Two Worlds in Collision

excerpted from the book

Intervention and Revolution

The United States in the Third World

by Richard J. Barnet

World Publishing, 1968, paperback edition

The continuing [U.S. government] conflict with revolutionary movements arises from a fundamental clash of perspective on modern political history between those officials in the State Department, Pentagon, CIA and the White House who manage U.S. foreign relations-the National-Security Managers-and the Revolutionaries, who guide insurgent movements.

Since 1945 this country, not content with being primus inter pares among the nations, has sought not the delicate balance of power but a position of commanding superiority in weapons technology, in the regulation of the international economy, and in the manipulation of the internal politics of other countries.

Since the dawn of the sixties the National-Security Managers have taken it as an article of faith that the Third World is both the locus and the prize of the Cold War. "Today's struggle does not lie here," President Kennedy told Paul-Henri Spaak on a visit to Europe in the last year of his life, "but rather in Asia, Latin America and Africa." The less-developed lands, John J. McCloy wrote in 1960, "promise to be the principal battleground in which the forces of freedom and communism compete-a battleground in which the future shape of society may finally be tested and determined."

The National-Security Manager still tends to look at the "Underdeveloped World" as a vast Gray Area in international politics. No part of it is of intrinsic interest, unless, of course, it supplies some vital commodity. Otherwise it can capture the official attention in Washington only if it symbolizes some struggle which transcends the minor turmoil of native politics. To the man of the West, Paris and Berlin are important places in their own right, for they symbolize his own historical heritage. But Danang, Santo Domingo, and Kinshasa penetrate his consciousness, if at all, only as battlefields, and then only if the fight is about something sufficiently important. H~ has almost no knowledge about such places, their people, or their politics, and little personal commitment to them. They represent either sources of strength, strategic or economic, or points of vulnerability. "Vietnam is not the issue," National-Security Managers have frequently confided to critics who question whether systematic bombardment is the best way to secure freedom for the Vietnamese people; "it is the testing ground for the Communist strategy of Wars of National Liberation. If they win here, they will strike elsewhere. If they lose, they will not be so ready to start another."

The National-Security Manager is a global thinker. In themselves, local problems of other countries are not worthy of his attention; it is the transcendent importance of local revolutionary struggles that warrants intervention. Interference in purely domestic matters is still unjustified as a matter of law and sound policy. Unfortunately, he hastens to add, the line between domestic and foreign matters has blurred. When political factions struggle with one another in far-off places, their conflict is an expression of a single worldwide struggle. The real contestants remain the same. Only the battlefield shifts. The battle, which takes the form of a series of guerrilla wars, is not about Vietnam or Greece or the Dominican Republic any more than World War II was about Iwo Jima or Sicily. Wherever men struggle for power, one can always find International Communism, the ubiquitous political scavenger, ready to use genuine local grievances as ammunition in a global holy war. Global strategy, more than local conditions, dictates the site of the next engagement | between international Communism and the Free World.

... The ultimate bureaucratic dream is the perfect I freedom of unlimited power. It is the ability to push a button, make a phone call, dispatch a cable, and know that the world will conform to your vision. The capacity to control, or, as he might put it, to have options, is a much clearer objective for the professional statesman than the purposes to which he would put such power... the National-Security Manager prides himself on avoiding theological and "nonpragmatic" speculation. He has faith in his intuitive grasp of the art of ad hoc politics. Yet, in developing official policy on U.S. intervention, he is not quite so free as he thinks. Just as he casts his adversary, the Revolutionary-Castro, Mao, Ho-in the inevitable role of foreign agent, so he has picked out a well-worn part for himself. It is the role of the imperial peacekeeper.

The National-Security Manager is of course outraged by any such suggestion. To note that America follows in the footsteps of other great powers offends against a basic tenet of his faith: America is exceptional. The nation which sprang from a unique political philosophy at a unique historical moment, singularly blessed by geography, climate, and the inventive energy of her people, never needed to fall prey to the temptations of the European empires, and never did.

To the National-Security Manager, peering out from the seventh floor of the State Department, the Pentagon War Room, or the Situation Room in the White House, the world looks something like a seething caldron. The eruption of violence makes him acutely uncomfortable, for it threatens a status quo which, if left undisturbed, promises to bring a steady appreciation of America's preeminent wealth and power.

... the National-Security Manager feels that unless the forces of radical change unleashed by two world wars and the breakup of old empires is held in check, the United States cannot maintain its present preeminent economic and political position.

... The powerful have always invoked the law to protect their power and property, and they have \ usually insisted on the right to help enforce that law themselves. The Pax Romana and Pax Britannica were primarily arrangements to protect Roman and British interests by creating a system of law and order in which those interests could thrive and by supplying the necessary military power to defend the system. Indeed, the word "imperium" itself in Roman times referred to the territory under the jurisdiction of the law of Rome. As a by-product, some other nations derived a measure of security. But that was hardly the primary purpose. The benefits flowing to the "world community" of their day were most unevenly distributed. Some peoples did well under imperial protection. Others were crushed. Since he feels no real responsibility to the world community or to any higher power on earth, because there is none, the imperial peacekeeper necessarily applies and enforces the law in a self-serving way. The higher community which American statesmen purport to serve is largely their own creation. In the early postwar days it was a subservient United Nations. Today it is a self-defined Free World.

The National-Security Manager assumes that U.S. interests and those of the rest of humanity coincide. Governments and political movements which contest this idea have ulterior and illegitimate motives. Far from a simple cynic who mouths idealistic rhetoric to mask economic plundering, the Manager sincerely believes that in opposing Third World revolutions the United States is both pursuing its self-interest and promoting the ultimate welfare of the world community. The fight against insurgent movements is rationalized into a continuing crusade for a decent world, the latest episode in the battle to make the world safe for democracy.

Like everyone else, the National-Security Manager looks at the issue of violence from a highly personal perspective. He is selective in the violence he notices and inconsistent in the moral judgments he makes about it. On November 23, 1946, for example, at the very moment when the State Department was preparing a major U.S. intervention against Greek "terrorists," a French naval squadron turned its guns on the civilian population of Haiphong and killed more than six thousand in an afternoon. The United States did not protest, much less intervene. Violence in behalf of the established order is judged by one set of criteria, insurgent violence by another. When established institutions kill through their police or their armies, it is regrettable but, by hypothesis, necessary. When the weak rise up and kill, their violence threatens order everywhere.

One reason why the National-Security Manager has ... difficulty in coming to grips with the problem of political violence abroad is that, like most Americans, he has not confronted the issue in his own country. Until the wave of Negro riots struck American cities in the mid-sixties, he pictured his country as a tranquil island in a sea of violence. Because of its tradition of law and order, the United States was uniquely successful in avoiding the coups, rebellions assassinations, and executions that plagued the rest of the world.

There is enough validity to the national myth of equal opportunity that those who have risen to the top of American society are quite prepared to accept it. In such a well-regulated society, violence is not a phenomenon of politics, but of crime. Those who resort to it are unwilling to play a competitive game open to all but are trying to wreck the game and impose their own rules. The few attempts to practice the politics of violence in America have failed. The Wobblies, the KKK, the Confederacy, and the Whiskey Rebellion were all suppressed. The National-Security Manager cannot see why younger societies now undergoing economic and political development should not also suppress violent challenges from their own populations. And, in the name of order, the United States should help

Behind the myth of unique tranquillity lies one of the most violent countries in the world. The United States has engaged in eight major wars and over one hundred minor ones in its brief history, including one of the bloodiest civil wars in history. In the one hundred years since that war, we have assassinated our Presidents regularly at twenty-year intervals, missing only Harding and Franklin Roosevelt, who died in office. (Roosevelt and Truman were both targets of assassination attempts.) The murder rate is among the highest in the world. Other crimes against persons have reached staggering proportions. The United States spends far more on instruments of violence and on a class of specialists in violence than any other country.

The National-Security Manager does not grasp or will not admit that there are societies-some, it now appears, even in our own country-where the channels of "peaceful change" have totally broken down or never existed. He professes to understand the causal connection between misery and violence but he cannot accept the legitimacy of the guerrilla, no matter how just his grievance. For the sake of world order he must be suppressed until safer paths to economic development and political justice can be found.


According to his vision of social change in America, the United States has escaped class conflict because of its economic system, which makes it possible for each man to contribute to the general welfare by looking after his own. The government, he knows, plays a larger role than we care to advertise. But its function is to prime the pump and to stimulate the general growth of the economy, not to make a radical redistribution of political and economic power. The economy continues to grow because the system has learned how to harness technology.

Looking at the underdeveloped world, the National-Security Manager assumes that what W. W. Rostow calls a "high-mass-consumption" society is the real ultimate goal of newly decolonized societies and a proper one. The best way to achieve the "takeofl" that can bring a modest version of the affluent society to poor nations is through technological innovation and the education of an entrepreneurial class that can supply the energy for change. The economic system that stimulates entrepreneurship is private enterprise.


The National-Security Manager takes some comfort from the thought that the military of the Third World, the class that has most directly and handsomely benefited from U.S. aid around the world, are also the most promising entrepreneurs. In Latin America and parts of the Middle East the military have been "modernizing" influences. Furnished with U.S. training and equipment, they are the first in their societies to apply technology to public problems. They are now equipped for "civic action." The Department of Defense explains it this way: "As the interdependence of civil and military matters is increasingly recognized, the social and economic welfare of the people can no longer be considered a non-military concern."


To the Revolutionary the growing poverty and desperation of his people is not a natural calamity but the direct consequence of continuing human exploitation-external and internal. The rich nations are getting richer at the expense of the poor, not because history decrees it, but because the developed countries, particularly the United States, have the political power to impose terms upon the underdeveloped world which are profitable for the rich and impoverishing for the poor.

The Revolutionary is convinced that the very policies on which the United States banks its hopes of development actually destroy the possibilities of progress. He accuses the United States of using its foreign-aid funds to sponsor a small entrepreneurial elite who are able to pay for U.S.-manufactured imports, when, if it really wanted to encourage independent economies, it would finance local manufacturing facilities. (The trend is toward increased U.S. investment in factories, but local ownership is minimal.) The Revolutionary believes that his country is assigned a more or less permanent role in the world economy as the poor farmer and miner. Since the price of raw commodities can to a great extent be controlled by the powerful nations, this policy too ensures continued political dependence, with very little prospect of economic self-sufficiency. He is convinced that these policies are deliberate attempts to continue a pattern of exploitation. That the world's greatest capitalist nation should turn out to be the most imperialist merely confirms his deepest ideological prejudices. The performance of the United States at the World Conference on Trade and Development when it voted -often alone among seventy-seven countries-against such propositions as "noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries," "the sovereign right freely to trade with other countries," and "to dispose of its natural resources in the interest of the economic development and well-being of its own people" provided additional evidence. The United States, he is convinced, has economic and political interests that are adverse to the political and economic independence of his country.

The Revolutionary ascribes the plight of his country not only to foreign enemies, of which the greatest is the United States, but also to local enemies, the handful of landowners who maintain a subsistence economy for the peasants and resist land reform, the businessmen who bank their profits abroad and block any increased political power or earning power for the worker, and the military. Every revolutionary movement spreads the myth that the removal of a man or a class is all that stands in the way of progress and justice. But the local targets are plausible enough. In Brazil about five percent of the population owns ninety-five percent of the cultivable land. In every other country in Latin America over fifty percent of the productive land is still in the hands of the top four percent of the population. The landowners resist land reform and are prepared to defend with the army and the police a land-tenure system surviving from the days of colonial land grants. Rebellious peasants, who have agitated for reform or have "squatted" on land, have, depending upon the character of the particular regime, been ignored, harassed, imprisoned, tortured, or murdered. "Each country is being occupied by its own army," the leader of the exiled Liberal party of Colombia declared in 1955. The Alliance for Progress, as President Kennedy put it, was to make the continent "a crucible of revolutionary ideas" and to "reverse the fatal policy of economic colonization, humiliation, and exploitation" which led to the Castro revolution. But the owners of the latifundia have shown themselves unwilling to give up their immense economic advantages voluntarily. Land-reform legislation has been adopted in several Latin-American countries, but where it has been implemented at all, it has not begun to touch the problem. Since only five percent of Latin America's land surface is actually cultivated, and all but a small fraction of the population depend on the land for survival-in Brazil forty million out of the seventy million population are outside the cash economy-in the Revolutionary's eyes the situation is clear. The physical survival of the poorest peasants demands a direct confrontation with the latifundists and the governments they control.

The concept of a revolution from above strikes him as a device for continuing the status quo, for in practice the burdens fall once again on the lowest classes. To accumulate capital necessary for an economic "takeoff," the government must be able to tax. But the landlord classes have been highly successful in resisting taxes in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. About three percent of the population pays taxes in Latin America and about one percent in Asia and Africa. So widespread is the refusal to pay that taxation produces only between five and ten percent of the Gross National Product in the Third World. As alternative sources of revenue, governments resort to indirect taxation and austerity programs, which depend upon wage freezes. The success of the rich in avoiding taxes goes a long way to explain why, in Brazil, for example, sixty-three percent of the income for 1957 went to seventeen percent of the population.

The Revolutionary who becomes a guerrilla is a man who believes that all other avenues of political change are closed or the process of change is so controlled and slow as to be meaningless. Luis Taruc, the Philippine Huk leader, began a full-scale challenge of the government after he and other communists were denied the seats to parliament to which they had been legally elected. The Greek communists and members of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front began terrorist activities when the constituted governments declared them ineligible to participate in the political process and hunted them down as outlaws. This is not to say that a revolutionary movement will not pursue a legal political struggle and a guerrilla war at the same time, if it can; but that violence, for the weak, is a weapon of last resort.

For the Revolutionary, the ultimate and most important use of violence is to disrupt the power of the state, then to smash it. Mao Tse-tung and the more recent theorists of revolution insist that the revolutionary forces must eventually become an army capable of seizing the apparatus of the state. While the orthodox Marxist revolutionaries, including Mao, taught that the revolutionary army was an instrument of the political party, younger revolutionaries including Castro and Regis Debray now argue that the revolutionary army itself, the men who are daily risking their lives, is the nucleus of the revolutionary movement. "Who will make the revolution in Latin America?" Fidel Castro asks. "The people, the revolutionaries, with or without the party.'' For the modern generation of revolutionaries, violence has assumed the central role.

Fanon's encounters with patients who have committed acts of violence suggest that for the individual revolutionary, violence creates personal moral problems. At the ideological level, however, the Revolutionary disposes of the problem with the same psychological devices which the National-Security Manager uses to defend to himself and others his own use of violence. First, the violence is provoked. If the revolutionaries throw the first bomb, it must be understood as a reaction to the continuing institutionalized violence of the state. The authorities use the police and the army every day to keep the dispossessed peasant below the level of subsistence. His children starve. His crop is stolen. He is the victim of arbitrary arrest. Second the people and not the authorities temporarily in control of the state have the legitimate claim to use violence. The state has forfeited it by becoming the private preserve of a small class. The National Front, the revolutionary coalition, represents popular aspirations, and the closest thing to a consensus in the society. Thus the revolutionaries lay claim to the basis of legitimacy for the use of political violence, which the state has lost through corruption or tyrannical behavior. If the revolutionaries look like bandits to the men in the palace, the high-living generals and politicians look like thieves and murderers to the men in the hills. Finally, the Revolutionary justifies violence with the familiar argument of expediency. It is a necessary means to a good end. Once the oppressors have been dislodged from power and the enemies of the revolution liquidated, then a good society free of terror and violence can come into being. If the state does not wither away, at least state repression will. In the end, liberation will mean that many violent deaths will have been avoided. Just as the National-Security Manager justifies the use of napalm, antipersonnel bombs, and crop destroyers as the necessary preparation for a peaceful society, so the Revolutionary shares the same guilt-assuaging illusion. Violence can be controlled. Once the objectives for which the killing is done are achieved, the killing will stop.

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