Haiti and the role of leadership

By Sam Marcy (Oct. 13, 1994)
Adapted from a speech given by Marcy at a Sept. 29 Workers World Party forum in New York on Haiti.

I take it for granted that all of us here understand the nature of the struggle in Haiti. What is really at issue is what course it will take from now on. Where is it going?

The discussion rotates around whether or not a particular leader is the embodiment of the revolutionary content of the struggle or whether he is a transitional figure and the party and the masses must prepare for another eventuality.

There have been many revolutions. It is not always possible for those who begin the revolution to continue it all the way through. On the contrary, they may be succeeded by others. A considerable number fall way behind.

We've had some great and monumental revolutions. In China, Vietnam, Cuba and Korea, revolutions brought the workers and peasants to power. We're looking forward to others. And of course we are all descendants in a political sense of the great October socialist revolution. All the others are modeled on it to one extent or another, even though with great variations.

In all revolutions the problem rotates most often about leadership. Leadership is always representative of a class. It is not suspended in midair. In the revolutions of the 19th century, it represented either the propertied classes or the dispossessed.

Even if the ruling class has been overthrown, even if a counterrevolution seems impossible, leadership is still of the essence.

The fundamental teachings of Leninism confirm the view that there are no automatic developments in modern history; there must be the aid of revolutionary leadership.

Revolutions have either succeeded or defaulted for lack of leadership, provided of course that the economic and political conditions have matured.

In Russia and China you had a revolutionary leadership dedicated to Marxism. On the basis of that theory they were finally able to overturn the capitalist system.

What about revolutionary struggles where there is not this type of leadership, but something different, perhaps something less than that? Is it possible for them to lead the country out of the morass of bourgeois reaction and give voice to the revolutionary class-conscious workers and peasants for the overthrow of the ruling classes?

Poland and Pilsudski

One example that comes to mind is Poland. After World War I, all Europe looked for a revolution in Poland, partly out of sheer sympathy for the oppressed Polish people. But instead of there being a leader who was a thoroughgoing revolutionary Marxist--like Rosa Luxemburg, who had been killed--there was somebody by the name of Pilsudski.

Everybody knows who Rosa Luxemburg was. But who was Pilsudski?

Pilsudski took power in Poland after the revolution had been partially crushed. The revolutionary vanguards were still there, the working class was still in the throes of development. Needless to say, the bourgeoisie did nothing progressive in relation to taking over the means of production and giving them to the masses--especially the land from the landlords.

Poland lacked clear and consistent leadership of the type in Russia that promoted the dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry for the overthrow of capitalism. Instead, a sort of hybrid leadership turned up that tried to compromise the old values of the bourgeoisie with the revolutionary aspirations of the masses.

Right after the splendid showing of the proletariat, this guy Pilsudski came along and tried to blend a class-struggle policy with bourgeois nationalism. He took away some property of the bourgeoisie, but mostly he fortified it against the proletariat, promising the peasants a lot but in reality trying to save the necks of the landlords.

That kind of leadership for a while holds sway with the masses, provided there isn't a consistent, visible opponent up and down the line to expose it all. Under those circumstances, the masses veered toward supporting him as the best alternative, and at the same time learned to overlook all his faults and the direction he was going.

It's what we call a Bonapartist dictatorship, a dictatorship that tries to straddle the classes, to talk for both classes and act for both on occasion. But sooner or later it comes over to the bourgeoisie. Unless there's a party to clearly expose this type of class leadership, it is bound to lead the masses in the wrong direction.


There was also Juan Peron of Argentina. Socialist ideas weren't altogether new to Argentina. In fact, the only country from Latin America to attend the second congress of the Socialist International was Argentina. The socialist movement in the Western Hemisphere had its beginnings right there. That it hasn't grown and lived up to its promises as yet is another story.

The class struggle has broken out many times in Argentina. Each time one leader or another attempts to conciliate the classes. He generally speaks a militant, anti-capitalist line, as did Peron and his wife Evita. She was far more eloquent and leftist, but nonetheless did not go left enough to say: Let's take the property of the bourgeoisie.

She spoke against the bourgeoisie and the landlords, but stopped short of saying what to do next.

That's the difference between a revolutionary class line and demagogy. Others in different countries have pursued the same line.

What do we have now in Haiti? What is the class character of the leadership?

Aristide is a representative, as he has always said, of the poor. He can speak a great militant line against the ruling class, against the rich, against the powerful. In fact, his pulpit became the best organizing tool for the masses in Haiti. From the point of view of agitation and propaganda, it could have more than fulfilled the promise of a genuine revolution, even a socialist revolution.

But it is one thing to agitate, another to take steps in that direction and get the masses to follow.

Both our friends and foes will admit that when it comes to action, Aristide is not the same now as when he was preaching and promoting the revolutionary struggle.

The problem in Haiti, as we see it from the outside, is that a proletarian party, with the vision, tactics and strategy of a Lenin, is not on the horizon. If the revolution is to develop successfully, it has to go through a number of stages before producing a leadership capable of taking the reins.

And we must admit that while we criticize, we know that a proletarian takeover at the present time is very, very difficult in face of the overpowering position of U.S. imperialism.

Russia was an immense country. Nevertheless, from the moment the revolution broke out it faced a hostile world. The victory of the proletarian revolution in Russia did not immediately evoke allies. On the contrary, it looked as if military intervention would crush it.

It didn't because the leadership consistently promoted revolution among the masses of all the other oppressed countries and because the imperialists had weakened themselves with the First World War.

If we are to project a proletarian revolution in Haiti, it needs the support of a strong and powerful movement in the United States. We can't say what the Haitian leadership should or shouldn't do.

But the one thing that stands out is the absence of a vigorous and independent class movement here that knows how and when to come to the aid of the Haitians, the way the Bolsheviks came to the aid of small revolutions around the periphery of Russia.

The Russian Revolution was not an isolated phenomenon. It reverberated in all the small countries. The leaders did not have a bourgeois non-interventionist policy. Theirs was a proletarian interventionist policy of revolutionary aid and assistance.

To the extent that it could, the Soviet government aided the revolutions in Bulgaria, in Hungary, and would have aided others, but the forces of the bourgeoisie and landlords were too strong.

China didn't become a revolutionary ally until later. It was still in the throes of its own bourgeois revolution.

We in this country have to consider how to fashion a revolutionary policy when the occupier is so preponderant.

But we must be cognizant of this fact: The U.S., from the point of view of imperialist intervention, is weaker than ever. In 1928, when the Sandinista movement was born and there was a revolution similar to what we're discussing now, the U.S. didn't hesitate to send the Marines and try to crush it. There was no talk about dealing with the leadership or trying to compromise. They felt strong and arrogant.

Today it's different. It's a weakness on the part of imperialism that it has to pose as a friend of the masses. It is galling to the militarists to have to say, "We're doing it for you." The brass would rather say, "Hey, we're doing it for ourselves. We're the representatives of the strongest, most unbridled and reactionary establishment there is."

But they don't. They're handling the situation with kid gloves.

It's true they've killed dozens of people. But it is still not the brutal boot of U.S. imperialism stamping down. And this is what gives us the opportunity to promote the revolutionary struggle by agitation, propaganda and material aid and assistance.

During the Spanish Civil War, when fascism seemed on the verge of victory, U.S. volunteers with the Lincoln Brigade went to the aid of the democratic government, such as it was, against the fascists. They gave direct military assistance.

While the U.S. government made this very difficult, it found advantage at the time in promoting the idea that it was for a democratic regime in Spain. In reality, that was not the case.

If in our struggles we find it possible to give the kind of material aid to the struggle that stands out in a revolutionary way, it would transform the political arena in the United States, not only on this issue but on others.

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