The Revolution That Was Not: The French Student Revolt of 1968

The students that rebelled against the French University in May of 1968 caused a series of events that seemed to come full circle in a matter of only a few weeks. Within the first week student protests and calls for university reform had transformed into calls for nation-wide revolution, which led to strikes so widespread that by the end of May “[t]he economic life of the country was virtually at a standstill with 9 or 10 million people involved in the work stoppage (Caute, pg. 245).” The student occupation of the Sorbonne and eventually the entire Latin Quarter in Paris (after violent street-battles between police and students) became reminiscent of 19th century revolutions which were thought buried long in the past, movements in which intelligentsia and proletariat were steadfast in their solidarity. This unity grew in spite of the initial mistrust between workers and students. Radical student intellectuals such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit thought that the overthrow of the Fifth Republic and the regime of President Charles de Gaulle was just the beginning of a total transformation of French society. Many workers shared the radical, revolutionary sentiments of the students and participated in wildcat strikes, pressuring the trade unions to call official strikes in support of their workers. However, many of the unions were allied with the Communist party in France (PCF), which was conservative in its intentions, desiring to maintain the capitalist status quo in order to win upcoming elections, hence only making material demands for workers, such as shorter hours and increased wages.

Just how and why did protests by students against the rigid hierarchy of the French University evolve into a massive, nation-wide movement? Was it because the French University was a microcosm of French society as a whole, as suggested by David Caute in The Year of the Barricades? Or were the events of May only a case of “Psychodrama” as described by Raymond Aron in The Elusive Revolution? Could it have been a case in which the students were “…merely acting…” in a “…rehearsal held almost two centuries after the play had already been staged…(Aron, pg. XV)?”

The Elusive Revolution was a transcript published of a discussion which took place in July of 1968 between Alain Duhamel and Raymond Aron. It was an interview in which Aron set out to be an apologist for his own judgments (broadcast through independent French radio stations) of the student revolt and nationwide work stoppage a month earlier. Aron associated the participants in the student uprising of 1968 with actors imitating the historical revolutionary figures of France’s distant past, claiming that the contemporary event was really a “non-event”. He went so far as to quote Shakespeare in the preface to The Elusive Revolution, (‘…a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’) corresponding the famous line to what he thought was France’s perception of what had happened in the month of May. Aron set out to claim that the naive students had consciously and deliberately taken on the parts of historical revolutionary figures such as Robespierre and Lenin, but as poor imitations of those characters. Then, after criticizing the students for becoming farcical representations of figures long dead, Aron went on to liken himself to Alexis de Tocqueville in his radio broadcasted responses of the events at the time. Like de Tocqueville, Aron was a vocal proponent of liberal democracy throughout the events of May. The former considered the idealistic aspirations of libertarian socialists, such as self-management, as unrealistic and “…incompatible with modern society…(Aron, pg. 6).” Excerpts such as this abound in The Elusive Revolution, as it was a self-admitted personal reaction wrought with Aron’s self-justifications and explanations of the opinions he made public throughout the events of May. This is in stark contrast to the framework of Caute’s book, The Year of the Barricades, in that Caute’s account attempted a more objective look at what happened in May of 1968 (albeit, with the advantage of historical hindsight from twenty years later).

Instead of writing a subjective analysis of the student uprising, David Caute tried to put the events of May within the context of the year of 1968, and within the even broader framework  of what France’s political and cultural environment was like in that time.  With The Year of the Barricades, Caute focused on recording the chain of events throughout May in a chronology crafted from the who, what, where, when, and when necessary an analysis of why, as opposed to Aron’s subjective, analytically critical approach. The so-called Psychodrama started when Daniel Cohn-Bendit and other student activists (called the March 22nd Movement by some) protested outside of the Sorbonne against the disciplinary action awaiting them. Caute summarily explained the reasoning of those students only after he had described the growth of the protests to include the National Union of Students (UNEF), and the lecturer’s union (SNESup), outside the Sorbonne throughout the weekend of May 3rd through May 5th. The wide array of students and teachers were united against the hierarchy of the French University, wanting greater political freedom for students and lecturers within the university. The protesters were especially opposed to increasingly rigorous selective admission standards as implemented by the Fouchet Plan.

“One thing that united the student generation was resentment against antiquated disciplinary rules. Political meetings and propaganda were normally forbidden on campus; men were not allowed into women’s lodgings; students were not permitted to decorate their rooms; in many halls of residence, students could receive guests only in the common rooms. It required only inspired leadership- the flair, humor, and courage of Cohn-Bendit- to link the petty frustrations with the wider grievance against technocratic authoritarianism (Caute, pg. 214).”

Although Cohn-Bendit rejected being labelled as a leader, preferring to claim that he was voicing the opinions of the majority of students. This was because the movement espoused a horizontal system of self-administration that some would deem the New Left, and others such as Aron would pejoratively call ultra-left. Indeed, those of the March 22nd Movement were difficult to discern for Gaullists and Communists alike, as some of the students compared themselves to Les Enrages, (those of the radical left during the French Revolution that opposed the Jacobins) which was perhaps the provocation which led Aron to label the students as poor imitators of revolutionary figures. Yet this labeling of the movement was made in order to establish that it was anti-authoritarian, and became something that Gaullists and liberals such as Aron focused on. This was instead of the new, contemporary aspects of the movement, such as its criticisms of consumerism as the 20th century opium of the people (in reference to Marx’s diagnosis of religion being the opium of the people in the 19th century). The students were not aspiring to be antiquated figures, they were fighting against a hierarchical system from antiquity and the authoritarianism it produced. If anything, the misguided students were the ones idolizing Chairman Mao and Ho Chi Minh, but those students were not significant until later, (in spite of the abundance of Mao, Lenin, and Trotsky posters) and thus were not the subject of Aron’s criticisms.

The students from Nanterre wanted reform and the forging of something entirely new, as inspired by the situationists, in which societal alienation and technocracy would be destroyed. Jean-Paul Sartre, the intellectual adversary of Raymond Aron, interviewed Daniel Cohn-Bendit in late May, in a attempt to find out more about the goals of the new movement. “What many people cannot understand is the fact that you have not tried to work out a program or to give your movement a structure…[and they] attack you for trying to ‘smash everything’ without knowing…what you would like to put in place of what you demolish.” Cohn Bendit’s answer was that the “…movement’s strength is precisely that it is based on an ‘uncontrollable’ spontaneity, that it gives an impetus without trying to canalize it or use the action it had unleashed to its own profit (Perry, pg. 358).” Cohn-Bendit’s explanation impressed Sartre, in that it affirmed that the movement was attempting to implement imagination into reality in a way that had not been carried out since the Paris Communes of 1871. Yet the movement of 1968 was revolutionary for revolutions (or would-be revolutions) because it constituted a paradigm shift towards grassroots activism in which the unions, (for both students and workers) were forced to follow the massive illegal wildcat strikes in order to remain relevant to their constituents.

Caute remarked time and again on the exceptional nature of the widespread advent of a virtual general strike that neither the unions nor the Communists had called for, and the solidarity seen between participants in both the working class and the students, (many of whom came from bourgeois families). The professors that had joined the students made their own observations as to why the movement had become so widespread; Claude Lefort was one such lecturer and philosopher that had taught at the Sorbonne, and Caute found that Lefort’s observations were correct in that “…what triggered the workers’ revolt was not economic grievances, but the sudden realization that traditional power structures could, with boldness, be challenged (Caute, 249).” However, Caute then came to a conclusion similar to Aron’s, but in a more subtle fashion that was not disdainful of the students or of May’s events, stating that the demands for self-management were vague while still maintaining that dismembering the hierarchical system was justified. “The March 22 Movement issued its own tentative formula for ‘self-management in the enterprise,’ but the phrases were vague or vaporous: ‘…power of the worker at the level of his work (opposition to technocracy)… break hierarchical clustering into cadres, and separations of technical, economic and financial functions.’ That was all very well (if one understood the jargon), but could you eat it or drink it (Caute, pg. 249)?” Contrary to the students’ desires for intangible revolutionary goals, (such as the destruction and subsequent restructuring of capitalist society) the PCF and many workers desired material demands, or as Caute put it, something tangible, something with which the people could eat or drink.

However, Cohn-Bendit’s views were important in that he conveyed a different outlook. Jean-Paul Sartre recognized this when he interviewed Cohn-Bendit, and Sartre posed significant questions to him regarding the choice between adjustments or revolution. The radical student claimed that with support of the Communist party and unions General de Gualle’s regime could be overthrown “within a fortnight”, but that alone would not solve the issue. Yet the PCF and trade unions did not support the March 22nd Movement until after more than a week of police brutalizing students and protesters, (which Caute described in great detail and Aron only mentioned in passing) and even then the PCF was quick to give in to negotiations with the de Gaulle administration, winning some reforms in hopes of winning at the polls, which was ultimately unsuccessful. As Sartre put it, because of the events of May, “…the university will be readjusted, but only within the framework of a bourgeois society.” Cohn-Bendit’s strategy was to accept the realities of the situation, to implement revolution in the long term through reform, and not claim that the two were mutually exclusive. “I am not interested in metaphysics, in looking for ways to ‘make the revolution.’ As I have said, I think that we are moving toward a perpetual change of society, produced by revolutionary actions at each stage (Perry, pg. 358).”

Although Raymond Aron was highly critical of those whom were participants in the events of May and their wide range of often contradictory aspirations, he agreed that there should be changes to the authoritarian nature of France’s educational system, but no fundamental changes to the framework of French society in itself. Aron admitted that even though he was disturbed by the massive amount of involvement in the events of May, (or what he called a pseudo-revolution) the movement represented “…a longing, which a great many French people share, to be treated as human beings and not as objects like raw materials or the cogs in a machine. People aspire to dignity, to the status of a subject. Who would oppose these aspirations? The question is, how can they be satisfied? …the only conceivable way involves a transformation in personal relationships (Aron, pg. 112).” And so Aron blamed the issues with the new generation of students on the students and their upbringing: yes, their education was authoritarian, but their bourgeois parents were also too lenient. Caute however, recognized the faults in France’s system, then told the story of what had happened in May of 1968, and criticized the students without being disdainful.

More importantly, Caute’s The Year of the Barricades put the events of May into a historical and an as-objective-as-possible perspective. While Aron’s The Elusive Revolution could only be read in a philosophical and highly political context in which it would be necessary to have been in France at the time with a similarly indignant attitude toward what was happening. Aron’s opinions were understandable in that he had lived through the Second World War and wanted France to “…get away from chaos, from anarchy, from violence (Aron, pg. 183).” However, his contemptuousness toward the students, workers, and various other protestors in The Elusive Revolution was unattractive in comparison to Caute’s historical narrative and reasonably critical analysis. The Elusive Revolution was a product of its time, an emotional reaction to an emotional upheaval which had only happened a month prior, and could only be understood within the context of what was happening in France midway through the twentieth century. Caute’s The Year of the Barricades explained the events of May as a distinct movement just as he had described Cohn-Bendit as a leader that denied being a leader. And with a historical analysis, instead of a contemporary political critique, David Caute offered an enlightening account of an event which has defied definitions to the point of having the ambiguous label: the events of May, or even more ambiguously- May of 68. The revolution that was not a revolution was indeed revolutionary because of its examples of grassroots activism, rejection of modern consumerism, advocation of direct democracy, and most memorably the humorous and subversive street art and slogans. Which is why what had happened in Paris that month was so significant, in that it represented the effects of society’s post-industrial transition on a generation of youth, and that it was an event that had come full circle in only a few weeks, but had such enduring consequences that it would foreshadow the European economic and societal crises of the 21st century.

"Be young and shut up", an example of the more general and ambiguous anti-establishment art seen in Paris throughout May of 68.
“Be young and shut up”, an example of the more general and ambiguous anti-establishment posters that could be seen on the streets of Paris throughout May of 68.

The Revolution and War are Inseparable: Interpreting the Spanish Civil War

1936
George Orwell joined a militia linked to the POUM, an anti-Stalinist Marxist party that would be labeled “Trotskyist” by the Communists and subsequently persecuted.

The Spanish Civil War has been swept under the rug as an insignificant footnote in history because of misunderstandings and oversimplifications made by scholars misled by Soviet propaganda as to why the fragmented factions of the Spanish Republic were defeated by “Nationalist” rebels led by General Francisco Franco. Reports from the international media at that time led liberals and sympathizers of democracy to believe that the war against the Spanish Fascists (Franco’s forces were given equipment and even troops by Hitler and Mussolini) was sabotaged by traitorous Anarchists. Throughout Europe, people were interested in the events, but were only exposed to news about the Spanish Civil War that was manipulated by the Soviet Union. This included Pablo Picasso, who was living in France, but originally from Barcelona, and based his renowned mural Guernica off of reports from Parisian Communist papers such as Ce soir and Figaro (Red City, Blue Period, 177). George Orwell often attested to Communist media domination in his memoir, Homage to Catalonia, “Unlike the Communists they [the other political parties] had no footing in any press outside their own country, and inside Spain they were at an immense disadvantage because the press censorship was mainly under Communist control…”(63). Meanwhile, Socialist (POUM/UGT) and Anarchist (CNT/FAI) trade unions and parties in the loosely united Popular Front government became increasingly marginalized as Soviet influence and aid grew. Historians such as Temma Kaplan, attempt to briefly summarize the political situation in Spain at the time, and often unknowingly accept Communist propaganda as historical fact, thus characterizing the Socialists, and more often the Anarchists specifically as the weak links that sabotaged the war against Franco. However, the Spanish Anarchists, who were dominant in regions such as Catalonia where they had quickly collectivized farms and factories, stood as the only substantial bulwark against Franco in the early July fighting of 1936 when the Spanish Republic barely had a standing army left to defend cities from the fast advancing Fascists.

Scholars such as Temma Kaplan have come to accept the Soviet explanation of events as truth by inadvertently repeating oversimplified Communist propaganda without digging deeper into the more complex political reality in the Spanish Republic at the time. For example, in her book on Barcelona entitled Red City, Blue Period, Kaplan stated that “republicans, Communists, and Socialists all blamed the CNT for concentrating on making a revolution in Barcelona rather than on winning the war against the fascists in Spain”(178). This broad statement did not recognize that the Communists in Madrid were not focused on winning the war as much as they were intent on curtailing already accomplished working class revolutionary goals. Such a generalization also failed to delve into the POUM and CNT reasoning on why the revolution and the war were inseparable. If, however, the Anarchists were responsible for losing the war, then why was it that the Communists first sought to accuse and persecute the POUM, a Socialist party, for supposedly aiding the Fascists by diverting war efforts, instead of the CNT? This was because the Communists, directed by Stalin, labeled the POUM as a Trotskyist organization (a prioritized enemy for Stalinists); only because one of its leaders, Nin, was formerly affiliated but then later broke with Trotsky years before. A more salient example of Kaplan’s analytical shortcomings could be seen in two passages, one which claimed that Anarchist collectives “frequently remained under the management of the old owners; it was, after all, in everyone’s interest for the factories to run smoothly”(178), a statement that was largely inaccurate, as Sam Dolgoff’s The Anarchist Collectives and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia approximated that almost three fourths of Catalonia’s factories and farms had been fully collectivized within a few months and were completely under the management of the workers.

Another passage from Red City, Blue Period bordered on inaccurate when the author not only understated the recent swelling of Communist power, but also used the misleading verb retake when describing the government seizure of a building which was run by CNT workers since the beginning of the revolution: “the ‘May Days’ were triggered when the city government, supported and perhaps instigated by the small but influential Communist party, attempted to retake the telephone and telegraph exchange from the CNT militias”(180). Regarding the “small but influential” Communists, it was apparent by May of 1937 that the Spanish Communist party was nowhere near small, due to “a vast increase in membership partly by appealing to the middle classes against the revolutionaries”(Homage to Catalonia, 63). Kaplan’s wording, whether intentional or not, implied political insinuations that belittle the power of the Spanish Communists under direct control of the Soviets, and thus under the influence of Stalin’s intentions. Such insinuations also belittle the accomplishments and efforts of the Spanish working class militias, represented by CNT, that by all accounts had unquestioningly saved the Republic from annihilation in the first few months of hostilities starting in July of 1936, regardless of their organizational efficiency afterward, “During the first two months of the war it was the Anarchists more than anyone else who had saved the situation, and much later than this the Anarchist militia, in spite of their indiscipline, were notoriously the best fighters among the purely Spanish forces”(Homage to Catalonia, 62).

The influential Soviet controlled Communist Party grew more powerful in the government as it became more apparent that the Soviet Union was the only country that would give aid to the Spanish Republic. By the time foreign journalists such as George Orwell arrived in Spain en masse they saw the practicality in the communist agenda. Lionel Trilling elaborated on Orwell’s initial Communist leanings in his introduction to Homage to Catalonia, explaining that the inclination to the Communist response was natural since “It proposed to fight the war without any reference to any particular political idea beyond a defense of democracy from a fascist enemy. Then, when the war was won, the political and social problems would be solved, but until the war should be won, any dissension over these problems could only weaken the united front against Franco” (XX). However, unlike his contemporaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Orwell took part in the fighting directly by joining the militia because “at that time and in that atmosphere in seemed the only conceivable thing to do” (4). Orwell’s militia was an arm of the POUM, which was a relatively minor Socialist party that would later be pejoratively labeled as “Trotskyist” by the Communists. Orwell had succumb to the revolutionary fervor still emanating in Barcelona, a city that in December of 1936 was still controlled by Anarchists, and the revolution had already been implemented resulting in tangible economic and social equality throughout Catalonia. In the first few pages of Orwell’s book, he explained how all of the shops, farms and factories had been collectivized, resulting in equal pay, the elimination of classes, and a lack of ranking in the militia.

The U.S.S.R. was the only country that had supplied arms to the Republican government, because the Western democracies hoped an arms embargo would shorten the conflict: the result was the opposite. Since the Soviets had supplied arms to the Republic it was politically inconceivable for the Communists to distribute them to their rivals, the “Trotskyist” POUM and the Anarchists, for fear of having the weapons turned against them when the war was done. And so the war effort was ruined by political wrangling initiated by the Communists because entire lines of the front were neglected simply because they were under control of Socialist and Anarchist militia units. Thus, the Communist party, formerly minuscule in Spanish politics, gained a huge amount of influence in the Republican government due to the involvement of the Soviets, who were in the middle of instituting Stalin’s Great Terror against mostly imagined political enemies. The Communist growth in political power culminated in the Barcelona street-fighting in May of 1937 which was made to look in retrospect by the Communists like a failed Fascist plot in order to divert the Republic’s energy and resources away from the front, “Evidently the official version of the Barcelona fighting was already fixed upon: it was to be represented as a ‘fifth column’ Fascist rising engineered solely by the POUM” (145).

The Communists made it known to the world via papers such as The Worker, that the ‘May Days” were not the result of a Communist attack on the CNT occupied telephone exchange, but a Fascist engineered plot executed by the POUM. Yet the world was not concerned with the street-fighting in Barcelona, but rather, the Fascist bombing of the militarily unimportant Basque city of Guernica. Kaplan stated that “The world was shocked” as the Luftwaffe itself massacred the town filled with refugees by “bombing and machine-gunning civilians until some 1,600 people lay dead, with more than 800 wounded” (177). Picasso immediately reacted to the news by sketching several drawings of distorted horses, bulls and women holding dead babies in preparation for his famous masterpiece that would simply be titled after the name of the immolated town. One of these drawings features a mounted picador spearing a bull while the bull gores the horse in retaliation. Picasso could have symbolically meant for the bullfighter to represent the Republic taunting the bull, which represented the Fascists, which in turn gored the innocent horse: meaning the massacre of the innocent townspeople of Guernica. However, one could also interpret Picasso’s symbolism to apply to the fighting in Barcelona by switching symbolic roles. The picador may be seen as Franco attacking the Republic (the bull), which in turn being under control of the Communists retaliated by goring the innocent working class revolutionaries i.e. the horse (which was relatively defenseless in comparison to the armed picador). Regardless of what Picasso intended symbolically, the finished mural became a masterpiece because it captured the destruction and horror that mechanized modern warfare inflicted upon civilians.

The Spanish Civil War and Guernica in particular reaffirmed that modern warfare’s mechanic efficiency caused the kind of massive wholesale destruction that had already been seen in World War One. George Orwell lamented at the pervading apathetic attitude of Europeans in the aftermath of the First World War because it resulted in a lack of support for the Spanish Republic in the civil war, which was categorized as a fight for democracy. This was because World War One had also been a war in the name of democracy, and Orwell believed that if the Great War had not tarnished the appeal of such a fight, that hundreds of thousands of Europeans would have rose up in their own countries in support of the Spanish Republic instead of the just tens of thousands that came to fight. This disillusionment was made even worse by the Communist propaganda and libel that fragmented the Republic and ultimately caused the fight for democracy in Spain to be in vain. Too often, people looking back at that time period take the international news reports as fact, when all of the news coming out of Spain was filtered through the Communist propaganda machine. The POUM and CNT were not under pay of the Fascists, George Orwell (who was shot through the neck by a fascist sniper on the frontlines) and the tens of thousands of Socialists and Anarchists who were casualties in the war, or, worse yet, the countless disappeared in Communist and fascist secret prisons, are proof of that.

Historians such as Temma Kaplan, although citing George Orwell as a primary source, neglect the point he emphasized in his memoir that the Communist’s position in Spain was only gained because of Soviet aid, and thus Soviet manufactured opinions did not reflect the general attitude of the Republic or the populace, but rather that the Communists allied with the middle class in order to cement power and influence. Orwell reversed his opinion that the Communists were right in postponing revolution out of practicality because Communist political persecution led him to believe, as Trilling stated, “…that the war was revolutionary or nothing, and that the people of Spain would not fight and die for a democracy which was admittedly a bourgeois democracy” (XX). Whether analyzing Orwell or Picasso, it is apparent that the Spanish Civil War was a travesty entailing widely accepted political lies and an appalling amount of human lives lost. The travesty continues to this day, as historians fail to analyze primary documents that reveal the reality of the Spanish War, and instead rely on international media accounts that had been manipulated by Communist propaganda.

Picasso's final piece on Guernica, featuring the horse and bull that was in his sketches at the time but omitting the picador.
Picasso’s final piece on Guernica, featuring the horse and bull that was in his sketches at the time but omitting the picador.

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952. Print.

Kaplan, Temma. Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso’s Barcelona. Berkeley: University of California, 1992. Print.

Why The U.S. Ruined Guatemala: Merging The Cold War Ethos and Economic Determinism as an Explanation

Diego Rivera's famous mural: "Gloriosa Victoria", depicting the Dulles brothers, the American ambassador Peurifoy, and Eisenhower's face on a bomb greeting Castillo Armas. The archbishop of Guatemala blesses their unholy coup while the men stand over the corpses of Guatemalans.
Diego Rivera’s famous mural: “Gloriosa Victoria”, depicting the Dulles brothers, the American ambassador Peurifoy, and Eisenhower’s face on a bomb greeting Castillo Armas. The archbishop of Guatemala blesses their unholy coup while the men stand over the corpses of Guatemalan victims.

The historical significance of the Guatemalan coup in 1954 within the context of the cold war is unquestionable because it set a precedent for the American government’s use of covert regime change when dealing with communist containment. However, historians have disagreed in their analyses of the event, with their responses either focusing on economic determinist outlooks or the cold war ethos as the main factor contributing to the coup’s origin. The two opposing authoritative texts correlating with these theories regarding this watershed event in the early stages of the cold war are Schlesinger and Kinzer’s Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala and Richard Immerman’s The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention. The subtitles of the books carry subtexts that expose the stark contrast in the authors views on why the coup happened, as Immerman specifically focused on the CIA’s involvement, while Schlesinger and Kinzer’s title was meant to reference the United Fruit Company and their subtitle more broadly described it as the American coup, instead of just the CIA coup.

The reason for the discrepancy in Schlesinger and Kinzer’s analysis was in inferring the reasoning for the coup as anti-communistic in an economic sense, because it revealed the U.S. government’s role in supporting the interests of the United Fruit Company, which dominated the Guatemalan economy and relied heavily on the poor country’s cheap labor in order to reap huge profits, “United Fruit had for years been the largest employer in Guatemala as well as the largest landowner and exporter”(Bitter Fruit, 70). This analysis was more in line with classical historian thinking, while Immerman’s revisionist cold war ethos focused on the prevailing American culture of fear in relation to the rise of communism in the western hemisphere. Immerman focused on the CIA’s involvement in Guatemala and posited that the agency’s mindset was a dire one, in that even if Guatemalan communist influence was minimal, America had to make a stand against any perceived presence of the Soviets in the U.S. sphere of influence “…the cold war was under way, and sides had to be taken”(The CIA in Guatemala, 4).

Both Bitter Fruit and The CIA in Guatemala were released in 1982, which was important for increased attention because the releases inadvertently coincided with the Iran-Contra affair. But more importantly, the newly expanded Freedom of Information Act allowed greater access to government documents, especially for Schlesinger and Kinzer, as they had more connections in the American government than the unknown Immerman had. A decade later, Nick Cullather’s Secret History reflected Immerman’s lean toward the cold war ethos. Nick Cullather worked as a historian for the CIA in the early 90‘s and was able to solidify Immerman’s analysis in Secret History by being able to view the CIA’s way of thinking during the 50’s from inside the agency. Even though much of the book was censored, the author was able to use such a seemingly detrimental blockage to his advantage by allowing the reader to infer what the CIA thought was significant enough to block out in the covert operation they had confidently named PBSUCCESS. Cullather explicitly, but tactfully argued that American business interests in Central America were only a smaller equation in the larger problem that was the ideological battle for political influence between two superpowers on an international scale. Although Cullather and Immerman incorporated nuanced arguments in their works, the authors largely focused on the development of PBSUCCESS and its relation to the cold war ethos, and implicitly refused to take a multi-faceted, pragmatic approach to analyzing the cause of the coup. However, Piero Gleijeses in Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954 was open to considering a variety of causes for U.S. involvement in the coup, by concluding that there were multiple reasons, such as “the search for economic gain, the search for security, and imperial hubris”(Shattered Hope, 361).

Immerman and Cullather largely overlooked the fact that operation PBSUCCESS grew out of a failed uprising funded by UFCO only two years prior during the Truman administration, that was possible with approval and a minimal planning role for the CIA, “the Truman administration had considered intervening in Guatemala… Recently declassified CIA records show that this planning was extensive”(Karabell, Architects of Intervention,12). Schlesinger and Kinzer emphasized the economic reasoning for the coup by recognizing the fruit company’s major role in massively funded public relations attempts at delegitimizing the democratically elected Guatemalan regime, both in the eyes of the American government, and in the opinions of American people. Schlesinger and Kinzer mentioned another coup attempt in 1953, an aborted coup which was orchestrated by the CIA with UFCO funds on a fruit company ship. Perhaps even more interesting, was the cold war ethos adherents overlooking what Gleijeses found necessary to quote from Schlesinger and Kinzer’s book, that “Without United Fruit’s troubles, it seems probable that the Dulles brothers might not have paid such intense attention to the few Communists in Guatemala, since larger numbers had taken part in political activity on a greater scale… in Brazil, Chile, and Costa Rica without causing excessive concern in the U.S. government.”(Bitter Fruit, 106).

Immerman and Cullather rather preferred to focus on the psychological mood of the State Department under John Foster Dulles, one that was inscribed with fear after McCarthy irrationally accused even conservative American officials of being communists. The cold war ethos adherents argued that the emotionally charged atmosphered was the cattle prod for the Eisenhower administration to live up to its campaign promises of being tougher on Communists than the preceding Truman administration that had “lost China” and created a stalemate in Korea. Immerman and Cullather (although Cullather to a lesser degree) described the Guatemalan coup in 1954 within a larger context of the cold war that was morally complicated and extremely politicized. Again and again, Immerman brought up the need to contextualize the CIA’s decisions and “that the programs of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations cannot be understood outside of the context of the period’s cold war ethos…”(The CIA in Guatemala, 20). Very little did Immerman and Cullather mention the influence of United Fruit, and when they did it was only in order to mitigate the effects that the company’s lobbying in America and economical dominance in Guatemala had leading up to the coup. Unlike Gleijeses, Immerman and Cullather thought that the cold war ethos and economic determinism were mutually exclusive and were adamant in proving that United Fruit was an unimportant factor in the CIA considering PBSUCCESS compared to the domestic and international political tensions which were high in the mid 1950’s.

Unlike the conspiracy of a corporation-controlled American government that Immerman derisively mentioned on occasion, in Bitter Fruit Schlesinger and Kinzer did not attempt to portray the Eisenhower administration as being under the control of United Fruit. The authors instead argued that since some of the people in the U.S. government were also at one time or another officially employed or receiving an income from UFCO, that there were subsequent mutual benefits for directing policy that was pro-business in Central America. Immerman was ambivalent when it came to correlating United Fruit and the Eisenhower administration’s interests. The CIA in Guatemala repeated that economics was not the most important factor when compared to the McCarthy-inspired-atmosphere of fear in America, and the author even argued that it was misleading to describe Eisenhower as a defender of corporations. Immerman went on to say that such an assertion (the kind that Schlesinger and Kinzer argue) “is an oversimplification, for it has already been shown that, within the context of the cold war ethos, to defend UFCO in Guatemala was tantamount to defending the hemisphere against the Communists”(The CIA in Guatemala, 123). Immerman went on to make a valid argument in denying the correlation as a conspiracy theory, “United Fruit’s connections within the Eisenhower White House cannot be ignored” yet then convoluted his argument by stating “These people [the Eisenhower administration] thought like representatives of United Fruit because they had the same backgrounds. They did not have to be persuaded by company lobbyists”(The CIA in Guatemala, 124).

No, the Eisenhower administration did not have to be persuaded by lobbyists, because as Schlesinger and Kinzer proved, some of them were themselves company lobbyists, or at least, in the case of Eisenhower’s secretary, married to the head UFCO lobbyist. Although this did not necessarily mean that economic determinism was the sole factor in the U.S. ultimately following through with supporting the uprising of Castillo Armas. Gleijeses explained that UFCO’s war mongering was relevant only up until the end of Arbenz’s term, as the company’s exaggerations of communist influence began to actually take shape in reality because the Guatemalan communists, or PGT “gained influence in the early 1950’s, when in the United States, McCarthyism was at a peak and… no president had ever been as close to the communists as was Arbenz. It required no manipulations by UFCO minions [for the Eisenhower administration] to appreciate these truths”(Shattered Hope, 362).  Gleijeses, Immerman, Cullather, and even Schlesinger and Kinzer all agreed that by 1954, the Eisenhower administration, especially the Dulles brothers, figured that enough was enough: it was time to act in America’s backyard before the Soviets gained an irrevocable foothold. The failed attempts at overthrowing the Guatemalan government that was now intent on enacting land reform were clear precedents for a better coordinated operation, which Schlesinger and Kinzer attributed to the heavy amount of CIA resources involved in operation PBSUCCESS

Schlesinger and Kinzer were able to cite several people who held conflict of interests by either working in the State Department or CIA while investing in or formerly working for the United Fruit Company: Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, his brother the ambassador the United Nations, and Eisenhower’s personal secretary, Ann Whitman, was the wife of the UFCO head of public relations, to name a few (Bitter Fruit, 88). To the authors of Bitter Fruit, it was plain enough that this conflict of interests really was a significant portrayal of U.S. government shared interests when it came to business relations in America’s so-called backyard. However, even though the journalists were able to unveil U.S. corporate and government collaboration through freedom of information requests, they did not attempt to garner the Guatemalan participation that was necessary in order to reveal the full story behind the coup. Cullather had some anonymous Guatemalan sources available to him (not personally but through secret CIA documents), and even though much was censored by the American intelligence agency, through his access he was able to paint a more personal picture about CIA operatives and their opinions on the situation in Guatemala during the coup. One such insight Cullather revealed was the presence of a double agent named Jorge Isaac Delgado, a man who revealed the plans for PBSUCCESS to Arbenz and then told the CIA of a “secret mission to buy Czech arms”(Secret History, 54).

It was difficult for the authors to extract much of what happened in Guatemala in 1954 from Guatemalans themselves because at the time they were writing the country was still engulfed in civil war as a direct consequence of the U.S. sponsored Castillo Armas led-coup against the Arbenz regime. As Gleijeses remarked, “It is difficult to reconstruct the details of the events at Zacapa…” referring to the moment that the army betrayed Arbenz, even though Castillo Armas was only in control of a weak and disorganized force of a few hundred mercenaries. There were no large battles, the Guatemalan army did not put up the kind of resistance that Arbenz expected. Thus, Immerman and Cullather argued that the propaganda that the CIA employed through clandestine radio broadcasts as well as the few American flown vintage bombers that terrorized the capital had instilled fear into Arbenz’s government and the military. However, Gleijeses believed that it was not Arbenz who was necessarily scared of Castillo Armas, but that the Guatemalan military were only afraid of an American intervention occurring after Armas was defeated “Had they felt free to choose, most Guatemalan officers would have rallied to Arbenz in June 1954 and crushed the rebels. But fear gnawed them- fear of the United States”(Shattered Hope, 335).

A deeper look at primary documents written in Guatemala at the time would be necessary in order to shed more truth on how and why the coup took shape. In recent years the CIA had declassified even more documents, and the work of other authors has shown that more voices could be made available that reveal what went on in the country outside of the what Cullather’s Secret History and the book’s focus on operation PBSUCCESS. Indeed, a CIA Freedom of Information Act document called SHERWOOD 501 reported on the situation in Zacapa, where the turning point in the Guatemalan coup had occurred. Up until then, Castillo Armas stayed a few miles from the border of Honduras, and the two expeditions he did send out were defeated handily by local garrisons and police. Arbenz expected his generals to make a move against Armas, but they remained cautious out of fear of U.S. retaliation, and when Armas moved into Zacapa, a CIA plane reported- “NO FIRING OR ACTION SEEN”(foia.cia.gov, Sherwood cable). At that point, only a week into the coup, it was certain that Guatemalan generals were complicit in the coup, even though they were hostile to Armas as a traitor to the country.

Arbenz did not foresee his military betraying him, but it was not out of naiveté, according to another CIA information report, “Arbenz has no fear of a conservative coup and has taken no active steps to guard against one”(Information Report NO. 00-B–57327, 1). The CIA was led to believe that Arbenz had a strong hold on his country’s military, but it also knew that, with enough pressure, the minority within the Guatemalan officer corp that resented Arbenz would take action. The American government hoped for a larger part of the Guatemalan society to support the coup but operatives within the CIA knew that “the ‘opposition’ of business groups and conservatives (with the exception of a few landowners) has been greatly exaggerated. This is evidenced by the ‘surprising’ lack of serious concern in most business circles about the effects of the new land reform bill”(Information Report NO. 00-B–57327, 1).

Declassified CIA documents reveal that the cold war ethos was a factor in implementing operation PBSUCCESS, but that it was not the sole factor. An analysis of these documents would acknowledge economic aspects realized by both the U.S. government and the Arbenz administration, “Arbenz realizes that Guatemala is economically dependent on the US but intends to bluff through his defiance of US corporations to any length short of national suicide” (Information Report NO. 00-B–57327, 3). Most of the time the CIA utilized euphemisms to refer to United Fruit, but this document was peculiar in particular because it referred to the company explicitly in a sentence shortly after, “An integral part of his program is the removal of Guatemala from the category of a ‘subsidiary of United Fruit’”(Information Report NO. 00-B–57327, 3). When it was apparent that UFCO would no longer invest in the Guatemalan economy, the CIA recognized that the only thing supporting the country’s economy was the high price of coffee. The agency considered economic warfare, i.e. deliberate U.S. changes to the price, as a possibility given this situation: “These tactics would centralize the wealth and starve the workers”(Information Report NO. 00-B–57327, 3). However, the CIA found it was best to stay the course with operation PBSUCCESS even though there were contingencies that made the coup seem precarious in the eyes of the Eisenhower administration and the CIA.

United Fruit no longer played a crucial role in the overthrow of Arbenz, which could be seen by the lack of correspondence in conspiring against the Guatemalan government through official company letters. Steve Striffler and Mark Moberg in Banana Wars made it clear that UFCO was primarily worried about keeping labor unions weak. YetUnited Fruit was also adamant on the U.S. implementing regime change in Guatemala, which caused the company to influence the American government up to a certain point. Letters between United Fruit company officials proved that they indeed believed that economics was the essential factor in the United States fighting against communism abroad. When company lobbyists petitioned a labor dispute with the State Department, the government “…representatives were obviously disturbed by the bad relations…” and “stated that they considered the free labor movement, as well as American business itself, to be essential arms in the fight against communism”(Banana Wars, 142). Philip Bourgois made it clear when he released a selection of previously secret company letters that “labor peace” was the main concern for company officials so that profits could be maintained. This was the point that UFCO lobbyists maintained repeatedly when meeting with the State Department, in that their capitalist venture was an essential part of the battle against communism in the U.S. sphere of influence, and that communist containment was necessary both politically and economically.

The CIA reported that Guatemala landowners and United Fruit were desperate to exaggerate claims of communist infiltration, “The reactionaries immediately turned the Communist spotlight on all reform measures regardless of merit”(Information Report NO. 00-B–57327, 2). In another CIA information report from 1952, operatives discussed how the agrarian reform would not be deemed threatening if implemented in another country. Guatemala was so backwards, and UFCO domination of exports so complete- that the economic situation in the country was deemed to be akin to feudalism. Thus the agrarian reform the Arbenz regime sought would be considered nowhere near communistic if taken place elsewhere, even in Latin America. Arbenz was a huge admirer of the New Deal, the report said, and “the Guatemalan agrarian reform program is fashioned after the “American” system,” because it was “characterized by the sale of unused land to homesteaders, and other features”(Information Report NO. SO 96102, 1). Although the CIA did not take this admiration for the American system seriously into consideration. The agency’s analysis concluded that this attempt at imitating FDR’s New Deal was flawed, and that the agrarian reform law allowed the prospect that “…landowners who have been enemies of the government can bribe the administrators or sell their land to persons friendly to the government who will then be in a position to protect it from division and distribution to the farm workers.” the CIA then concluded that “The law appears to open the way for extensive graft”(Information Report NO. SO 96102, 3).

In 1950 and earlier, there were tensions between the Truman administration and the Arevalo and Arbenz administrations, even though the Guatemalan communists, the PGT, did not have significant influence at the time. The New York Times reported in “Guatemala Seeks U.S. Envoy’s Recall” (by an anonymous contributor) on the requested recall by Guatemalan officials of the U.S. ambassador, Richard Patterson. Even the liberal New York Times assumed that the Guatemalan request was suspicious, “the particulars of this charge were apparently not included in the official note received by Washington”(New York Times, April 6, 1950, 1). The author sub-textually belittled the Guatemalan government’s concerns, even though the writer reported on the recalled ambassador doing such petty things as how he protested “against the failure of the official band to play the national anthem of the United States at an international sports event”  and indicated economic factors by stating “He also felt obliged to protest in behalf of American businesses interests in that country”(New York Times, April 6, 1950, 1). Ambassador Patterson was so presumptuous and jingoistic that he demanded that the sovereign country he was supposed to be only an envoy to play the American national anthem, and the Truman administration officially defended such actions. This seemed to give credit to the argument that the U.S. not only thought of the Central American country as within the American sphere of influence but as an extension of American hegemony as well.

The desires of the U.S. government to keep its “backyard” tidy and clean of any kind of communist influence did not however, include an overtly imperialistic aspect in the sense of territorial acquisition. The Eisenhower administration was interested in keeping a clean international image, especially when it came to creating a sense of integrity in the newly established United Nations. Which was why John Foster Dulles was furious when he heard that the French called for “the stopping of all bloodshed” during the escalation of the Castillo Armas coup. The United States wanted to keep up appearances of being an altruistic democracy, when the reality of the CIA’s actions pointed the U.S. attitude to be more like that of an international capitalist superpower that acted under the pretenses of neocolonialism. This meant that U.S. mindset at the time of cold war tensions was indeed market driven, and so the Eisenhower administration wanted to keep Guatemala in its sphere of influence at all costs in a conscious bid for a political win against the Soviets and McCarthy at home, but ultimately and subconsciously the reasoning was also financial in nature.

The U.S. Republican broad definition of a communist essentially meant anyone that did not adhere to the beliefs of an American style of capitalism, which was almost laissez-faire in reaction to the traitorous and socialistic FDR (New Deal) and Truman (GI Bill) administrations. Both economic determinism and the cold war ethos had parts to play in considering why the State Department and the CIA were so adamantly in favor of overthrowing the democratically elected, American inspired, Arbenz regime. The two causal factors were indeed, almost inseparable when closely analyzing the origins of PBSUCCESS and the outcomes of the operation, because those in the American government that were afraid of communist influence were also intent on defending capitalist “free trade” policies, and in the case of Guatemala, that meant defending UFCO. However, as Karabell explicated, “UFCO was a convenient ally for the Eisenhower administration, as it was for the many elites who depended on its business in Guatemala. It was a factor in the overthrow of Arbenz, but it was one among many and less important than the local groups that plotted against Arbenz”(Architects of Intervention, 16).

The CIA used these local groups to its own ends, and UFCO could be considered a puppet of the U.S. government considering that the U.S. threw the company under the bus with a justified anti-trust lawsuit immediately after Arbenz was deposed. This was even in spite of those in the Eisenhower administration that were directly connected to UFCO, as even the Dulles brothers had United Fruit as one of their clients for their private law firm several years before (Architects of Intervention, 16). To ignore these facts and apply the reasoning for PBSUCCESS strictly to the story of the cold war ethos would distort the larger picture of what actually happened. Using the cold war ethos as an explanation would make more sense in the later context of Vietnam because it was political and not on the American economic periphery, but in 1954 the U.S. needed Guatemala as a foreign market and an obedient ally in foreign policy as well. The most truthful way to explain the course of events when considering the origin of the PBSUCCESS coup would be to merge Schlesinger and Kinzer, Immerman, Cullather, Karabell, and Gleijeses. The aforementioned authors combined with an analysis of primary documents reveals that the cold war ethos and economic determinism were not mutually exclusive, and that the preservation of capitalism politically and economically was a facet in considering the cold war ethos as a significant determining mindset.

The Next Step

This work is far from finished.

The last few months were in anticipation

of nothingness.

Escaping the inescapable.

Acceptance, the swarm generation is here.

Unfold the sealed pages

of time and find that there was solidarity.

Apply what is left.

The old ideologies are caskets.

Prepare now for space, and sabotage

those corporate plans for domination of the infinite black.

The international pseudo-taoist financial technocracy

is only beginning to bear it’s teeth.

Dig in for the long haul friends.

Do not praise, become.