Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cuba at the Crossroads – Cuba and the debate about Socialism of the 21stCentury

This excellent article first appeared in English at the site
[http://www.marxist. com/cuba/ debate-socialism -21st-century. htm ].

My views on the Cuban "crossroads question" are outlined in a two-part article I wrote in collaboration with John Riddell -- Which Road Forward for the Cuban Revolution? /Cuba Seeks Revolutionary Renewal. It can be found at (Part one) and (Part two).

I concur largely with compañero Frank Josué Solar’s line of reasoning and conclusions about the challenges now faced by revolutionary Cuba. However, I find a certain weakness in the chain of arguments because of lack of attention to the question of leadership.

Solar argues that

"That the high leadership of the Party and of the Government take note and study the difficulties that affect us today, the everyday and the structural, and work in the best way possible to resolve them, appears to me to be very good but, frankly, insufficient. The real and lasting solutions for the revolution and
socialism will come from below. I want to say that what is decisive in this question is that we rely on a systematic machinery that makes possible the emergence of debates of the type that was generated after the lecture given by Raúl on July 26th 2007, and that their channels for expression no longer need be anonymous - letters to the press, or reports from Public Opinion” [my emphasis].
It is one sided and potentially misleading to argue that the solutions will come from below. The will and must also come from above, and from intermediary layers of the broad socialist vanguard in Cuba

Workers control cannot arise spontaneously. It can only come about if led and promoted by the Marxist vanguard in Cuba, and internationally. Workers have to have the will to exercise control over workplaces, production, and exchange, and over their barrios, towns, and cities. Marxists must struggle within the working class and in broader sectors of society to win a consensus around the dire need for grassroots working class control and for democratic processes to allow this to reach out and upwards to all levels of governance.

The current leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba, the team built around Fidel and Raúl Castro, is not a barrier to workers democracy in Cuba. That team is itself a vital achievement of the Cuban working class and is rooted not in the bureaucracy of the state but among the broad revolutionary vanguard of the country. It is that social and political force that must be mobilized to campaign for greater workers democracy and grass roots control in the country.

Frank Josué Solar correctly stresses the need for international collaboration and the extension of the socialist revolution as the only viable course for sustaining and deepening the Cuban revolution. Fortunately we now have a positive and active example of this in the deep going economic and social relations developing between Bolivarian Venezuela and Cuba. The issue is no longer posed abstractly or in defeat (with the collapse of the Soviet Union and other workers states in the 1989-91 period). The issue is unfolding through positive and lively teamwork not just between Caracas and Havana, but through the ALBA. The defense and extension of the socialist revolution necessarily begins with the construction of a broad anti-imperialist alliance. That alliance is even broader than ALBA taking in countries like Brazil and Argentina whose governments do not aim for a socialist federation of Latin American states, but have the more modest goal of escaping from total U.S. domination. The Cuban leadership have played a key role in this development, although they clearly recognize the pivotal role of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarians.

The building of socialism is not a national but an international task shouldered by an international class – the modern working class. But power is conquered and defended through the nation-state. Such conquests must be defended and strengthened. Failure to do so will impact negatively on the anti-imperialist forces across the hemisphere. Hence the deepening of socialism in Cuba requires the defense and consolidation of the Bolivarian revolution; defense of the indigenous government in Bolivia and the integrity and unity of that country; defense of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua against efforts by pro-imperialist forces to cripple and paralyze it; defense and extension of ALBA.

On that score the record of the Cuban communist leadership is impeccable.

Frank Josué Solar’s arguments would only be strengthened by addressing the concerns I have just raised. Nevertheless, it stands as a refreshing and valuable contribution to the international and national discussion of a way forward for the Cuban revolution and her working class. It merits wide international circulation and discussion.

Phil Stuart C.

By Frank Josué Solar, University Professor, Cuba Tuesday, 29 January 2008
http://www.marxist. com/cuba/ debate-socialism -21st-century. htm

Throughout half a century Cuba has been, for this continent, the utopia thathas been possible. It is the most clear and palpable example of what isneeded in the pursuit of a better world. This small Caribbean island, stillblockaded, still assaulted, still poor and underdeveloped, despite itsinefficiencies and errors, despite even the fact that it still has a longway to travel in the construction of socialism, shows what it is possiblefor a people to accomplish when it decides to take in its hands theconstruction of its own destiny.

This Cuba, where the full dignity of man is worshiped, whose enormousadvances in the social, educational, health and sporting realms never losesits capacity to amaze, is today the hope for peoples who wish for a betterfuture.

Now that more and more in America are speaking forcefully of a Socialism ofthe 21st Century, we should ask ourselves seriously what part Cubansocialism has to play in this debate, what Cuba has to contribute, and whatCuba has to learn from it and from the new experiments that Latin America isproviding.

The discussion about Socialism of the 21st Century starts from the premisethat the Stalinist deformation suffered by the classic socialist model thatpredominated during the 20th century should be superseded by what is beingattempted in this century, and should avoid the repetition of its errors.Therefore Cuba, as a socialist experiment of the 20th century, that carriessome of its negative elements, has to do some serious rethinking. The Cubanproject, if it wants to be in tune with the march of history, shouldparticipate in the construction of the new socialism that Latin Americansseek to achieve, it cannot remain on the margin, precisely when it has somuch experience to contribute with regard to the development of its ownrevolutionary process.

But it also has much to learn, and should open itself to new experiments,subject itself to a critical debate amongst its revolutionaries, to analyzewhat failed in the socialist experiments of the 20th century, whoseinheritors we in many respects are, and what we should improve in itspresent and future undertaking. For example, the hugely useful experimentsof workers' control that are occurring today in Venezuela, of factoriestaken over and put to work under the control of workers, under a council ofworkers that is in charge of all decisions taken in the factory, of thewhole productive process, of the whole process of distribution. These areamongst the most valuable examples that can be assimilated by our socialistproject. It cannot be that in America they have revived a very active debateabout socialism, and Cuba continues as if there was nothing to change, toupdate, and to re-think. As Fidel said, "Revolution is to change all thatmust be changed", and to determine this last point, we should allparticipate in an open public debate.

The planned economy has demonstrated itself to be much superior to that ofcapitalist economy. The extraordinary results achieved in Cuba throughoutfive decades, despite an infamous and genocidal blockade, and theachievements of the Soviet Union, are very far removed from what would havebeen achieved in any capitalist country under identical conditions. Whatfailed in the USSR was not the model of a planned economy but a type ofbureaucratic management that acted as an absolute brake on the totality ofits potentialities. And precisely what this type of economic organisationrequires for its effective functioning, like the human body needs oxygen, iscollective direction by the working class. It is not a question of luxury,an alternative that can be opted for or declined: workers' democracy is asine qua non condition for the development of a socialist economy. Withoutthis it deforms, and finally, withers away. It becomes inefficient and doesnot respond to the needs of society. Yes, with the dead weight of thebureaucracy the USSR did achieve spectacular advances. It is not difficultto imagine what it could have achieved under a regime of workers' democracy.

In the transitional socialist society power necessarily needs to be in thehands of workers, there are no short-cuts if deviations and degenerationsare to be avoided. That social ownership over the means of production bereal, effective, and not merely nominal, requires increasing the directparticipation of workers in the processes of the organisation and directionof production and services.

The dictatorship of the proletariat should be the only state organisation,and from the first day of its existence it should begin to disappear andtransmit ever increasing quotas of its power to an increasinglyself-organized society, to a society of freely associated producers. In reality, one of the greatest examples of how far removed "real socialism"was from the original socialist ideal, is that the opposite occurred. Thatis to say, that the State, instead of disappearing, became eternal, morecomplex, more strengthened. It bureaucratized, escaped from the control ofthe masses, became bigger, more totalitarian, and more repressive. And power- that in the time of Lenin had been held by workers self-organized inSoviets - was usurped by the bureaucracy after the Stalinist counterrevolution.

A fundamental guarantee of the success of the Cuban socialist project, andof its permanence, is the preservation of unity, but this should be theresult of consensus generated through debate between different revolutionaryvisions. Frank and open discussion cannot but strengthen the involvement andunity of the elements most firmly committed to the Revolution and socialism.Conscious participation, impossible without constant debate, is the bestantidote against the constant ideological pressure of capitalism and againstthe mortal trap of bourgeois democracy, that is nothing more than the hiddendictatorship of big capital.

For Marxists it is clear that socialist construction cannot be realizedthrough an enlightened leadership that takes decisions in the name of and infavour of the people, while they remain like spectators or passivebeneficiaries of a social drama that is written from above and for which thepeople should show itself thankful, mobilizing in support of that vanguardevery time it advertises. No. It should be that the construction ofsocialism is an enormous collective force, the conscious proactive involvement of the masses in all of the processes of the political life ofthe country and the taking of fundamental decisions. And this can only occurthrough public debate, in a common search for solutions to social problems,in the creation, discussion and free choice by the masses of the differentmeans required for the construction of socialism. Only with thisparticipative process that implies the self-transformation of the individualas a political subject, can we guide ourselves to a superior type ofsociety. Because in Cuba there exists an exceedingly hostile context - ofimperialist harassment and of economic underdevelopment - the forms anddimensions this process takes may be tempered, of that we can be agreed -but there is no other path.

In our country in 2005 there was a moment of very important reflection,when, on November 17th Fidel, in a lecture in the University of Havana,referred to many of the dangers that threaten the Cuban Revolution. Heexpressed very clearly that the revolution could be reversible, that itcould be destroyed, and not by external imperialist forces but by internalerrors committed both by Cuba's revolutionaries and the problems he set outthat day - bureaucracy, squandering, illegality, inefficiency andunder-production. From that lecture, which strikes me as having been a veryaccurate diagnosis of the principal ills that affect Cuban society, aninstinctive search for solutions has resulted.

Until now that search has fundamentally been conducted throughadministrative channels, from above, that can, maybe, in a best casescenario, resolve social problems in time and, to all, identify thosegrowing problems that the Cuba of today faces as a result of the havoccaused by 15 years of a very hard Special Period. But the real anddefinitive solution will be found in workers' control, in the deepening ofthe spaces of workers' democracy that the Cuban revolution has. This is tosay that our difficulties cannot be combated by more bureaucracy, underwhatever form it assumes. Nor can they be by calls to morality. They canonly be combated with the active participation of the working population inall of those themes that affect them in their daily lives, even in thoseissues that concern the strategic direction of the Revolution, withmechanisms for workers' control of the whole state bureaucracy. This is thebest formula to confront the phenomena of corruption and workers'indiscipline: the worker as a collective people exercising pressure,authority, over the administration and also over the worker as an individual- realisable only through the exercise of workers' democracy.

The optimum form for the exercise of this type of democracy from below,validated many times throughout history, is none other than the model ofcouncils & assemblies, where representatives are elected that can berecalled at any time, who have to produce reports periodically for the base,above all in the productive units, in the workplace. This model was known inthe Russian Revolution as that of Soviets, but has taken different names inother historical experiments: councils, juntas, communes. This and noneother should be the embryo of the State apparatus of socialist transition.It was studied by Marx and Engels in the Paris Commune and by Lenin andTrotsky in the Soviets of the Russian Revolution, in 1905 first and later in1917. And it functioned in a successful way, its own contradictions such asthere are in any revolutionary process notwithstanding, until the death ofLenin, when the whole leadership of the Bolsheviks was physicallyexterminated by Stalin.

The call to the people cannot only be to participate in the implementationof an already decided strategy. There cannot exist a structure thatsubstitutes its participation, that from above decides the policies topursue.

That the high leadership of the Party and of the Government take note andstudy the difficulties that affect us today, the everyday and thestructural, and work in the best way possible to resolve them, appears to meto be very good but, frankly, insufficient. The real and lasting solutionsfor the revolution and socialism will come from below. I want to say thatwhat is decisive in this question is that we rely on a systematic machinerythat makes possible the emergence of debates of the type that was generatedafter the lecture given by Raúl on July 26th 2007, and that their channelsfor expression no longer need be anonymous - letters to the press, orreports from Public Opinion.

We shouldn't wait to discuss our problems, that they were 'discovered' byRaúl, Fidel, or the leadership of the country, and those from above indicatethemes for debate. Cuban society has to find the ways that will permit it tofind and raise solutions in the face of whatever anomalous situation ordeviation that arises in the revolutionary process. It cannot be thatnegative phenomena known by the whole population only begin to form part ofthe public discourse after they have been denounced by the leadership of theRevolution.

This is a way of proceeding that I consider very harmful to the CubanRevolution, and it will be worse still overall when it is not theRevolution's historical leadership that is in control, and new generationsof leaders succeed those whose ties to the living traditions of the CubanRevolution have weakened sufficiently to give open impulse to a process ofcapitalist restoration that we saw in the USSR and those supposedly Socialist countries in Eastern Europe.

As I see it, one of the most preoccupying phenomena today for thesustainability of the Cuban Revolution, is the contemptible political apathythat is to be observed amongst our youth. It is dangerous because itsextension will represent an ideal breeding ground for capitalist restorationin Cuba. Capitalism counts precisely on the demobilization of the youth, onits banality, on taking them to a place where they are interested only intotally trivial things. It counts on their conversion into compulsiveconsumers, and the fomentation of disinterest in any political question.That is, they don't engage in politics, it is distant from them, it is notattractive, and it deceives them. In so much that capitalism encourages thepolitical demobilisation of youth, socialism needs, to exist and deepenitself to produce a youth completely conscious, that is interested in andparticipates in political phenomena, and that is active as a collectivetransformer in the solution of everyday problems. There is a need to makeall politics the politics of Socialism; socialism as a doctrine and system.

There is a need to make it attractive to the youth. Marxism should attractthem, and that can on be achieved by offering them the possibility ofdecisive participation within the revolutionary project.

Cuba comes from an heroic resistance of 50 years duration, especially moreheroic than ever in its last three five-year periods of a very hard SpecialPeriod, with very accentuated material difficulties. There are three basicavenues open today to Cuba: One, a frontal confrontation by imperialismagainst Cuba, the possibility of military intervention, of a more directattack against the Cuban Revolution that will be an attempt to destroy it.The second outcome is the maintenance of the Revolution, that, in this case,is equal to its deepening. The only way to achieve its survival is to deepenit along socialist lines, and this also will only be possible through theextension of the Revolution in Latin America and throughout the world.Because, by any other means, and this is the third possible scenario, tocontinue its isolation, and in the absence of the triumph of other processesin the continent, to survive it will be seen to be obligatory to applymarket economic mechanisms of an New Economic Policy type, like thosepracticed in the 1990's. Without a clear perspective that considers thesemeans transitional, an unfortunate but time-limited necessity, and in thecontext of continuing isolation, unfailingly, at some time, these economicreforms will grow into a dynamic towards the slow and subtle restoration ofcapitalism. And the social distortions that these same reforms have created,in the end, will return to confront and threaten the Revolution. To advancein this manner will inevitably strengthen those pro-capitalist sectorswithin Cuban society. And here we see, in a very straightforward and crudeway, the impossibility of constructing socialism in one country. Much lessin a country like Cuba, where there is not even the minimum opportunity forself-sufficiency: a small island, without economic resources, withoutmaterial resources, a castaway in a Capitalist sea.

The only solution for Cuba is, on the one hand, to incentivise, to deepenmechanisms of workers' control that at certain times have been but interimsolutions, to make them systematic, institutionalise them in the economy andpolitics of Cuba, and of course, the extension of the revolution in LatinAmerica, the greater confluence and integration towards a SocialistFederation between Cuba and Venezuela, like that which Chavez asked for inhis last visit to Cuba.

The spirit of a whole epoch palpitates in the Cuban Revolution. Much of thedestiny of humanity will depend in forthcoming years on its fate. Todaycapitalist prehistory not only signifies backwardness, servitude and abysmalinequalities. Its levels of consumption, wastefulness, of irrationalexploitation of natural resources, of aggression against the environment,have arrived at a point which has put the very survival of the human speciesin danger. Therefore, what is at stake with the advance or backward movementof this revolutionary process is something as serious as our very ownexistence. The very permanence of the Revolution signifies an enormousimpulse to those who rebel, to those who confront domination, torevolutionary struggles across the globe, to the dream of making better thisworld of ours.

Frank Josué Solar Cabrales,
University Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences,
Oriental University, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.
Tuesday, 22 January 2008.
Translated by Daithí Mac an Mhaistír.

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