By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – On a conceptual level, the democratic socialist tradition situates the issue of freedom as a central value. Egalitarian policies appear as the ultimate goal of a State for all its citizens, not as an instrument of the elite for control. An effective equality, at the service of the real freedom of the social majority, and with respect towards the minorities.
The earliest disputes in the heart of the workers’ movement led the democratic socialists to develop a line of thinking where the intrinsic contradictions of capitalism motivate the autonomous organization of the workers, to confront the economic exploitation and political domination. They weren’t betting on total power over the economy, the culture and the politics, but on the expansion of popular participation in a number of spheres.
For two centuries, the democratic socialist ideal has been the battle flag for fair working hours, people’s right to vote, and protection for the most vulnerable. The reconstruction of social democracy after World War Two framed the defense of democracy and the attainment of general welfare as two integral – not mutually exclusive – elements of the socialist project. The schism created by Lenin’s authoritarian vanguardism marked off a line that separated communism from socialism.
Later socialists, like Czechoslovakian Milada Horakova, who was repressed by the Nazis and assassinated by the Stalinists, fought for both social rights and political freedoms. The English Labor Party constructed the welfare state while simultaneously supporting the West in the Cold War. Diverse positions within global perspectives, such as those of Sheri Berman, Geoff Eley and David Priestland, or from Latin Americans Ugo Pipitone, Fernando Pedrosa and Pierre Gaussens explain this constitutive plurality of the leftist movements.
In Latin America, the social democrats, in alliance with national popular movements, fought the dictatorships of the right and sought to build inclusive policies. However, the Cuban Revolution’s drift towards communism, with the radicalization of the youth and the reactionary repression that followed it, created an unresolved problem in the regional left. Up to the present, even the moderate forces, who nominally identify with democratic socialism, continue venerating the Havana regime – a regime under which they simply couldn’t exist.
In the face of the unprecedented recent large-scale protests in Cuba, the postures of the Sao Paolo Forum and the Puebla Group are nearly indistinguishable. They give precedence to condemning the blockade, ahead of any defense of the people’s right to demonstrate or any repudiation of the state violence. They avoid calling what happened on the island by its name: repression, authoritarianism. In Latin American intellectual circles – and with their peers in Cuba, the pampered reformists – such a narrative is painted over. Hyper ideologization prevails over the rights and actions of the common people.
The Latin American left should value the positions of Bernie Sanders or Alexandra Ocasio Cortez as examples of progressive coherency. They could also see this consistency in the postures taken by the Chilean Socialist Party and the Broad Front, together with numerous leftist activists and academics who question the Castro mantra. All these put first their solidarity with the Cubans’ right to demonstrate, express themselves and be informed. Later, they condemn the U.S. government sanctions on the island. This is perfectly understandable from the intersection of progressive ideology and politics. Causality and responsibility have a clear order here, one that strips away the matter of where and with whom every position is taken.
It’s possible to condemn the influence of outside geopolitical factors, such as the blockade, without rendering invisible the structural and domestic weight of the reigning order with regard to the popular protests. These are not repudiating a generic system, but a concrete apparatus that concentrates all political and economic power in a few hands and structures. Neither the CIA nor the Russian Federal Security Forces are at the root of the social grievances in this pandemic era. If it were so, we’d also have to delegitimize the protests in Chile or Colombia as simple projections of the influence of Moscow or Havana, instead of paying attention to and accompanying the demands of their populations. These demands are the principal cause of what’s happening.
We’re living through another chapter in a dispute that’s gone on for a century in the interior of socialism. It’s a dispute between pluralist political regimes with a mixed economy and the rule of law; and the tyrannies of the one-party state, with a state-run economy and a police state. The shameful silence and the verbal pirouettes regarding what’s happening in Cuba rekindle the worst civil and epistemological liabilities of the Latin American leftist movements. The emancipating future of the socialist project must surmount the neoliberalism that has dominated the region for decades. But there must also be a rejection of the state despotism that is currently in force on the island of Cuba.