Tag Archives: book review

Cuba-Canada relations: A look at diplomacy from below

A review by Barry Weisleder of Other Diplomacies, Other Ties: Cuba and Canada in the Shadow of the U.S., Luis Rene Fernandez Tabio, Cynthia Wright, and Lana Wylie, ed., 363 pages, University of Toronto Press, 2018.

In the wake of Ottawa’s vocal support for the latest U.S.-backed attempt at a coup d’état in Venezuela, studies on foreign relations take on a profound sense of urgency.

Setting aside the cumbersome title, this book’s 12 chapters, produced by historians based both in Canada and Cuba, cover the subject of relations with Cuba thoroughly, even with some duplication. Convenient summaries conclude every segment.

For me, the chapter on Cuba’s pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal was particularly riveting. I remember visiting that World’s Fair, titled “Man and His World – Terre des Hommes”, and that unique pavilion. I and dozens of my fellow junior high school students were chaperoned from Toronto by our teachers. I recall the building’s futuristic cube structure, the huge, austere black and white photos, and the evocative, radical slogans on the walls: a combination that blew my then-apolitical mind.

The book puts in context a moment of world social upheaval, shaped by the revolutions in Cuba and Algeria; the example of Che Guevara, soon to be assassinated; and the multiple revolts of 1968, from France to Italy to Prague to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

“Other Diplomacies” reminds us that defending a revolution is harder than making one. Exploiting the contradictions, however relative and small, between the imperialist powers is a high priority. Its examination of Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s differences with Washington over Cuba, not to mention whether to accept nuclear weapons on Canada’s territory, shows an autonomy that arises from a different relationship of class forces.

The fact that Canada and Mexico did not break diplomatic relations with revolutionary Cuba, unlike all the other countries of the western hemisphere in the 1960s, provided an important lifeline to the first workers’ republic west of Europe. The impact endures. Canada remains Cuba’s fourth biggest partner in trade. 1.3 million Canadian tourists visit Cuba every year. Sherritt International, the Canadian-based nickel extractor, is still the largest corporate investor in the island.

These and other features of the relationship are at least partly a product of a relatively more class-independent workers’ movement in the Canadian state, including Quebec, and the efforts of at least three generations of socialists and Cuba solidarity activists north of the U.S. border.  The Fair Play for Cuba Committees, on both sides of the divide, well deserve the recognition afforded by the book.

Diplomats as spies, and mass media scribes as shameless propagandists for a corporate agenda, continue to ply their trades. Educational and cultural exchanges continue to make inroads against anti-communist bias. Cuba is embraced by a world that has received its generous gifts of top-notch medical care and disaster relief aid. Washington remains powerful, but more politically isolated than ever, its economy in decline, its military apparatus strained by chronic overreach.

Following the 60th anniversary of the overthrow of the made-in-USA Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, Cuba’s leadership and people are wrestling with choices, the need to strike a balance of economic development, social equality and Poder Popular (people’s power), yearning for, anticipating, the next revolutions that will quicken the pace to world socialist transformation.

Not by conventional diplomacy, such transformations will certainly be informed by the “Other Diplomacies” that animate working class solidarity.

A version of this article originally appeared at https://johnriddell.wordpress.com

Where Science and Socialism Intersect

A book review by Barry Weisleder

I strongly recommend the latest book by Ian Angus, “A Redder Shade of Green”.  This anthology, published by Monthly Review Press (New York, 2017, 198 pages), contains well-written articles, very accessible to non-experts, that first appeared between 2009 and 2017.  They summarize the latest scientific findings on the state of the environment and provide cogent arguments against climate change deniers and environmental reformists.  Between the covers is a compelling case made for involvement in existing social movements that are doing what can be done right now to reduce carbon emissions. Opposition to the construction of oil pipelines, to fracking for gas, and to military operations (all of which consume inordinate levels of carbon-based energy) are the leading examples.

This book is a fitting companion piece to Angus’ prodigious work “Facing the Anthropocene” (2016) which adduces a sweeping political economy of carbon capitalism, from its origins to today.

The author roots eco-socialism, the programme for system change to avoid catastrophic climate change, in the seminal work of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and their Red Chemist colleague Carl Schorlemmer.  Angus not only explains the “metabolic rift” between capitalist production and nature, but documents how the “Great Acceleration” of fossil fuel usage post-WW2 defines a new fraught epoch, the Anthropocene.  The insatiable drive of global capitalism to grow and profit, at any cost, threatens to disrupt the “Earth System” irreparably, portending the end of human civilization.

“A Redder Shade of Green” correctly targets the system of irrational growth and waste, and it identifies the tiny class that rules over it.  Redder rejects the claims of liberal Greens and pro-capitalist conservationists that all or most of humanity is fundamentally to blame for excessively eating, clothing, sheltering itself, and reproducing.

The sub-title of the book, “Intersections of Science and Socialism”, signifies its strength, and affirms its commitment to build mass movements in the streets to challenge the powers that be.  Effectiveness can be achieved by collaborating with everyone willing to fight for a better future, regardless of differences on social class and ultimate political goals.  At the same time, Angus insists, eco-socialists should relentlessly advance a scientific critique of the fundamental enemy.

Unfortunately, the intersection of Socialism, as a philosophy or programme, with the revolutionary vanguard of the working class, is entirely missing.  The paramount need to create a political party, one that is capable of leading the struggle against the toxic mode of production to a socialist and democratic conclusion, is conspicuous by its absence.

Angus seems to try to justify postponement, or abandonment of the project of building a revolutionary workers’ party with the comment “we have to accept that the socialist movement is not going to triumph in the immediate future.” (page 163)

Just as it is foolhardy to try to predict when the Earth System, an incredibly complex and unpredictable matrix, will go beyond ‘the tipping point’, it has been repeatedly proven wrong to exclude the outbreak of socialist revolution.  After all, as Redder demonstrates, the world is dominated by a global socio-economic system riddled with deep and explosive contradictions.  Indeed, no workers’ revolution that did take place actually happened as predicted.  And those upheavals that were first predicted did not occur when or where they were anticipated.

Furthermore, when revolutionary conditions arise, it is usually too late to start building a party; it is then too late to get it sufficiently rooted to be able to lead insurgent masses to a decisive victory.  Given the dire fate of the environment today, humanity can ill afford to squander any opportunity to make radical change.

Finally, doesn’t it beg the question:  Where are the eco-socialists going to find the most like-minded comrades?  Where will they find the very best builders of broad, mass movements now needed, if not in a revolutionary workers’ party or pre-party formation?  That recognition is actually the Reddest Shade of Green.