martedì 10 aprile 2012

Un intervento di João Carlos Graça sui fatti d'Ungheria e più in generale sulla Guerra Fredda

... I have read the article by Francesco Borgonovo concerning the Hungarian 1956 and PCI, and also your 1996 script that Stefano posted as a response or in the guise of contextualization.
Let me first underline that Borgonovo’s article is of course interesting from a Portuguese point of view, not so much because of its underlying set of thesis, which really represent nothing very new, merely configuring the usual Western blablabla, but for the information supplied concerning the individual cases mentioned: above all Giorgio Napolitano, who presumably is being held tightly (pardon my French…) “by the balls”, his strictly complying behavior of pentito-in-the-meantime-turned-head-of-state under close scrutiny and zealous surveillance.
As to other individual cases, mention is also due to Maria Antonietta Macciocchi, practically unknown chez nous except probably for her preface to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s posthumous writings: officially very much pro-left but strongly anti-PCI, even accusing it of having morally assassinated the author of “The PCI to the young” before he was actually assassinated… all this, of course, at least until “ulteriori polemiche per la sua “conversione” da apologeta di Mao ad ammiratrice del Papa”, see here:
As to Italo Calvino, I think mention is due here to the considerable differences between the presentations of the author in Portuguese first editions of his early novels (Il sentiero and the unforgettable trilogy of “our ancestors”), which occurred in the late 60s and early 70s, his partigiano past highlighted and his secession of 56 completely ignored, and presentations typical of the re-editions of late 80s and early 90s, where 1956 is put in bold, he shows up as a politically correct “anti-totalitarian” author, and the “la-vida-es-sueño” leaning of his writings is intensely eulogized: a clear-cut case of massive reconstruction or “reinvention” of our collective memory, therefore, probably one the most blatant I can remember.
Finally, reference must be made to Sandro Pertini: definitely a socialist politician of a sort that is and always was completely inexistent in this country, no doubt an outstanding avis rara… Ah, but one can easily and immediately feel that this was an “endangered species” also in Italy, and already by this time, anyway.
As to the substance of the questions dealt, I leave you two or three remarks. First, it is obvious that countries of Eastern Europe enjoyed between 1945 and 1989 only the variety of sovereignty that was once called “limited sovereignty”. Brezhnev might have several limitations, of course (both as a person and as a political leader), but it was definitely not a “momentary lapse of reason”, rather a “momentary lapse of hypocrisy” that led him to openly formulate the infamous “limited sovereignty” theory.
This is, however, a sword that obviously cuts both ways. Did countries of Western Europe ever enjoy anything more than that same status after 1945? Or, in other terms: “look who’s talking!” I won’t even try to analyze the descent into nowadays situation of de facto IMF protectorates by formally still “sovereign” states such as Portugal or Greece — besides generalized submission of Western European states to collective self-colonization via the “really existing Euro”, that is. Besides all that, please consider, among so many other aspects, the once celebrated discussions about North American beneplacit (or lack of it) for CPs participation in Western European governments, and the importance that this issue could easily acquire in our political debates. The USA, indeed, managed to get consensus, to make its potestas/Macht evolve into real auctoritas/Herrschaft over Western Europeans, and to a degree that the Soviets could only dream of concerning Eastern Europeans. But that difference pretty much tells us the nucleus of this issue. All the rest is but divertissement.
Now, what were really the Soviets’ purposes concerning Eastern Europe after 1945? As you pointed out in your 1996 article, it was of course most of all the building of a counter-cordon sanitaire. They didn’t want to menace the West; never wanted. That was always THE ONE BIG LIE not from “theirs” but from “our” side, the alleged official raison d’être of NATO, the quintessence of Western mystification. Ah, but (now on a Trotskyite variant) they didn’t want to “export” socialism, and so they were traitors? Indeed they didn’t want, but socialism is not something to be “exported”, anyway. Robespierre famous maxima admonishing against the alleged “exporting” of republic and democracy remains valid, and the Soviets did basically right as to that.
In certain cases, however, one has to recognize the intrinsic difficulties of the problem. The USSR always aimed at a kind of “Finlandization” or “Austrianization” of all that part of Europe, that’s rather obvious. You don’t need to imagine big counterfactuals, just follow the real facts. Berlin and Vienna were both under Red Army occupation in 1945. After the allies having consensually separated again would-be Germany from would-be Austria (that is, after putting in place once again what one can probably call the “GDR of 1918”), question is posed: are the Soviets stepping out or not? Answer: yes, in case the unified country remains militarily non-aligned (Austria). No, in case it aligns with the West, or rather NATO (Germany).
We can of course wonder what should or could have been done instead by Moscow, but one thing remains clear: giving up “Stalin’s unwanted child” would not have been enough to make Germany turn neutral. It would dislocate eastwards the “iron curtain”, of course, but would not have avoided it. It would also mean that Soviet’s primacy in the “race to Berlin” in 1945 would have been a blatantly Pyrrhic or “mancata” victory. And it would mean as well that German radical left opinion, indeed mostly communist opinion, would have been felt betrayed, if not “stabbed in the back”.
And this is really another non despicable element of all these polemics: in 1945 there was a considerable communist, partisan opinion in all these countries, from would-be GDR to Bulgaria, which was partially the result of these being mostly countries that had willingly and often enthusiastically allied with Axis (Hungary, Finland, Romania, Croatia, even somewhat surprisingly the Poland of the 1930s), or had been “absorbed” either by the Reich’s expansion (Czechoslovakia, Serbia) or by Italy’s (Albania). Communist resistance has been important practically everywhere. So, no wonder the USSR was reluctant to step out: both for military reasons (reverted cordon sanitaire) and political ones: communists were really strong in situ. Once again, and as an easy counterfactual, we only have to think of the problems associated with the troublesome absorption of Greece by the “Free World”.
I repeat, a neutrality deal would easily have been managed, in case the West was willing to accept that: basically, a “Finnish” scenario. No need to imagine too much. Again, the cherchez-la-femme for Soviet conduct is easily spelt: military neutrality. And so, I think it’s really not only the Hungarians of 1956 that have reasons to feel betrayed by the West. Indeed, they and all the rest can well thank the West for not having had “Finnish” fortunes immediately after 1945…
Now, is “Finlandization” an acceptable political goal for the left… or is it a betrayal of socialist ideals? Well, if my Trotskyite friends are able to pardon me, I must declare I wouldn’t mind living in a neutral country, having a multiparty political regime since 1945, absence of civil war, an influent native CP in place, sometimes even in government, benefiting from a strong welfare state… Ah, but of course now all that is being dismantled everywhere, and always in the name of “freedom”, so… probably Europeans should look at Greece or Portugal (an “Western Christian”, Crusader country to bone, always and unquestionably free from the Russian “loup garou”) if they want to have a hint about their future. No question of possible “Finlandization”, and now less than ever.
Indeed, when Mozambique native Ruy Guerra half ironically wrote “Ai esta terra ainda vai cumprir seu Ideal/ Ainda vai tornar-se um imenso Portugal” (“Ah, this land is still going to accomplish its Ideal/ It’s still going to turn into an immense Portugal”, which afterwards Brazilian Chico Buarque has famously put into song) he was probably far from thinking of Durão Barroso as head of the European Commission, much less of a “Portugalization” of the whole of Europe, probably rather the opposite, or the famous stone raft myth. But then, no question that History has its celebrated “heterogenesis of finalities”… 
Ah, but let’s not get obsessed or hypnotized with “old Europe”. On a more global scale, how can Soviet influence be judged? Of course, they should never have had the “patronizing” attitude vis-à-vis the Chinese, for what they later paid so dearly. And so shouldn’t the Chinese have supported the USA on a world scale against the late USSR: Angola and Namibia, Kampuchea and Vietnam, Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc. These are, however, recognizably complex issues and still today hard to deal with.
Should a socialist “Big Brother” help others or induce them to follow similar paths? In general terms they presumably should, but yes, the Chinese were also right in 1956 remembering that this subject must be dealt with extreme caution, because indeed the line between “help” and “interference” or “intromission” is an extremely thin one. What’s more: even after having, under Stalin’s guidance, rightly set aside the original Bolshevik idea of being the Global Proletariat’s Fatherland and starting dealing with more realistic purposes, the Soviets understandably always thought of other countries once belonging to Russian Empire as areas of their own “natural” extension, or at least influence. No wonder, therefore, the immediate attrition with Poland or Finland. No wonder even the “absorption” of the three “Baltic States”, although some understandable reasons may indeed assist both sides here — and let’s keep in mind that these issues have endured until our days, even with a non socialist Russia in place, and recognize how much dementia-prone has mostly been the attitude of the political elites of nowadays “Baltic countries”.
In general terms, one may say, the largely revanchist attitude of countries in Eastern Europe, the stubborn hostility-arrogance of their elites vis-à-vis Russia, their cheap alignment with NATO, their permanent “don’t forget we are Europeans to”, or more simply their gross subservience or lackey posture to everything smelling “West”, with even Poland reassuming its old “Jackal” ways, now enthusiastically cooperating in the “liberation” of Iraq, all that seems to largely vindicate a considerable part of what was the history of the 1945-90 period, or Soviet’s position by that time. One thing that is unquestionable is the fact that these countries have “caught up” with the West in issues of economic and social development precisely when they were under the Bear’s tutelage, and afterwards have strongly diverged from and lagged behind the West, precisely when they were allowed to “go West” in political-military terms… that is, when the age-old German wet dream of Arbeit reserves in the East was finally accomplished by means of voluntary servitude by Easterners.
Now, why do nations get involved in these neurotic, masochistic relations of domination? I must confess I don’t know. Should they be allowed to keep in that path? Of course so, once we’re dealing with consenting adults here. But at any rate, and particularly given the fact that Portuguese colonialism has already been proclaimed a “noneconomic imperialism” (which is of course a very doubtful notion, to say the least), I think that by contrast this unquestionably benevolent character of the Soviet Bear’s economic Imperium should in any case be at least mentioned.               
 But again: let’s not get hypnotized by “old Europe”. If we think of other polemical Soviet interventions abroad, immediate mention is due to Afghanistan, of course, but also, let me add, Angola. Neither of these was a case of strict invasion. The Soviets didn’t “invade” Afghanistan any more than the USA “invaded” South Vietnam. Both have intervened at the request of a local ally, of a government of a formally independent country. But the USSR must be recognized much more clear extenuating circumstances — direct vicinity, unquestionably endogenous character of the Afghan movement towards socialism that led to searching the Big Brother’s “help” — which were basically absent in USA-Vietnam’s case. Let us remember that even after Gorbachev pulled the Soviet army out, the pro-Soviet faction remained in power in Kabul for a considerable period of time, and it probably only capitulated because of USSR’s own dissolution, whereas by contrast the last North Americans in former Saigon were rescue by helicopter, and from a roof…
Those are not sufficient facts to render the USSR a “not guilty” verdict, even together with the program of democratization, development and secularization that characterized the “damned” pro-Soviet period in Afghanistan’s history? Well, probably not, but still let it be referred that, if Israel Shamir has mentioned late Soviet history as “our happy bygone days” ( ), I do think that from the point of view of an imaginary “average Afghan”, if the category makes any sense at all, that same feeling and those words are even much more true and appropriate.
By contrast with Afghanistan (for which, true, a Vae victis! logic sooner or later tends to impose itself), we have of course Angola’s case. No direct Soviet intervention here, of course, but unquestionably a Cuban one. Partially on a voluntary basis, indeed, which somehow wrapped it in an almost “International Brigades” aura. Decolonization accomplished, civil war ensued, with two of the three factions supported by the “Free World” and one by Evil Moscow, the wining party, MPLA. Transition to socialism via “popular power”, first (indeed, single-party regime), after evolving to multi-party regime, followed by farewell to peace and return to arms by UNITA’s “freedom fighters”, ending up with Savimbi’s defeat and death: in combat, a true warlord’s dignifying death, no ritual lynching or hanging involved.
Besides amnesty to “non-violent” UNITA politicians and quite humane treatment of defeated “guerrillas” (besides obviously some money involved to “lubricate” political realignments), the once pro-Moscow party and president have to our days enjoyed undisputed hegemonic influence, of course amidst endless Western accusations of corruption, abuses, disrespect for human rights, etc. (the customary mumbo-jumbo). In Portugal that “cause” was indeed usually championed by the Socialist Party, and in contrast with the official right’s “pragmatism”: let us remember that Portugal only very late recognized the People’s Republic of Angola, independence proclaimed in November 1975, the Socialist Portuguese government obviously waiting for “green light” by the North Americans to carry on with recognition. But now, we should add, Left Block is stepping into “human rights” numero uno, or the typical party of “the cause”.
Left Block would, however, be unable to carry on with Portuguese “noneconomic” human rights watchdog role in Angola in case the MPLA had lost the decisive military confrontation of Cuito Cuanavale, as late as 1987-88, and largely thanks to “indirect” Soviet intervention, or intervention by proxies. This small Stalingrad of Austral Africa is likely a much more “fateful”, “History-pregnant” event than what is usually acknowledged. No wonder so. Don’t forget that the “regional” winners were also the “global” losers… which indeed became more or less “global” co-opted, and in several different degrees. But without Cuito Cuanavale, make sure of that, no “non-violent” Nelson Mandela would have ever triumphed, no “implosion” of white supremacy regimes in all the region would have occurred.
Ah, but I definitely tend to talk too much. All this was, of course, meant just to give you a hint of the complexity (whether not the sinuosity) of these matters. The case with Kampuchea, Vietnamese direct intervention supported by the USSR versus the USA-China-Khmer Rouge “coalition of the willing” is an even more complex set of issues, so let’s leave that aside for now.
The lessons of all of this are manifold. Even without intending to be cynical: interventions by proxies are generally a better way. I’m sure the USA have kept that in mind in, among others, Libyan and Syrian cases. Also, an “internal”, native coup is always better than a direct intervention: I’m also sure the Soviets learnt somewhat with North American wisdom dealing with Chile in 1973 when they themselves had to deal with Poland in 1981. But again, let’s not run into excessive generalizations. If you think of post-Soviet Russia, the cases of Abkhazia and northern Ossetia are, by contrast with Afghanistan, clear-cut cases of foreign interventions, or even invasions… but that didn’t prevent the Russians from being received as liberators by the peoples directly concerned, or did it?
Indeed, it seems to me that we have a more global question emerging here, which is likely the fulcrum of the “national question”, or indeed the question of the “right to secession”. Typically, the French revolution refused it, so no Vendée allowed so secede, whereas the Soviet revolution recognized it formally, but understandably tended to refuse it de facto. The problem here is, in my opinion: where to draw the decisive line? Does Georgia have the right to part from USSR? All right with that, but then again, why not afterwards Abkhazia from Georgia? This was much debated concerning former Yugoslavia, as we know… and I feel there are many unresolved theoretical and practical issues left buried here, and they will tend one way or other to reemerge in the future.
Official communism, or more broadly Marxism, was/is generally hill-prepared for this kind of things, fair enough… ah, but so is official political thought at large. No country deals well with secession or for that matter with clear-cut foreign intervention, that’s for sure. But there is no other plausible way to even think of political life than to assume it as an “endless referendum”, a permanent reactivation of the imaginary “social contract” or conjuratio, lying on the basis of every democratic, secularized society. As to international relations, tendencies to abuses must always be identified and kept in check, but it’s better not to have illusions about their complete disappearance. At any rate, the UN Charter basic notion that nations ought-to-have the possibility of conscious, deliberate options concerning their existence, or self-determination, is definitely something to be safeguarded, and by contrast “responsibility to protect” something to be definitely put aside as nothing but the expression of an abject Western arrogance.
The world was clearly more close to this desideratum when USSR existed, that’s beyond reasonable doubt. But now it’s time to look at the future instead. I won’t say that “God bless the BRICS, my only hope”, for I am definitely not a religious person (at least in a strict way, maybe “religious” in a broad, Durkheimian sense). Bur once that’s assumed…
Saudações cordiais.
Lisboa, 7-8 de Abril de 2012
João Carlos Graça

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