Notes on the Revolution
November 29, 2019
The world-economy and the global leadership of Fidel
By Charles McKelvey
On November 25, on the Cuban evening news program La Mesa Redonda, the distinguished Cuban economist Osvaldo Martínez discussed the active leadership role of Fidel Castro in the international arena in promoting the Third World proposal for a New International Economic Order.
Martínez noted that in the 1970s the underdeveloped nations had exploded onto the international scene, demanding a more just world-economy. Oil producing and exporting countries had formed OPEC, and they had success in quadrupling of the price of petroleum. There was the hope in the Third World that other associations of raw materials producers could be created, ending the unequal exchange between the prices of the raw materials exported by the underdeveloped countries and the prices of the manufactured goods that they imported. Reflecting the growing voice of the Third World, as they called themselves, their proposal for a New International Economic Order was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1974. Although the proposal contained many reformist characteristics and some deficiencies, it illustrated the capacity of the Third World to unite behind a demand for alternative principles that ought to guide international relations.
At the Sixth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana in 1979, Martínez recalled, Fidel assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, and at the end of that year, Fidel went to the United Nations to present his report as President of the Non-Aligned Movement. He pronounced a historic discourse, in which he forcefully declared, “the unequal exchange that is ruining our peoples ought to cease, the external debt ought to cease.” Declaring the developed countries responsible for the situation of global inequality and poverty, he demanded a New International Economic Order. He ended with a great call to humanity to struggle. In this historic discourse, Fidel was declaring international economic relations as a very important terrain of political struggle for the neocolonized peoples.
At that historic moment, Fidel was searching for a way to translate technical terminology into a mobilizing political discourse that could be understood by the people, converting structural change of the world-economy into a fundamental goal of political struggle. At that time, Fidel confronted tremendous obstacles in the task of understanding economic international relations, Martínez explained. Marxism did not have a coherent and profound interpretation of the problem of underdevelopment that the Third World confronted. Western academic thought not only did not explain the phenomenon, but in fact were accomplices in exploitation. The socialist countries, lamentably, did not understand the phenomenon of underdevelopment, and in some respects, although not in all, their conduct was similar to that of the developed capitalist countries. Moreover, the Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, obviously were part of the problem, and they in no manner had a solution. All of this Fidel confronted.
In this context, Fidel met for a period of three months for several hours each day with young economists of the Center for Research on the World Economy, which had recently been created, and the Center for Research on the International Economy of the University of Havana. Among them was Osvaldo Martínez, who reports that the members of the group came to appreciate the extraordinary discipline with which Fidel worked. “We produced papers,” he said, “and Fidel would read them carefully, and the following day he would bring questions and very relevant commentaries.” He further observed that “we were academic advisors, but what we learned was more than the advice that we gave, [because] Fidel always was bringing us to the point where we academics had not arrived, always looking for the point of contact between academic theory and concrete political reality.”
These meetings resulted in a book by Fidel, The Social and Economic Crisis of the World, which was Fidel’s report to the Seventh Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi in 1983. It was the first time in the history of the Non-Aligned Movement that a president delivered an analysis of the world-economy. Martínez notes that with the passing of time, some things in the book are dated, but 80% of the book discusses themes that remain vibrant today.
In The Social and Economic Crisis of the World, Fidel maintains that the maladies of the international financial system and the neocolonial world-system can be overcome through the mobilization of a global political will for the creation of a New International Economic Order, as proposed by the Non-Aligned Movement and adopted by the UN General Assembly. He maintained that the peoples of the Third World must struggle to create a more just world order, recognizing that the peoples of the Third World constitute the immense majority of humanity. He further maintained that the development of the Third World economies would be beneficial to the world-system as a whole, suggesting that the economic and social development of the Third World would enable the world-system to overcome its structural crisis. Accordingly, the peoples of the Third World must struggle: to transform the structures that promote unequal exchange and declining terms of exchange; for the cancellation of the Third World debt; for new and more equitable international monetary and financial systems; for a form of industrialization that responds to the interests of the Third World; for necessary socioeconomic structural changes, such as agrarian reform; for the adoption of measures by states that would control and limit the activities of transnational corporations; and for an elevation of the prestige of the United Nations. The struggle requires the unity of the peoples of the Third World, in spite of political and cultural differences, in recognition of their common experience of colonial domination.
Subsequently, in the 1980s, Martínez observes, Fidel launched a campaign against the Third World debt. During the 1960s and 1970s, with a problem of more available money than borrowers, the Northern banks aggressively looked for borrowers among the governments of the Third World, offering high amounts of low-interest loans, but with floating rates. In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration unilaterally dictated measures that raised the rate of interest from 5 or 6 percent to 21 percent, which overnight multiplied the cost of the service of the debt and made impossible the payment of the debt. In response to this situation, Fidel declared the debt to be mathematically, politically, and morally unpayable, and he proposed a solution, which was to cancel the debt and compensate the financial institutions through the reduction of military costs, thus tying financial questions to global political and moral issues. This campaign did not reach its culmination, but not for the fault of Fidel, who sponsored a great number of symposiums in Havana on the theme. But, Martínez maintains, the cowardly governments of Latin America at that moment were incapable of escaping from U.S. domination, and they accepted the plans of the United States and the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
But continuing the struggle, during the decade of the 1990s, Fidel launched the great campaign against neoliberalism and against the U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). In this struggle, Fidel would find allies in the twenty-first century, in the popular movements of Latin America, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, the Citizen Revolution in Ecuador, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, the Movement toward Socialism in Bolivia, the Workers’ Party in Brazil, and progressive governments in Argentina.
Teaching that the structures of the world-economy constitute an important terrain of political struggle, Fidel lived long enough to participate in the new political reality of Latin America in the twenty-first century, in which the global political struggle would be joined, a struggle between an increasingly aggressive and desperate imperialism and the victims of imperialism, who are struggling for the definitive transformation of the structures of the world-economy and for the creation of a sustainable world-system that respects the sovereignty of nations and the right of all peoples to development.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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