of full-scale Cuban military intervention as in Angola and Ethiopia. Carter, whatever his embarrassment, has won his point.

The U.S. has been particularly worried that Cuban forces will intervene directly in the Zimbabwean struggle against the Rhodesian government, with the danger to white rule in South Africa already mentioned. It is significant in this respect that a widely reported June 6 interview with the Zimbabwean nationalist Joshua Nkomo, in which he was supposed to have admitted the presence of Cuban soldiers training his troops, was vehemently denied by Nkomo on a June 18 U.S. television program. This was just at the time when Carter’s Secretary of State Vance began to backtrack on the Shaba affair and announced McHenry’s trip to Angola.

Carter’s propaganda barrage over Katanga was coordinated with stepped-up overtures to the violently anti-Russian Chinese regime and was part of a general campaign to get the Russians and Cubans to play a “reasonable” stabilizing role. It also served to justify the French and Belgian paratroopers’ move into Zaire. Where one stabilizer had failed Carter couldn’t be faulted for bringing in another. If the Cubans couldn’t be pressured into stopping the Katangans then the French would have to do.

Carter would have had to be a political idiot not to view Cuba in such a role. The Cubans have gone out of their way to make sure that American resources are well protected in Angola. And long before Castro caught Carter in his lie over Katanga, the Cuban CP leader Carlos Rafael Rodriguez had clearly summed up his nation’s role: “Cuba does not aid subversion, but on the contrary participates, as the American ambassador to the United Nations (Andrew Young) admitted, in an effort of stabilization, or struggle against sub-version” (Intercontinental Press, May 29, 1978, citing a Le Monde interview in February 1978).

Cuba and Russia do not parade as warriors against Western intervention in Africa except in occasional tub-thumping rhetoric. Rather they claim to favor “revolutionary” changes which will not endanger “peaceful coexistence” or detente with the West. Their role is nowhere more evident than in Ethiopia. Whereas in Angola they backed a national liberation force, the MPLA, against enemies who were totally dependent on the U.S. and South Africa, in Ethiopia the “revolutionary” Dergue (the ruling military clique) has been opposed not only by the brutally oppressed Ethiopian masses but by national liberation movements in Eritrea and the Ogaden. And it is the Dergue, not the opposition movements, which has the ideological and military support of Russia and Cuba. In these struggles in the Horn of Africa the twists and turns of American and Russian policy emerge in their most elaborate forms.

The U.S. in the past tried to maintain imperialist dominance by supporting the most reactionary elements in the Horn. Vast amounts of aid were tunneled to Haile Selassie’s near-feudal regime in Ethiopia to make it a bulwark against the more radical bourgeois nationalisms in the area. U.S. military assistance was indispensable for the regime’s attacks against the national liberation movement in Eritrea and the secessionists in the other provinces.

Despite the U.S. aid, Ethiopia was falling apart by 1974, as the Eritrean struggle advanced and the threat of famine hung over the country. The strong Ethiopia that the U.S. rulers had worked so hard to build was being dismembered right before their very eyes.

The deepening economic crisis not only undermined Selassie’s regime but frightened the formerly “radical” nationalist regimes in Africa into moving closer to U.S. imperialism. The defeat of imperialism in Angola and the Black revolts in South Africa were the final blows forcing the U.S. to accommodate to these forces, now that Selassie and the Portuguese colonialists were gone. The new U.S. strategy was to buy off the moderate nationalists with American aid and create a labor aristocracy with a vested interest in imperialism where there had been none before.

In line with this strategy, the U.S. took a more tolerant line toward the Communist Parties and even the Cuban troops in Angola. But this outlook hinged on economic recovery in the United States and Western Europe and the pacification of mass upheavals throughout the world. When the recovery did not occur and the number and activity of Cuban troops began to increase, second thoughts arose concerning the new game plan. The ruling class found itself torn between the new and old strategies when Somalia invaded the Ogaden and Cuba sent advisers and troops to Ethiopia.

In the past the USSR had gone along with unchallenged Western supremacy in the Horn. In exchange for American recognition of Eastern Europe as the Russian sphere of interest after World War II, the USSR made it clear it would not stand in the way of the U.S. throughout the colonial world. Nonetheless, when the cold war broke out, the USSR – as the chief rival to the U.S. and the usurper of the banner of the Bolshevik Revolution – appeared to be the foe of imperialism.

“Left” nationalists in some former French and British colonies tried to play ball with the Russians to offset the control of their bourgeois economies by the Western-dominated world market. Aid from the USSR was small, but these nationalists were able to use the Russian connection as help in achieving a temporary stabilization of their rule. It was an important political weapon in holding back the independent struggles of the workers and peasants who thought Russia was on their side. African nationalism, styling itself “African socialism,” received a certain legitimacy through its link to Russia.

With the return of these nations to the West in search of economic aid, the entrance of Somalia into the Russian orbit beginning in 1969 constituted an important breakthrough for the Soviet Union towards establishing a foothold in Africa. This partnership lasted only a few years. In November 1977 the Somalis sent the Russians packing in the hopes of obtaining arms from the U.S. – after the USSR had turned its warmest attentions to Ethiopia, a more strategic prize.

Ethiopia Switches Sides

The Ethiopian military, disgruntled elements who had no loyalties to the landlord class which had been the backbone of the semi-feudal regime, and who were up in arms over the ramshackle state of the economy, had taken power from Selassie. As rebellions in the cities and the countryside blazed out of control, the oppressed nationalities took advantage of the paralysis in Addis Ababa to win important victories in the Ogaden and Eritrea. The military rulers of the Dergue, trying desperately to restrain the masses, resorted to monstrous repression. Trade unions were banned and thousands of workers, leftists and even Dergue leaders were executed. In the name of “proletarian internationalism” (the Dergue increasingly hid behind socialist slogans), all out war was declared against the Eritreans and the Ogaden Somalis.

In April 1977, the Dergue threw out the U.S. military personnel and turned to the USSR to bolster its leftist image. Russia sent in military advisers. When Cuban and Russian diplomacy failed to patch up hostilities and war broke out between Ethiopia and Somalia, Cuban troops were sent to back the Ethiopians. The U.S., reluctant to throw its weight behind Somalia (not having abandoned its commitment to a strong “united” Ethiopia), counted on the Russians to restrain both sides. Despite the presence of over 5,000 troops to reinforce the Ethiopian forces and the military setbacks inflicted on the Eritrean and Somali liberation movements, the situation can hardly be called stable.

The U.S. has hardened its position toward the USSR in the Horn as it has elsewhere. Worried about the untameable economic crisis and the rising mass movements, the U.S. rulers increasingly believe that the Russian presence accelerates mass upheavals despite the Russians’ own intentions. As well, the U.S. must be wary of every short-term Russian advantage.

The Superpower Rivalry

It is the general unrest in the region rather than any specific Russian gains that is of most concern to the U.S. Even if Russia is successful in restoring Ethiopian rule to Eritrea as well as the Ogaden, the U.S. is confident that nationalism in Ethiopia, as in Egypt and India beforehand, will reassert itself and turn to the stronger imperialism. It is the U.S. that will exploit a pacified Horn of Africa. The U.S. for this reason has not closed the door to the present Addis Ababa government.

Carter’s foreign policy, in sum, has shifted to the right in the sense that he is making greater demands on the USSR. But he has not shifted so far as to demand that Russia leave Africa as some bourgeois circles in the U.S., China and the Middle East would like. The brunt of his strategy with all of its contradictions is to pressure the USSR through fair means or foul to remember its obligations to “stability,” the interests of world imperialism as a whole. And this the Russians and their Cuban junior partners seem to fully understand.

Russia and Cuba have been incredibly conciliatory, almost to the point of humiliation. In the not so distant past, such an attack by a U.S. president would have met a show of strength or a diplomatic incident of major proportions, say over Berlin. But the Russians, for the world’s second military power, have swallowed a lot, especially in Africa and over the Jewish emigration issue. The desperation of Russia, Cuba and Angola is due to the increasing dependence of all of them on trade, capital and technology from the West.

Our analysis of imperialism is rooted in Lenin’s. The state monopoly capitalists (and the state capitalist sectors) constantly seek political and economic cartel arrangements in the midst of their continuing competition. They seek to maintain peace while making all the arrangements which will lead inevitably to war unless the masses intervene. A Leninist understanding of imperialism is counterposed to Karl Kautsky’s notion of “ultraimperialism,” the theory that the imperialist powers will subordinate their particular interests to form a single, general and thereby peaceful imperialism. Although Russia (and Cuba and China as well, in differing ways) acts as a counterrevolutionary force defending the interests of imperialism as a whole against the threat of revolution, the interests of the bourgeosie can never be unified, contrary to Kautsky. Competition and rivalry reflect the inner drive of the system to accumulate. The U.S., although its unquestioned hegemony has slipped in recent years, is still the leading imperialist power. Other powers such as Japan, France and Germany subordinate their rivalry with the U.S. in order to prop it up. They know that if the U.S. falls, the whole imperialist network falls with it.

The differences between the U.S. and the USSR are deeper and harder to contain. The two “superpowers” must constantly attempt to maximize their own diplomatic and military position at any given time. They must compete for allies among the various nationalist and neo-colonial local regimes in Africa and elsewhere. The USSR, however, no matter who it temporarily sides with, must fundamentally act to prop up world capitalism as a whole, which means American interests in particular.

Russia’s economy is far too weak and dependent upon Western technology and capital to challenge even the faltering U.S. The Russians can forge temporary alliances by giving military and diplomatic aid, but they cannot advance any major amounts of capital to bolster tottering national bourgeois regimes or systematically exploit Asian or African resources in the style of a dominant imperialist power. They can attempt to gain strategic positions which affect the flow of raw materials to the West in order to strengthen their bargaining position. They can even attempt to comer the market on some raw materials themselves. But their goals are very modest and the reality is even more so. The USSR’s alliances with India and Egypt, for example, collapsed when these nations scrambled over to the side of the American dollar in the deepening economic crisis.

The net effect of Russian policy is to gain temporary advantages whenever the imperialist system crumbles in any given place. Once the area stabilizes, in part because of the Russian presence, Russian influence tends to abate in favor of the dominant American power.

Russia and the U.S. are deadly rivals at the same time that the economically far weaker Russia is forced to prop up American power in order to maintain the capitalist world order. Even in rivalry the powers try to wage their disputes in an atmosphere of detente whenever possible. They must contain and isolate their conflicts in order to avoid head-on clashes that could lead to a major war; thus the Russians have held to their collaborationist line through thick and thin. As the crisis deepens, Washington will attempt to turn the screws on Moscow even more than in Carter’s current twist.

The chief deterrent that has delayed a third world war, however, is not the imperialists’ desire for peace or even their fear of nuclear war but the undefeated struggle of the masses. The mass misery of World War I showed the Russian workers the way to the Bolshevik Revolution and nearly led to the end of capitalism everywhere; the bourgeoisie was unwilling to take that chance again. World War II got under way only after fascism and the Stalinist counterrevolution had smashed the proletariat’s strength in most European countries. It is the undefeated working class in the advanced countries and the continuing anti-imperialist struggles in the neo-colonies that has postponed a World War III.

Maoism Covers for the West

The LRP’s analysis of the U.S.-USSR relationship presented in Socialist Voice and Socialist Action is the only one which has proved capable of accounting fully for fast-breaking world events and the imperialists’ shifting policies. It is the only theory advanced on the left which has proved capable of prediction – a necessity if theory and analysis is to have bearing on the class struggle. Unfortunately our theory is essentially unique on the left, where fantasy, rhetoric and dogma reign and Marxism is simultaneously venerated and eviscerated. Two opposing views predominate: one, that Russia is a full-scale imperialist rival to the U.S. (or even a greater menace, according to the official Chinese bombast) capable of replacing America as the dominant imperialism given the opportunity; two, that Russia (or Cuba) essentially plays a progressive role because of its “socialist” or “proletarian” character.

The most disgusting version of the first “theory” was produced by the Chinese-enfranchised Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) whose Call claimed that the anti-Mobutu FNLC is simply a puppet of the USSR; its June 5 headline “Evidence Against USSR Mounts” was based upon announcements by Mobutu’s own press service! The June 19 Call, through its “second world” jargon, supported the French and Belgian imperialist intervention by calling it “a good thing when the second world countries of Europe provide aid and assistance to Africa’s fight against the superpowers, even though such aid is motivated primarily by the European countries’ desire to protect their own interests”!

The Maoist CP-ML is the ugly residue of the early student “third worldist” current which aligned itself with various petty-bourgeois nationalist regimes struggling against the U.S. From sincere subjective anti-imperialists they have now become camp followers of Western imperialism itself through the mediation of their Chinese ties. The inability of Stalinist and third-world nationalists to overcome imperialist domination and the pressure to return to the Western lap is also true of the rightward-moving pseudo-communists in the advanced countries.

Aside from the official Maoists, there has been only one other left paper in the U.S. to accept the idiocy that the Katangan rebels are purely pawns of Russia. The Revolutionary Socialist League’s Torch (June 15) called the rebels “essentially mercenary” and explained that they had “decided to work for Russian imperialism. The Russians are providing the CNLF with arms and military bases in Angola. If the CNLF can grab all or some of Zaire, the Russians will back Mbumba as their own version of Mobutu.”

The RSL writes as if it has detailed inside information. Since even the Senate Foreign Relations Committee found the CIA’s claims of Russian and Cuban involvement to be unconvincing, perhaps the RSL will offer to reveal its “sources.” But of course it has none. Inflating the Russian-Cuban menace came from faulty political understanding, not facts. The Torch added that the Katangans had no mass base of support, a claim that ignores a wide variety of reports of widespread anti-Mobutu sentiment and support for the FNLC among the Lunda people. This whole absurdity of the RSL’s is exactly the consequence of the third-camp analysis and its Shachtmanite theory of state capitalism (and Africa) which we criticized in Socialist Voice No. 6. Rarely has a polemical analysis been so precisely verified by events.

The SWP’s Twisted Analysis

The most important version of the second theory is that of the Socialist Workers Party, which has just published an unusually comprehensive article in the Militant (July 7) written by David Frankel entitled “Behind Washington’s threats against Africa and Cuba.” This article alters the SWP’s positions on certain questions in order to bring them into line with a new interpretation of Cuba’s role in world politics. It requires such a warping of both Marxism and recent history, however, that even Carter’s course looks steadfast by comparison.

The SWP’s thesis is that in contrast to the Russians “the Cubans are playing an important role in helping to advance the African liberation struggle as a whole.” In support of this simple illusion Frankel comes up with some noteworthy claims.

1. Cuba, unlike the USSR, is dedicated to struggle against imperialism and not to peaceful coexistence or detente. This is “proved” by quoting an old interview with Fidel Castro. However, the policy statements in favor of stabilization and against subversion by both Castro and Rodriguez which we have cited prove the opposite. While the Rodriguez statement may not be well known (we saw it only in the SWP’s Intercontinental Press), Castro’s and Nero’s line on holding back the Katangans has been front-page news for weeks. Nowhere, however, in his six-page article does Frankel see fit to mention it.

2. The South African invasion of Angola in the fall of 1975 “altered the character of the conflict” among the Angolan nationalist groups from a civil war to a threat against the Angolans’ right to self-determination. There is truth to this, for the invasion did offer added proof of the imperialist nature of the anti-MPLA side. But imperialism’s domination of that side had been apparent well before the South African troops crossed the border, something the SWP does not recognize. Frankel quotes a book by the CIA chief in Angola at the time but neglects to mention that this book documents the CIA’s early involvement in anti-MPLA campaigns.

Moreover, in 1975 (and as far as we are aware, until today), the SWP did not recognize the MPLA’s struggle as one of national liberation. Thus, in a recent report presented to the SWP’s National Committee on January 3, 1976 and reprinted in the SWP’s book Angola: The Hidden History of Washington’s War (advertised at the end of Frankel’s article), Tony Thomas stated, “In our opinion, no political support ought to be given to any of these three nationalist groups.” In fact Thomas denies not only political support to the MPLA but military defense (the Marxist position) as well, for he adds, “The victory of any one of the three offers no special promise of advancing the Angolan masses toward socialism or toward greater independence from imperialism.” (Emphasis added.) This despite what Frankel now sees as the “deadly threat” posed by “3,000 South African troops deep inside Angola”!

The sleight-of-hand change of position is designed to bring the SWP into closer proximity with the policies of the Cuban regime. Russia’s role is relegated to giving aid during the period when the struggle was “primarily a civil war.” Cuba gets credit for a “progressive, anti-imperialist role.” Cuba’s acts in suppressing working class upsurges in Luanda and in defending Western economic interests are covered up: “to the extent that the Cubans fail to distinguish (!) between working class and pro-imperialist currents within any particular anti-imperialist struggle they are unable to propel the socialist revolution forward.” The Cubans’ role, however, is to prevent a workers’ revolution. That is why they smash workers’ movements, not out of some bizarrely misguided understanding of how to help the workers gain power!

The SWP’s criticism of Cuba for supporting bourgeois regimes pales in comparison to Frankel’s declaration that proper Cuban advice to these regimes could “propel the socialist revolution forward.” So anxious is Frankel to crawl into bed with Castro that he later refers to the “socialist camp” of Cuba and Russia. This is a shocking capitulation to the socialist pretensions of Stalinism coming from the supposed standard-bearers of Trotskyism.

3. “It was necessary to support Ethiopia against the Somali invasion” after July 1977 because “the invasion of the Ogaden by the regular army of Somalia – under the orders of the Somalian regime – was not the same as the national liberation struggle of the Somali masses.” Here Frankel does acknowledge the SWP’s change of policy, but it is a change for the worse. Let us assume for the moment that the SWP’s current assumptions are true: that the Ogaden Somalis’ liberation struggle has become intertwined with “an aggressive, expansionist invasion by the regular Somali army – aimed ultimately at the advances of the Ethiopian revolution” and that the latter element is now decisive in the Ogaden war. Even so, the right of the Ogaden Somalis to self-determination, which the SWP still accepts, includes their right to merge their land into Somalia since that is their wish and their right to accept aid from the Somalian government. The revolutionary policy to separate the genuine Ogaden Somalis from the “aggressive, expansionist” rulers of Somalia would be to grant self-determination and therefore independence to the Ogaden and thereby eliminate the need for the Ogaden war; if the regular Somalian army then continued to invade Ethiopia proper, its reactionary aims would be proved to the Ogaden Somalis and to the world. But the Ethiopian rulers, and now the SWP, choose to maintain the nationalist suppression of the Ogaden Somalis.

Frankel’s reasoning that the Ogaden war was aimed against Ethiopia’s advances and not its oppression is based on the claim that “the decisive factor was the encouragement of the Carter administration.” His proof is particularly feeble: “A country of 3 million doesn’t attack a neighbor with ten times its population unless its government has reason to expect substantial assistance.” This general truth (which the SWP, for example, does not apply to their assertion that Cambodia took the initiative against the Vietnamese) is particularly inapplicable in the Ethiopian case since Ethiopia was militarily weak at the time, torn by several national and regional breakaways and constant tumult at the center.

Even more crippling to Frankel’s argument is an analysis of the actual facts of the conflict. The Ogaden war had begun long before there was any talk of U.S. aid, and the regular Somali army, armed by the USSR, had been covertly involved well before the convenient July 1977 date supplied by Frankel. Moreover, the U.S. aid never came, although Somalia apparently did get arms from the U.S.’s Saudi Arabian and Iranian allies – not enough to hold the Ogaden, however. The U.S. was simply playing both sides of the street. It wanted to support the Somalis who were coming over towards the West, but it did not want Ethiopia dismembered since it was viewed as the only long-term stabilizing power in the area. Carter hoped to deal with the Dergue and made connections with various elements, including Mengistu. To this day the Somali regime pleads for more tangible support from an equivocal U.S.

The U.S. position throughout the conflict has been for a negotiated settlement mediated by the Organization of African Unity. The OAU condemned the Somali invasion as an act of aggression following its principle that any change in the map of Africa, even a national liberation victory, is impermissible. The U.S. supports the OAU in this because of its fear of the dissolution of the rickety national states. The U.S. has been promoting its ties with Nigeria, the relatively strong oil-backed country which leads the OAU, whose internal situation makes it particularly concerned with the threat of dismemberment. Accordingly, the U.S. joined Moscow last winter to demand that the Somalis leave the Ogaden in return for a guarantee of Somalia’s borders. All these facts are forgotten by Frankel in his effort to turn reality upside down.

4. “Castro, to his credit, insists that he supports the right of self-determination for the Eritreans. However, because of his political support for the Mengistu regime, he has been forced into contortions on this question.” Indeed he has, for he also considers it “absolutely correct for the Ethiopians to struggle against the disintegration of their country” (Intercontinental Press, June 19, 1978); Eritrean self-determination and therefore independence from Ethiopia is impossible if Ethiopia is to maintain its “integral” form.

But the SWP has equally contorted itself by “crediting” Castro with a policy that he does not have. The best that Frankel can say for Castro is that he wants the Ethiopians and Eritreans to negotiate. Such a desire has nothing to do with the right to self-determination, which requires that Ethiopia get out of Eritrea unconditionally. Castro has previously advocated a “socialist federation” of the Horn of Africa, which amounts to a Marxistical cover for continued Ethiopian domination since none of the states in the region is socialist or anything approaching that, even in the eyes of the SWP. The real reasons for Castro’s “contortions” over Eritrea are his nationalist politics and the mass pressure in favor of Eritrea’s democratic rights: Castro is least of all acting under the guidance of Marxist principles, and the SWP is engaging in a pathetic cover up to say that he is.

5. Frankel makes one incontestable point in his effort to distinguish sharply between Russia and Cuba. He goes on at great length to prove that Cuba exercised its own initiative in Africa and is not simply a Russian pawn. This is certainly true, although as Frankel admits one of the factors limiting Cuban initiative is Russia’s pressure – strong enough because of the dependency of Cuba’s economy on the USSR. Cuba’s own anti-imperialist struggle and its “third world” status gives Castro leverage which he didn’t use when he backed the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But that fact that Cuba is not simply a pawn does not mean that Russia and Cuba do not have similar purposes in their alliance. China has a similar (but distinctly unallied) purpose, and its tempo of capitulation is different. Castro, as a bourgeois nationalist, undoubtedly has aspirations of his own towards greater independence from Moscow; should these come to fruition it would probably lead toward conciliation with the United States. China, after all, once was fashionably radical too, and then the SWP supported the Chinese line against the Russians’!

In sum, the SWP’s new version of Cuba’s role has little in common with the real world or with Leninist policy. It is a contrived theory that attempts to come to grip with an admittedly difficult problem: how can Russia and Cuba, “workers’ states” both, be wedded to a Stalinist foreign policy that for forty years has fundamentally served to stabilize the world in the interests of imperialism? The SWP’s particular contortions are based on its insistence that Cuba, unlike the USSR, is an undeformed “workers’ state” whose rulers need to be cajoled but not overthrown. Thus Russia’s counter-revolutionary policy can be understood, but not Cuba’s.

(The SWP appears recently to have resolved a long-standing log jam among its top leaders over the nature of Cuba; now it is engaged in a covert factional dispute with its United Secretariat co-thinkers overseas who for a change have fewer illusions over Cuban policy. In a May 29 Intercontinental Press article “Who Are Cuba’s Troops Fighting For?”, Claude Gabriel concluded: “Yesterday, the Cubans confronted Somalian troops. Tomorrow it could be the Eritreans or activists of the Ethiopian left. Such a policy cannot be supported in any way. It must be condemned.” Earlier Gabriel had stated that “discussion of the Cuban policy in Africa is part of a much larger debate on the present nature of the Castroist leadership and on the degree of bureaucratization of the Cuban state.” If the majority of the United Secretariat is contending that Cuba is a deformed “workers’ state” which requires a political revolution against the bureaucracy, against the SWP’s long-held view, that would only be fair; for it would amount to a perfect inversion of their respective positions with regard to the Vietnamese state. See the article on Indochina elsewhere in this issue.)

The SWP’s new interpretation of African affairs is as much a distortion as the Maoists’. There is one significant difference: the Maoists, consciously or not, have lined up on the side of U.S. imperialism in its struggles with its superpower rival. The SWP, nevertheless, will find itself incapable of fighting American imperialism as long as its politics produce such warped and falsified analyses as Frankel’s. To fight imperialism one must understand it. The U.S. above all wants Africa to be stable enough for exploitation. It will let the Russians and Cubans do the job in Angola and Ethiopia if they can, and it will ferry in the French and Belgians to Zaire if they can’t. The U.S. cares little about the socialist pretensions of Neto and Mengistu or even Castro – as long as they keep their “socialism” away from the volatile working classes and as long as they keep things especially cool in the vicinity of apartheid South Africa.

In lining up with Cuba’s “revolutionary” policy, the SWP in fact acts as a cover for Castro who together with Brezhnev fights for peaceful coexistence and therefore for the U.S.’s imperialist stability. Three years ago the SWP was incapable of backing Angolan national liberation against imperialist forces. Today it has shifted its gears with regard to the Ogaden in order to oppose Somalian self-determination, in league with Cuba, the USSR and the United States. Carter’s twisting African policy has indeed met its match.

The answer to American imperialism, its partners and its rivals is the growing revolutionary struggle of the masses of people. Through its struggle the working class is in the process of developing a new revolutionary leadership which will offer a Marxist grasp of world reality and a communist alternative to the blind alley of nationalism and its imperialist backers in the U.S. and the USSR.

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