Moscow gold and the Cuban dissidents


posted to on June 9, 2003


In the course of an attack ( on the Cuban Communist Party around the recent controversy, Paul LeBlanc has written a curious defense of the right of the USA to fund dissidents:


"I oppose arresting dissidents unless they are carrying out violent activity. If a dissident organization is accepting material support from and meeting with representatives of a government hostile to the Cuban economic and political system, I am not persuaded that this represents sufficient grounds for their imprisonment. In the United States the Communist Party received material aid from and consulted with representatives of the USSR. I donít believe that represented sufficient grounds for the imprisonment of U.S. Communists."


This is exactly the same argument made by Leo Casey, a United Federation of Teachers functionary in NYC who initiated the first anti-Cuba petition that appeared in the Nation Magazine. This is Leo Casey from Patrick Bond's Debate listserv in reply to me:


"No, I do not doubt that some of those imprisoned in Cuba took financial support for their political activities [which included such actual crimes as organizing independent unions, obtaining signatures of the Varela petition and writing articles critical of Castro] from the US government, just as the CPUSA and CPs in other countries took financial support for its political activities for many years from the Soviet Union, as has been confirmed from many sources. In a democratic polity, one exposes to the light of day such financial sponsorship, so the people can make their judgments on such arrangements; in a police state, you send them to prison for 20 or 30 years."


It would be instructive, first of all, to remind ourselves where this business about Moscow gold first cropped up. It was in Harvey Klehr's 1998 "The Soviet World of American Communism". Klehr is a self-described right-winger, whose main goal is to reconstruct the image of the CPUSA as an espionage wing of the Kremlin, a myth that the McCarthyite witch-hunt relied on. (Klehr's most recent work is the 1999 " Venona : Decoding Soviet Espionage in America".) Chapter two of "The Soviet World of American Communism" is titled "Moscow Gold". It is filled with stuff like this:


"In addition to direct payments via courier, the Soviets were suspected of using a variety of business fronts to subsidize the CPUSA indirectly. Dr. D. H. Dubrowsky, an American who represented various Soviet government agencies in the United States, broke with the Communists in 1935 and later testified before the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities. Dubrowsky claimed that the Soviet Union raised millions of dollars each year in the United States through rentals and sales of Soviet films, profits from the insurance and transport of goods between the United States and the USSR, charges on transferring the estates of Russian immigrants who died in America to relatives in the Soviet Union, and a variety of fees for doing business with Amtorg, the Soviet Union's state trading organization. A portion of this money, he testified, was funneled into the CPUSA by the Soviets, who directed these transactions through CPUSA-controlled enterprises. One such enterprise was WorldTourists, a travel and shipping agency set up in the 1930s by CPUSA members with funds secretly provided by the Soviet Union. Soviet government agencies like Amtorg would direct businessmen and tourists who wished to travel to the Soviet Union to purchase their tickets or ship their goods through World Tourists. World Tourists would then turn the profits over to the CPUSA."


A couple of comments are in order.


To begin with, it is noteworthy that none of the mainstream opponents of the Cuban revolution have drawn upon this curious attempt to draw symmetries between the US attempt to build up the counter-revolution in Cuba and the finances of the CPUSA. It is only found among people with ties to the organized left. In Leo Casey's case, we are dealing with the DSA, a organization that is moving rapidly to fill the vacuum left by the demise of the old SPUSA that was an adjunct to the rightwing of the Democratic Party, as noted in Jeet Heer's National Post article. With LeBlanc, you are getting the same reference but wrapped up in Trotskyist orthodoxy. Somewhat truculently, LeBlanc announces, "I approach the debate from a particular political standpoint. I consider myself to be a revolutionary Marxist and a partisan of the Fourth International. I identify as a Leninist, as a Trotskyist, and in particular with the tradition of American Trotskyism associated with such people as James P. Cannon, George Breitman, Joseph Hansen, and Frank Lovell. There are some people who donít like to hear that, who are greatly annoyed that I would say things like that, etc. ó but it canít be helped."


It might seem inexplicable that ideological influences from diametrically opposed traditions (Albert Shanker and Michael Harrington for Leo Casey; James P. Cannon and Joseph Hansen for Paul LeBlanc) could have yielded the same rotten fruit, but if you probe beneath the surface, you might begin to see some parallels. In either case, you are dealing with people who are troubled by what LeBlanc calls "the absence of formal democratic structures". One supposes that this is a reference to multi-party elections and a free press like they had in Sandinista Nicaragua. For those who are not troubled by the way in which US imperialism exploits these "formal democratic structures" to organize the counter-revolutionary movement, I suppose it seems rather retrograde if not Stalinist to draw attention to it.


But to return to the symmetry question. If the Kremlin funded the CPUSA, why shouldn't the USA be allowed to fund anti-Communist oppositions in places like Yugoslavia, Cuba, Nicaragua and other workers' states or revolutionary societies?


To begin with, the most important criterion in discussing symmetry of this sort is whether there were identical goals on both sides. There is little doubt that the intention of outfits that receive US funding like Otpor in Serbia, La Prensa in Nicaragua or those Cubans at the trough of James Cason and the NED was and is overthrow of socialized property relations. They *mean business*. But was the CPUSA serious about overthrowing the capitalist class in the USA? If so, this would appear to be contradicted by evidence presented by Klehr himself in "The Soviet World of American Communism" for in chapter six, Klehr cites an NKVD report on communications between Earl Browder, the head of the CPUSA, and Franklin Roosevelt. FDR congratulates Browder and the CPUSA for conducting its political line skillfully and helping US military efforts. Roosevelt is "particularly pleased" with the battle of New Jersey Communists against a left-wing Labor Party formation there. He was happy that the CPUSA had been able to unite various factions of the Democratic Party against the left-wing electoral opposition and render it ineffectual. If this sort of thing is supposed to balance out what the NED was doing in Nicaragua, then I am Jesus Christ's nephew.


But to really get to the heart of the matter, this is not solely about the freedom of dissidents to exchange ideas that run counter to prevailing orthodoxy. Since 1918, the USA has been involved in military campaigns of varying levels of brutality against countries that have adopted the Soviet model of development, starting with the USSR itself. In September 1918, 5,000 American troops joined the allied intervention force at Archangel and remained until June 1919. Ultimately, US forces numbered over 12,000. The USSR suffered over 500,000 casualties during this horrible blood-letting and it has estimated that another 8 million died as from starvation and disease as result of the war.


This pattern was repeated throughout the 20th century--in Korea, in Vietnam, in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in Yugoslavia and perhaps again in Korea using nuclear weapons. When did the USSR or any of its allies ever make war on other countries in order to rid them of capitalism? If anything, Communist Parties have functioned more as social democratic pillars of the capitalist status quo than as cats' paws of a Kremlin bent on world revolution. Sigh, if only that were the case.