Petras takes off the gloves

Today Machetera presents a translation of a Uruguayan radio interview with the U.S. sociologist James Petras, which aired on June 9. Petras bitterly disagrees with Chávez’s recent statements about the FARC, and blames Cuba, which should come as no surprise to anyone who read his moving tribute to Manuel Marulanda, where he made some gratuitous swipes at Fidel Castro and indirectly, el Che, for having the bad taste to turn up on t-shirts worn by “middle-class college students.”

But Chávez’s recent remarks are no surprise either, for anyone who was paying attention to his April remarks at the meeting with the “In Defense of Humanity” network. Whether Chávez has always believed this, or has come to adopt the Cuban point of view seems to Machetera to be utterly irrelevant, and Petras’s remarks on the subject sound almost like red-baiting. Or Cuban-baiting maybe.

In his recent interview with Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel talked quite a bit about the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces’ concept of guerrilla warfare, which is useful to keep in mind when reading Petras. When it comes to choosing sides in this very particular battle of ideas – how best to wage a guerrilla war (and when not to) – Machetera supposes she’ll come down on the side of those who’ve actually fought and won one.

There were cases of [Batista] battalions who were surrounded and eventually surrendered. We [always] made a concession to the prisoners [in those cases]: the soldiers were allowed to go absolutely free. Those who were known to have committed crimes, if there were any, we offered not to apply the maximum sentence [i.e, death]. In our agreements with a battalion, or whatever unit, we allowed the officers to keep their personal sidearms. We had an invariable policy of respect for the adversary’s integrity. If you kill them after they’ve surrendered, [the next ones] will fight you to the death, and besides, it costs you bullets, and lives. In a word, you don’t win the war. The adversary will always have more weapons, resources and trained men.

There were cases of enlisted men who surrendered as many as three times, and three times we would release them. Besides, they’d left us their weapons. Their superiors would send them off to another area, or another province, but then our struggle would be taken there too…The enemy soldiers were our arms suppliers, and the campesinos were our main support and main suppliers of food. Batista’s soldiers would go around stealing, burning houses and killing people. The campesinos could see that we, on the other hand, respected them – we paid them for the food and other things we got from them, even more than it was worth, sometimes. If we wanted to buy a chicken, or a hog, and there was nobody around, we’d leave a note telling them where to find the money when they got back. There was not a debt left by us in any little store anywhere. That was our policy with the populace. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have won over anybody, and would never have won the war. The campesinos – don’t think for a moment that they went to schools in revolutionary instruction. None of us knew the Sierra. But honestly – how else could we ever have won the war? — Fidel Castro, My Life

A Disenchanted James Petras

Chury – Radio Centenario

Translation: Machetera

Chury: Good day Petras, how’s it going…

Petras: It’s a good day here in nature, but it seems to me an unhappy day in relation to the latest declarations of President Chávez.

Chury: That’s the question I was just about to ask you…

Petras: Here all the bourgeois press is giving lots of favorable emphasis to the denunciations of the FARC and the demands and speeches that President Chávez is making and I imagine it’s a shock for many people to face the aggressiveness with which he’s pursuing this policy.

Chury: Specifically, if I ask you from here, from the south and the interpretation that can be made via the different channels of information, one would say that the outstanding question in all the papers and media that cannot be ignored, is that Chávez is asking the FARC to give up all its hostages and demobilize in exchange for nothing and that moreover they, the FARC, are the excuse for the imperialist presence in the region. I don’t know if that’s the reading that can actually be made…

Petras: It’s pure Stalinism, to say that an insurgent group with 40 years of struggle is playing imperialism’s game is pure idiocy; imperialism functions well enough in Venezuela without the need for a guerrilla movement, as you know, this can be understood precisely by the role it played in the 2002 coup and all the politics from that moment, and it is functioning in many parts of the world where there is any kind of warlike government or whatever, and to say that the FARC’s armed struggle is a pretext for imperialism is pure stupidity and I must say it. And another thing, Chávez doesn’t explain how the FARC can hand over their prisoners when it has 500 guerrillas rotting, tortured, malnourished, sick in the dungeons of Uribe’s prisons. I believe that my question is why President Chávez wants to sacrifice the lives of the guerrilla prisoners to take up the flags of Uribe, Sarkozy, etcetera; a total unilateral surrender.

My second question is whether Chávez understands that the last time the FARC guerrillas submitted to the electoral struggle, they were massacred and I want to ask if he is disposed to guarantee the lives of the guerrillas who try to enter electoral political life facing the paramilitaries and armies that continued to kill non-guerrilla union members last week. And third, I want to know if what Chávez is asking is that the guerrillas imitate Central American politics where in El Salvador and Guatemala and others peace accords were signed and armed struggle abandoned and nothing changed, the misery of El Salvador and Guatemala is just as bad as before, so bad that half the country has left for Europe, for North America, for Mexico, whatever. While the peace process satisfies the bourgeoisie, the large majority remains with all its demands and unrewarded sacrifices. What’s worse, the number of dead in Guatemala and El Salvador since the peace accord surpasses the dead from the guerrilla war; in other words, each year there are eight or nine thousand homicides in these countries because the demobilized [armies] can’t find work, many enter into crime and there’s crossfire between the different gangs. I don’t know if Chávez is concerned about the deaths as a product of the misery that arises after the peace accords, but one ought to take these facts into account.

And finally I believe that Chávez’s politics are exactly, exactly the speech I heard from Felipe Perez Roque, Cuba’s foreign minister, four years ago and I want to ask if this analysis and these declarations really come from Chávez’s thinking or if he is repeating the Cuban line that goes back many years, more than a decade. It is against the FARC, in favor of reconciliation and seeks bourgeois allies throughout the continent, including in the last 6 years with Uribe, and it is the ideology of Fidel Castro who says the guerrilla era is over, and he said that 5 years ago. So I don’t know if it’s Fidel or the Cubans influencing Chávez or if he has taken his own initiative, but in either case there’s a big coincidence there. And finally, eliminating the FARC is not going to eliminate imperialism; it will actually have a boomerang effect. Once Colombia consolidates its position, it’s easier for North American military bases to occupy parts of Colombia, and Uribe will be more aggressive against the Venezuelan borders, therefore strategically speaking, to stop an enemy who has both hands free to pressure and attack Venezuela is a disaster. While the FARC carries any weight, Colombia must orient a portion of its troops toward that conflict, but if the FARC didn’t exist it would be much easier to concentrate all forces against Venezuela. Or could it be that Chávez believes that Uribe is going to embrace him because he’s going to attack the FARC, sure, he’ll embrace him with a knife in his right hand. I believe that it is a disaster because it’s going to strengthen the line of the liberal governments and center left in Latin America that has proven its incapacity and I believe that there’s no benefit whatsoever, neither for the people nor for the Venezuelans, and it will even harm Chávez himself very quickly.

Chury: Bush is traveling throughout Europe, touring all of Europe as a farewell and he started with Slovenia and other places that one would imagine impossible for him to visit, what is Bush seeking with this?

Petras: Bush is a president who has nothing to say inside the United States; it’s impossible for Bush to appear in any public place with freedom of entry because there is so much anger against his government, which now is very extensive with the economic crisis and the price of gasoline. It’s quite impossible for Bush to appear within the United States; the only place where he can meet with less public opposition is in Europe and what he’s seeking finally are some policies to save the North American economy, [he’s] trying to get some concessions from the petroleum producing countries, shore up support for the lost war in Iraq, threaten Iran, etcetera, but nowhere is it possible to say that he has been effective in getting what he was looking for. The Middle Eastern oil producers, his monarch friends, rejected Bush’s requests, they’ve even blamed Bush himself for the prices, for his aggressive militaristic policies, for overconsumption of oil, for the weakened dollar which has raised prices. The Russians have attacked Washington for its enormous economic imbalances. Europe is the quietest acquaintance; it has nothing to offer Bush to strengthen or help the North American economy. So, these are travels that demonstrate the impotence of the government and the absence of anything to offer as a concession in exchange for concessions from other parts of the world. He doesn’t have anything to offer and leaders are not inclined to continue to make sacrifices for such a militarized economy, so full of speculative crises and corruption, and so on; basically its a trip that has no future whatsoever, it’s senseless.

Chury: There’s a subject that we need you to analyze. It’s called Barack Obama. What will the changes be, what might be the changes in the United States in respect to the influence of Zionism, in respect to the war first of all, and Latin America afterwards?

Petras: Okay, here we have various factors; there’s the unification of the right-wing of the Democratic Party around Obama with Hillary Clinton’s support.

On the other hand, there are indications that the disenchantment among various minority sectors that supported Obama, particularly with his very servile speech to the powerful Zionist group in Washington where he said things that not even the North American right-wing has said. [Such as] when he said that Jerusalem should be completely Jewish, under Israel’s control, where he supported the militaristic aggression against Iran. It shows one thing, which is the power the Jewish organizations have over North American presidential politics. All the candidates except those from the left-wing were present: Obama, Hillary, McCain giving the world’s most unimaginably servile vision. Saying the filthiest things against the Palestinians, against Hamas, without even a single mention of the million and a half Palestinians without water, without electricity, without food, malnourished, the complicity of Israeli terrorism, incredible! Not a single critical candidate among them, and all the organizations, the dentists, the great financiers supporting the conference, eight thousand middle class Jews, lower-middle class, rich, millionaires, multi-millionaires, showing their power through standing ovations for the most militaristic declarations. And look, Brecha has never written anything about the power that Zionism has over North American politics. It’s never explained to a Uruguayan audience how all the [U.S.] presidents are on their knees before Jewish power in the United States.

I have many acquaintances who are progressive Jews but they’re impotent; when big things happen there are half a dozen who criticize what’s happening with the auditorium but really they don’t have any (…) that affects policy. And it’s one of the great tragedies that we have a minority that represents less than 2% of North American’s population but has such power in the communications media.

Chury: That’s economic power?

Petras: Yes, but it’s not just economic, they’re organized, they’re present in all the communications media, they’re well situated in Congress, they have officials in the presidency, in the Executive branch; it’s not simply a matter of Jewish millionaires but that it’s all configured in important posts in the media, in the Congress, in the Executive branch, in all local governments, towns, dentists, doctors, lawyers, professionals, academics, all united in a crusade, all for Israel. When Israel says “we’re going to attack Iran,” these activists, respectable Jews, are the first to support it. Not all, because there are plenty of Jews who aren’t interested in Israel nor the politics of the communal organizations, but those who are active and present have definitely taken the most bellicose positions. They support a government that tortures and imprisons thousands of Palestinians.

I’m reminded when the Jews speak of the complicity of the Germans, what are they themselves if not complicit with the great and savage crimes of the State of Israel? What difference is there between German complicity and that of the professors and doctors? And the same thing is happening here, exactly the same thing and look how the media don’t question the fact that the presidents in this congress of the association in favor of Israel, are eight thousand delegates representing 120,000 affiliates in the country who are super active.

There’s one thing that one should ask and that is why the North American public doesn’t react against the manipulations of this minority. It’s because the Jews control the communications media and present Obama’s speeches in favor of Jerusalem and Israel as though they were something normal, just another speech. And there’s no commentary when Israel says that it’s going to hurl bombs at Iran. No editorial whatsoever criticizing Israel. Why? Because of Israel’s power, and note, Noam Chomsky, a hero of the Brechistas and the leftists: Silent, during the conference of the Zionist organizations! When the North American candidates submit themselves to the Israel lobby, Chomsky doesn’t say anything critical against the Jewish organizations. He’s also complicit because with his silence he seeks to divert attention from certain North American investments in Israel and tries to blame those when they don’t have any kind of influence over Israel’s foreign policy and no weight at all against the Jewish lobby in Washington. Despite his moralistic position, Chomsky is complicit in the great subject of our time, the war against Iran, the war against Palestine [and] excuses Israel with his silence toward the U.S. Jewish organizations which are the main force supporting Israel.

Chury: Petras, we appreciate this profound analysis that you’ve made of several issues on the table. On behalf of the audience, we embrace you and promise you’ll find us on Monday…

Petras: Many thanks and my regards to everyone. I look forward to this day because we need to reflect on our political support for these leaders. And for my part at least I feel a bit disenchanted with President Chávez when this puts me so much in mind of the political accords between supposedly great leftist leaders with right-wing politicians and foreign movements are used as nothing more than pressure in order to improve their diplomatic policy.

I believe that our commitment must always be toward our own movements in our own countries with our own class struggles, instead of looking for great saviors elsewhere.

Chury: Very well, Petras, a big hug as always, best wishes…

Petras: A hug, bye.

Chury: Bye bye.

Source: Radio CX 36

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

4 responses to “Petras takes off the gloves

  1. Petras strikes me as a largely black and white thinker, with devotion to orthodox Marxist analysis. Not that I don’t find orthodox Marxist perspective occasionally useful, but it isn’t very helpful to pursuing social change with all the necessary contradictions that entails. Petras has denounced Chavez, and specifically Evo has revisionist sellouts, ignoring the complexity of the positions they occupy. Denouncing South America’s new left governments may be an intellectually safe position for Petras to take, but it is not necessarily very helpful to anyone operating in the real world of politics.

  2. if petras wants to lead the most left flank of the latin american revolution, it is fine with me; he is a good man.

  3. Petras? In the Amazon?! With a gun?

    You’re joking, right?

  4. yes, i was joking. good men with guns, are hard to find in the amazon. lol.

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