Why Socialism for Cuba?

Armando Chaguaceda

On the way home. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago I shared an evening with a young couple of compatriots to discuss the ideological colors of the island’s future. Though these were sensitive and well-educated people, children of the fine educational legacy of the Cuban Revolution, these friends were pessimistic about the chances of a socialist alternative being a solution to the problems in Cuba.

“No way,” they told me. “Though it will take its toll, it seems that the solution will be to hit bottom and then accelerate the capitalist reforms to resolve the accumulated clutter and backwardness.”

Such a reflection by people who I admire and respect for their values ??and social commitment — shown in inspiring everyday pursuits ranging from ecology to free-software — got me thinking about the discrediting of the socialist idea among many Cubans.

Living (and suffering) the rigors of a state centralized model that has lasted half a century, it’s understandable that some residents in neighborhoods like Marianao or Placetas would be horrified with the thought of giving this “ism” another chance.

On the other hand, a non-negligible sector of the population (aging, resigned) is making the decision to continue living under the current model out of their fear of change. Frightened by the East European experience, their concern is that here too, a new direction would certainly be traumatic. Neo-liberalism or neo-Stalinism: this seems to be the restricted menu of options for our island.

However, given the problems of the present (ranging from the accumulated material shortages to undermined freedoms and human rights) and those approaching (increasing inequalities of all types) I believe that — far from giving up — our task is to battle for the future of the socialist alternative.

This is certainly difficult to sustain under the expansive capitalist hegemony to which the island is subjected, hegemony that weighs on cultural consumption, the devaluation of self-organized solidarity and the visible leadership role of economists and technocrats from Cuban academia and politics.

But if we want Cuba not to become a “market without a republic” (as predicted in the dismal prophecy of one prestigious Cuban intellectual), it seems to me we’ll have to fight.

To do so implies abandoning abstract utopianisms, far from what some proclaim. It’s about defending viable proposals for managing social services, regulating fundamental businesses and bringing up for discussion state spending at all levels. It’s about promoting cooperatives, participatory budgeting and independent unions.

Cuban workers. Photo: Caridad

It means demonstrating with examples — which exist like islands of self-determination within this capitalist world — that what’s collective isn’t the same at what’s state-owned and run. What’s truly participatory is not a mere guise for what’s actually authoritarian, and “socialist” inefficiency can’t be remedied by privatization.

We need to look to real and virtuous experiences, like the Nordic social protection systems, the social economy networks in Uruguay and the public policy of the current government of Ecuador.

In the specifically political realm, it’s about building a substantive (representative, participatory, deliberative) democracy, where there are no exclusions for ideological reasons, and hegemony is achieved with reason and debate not through force nor accompanied by irreversible bouts of institutional sclerosis.

This would mean trans-institutional democracy in which the citizenry rules through political and social organizations, and the arrogance of bureaucrats is not merely replaced by new and refurbished self-referencing party and business elites. This would be where battles of ideas were not supplanted by marketing campaigns.

The history of pre-revolutionary Cuba was a long sequence of authoritarian governments that began with our colonial status and included two ironhanded anti-communist dictatorships supported by Washington.

Notwithstanding, today there’s no shortage of Cuban liberals, democrats and patriots — an unavoidable part of the nation — who are reintroducing the legacy of the pluralistic press (such as the Republican press) and progressive constitutionalism (like the one of 1940) to continue striving towards the establishment of a state of rights with the tri-partition of powers and multi-partyism, akin to the classical canons of representative democracy.

Therefore, if others have all the energy and right to dream a different future, why should we on the left refuse to aim for a different form of socialism as an alternative to the current regime and to any neoliberal substitutes?

In a few weeks we’ll be marking five years since that Mayday march when, despite threats of repression, a small group of comrades went out to Revolution Square to march in the Labor Day parade carrying a banner reading: “Down with bureaucracy! Long live the workers! More socialism!”

In light of this, I can only recognize the relevance of that action, where we overcame our fears to defend national and popular sovereignty.

I remember how we began to detect — in the joy, surprise and warm acceptance of other marchers — for the possibility of a socialist future.

If there’s something (I think) should distinguish a socialist, it’s not seeking a pure and unreal world, but the reasoned, free and collective construction of better ways and places for living, here and now, as human beings.

This is a search in which we will need to accompany (and join) the struggles and contributions of all movements – pro-democracy, environmentalist, feminist and anti-imperialist.

Anything that threatens the happy advent of this emancipatory plurality — be they the holy words of a messiah or the preaching of merchants — is, in the crudest sense, profoundly reactionary.

Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

30 thoughts on “Why Socialism for Cuba?

  • April 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Hey Luis, good to hear from you.

    The thing is, you are just the sort of person with whom I wish, and need to talk. So, let’s pour ourselves a cup of coffee and do it. Please try to take what I say seriously, and really think about it.

    The Marxian formula for socialist economy proposes to take the far-in-the-future goal of socialist construction–i.e., absence of private property–out of the distant, goal future, and force it onto society immediately, right after capitalist state power has been smashed. This would be done by concentrating all instruments of production in the hands of the state.

    Well, Luis, this sort of sneaking in of the Utopian immediate-communism ideal has not worked in any country that has tried it. So, I make a statement that this is why 20th Century socialism has failed, and you respond that, “No, it’s because of blah, blah, blah.”

    Look, comrade, if we can’t stick to the subject, how are we ever going to formulate a charismatic and workable maximum program for our own countries, Brazil and the US?

    Please go to the next-to-last page of the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto and zero in on the sentence in which Engels and Marx stipulate the state-monopoly formula that has caused so much trouble and failure for more than a century, and let’s talk about the real issue. Cheers.

  • April 11, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    No. That started long time ago and is NOT a Raul-specific issue. You see it that way only because recently the military enterprises have been growing steadily and became a major economic player.

    As for sidelining Fidel old cronies, good riddance. They were ideologues, not specialists in their field and with good intention or not and with more or less autonomy they did a lot of damage to the economy (i.e. Lage).

    As for my trust in the military, you are reading stuff I never said. I don’t believe in the incorruptibility and never said such thing, I explained why they have a better incentive in remaining honest (at least less corrupt than the general population) and in most cases they do keep themselves honest enough.

    You are allowing your surrounding influence to pollute your thoughts on this matter. Common sense is worthless with Cuba, Cuba has never been about who earns more money (when regular Cubans earn too much they are scared to use it, so you get bizarre histories like a guy repairing for free the entire neighborhood so nobody would get the lip to the authorities and make him lost everything) but who can do better with the money they have and thats unquestionably the elite (political, military, cultural or whatever). And they know that all they have is borrowed under the pretense that they will remain loyal and useful, the moment they betray the expectations they lost everything.

    You have fear of a military junta taking over Cuba, and I can understand that fear, What you don’t understand is that the Cuban military cannot take that role because in practice they are powerless.

    Regardless of what you heard, Cuba does NOT have a professional army. They have a conscripted army with professional officers that for the most part have management roles (mostly logistics) and CANNOT be used against their own population because they’ll simply will insubordinate. Yes, they have some special units that are really both professional and battle-worthy, but those are small in numbers and insufficient to forcefully take control of any middle sized town, forget about a big city or the whole country.

    The same can be said of the police, most of their forces are the ubiquitous low profile cop we all know and love, some not so special troops and a few specialized units that can’t even contain a decent protest.

  • April 11, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Since Raul became acting president he has been slowly putting his people into the top positions, retiring or side-lining some of Fidel’s old cronies. The militarization of the upper echelons of the Cuban regime continues.

    You are correct that the ruling clique has figured out they have only a few years left to fix the economy before the whole mess comes crashing down. Your belief in the incorruptibility of the officer class endearing, and you may call me a cynic, but the rich & powerful will always work at extending their wealth and power, no matter the system they live under. The suggestion that they won’t bother going corrupt because they already have lots of perks is laughable. Since when has wealth and privilege ever stopped graft and corruption? Given the lack of transparency and the complete politicalization of the police & judiciary, the military dominated ruling clique will be as corrupt as any other group would be in their fine Italian shoes.

    So who cares? Any Cuban’s who hope for a transition from the old socialist model to a liberal democratic model care. Any idealistic Cuban, such as Armando, who still dream of a rectified socialist Cuba should care as well.

    The path that Raul has set the country on will lead to a system based on an alliance between the military and the large state owned corporations with political power strictly controlled through the Party. But the party won’t be in the driver’s seat, and certainly not the people, the FAR will be in charge. They won’t risk their growing wealth and power with any stupid ideas about democracy or freedom.

  • April 10, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Who cares? They had some nice resorts for use of their own personal and a LOT of unused land, they invested and opened the resorts to international tourism, and with the profit expanded and allocated the extra funds whenever they needed instead of keeping sucking resources from the central government. They diverted personnel from the military service to the EJT and increased significantly their small scale productions to the point they became self sufficient and started distributing the surplus in the internal market (at the beginning in vulnerable sectors, later to the general population). And is not like they were taking advantage of the kids, they were paying the same wages as they would receive in elsewhere.

    I never said that Raul was the one trusting his officers for key economy positions, as a matter of fact the trust comes from party echelons and they were appointed by the council of state leaded by Fidel (who technically have control over the military as president but was NOT actively in the military).

    The point is, Cuban economy is not going anywhere, as it is is barely surviving. They know that their main issue is the revalorization of the wages as the main source of income, and that can’t happen until either Cuba magically finds a new source of resources (aka, big deposits of oil) or rectify the economy issues (aka remove the dual currency and restructure the economy from scratch). They had hopes on the first, but no luck whatsoever, so they have no choice but to tackle the second point in the next couple of years or perish.

    Until things gets to normalcy somewhere far in the future, those military guys are going to be around in key positions, simply because other options have an implicit risk of putting corrupted crooks in charge and they can’t afford it and they already proved that they can do it rather well.

  • April 10, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    I refuse to be a termite in a collective.

  • April 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Both parties can take the blame for the financial mess, but you are mistaken on spending. The figures are as follows:

    2005: $2.472 T (Bush)
    2006 $2.564 T (Bush)
    2007 $2.564 T (Bush)
    2008 $2.704 T (Bush)
    2009: $3.173 trillion (Obama)
    2010: $3.081 trillion (Obama)
    2011: $3.126 trillion (Obama)
    2012: $3.213 trillion (Obama)

    The numbers for Bush’s first term and both of Clinton’s terms were even lower. In fact, spending during his first term was 67% higher under Obama than Clinton.

    It must be pointed out that Congress and Obama have not passed a budget sine 2009, which the Constitution requires them to do each year.


  • April 10, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Hi Grady I’m in a hurry but I think where 20th Century socialism failed was on the handling of desire – where capitalism achieves the social control of human desires with alienation and materialistic fetishism and so on – it’s not about ‘want to be able’ but ‘to be able to want’ (roughly, it doesn’t translates well into English…) but anyway *all* propriety is private. I don’t reckon the ‘public’ vs ‘private’ dichotomy anymore. A country is nothing less than the private propriety of the State (!). We must push towards the Negri described as the ‘common’, a huge termite network of sorts.

    See ya!

  • April 10, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Do you think tourism is a normal business the military would be involved in?

    Whether for the honourable reasons you claim, or for the sheer control of power as I assert, the fact is the Cuban military controls the largest proportion of the Cuban economy, including business activities well outside the normal range of military activities. Key government posts are held by senior military officers, generals and colonels, not just people who once did a stint as a corporal. You say this is because General Raul Castro trusts them & I’m sure he does. That’s the point when the military are in control.

    The point of concern is where is this leading to? Certainly not towards greater democracy, of either the liberal or socialist variety.

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