Clinton’s Vision of the 21st Century: Many Colombias


Following is a talk given to a Latin American Studies class at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., last month. The class is focusing this semester on the civil war in Colombia and the so-called “war on drugs” waged by President Clinton and his bipartisancapitalist government.

Colombia has a more than 50-year history of social, economic and political crises that have engendered a series of large-scale guerrilla struggles. The country is currently embroiled in such a struggle by poor peasants and workers against super-exploitation and oppression.

Some 40 percent of the land area of Colombia is under the control of the guerrilla armies. In other words, a system of prolonged dual power prevails in that country.

The bankruptcy of a state heavily involved in drug dealing has led to a deep crisis of Colombian capitalism and its ruling class. And we now have to add to this picture the worst economic crisis in 70 years.

The Colombian gross national product has dropped 6 percent in the first half of last year; the local currency (the peso) has been devalued several times in 1999, and the total devaluation this year is now over 25 percent.

Meanwhile, imperialist financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund have been imposing austerity on Colombia’s super-exploited workers and farmers that only worsens the economic crisis.

Today, U.S. policy toward Colombia is essentially identical to its policy toward El Salvador in 1980. U.S. aid to a brutal Colombian government is increasing in direct proportion to the growing misery of the people and the inevitable tendency of millions of suffering poor to fight back against those responsible for their desperate plight.

The chief difference between El Salvador in 1980 and Colombia in 2000, however, is the pretext for intervention given by American imperialism. Since the Cold War is over and since the capitalist world has been celebrating the death of the so-called “Evil Empire of Soviet Communism,” that can no longer serve as world imperialism’s pretext for counter-revolutionary military intervention all over the globe.

In Colombia, the new pretext is the war on drugs. Technically, all the military aid the American bipartisan government is sending to Colombia goes for counter-narcotics efforts.

Colombia is the leading recipient of U.S. military aid in Latin America and is the third largest in the world, behind only Israel and Egypt. Between 1990 and 1999, Colombia’s police and military received over $918 million in so-called counter-narcotics aid from Washington.

The New York Times reported recently that Colombian President Andrés Pastrana was in Washington campaigning for Congress to approve President Clinton’s proposed grant by American taxpayers of $1.3 billion in military aid to his repressive government for this year.

But the Colombian army and police are not fighting a drug war. The world knows that they are really fighting an old-fashioned civil war against an armed struggle by Colombian workers and peasants, who are in control of some 40 percent of the countryside. This is the emergency that President Clinton’s bipartisan government worries about-not drugs.

Clinton and his bipartisan government is worried about far more than a social revolution in one small country in Latin America. Listen to how The Times put it this week:

“Mr. Clinton did not directly address concerns that American support for Colombia’s antidrug campaign could spill over further into its counter insurgency effort. But Clinton said: ‘In the intersection of the narco-traffickers and the political rebels, you see a picture of what you might see much more of in the 21st century world.”

To be sure, such damning quotations from major spokespersons for American imperialism like the president of the United States are buried in the text, but they don’t hit the headlines as does the phony war on drugs!

The “drug war” inside the United States

But before I go on to the bigger picture in which Colombia is only a relatively small symptomatic case, I want to say a few words, parenthetically, on the question of drugs as a social problem here in the United States and elsewhere and the real purpose of the so-called war on drugs.

In the first place, it’s not really a war on drugs-the fact is that neither traffic in drugs nor addiction to drugs has been reduced by this phony war. On the contrary, it’s facilitated and accelerated by the simple fact of making such drugs illegal and by providing draconian penalties for those convicted of mere possession of more than an ounce of marijuana.

The real war in this country, as in Colombia, is being waged against the poorest-and the most exploited and oppressed-sectors of American society.

It is the victims of the social and economic system here in the world’s richest country who are driven by poverty to addiction and to serve as distributors and pushers in the service of the big-time drug lords.

Without the illegalization of these mind-bending drugs, and without the bankers who launder the ill-gotten gains of the drug lords, there would not be the kind of social problems that exist today.

Ironically, it’s a wide-open secret that the rich, who are mostly unaffected by the war on drugs, consume far more than their share of illegal drugs but are rarely convicted of a felony for possession. And even then, they far more rarely serve time in jail. If you watch movies on television, hardly a day goes by without a scene showing rich people sniffing cocaine at parties.

It is those addicted to drugs among the working-class poor of the United States who are paying heavily by spending years of their lives in the expanding prison population of this, the richest country on earth. That’s exactly what the “three strikes” law in this country is all about.

Moreover, the war on drugs is also a weapon that has been used to frame up and sentence militant civil rights leaders to long prison terms for the mere possession of small amounts of such mild and relatively harmless drugs as marijuana.

And in Colombia, there could be no drug trade without the active aid and assistance of American forces of law and order and the banks that eagerly launder money for the drug lords. In fact, without the illegalization of drugs in the United States there would certainly not be the huge material incentive to grow and smuggle drugs anywhere.

But don’t get me wrong. I am not an advocate of any drug that is harmful to one’s health or impairs one’s ability to function as a useful member of society.

Moreover, instead of treating the possession and use of drugs as a crime with all its attendant penalties and miseries for the poor, it would be far more effective, sensible, and humane to treat any harmful addiction to drugs in the same way that society under ideal conditions treats addiction to tobacco and alcohol; that is, as a very serious health problem.

Deepening crisis of world economy

But, now to the more general problem referred to by the commander in chief of world imperialism. (In case you haven’t yet got my message, I am talking about the president of the United States, who led NATO and world imperialism in its war on Yugoslavia.)

Colombia is only symptomatic of the deepening crisis of the world capitalist economy. Even though the rich get richer and the poor poorer, American and world imperialism are in deep trouble, and the ruling classes everywhere know it.

After all, what lies at the root of the developing global crisis is the relentless expansion of the productive capacity of industry everywhere through the introduction of ever-more sophisticated machines.

A short news item, given no special significance by its author or his editors, appeared in the financial section of The New York Times a few months ago. A single sentence from this report, which tells of a marked increase in sales of industrial robots, illustrates how the global economy works.

“In the first half of 1999, motor vehicle manufacturers’ orders [for industrial robots] surged 101 percent worldwide, and 214 percent in North America, compared with the same period in 1998.”

This seemingly routine news item points to the heart of the problem faced by global capitalism. The booming market for industrial robots reflects the general trend toward the replacement of human labor by machines. In other words, more robots mean fewer workers-both relatively and absolutely.

Thus, the longer this process continues, the greater is the productive capacity of the world economy, and the fewer workers there are to buy the mounting supplies of goods. Consequently, the bottom line is clear: the longer the expansion of the productive forces continues, the greater will be the number of surplus factories, surplus goods and, last but not least, surplus workers.

And make no mistake, hundreds of millions of jobless and otherwise hungry people throughout the planet is a recipe for revolutionary upsurges and counterrevolutionary repression erupting everywhere. That’s what Clinton really means when he says:

“In the intersection of the narco-traffickers and the political rebels, you see a picture of what you might see much more of in the 21st century world.”

The movers and shakers of American and world imperialism are fully aware of their desperate world position. The tendency of the average rate of profit to fall, largely concealed by what really is a global bubble economy, has begun to break out into the open.

Contributing heavily to this entire process is the decade-long recession in Japan, the world’s second-largest economy. But the only way that the profit rate can be kept from falling ever faster is by intensifying the rate of exploitation.

That’s the meaning of the ongoing assaults by capitalists everywhere on the living standards of their own working classes and on the already super-exploited neo-colonial world.

Socialism or Barbarism!

Karl Marx said over 150 years ago that the alternatives for humanity are only two-either capitalism will take the human race toward an unimaginably horrible form of capitalist barbarism or it will be overthrown by its victims and a new world socialist order will be put in its place; the alternatives are either Socialism or Barbarism!

We live at a moment in world history in which the continued existence of our species lies in the balance. Doubts about the survival of the human race have spread from a relatively small but significant number of the world’s most serious scientists and other thinkers to ever-wider layers of the general population.

Never in the history of the world has the very existence of the human race been threatened on so many fronts at one time. We are faced with the accelerating process of pollution of the oceans, rivers, lakes and the very air we breathe. Pandemics like AIDS and asthma spread across the planet from continent to continent and from nation to nation.

The peoples of the poorest countries, already ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-fed must now also endure the absence of such elementary human needs as clean water for drinking and bathing.

And then, of course, there are the arsenals of nuclear-tipped missiles whose destructive powers are steadily being multiplied. The danger of a global thermonuclear conflagration has not diminished despite the capitulation of Stalinism to imperialism and the ending of the Cold War.

Moreover, local wars between and within nations erupt with increasing frequency-often threatening to become regional in scope-any one of which can trigger even wider conflicts involving the world’s massively armed nuclear powers.

“Interesting times!”

Now in conclusion, I want to use a quote from my favorite Wall Street economic expert, a guy by the name of Floyd Norris who writes for The New York Times. While he’s a very reliable representative of the capitalist class, he’s a favorite of mine because his columns are so very truthful about the irrational exuberance of the stock market and the impending economic crisis.

The Times economic expert starts off one of his recent columns with the words: “May you live in interesting times. So goes the ancient Chinese curse. And these days the stock market is nothing if not interesting.”

That phrase was subtle enough for me to have read it twice to get the full flavor of his insightful observation. And of course, Mr. Norris’s concept of an interesting stock market is, for him and his class, a very unpleasant one.

Really, the entire 20th century was also very interesting in the sense attributed to the word by the Chinese. But if you think the century that has just ended was interesting, you ain’t seen nothing yet! The ultimate fate of humanity on this planet, its very existence, in fact, will likely be decided well before the first quarter of the new century comes to an end.

Many of those alive today will probably live to see how it all turns out. Far more important, the current generation will have the opportunity to affect the outcome of humanity’s most “interesting” moment in history.

I know that for those who cannot see further than their nose it appears that capitalism is here to stay and that the notion of the victory of world socialism seems to be a utopian pipe dream. Well, in fact, that’s what most people believed in the late 1920s, just before the Great Depression hit and the world-and people’s ideas about the world-were turned upside down.

Already big changes in mass consciousness that have been simmering just below the surface of events have begun to break through into the open-first here, then there.

Last December such an eruption broke out in Seattle. In my opinion, this will go down as one of the first indications of changing mass consciousness. My report on its significance in the December issue of my party’s newspaper, Socialist Action, detailed the deep radicalization taking place among the youth of this country.

The radicalization among youth

Whatever limitations this heat lightning of the coming storm may have, it serves as proof that mass consciousness is undergoing very interesting changes. And even more interesting is the radicalization taking place among high school youth. That’s something very new and different.

To be sure, the youth are always among the first to feel the big changes taking place in the subterranean depths of society. A few of you here may be old enough to have experienced the youth radicalization of the 1960s and ’70s. Like all big changes in mass consciousness during the last century, that youth radicalization more than 25 years ago was a global phenomenon. And so will the next one be, whose coming appears to have already been signalled by the events in Seattle.

But as important as the last youth radicalization was, it was primarily centered among the more privileged youth, who were able to afford a college education-primarily the sons and daughters of the middle class. The mass of working-class youth were less affected.

And while the radicalizing youth were inspired by the big social problems of the day-the Black struggle against segregation, the struggle for women’s rights, the heroic revolutionary struggle of the Vietnamese workers and peasants-at the same time, economic questions had little effect on their consciousness.

In fact, one of the most telling limitations of that youth radicalization was their sense that their economic security was never in doubt. It took the strange form of a universal disdain for consumerism by the radicalized youth of the Vietnam War era.

Thus side by side with their opposition to racism, sexism, and war was their contempt for what most people considered the necessities and small luxuries of life-like nice clothes, cars, washing machines, television, and electric toothbrushes.

The college youth of that time could be contemptuous of such things because their parents had it all and their careers seemed guaranteed by the hordes of corporate recruiters dangling good-paying jobs for the taking on the campuses of the advanced capitalist countries.

The current youth radicalization has barely begun. But we can already see it is a very different kind of radicalization. Those in college work hard to get high marks in the different world of today. It’s a world in which most youth for the first time since the Great Depression can’t expect to make a living as good as that enjoyed by their parents.

But most important, the youth today also live in a world changed by the big social struggles carried out by the generation of the 1960s and ’70s. Young people today automatically sense these changes and will assimilate all that was learned by the 1960s generation, as well as those that preceded the last youth radicalization.

If I had to sum up what I think lies ahead for the world today, I could not say more than to tell you that the world is in for some very interesting times. And whether that proves to be a curse or a blessing will largely be determined by people like you here in this room.

It’s a great time to be alive and young enough to help change the world. The opportunity to change the world for the better for the great majority may be a curse for the capitalists of this world, but it offers the rest of us the opportunity to do that and much more.

The task of your generation will also be far more profound. It will be up to young people like you to save the human race from capitalist barbarism and ultimate nuclear annihilation.

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