Democratic Socialism and the Cuba Crisis

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.

July 11, 2021 Photo: Reuters

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.

Read more from Armando Chaguaceda here on Havana Times.

3 thoughts on “Democratic Socialism and the Cuba Crisis

  • I had thought that as one claiming to be a “political scientist” and “historian”, that Armando Chaguaceda would have knowledge of the democratic socialism in the United Kingdom. But evidently not. He writes of “the English Labor Party, obviously ignorant of Keir Hardie’s origins and the British Labour Party, and also of the Socialists concept in introducing health care in the UK. As a matter of correction, the concept of a national health service in the UK was that of Sir William Beveridge, Principal of the London School of Economics and a dedicated Liberal not socialist. It was contained within the ‘Beveridge Report’ submitted to the wartime government during WW11. As it was a good idea, it was readily adopted by other countries, which had in at least one instance, never had a socialist government.

    As a claimed historian, no doubt Armando Chaguaeda would support accuracy and one trusts amend his note book.

  • No se debe confundir el Socialismo Democrático con la Socialdemocracia. El primero aspira por medio de la democracia y la libertad a que el trabajo asalariado que tipifica al capitalismo vaya siendo susituido paulatinamente por el trabajo libre, privado o asociado, sin imposiciones ni violencias. La socialdemocracia no aspira a sustiruir la explotacion asalariada capitalista y se conforma con politicas impositivas para generar paternalismo clientelar. Bernie Sandres Y Ocasio Cortes son una mezcla de socialdemocracia con estalinismo disfrazado que abazan al castrismo descaradamente. Los coalistas democráticos cubanos no permitimos que nos confundan con la socialdemocracia ni con los “socialistas” colados en el Partido Democrata de EEUU.

  • The language in this article is, I suspect, beyond a layman’s understanding. To bring the article’s thesis down a few notches on the ladder of abstraction, what exactly is being said?

    From my understanding, Armando traces the history of socialism in Latin America and how it has gone off the rails to its true principles. To oppose the capitalist domination whereby the unfettered capitalists tend to exploit the working class, a more “humane” socialist paradigm was introduced through trial and in error in various countries such as Chile, Columbia, Cuba.

    The essence of this new socialist construct was, as Armando, writes: “ . . . the democratic socialist ideal has been the battle flag for fair working hours, people’s right to vote, and protection for the most vulnerable.” On paper, sounds good and aspiring. So, what went wrong, specifically in Cuba?

    In Latin America, in general, there was a constant fight of national populist movements (the poor inhabitants whose land and resources taken or stolen) against the right wing dictatorships more often than not supported by Washington. Cuba, pre-1959, had a puppet leader Batista in power ruling over the rural, dispossessed, illiterate, malnourished majority of Cubans. The capitalists elites (some say Mafia) ruled the island out rightly.

    Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries, in 1959 and thereafter, overthrew the right wing dictatorship and vowed to cease the economic exploitation and political domination. As Armando states, the new socialists leftists 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.” Again, sounds nice on paper and aspiring to the exuberant Cuban population at the time waiting for positive change to their dire economic circumstances.

    However, a problem arose. Here, Armando does not state this but it is quite obvious that in any dictatorship no matter in what geographical area in the world absolute dictatorial power corrupts (Castros) and does significant damage to the country‘s economy.

    Those elites in power see themselves as “saviors” so now want to retain that power at all costs and will do anything, even sacrifice the population, to retain that power and economic influence for the very few elites at the top. What we now have is a totalitarian state, not socialism. In Cuba’s example, the country is a communist state to the extreme with those in power completely oblivious of what is occurring in the economy and not really having any ambition for viable solutions. Diaz- Canel comes to mind.

    As Armando again writes: “We’re living through another chapter in a dispute that’s gone on for a century in the interior of socialism.” Socialism as a practiced political ideology is fine. It is practiced geographically in many parts of the world with a harmonious coexistence between the political power players and the citizens. But when that socialism becomes the pretext for complete and unfettered control of the country and its people, the state ventures into totalitarianism and communism which, as we see in Cuba today, causes tremendous suffering among the citizenry.

    “ . . . there must also be a rejection of the state despotism that is currently in force on the island of Cuba.” I agree with Armando; that rejection as demonstrated on the streets in every Cuban city is a beginning.

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