This Week in History: November 8-14



25 years ago: riot police deployed in French Guiana to quell protests

Map showing French Guiana, lower left, compared to France, upper right

On November 14, 1996, more than 500 riot police were dispatched from France to Cayenne, French Guiana, to quell riots in South American colonial territory. Riots began on November 7 after police attacked high school students protesting poor conditions at local schools.

The young people enjoyed wide popular support. The workers closed the colony’s international airport for an entire day. The main union, the Union of Education Workers of Guyana (UTG), has called for a day of general solidarity strike. More than 5,000 people took part in a demonstration in support of the strike.

French Guiana, the last full-fledged colony in South America, had an unemployment rate of over 25 percent coupled with a high cost of living. Since 1983, the population had increased by 70 percent, reaching 140,000 inhabitants. Population growth and inflation were driven, in part, by a construction boom associated with the establishment of the launch site for the European Space Agency’s Ariane rocket program in Kourou. The colony imported $ 750 million worth of goods in 1994 and exported only $ 45 million. The French government has sought to stem the deficit by cutting social benefits and subsidies.

French government officials have also sought to drive out immigrant workers, mainly from Haiti, Suriname and Brazil, for igniting violence. Overseas Territories Minister Jean-Jacques de Peretti said young people were justified in demanding improvements in schools, but blamed the problems on the influx of immigrants. He claimed that half of the students entering school each year did not speak French. Prefect Pierre Dartout described the unrest as “planned actions intended to destabilize Guyana”.

50 years ago: Castro visits Allende in Chile

Allende, far left, and Castro, with the leaders of the leaders of the Socialist Party of Chile and the Communist Party of Chile

On November 10, 1971, then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro made his first visit to Latin America in 11 years, traveling to Chile to meet with the country’s President, Salvador Allende. After Allende’s election the previous year, Chile had become the first country in the Western Hemisphere to open normal relations with Cuba. Originally scheduled to last a week, Castro extended his tour of Chile to a full month.

Castro’s central aim was to lend his supposedly revolutionary credentials to Allende, who was facing a huge social crisis in his country. Chile had accumulated more than $ 3 billion in foreign debt that it was unable to repay. To appease the imperialist debt holders, Allende began to distance himself from his previous promises of major economic and social reforms.

As the Bulletin, the American precursor of World Socialist Website, explained, “Castro is on a rescue mission for Allende in the most concrete sense of the word – not in a struggle with the imperialists, but to prevent the advance of the Chilean workers and peasants.”

In public appearances, Allende greeted Castro with military demonstrations and parades in front of massive crowds. Full members of Chile’s communist and socialist parties have mobilized to help welcome the Cuban leader. Stops were made in places where nationalizations of copper mines or land had recently taken place. Allende said he was trying to prove that “Chile is going through a revolutionary process under a revolutionary government, although different from those used in Cuba … the end is the same however, to make Chile politically independent and economically sovereign”.

Notably, Castro made no attempt to embrace the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), which declared itself Castroist, and which had organized peasant uprisings to forcibly appropriate land (while at the same time encouraging time the illusion that Allende could be pushed to the left by such actions). Rather, Castro used every opportunity to promote Allende’s Popular Front government, made up of Stalinists, Social Democrats, and various bourgeois radicals and liberals.

Promoting the national interests of the Cuban regime, Castro hoped that the visit to Chile would be the first in a long series to countries where he could establish more regular diplomatic and economic relations. Among the connections Castro made on his trip were Augusto Pinochet, who had recently been commissioned by Allende to impose martial law in the province of Santiago, and Juan Velasco Alvarado, Peru’s military dictator.

75 years ago: the French Communist Party wins majority vote in national elections

Maurice Thorez

On November 10, 1946, a national ballot was held in France to elect the National Assembly of the Fourth Republic and thus determine the first regular government since the end of World War II.

The French Communist Party (PCF) received the most votes, with 28% of the total, far more than any other party. The result reflected widespread anti-capitalist sentiment and hostility towards the French ruling class and conservative parties, all of which were involved in the wartime Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazis.

Before the elections, the PCF was in a provisional government with the Christian Democrats of the Popular Republican Movement (MRP) and the Social Democrats of the French section of the Workers’ International (SFIO).

The tripartite alliance had campaigned unsuccessfully for a constitution that would mandate a unicameral parliament, presenting this as a guarantee against the domination of privileged interests. When a referendum in May was rejected, they scrapped the proposal, overhauling a constitution that provided for two chambers of parliament, but with primary legislative power vested in the National Assembly.

Compared to the elections for a Provisional Constituent Assembly held in June, the November ballot saw an increase in support for the PCF. In the Constituent Assembly, the MRP held 166 seats, the PCF 153 and the SFIO 128. In the National Assembly, the PCF obtained 182 seats in the MRP 173 and the SFIO 102.

The PCF, in accordance with its Stalinist program and the needs of the Soviet bureaucracy, was hostile to any struggle for socialist revolution, in the midst of the crisis and upheavals of the postwar period. He shared the pro-capitalist perspective of the Social Democrats and sought to give the stabilization of capitalist power a democratic and radical fig leaf.

Despite his numerical superiority, the PCF’s suggestion to lead the new government was rejected, with former Prime Minister SFIO Léon Blum instead taking the head of the new cabinet. The Stalinists will occupy several ministerial positions, where they will faithfully serve the needs of the French bourgeoisie. But in 1947, in the midst of a wave of strikes and the deepening of the Cold War, the Stalinists would be ousted from the cabinet by their former allies.

100 years ago: Italian fascists create a national party

Benito mussolini

On November 9, 1921, the fascist Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (“Italian combat bands”) under the leadership of Benito Mussolini reorganized during the Third Fascist National Congress from November 7 to 10 as a political party, the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party, or NFP).

The fascist armed gangs had terrorized the organizations of the working class, including the elected socialists, the trade unions and the peasant organizations, since the massive occupations of factories of the “two red years”, 1919 and 1920, had brought Italy on the verge of revolution.

Fascist violence and defense by socialist and workers’ organizations had turned into a low-intensity civil war in early 1921. By August, Mussolini and other fascist leaders signed a pacification pact with the Italian Socialist Party ( PSI) and the General Confederation of Labor (CGL). The pact, however, was ignored by many local fascist leaders who continued their assaults on the working class. Mussolini’s attempt to hold back his followers in the countryside also threatened to separate the urban fascist movement from the rural fascist movement.

Attempts to make fascism appear “left” by naming the new party the Fascist Labor Party, at Mussolini’s request, failed in Congress, and the new National-Fascist Party became an organization based on squads of local action. Mussolini was forced to renounce the Pacification Pact on November 15.

The NFP came to power after Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922 and was effectively the only legal party in Italy from 1925 to 1943.



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