This week in history: Oct 17-23
25 years ago: Castro regime canonizes Che Guevara
Ernesto “Che”, Guevara’s remains were laid to rest in Santa Clara (Cuban) on October 17, 1997, thirty years after his death during a guerrilla fiasco. Six of his comrades from Argentina-Cuban were also buried with him. Their bodies had been found in a grave in the Bolivian jungle the previous summer.
Castro’s regime made the event a state-level event with quasi-religious undertones. The remains were displayed in boxes at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion. A parade, hymns, and a speech from Fidel Castro, Cuban President, were held to accompany their burial in the Santa Clara mausoleum.
The Castro regime joined an international effort to mythologize Guevara. This was for its purposes. It made him an icon that had little to do with his views in life. The ceremonies in Cuba were notable for the absence of Latin American forces seeking to imitate Guevara’s guerrilla warfare strategy.
Guevara believed that a continental-wide guerrilla conflict was the only way to liberate the continent from US imperialist control. The Cuban government had long since abandoned the idea of a guerrilla war. This thesis that the only way to revolution was through the formation of guerrilla bands in the countryside led to a generation of Latin American youth engaging in suicide prevention. It was able to isolate some of the most militant and selfless elements of the younger generation and make them more accessible to the working class. This helped pave the way for the horrific defeats and military dictatorships in the 1970s.
Many who followed Guevara’s lead ended up being tortured, killed, and hunted down by US-backed military forces. Others continued their political careers and gave up an “armed struggle” to get parliamentary seats for the leaders of the group or positions in capitalist trade for select members like the Chilean MIR, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and FMLN in El Salvador.
The Cuban government tried to revive the Guevara legend, but so did various middle-class left groups and commercial ventures looking to promote his image. This prevented a serious review of his politics and bitter legacy.
50 years ago: South Korea’s military dictatorship was established
Park Chung-hee, the South Korean president, declared martial law on October 17, 1972, and disbanded the National Assembly. Park created a new government in the following weeks, with all power concentrated on the executive.
Park was first elected to power in 1961, following a coup to stop a revolution among the youth and working class. This was known as the April Revolution. Park was a veteran of the Imperial Japanese military in World War II. He also served alongside the Americans in the Korean War. In 1961, he established a military dictatorship that would eventually lead to the Third Republic in 1963. The Third Republic was presented to the public in a liberal democracy. However, it kept Park as president through narrow victories in elections. The 1971 election in which Park would have been prevented from running due to constitutional term limits, saw the Third Republic, supported by his supporters, amend the constitution to allow Park to run.
The South Korean bourgeoisie pushed for rapid industrialization during Park’s “democratic” phase. The breakneck industrial
growth often called an “economic miracle”, was only possible through the most brutal exploitations of the working class.
Park was facing major opposition to his regime, and he managed to get through the 1971 presidential election with only 53 percent of the vote. He feared that a new mass movement would arise that would challenge both his rule as well as the development of South Korean capitalism. Park and the South Korean ruling classes, supported by American backers, believed that dictatorship was the best way to protect the profits of US and Korean
capitalisms, following the lead of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippians.
Park’s military dictatorship was established and no time was lost in crushing strikes, protests, or any other political resistance. Park used the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) to torture, execute and arrest any political dissidents. He also established large prison camps for forced labor. The left-wing and communist movements were particularly targeted in the repression.
75 years ago: HUAC launches anticommunist witch-hunt at Hollywood
The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a House of Representatives investigative body, opened hearings on October 20, 1947. These hearings were allegedly aimed at discovering “communist influence” within Hollywood.
Following a media campaign launched the previous year in which the Hollywood Reporter identified several actors, directors, and other movie personalities as Communist Party members, the witch-hunt was launched. HUAC took up this right-wing effort in conditions where the Truman administration was rapidly escalating Cold War against the Soviet Union. This was after having overturned the alliance between American Imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy during World War II.
The committee’s new focus was legitimized by “friendly witnesses” who were heard during the first week of HUAC hearings. Walt Disney, an animator and film producer, was one of the first to voice his disapproval of the existence of unions among Hollywood workers. When asked about the Communist Party, Disney replied: “I don’t believe it’s a political party, but I believe it’s an un-American thing,” before supporting “outlawed” un-American activities. Disney also named several film professionals he believed to be communists.
Ronald Reagan, the future president of America and the head of the Screen Actors Guild, gave similar testimony. He claimed that the guild was controlled by a “clique”, which included unnamed Communist Party members. Adolphe Menjou, the actor declared that he was a witch hunter if the witches were Communists. I am a Red-baiter. They all should be back in Russia, I wish.”
Later that month, 10 hostile witnesses were summoned to verify whether they were part of the Communist Party. They were asked to “name names” and confirm their membership. Bertold Brecht, a German exile playwright, was initially part of the group. He fled to Europe.
The 10 people who refused to give testimony would be found contemptuous of Congress in November. Punitive sanctions were imposed and an effective blacklist was created. This would lead to hundreds of artists being placed on blacklists.
100 years ago: Dominican Republic’s sugar industry heir takes the presidency
Sumner Welles, American High Commissioner to the Dominican Republic, chose Juan Bautista Vicini Burgos as the country’s acting President on October 21, 1922. Since 1916, the United States military had occupied the Caribbean country. This sparked armed resistance from Dominicans between 1917 and 1921. American occupation led to American control of the country’s political and economic life. The National City Bank of New York managed the nation’s finances. American companies bought large tracts of land to cultivate sugar, using near-slave labor conditions. This was done by Haitian workers.
American President Warren G. Harding sent Welles to carry out “The Harding Plan,” which sought US military control and replaced it with American domination of the police, American supervision over elections, and a $2.5m loan to build the country’s infrastructure.
This shift in imperialist policies was not due to American public opinion becoming more hostile to the occupations in Haiti and the Dominican Republic but also because American imperialism’s direct entry into European affairs after World War I meant that American rule in the Caribbean and Latin America had to take a more indirect form.
The Harding Plan was rejected by a large portion of the Dominican population. A round of negotiations between Charles Evans Hughes, the American secretary, and Francisco J. Peynado the Dominican ambassador, led to Vicini being appointed acting president. Vicini is the son of a sugar magnate. Vicini’s government was limited by American occupation forces. In 1924, US soldiers withdrew from the country. American favorite Horacio Vasquez defeated Peynado in the presidential elections.