Cuba: Proletariat or Precarious

Dmitri Prieto Samsónov

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – ¿Proletariat in socialism? Theoretically, there shouldn’t be any proletariat under socialism.

The word proletariat, a term that originated in ancient Rome, historically refers to a class that lacks property and possesses only its offspring. In classic capitalism it’s used for the working class, who according to Karl Marx are free in two ways: as free people (that is, never slaves) and free of property.

The propaganda of the former USSR and the social doctrines developed in that country after the 30s rectified the praises for the “Proletariat State” and set down the guideline that the working class under “Soviet socialism” doesn’t constitute a proletariat. Rather, the working class is “the owner of the fundamental means of production” since the State, theoretically theirs, is the constitutional owner of the factories, workshops, mines, research institutes and large agricultural farms.

In Cuba, however, in contrast to what happened in the USSR, the proletariat is still officially spoken of.

That usage may possibly be more in tune with reality. History proves that wherever the “Socialist state” and its leadership group the bureaucratic nomenklatura have appeared, they have ended up forming an entity that is both alienated from and alienating to the power of those who work.

For that reason there have been so many experiments to “create a sense of belonging for the workers”; for the same reason the criticism from supporters of self-management or anarchists; for that reason the disaster of 1989.

But perhaps the Cuban reality is more complex…

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

5 thoughts on “Cuba: Proletariat or Precarious

  • May 15, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you for that comment, without insult or sarcasm.

    Implicit in your comment is the notion that there are indeed different versions or meanings to the word “socialism”. Marx used the word defined a particular way. Anarchists define the word another way. Both meanings are valid, within their particular context.

    It seems that at some point the Cuban Revolution decided to eliminate the word “proletariat” from the official vocabulary, in the typical Orwellian method of parsing the language of politically incorrect words. Eliminate the word from the vocabulary, and you eliminate the meaning from the mind of the people. How can the Cuban people think of the interests of the proletariat when the very concept has vanished?

    While looking into the use of the term “proletariat” in the Cuban context, I came across and interesting archive of essays by Albert Weisbord written in the early 1960’s. As a revolutionary Marxist, Weisbord faced a complicated process in coming to terms with the Cuban Revolution, as it did not fit into the doctrine of the historical revolutionary processes. In a series of essays, Fidel is portrayed as a bourgeois adventure, a nationalist, a revolutionary, a classic Latin caudillo, an emerging Stalinist, a genius, an idiot, a dupe of the Russians, a grave danger to the Cuban Revolution, and an iconoclast who outsmarted the Russians.

    I will say one thing for Weisbord: he never let his previous firm convictions get in the way of his current firm convictions.

    Capitalism is not a fixed doctrine, nor a complete political-economic system. It consists of a set of economic principles, with manifestations in social, political and cultural activities. As such, capitalism and the societies which employ it will adapt and change over time. Capitalism will neither collapse nor fade away. It will transform continuously.

  • May 15, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Good point Griffin,
    A great many socialists, communists and anarchists are not Marxists because Marx did believe in a hierarchical governmental and workplace structure .
    This ultimately, inevitably results in undemocratic structures arising from initially democratic bodies .
    I know you do not hold with my views of the future but the great many things Marx has turned out to be wrong about will have some even more serious deviations from his 150 year old vision of the future.
    IMO , capitalism will go down with a whimper and not bang .
    The drive for the necessary ever- increasing profit and the competitive nature of capitalism will be what ultimately kills capitalism .
    Marx was very wrong about the development of (democratic) socialism but remains dead-on about the ills and true nature of capitalism .

  • May 15, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Dmitri, in Cuba the term Proletariat was also intentionally killed to prevent workers from having an independent identity and to tell them that they didn’t need to continue fighting. Your are not proletariat any more! we were told.
    They created the term “Trabajadores”, I remember noticing that many years ago, Trabajadores also included famers.

  • May 14, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Dmitri wrote, “Theoretically, there shouldn’t be any proletariat under socialism.”

    Perhaps he hasn’t read Marx or Engels.

    “In Marxist socio-political thought, the dictatorship of the proletariat refers to a state in which the proletariat, or the working class, has control of political power.[1][2][3] The term, coined byJoseph Weydemeyer, was adopted by the founders of Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in the 19th century. It was expected that the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) would use military force to remain in power whenever the proletariat attempted to replace it, and therefore the proletariat would have to respond with violence of its own.[4][5] In Marxist theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the intermediate system between capitalism and communism, when the government is in the process of changing the means of ownership from privatism to collective ownership.[6]”

  • May 14, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    You make a quite valid point: absent a bottom-up running of the workplace, the term proletariat, which used to apply to only workers under capitalism (free with little or no wealth and certainly no decision-making powers) certainly applies to all Cuban workers as well.
    Of course the ignorant amongst us will insist that this is still socialism (or communism ) even though even a cursory look at the definitions of these two economic/social forms would show that a top-down structure CANNOT be defined as socialism .
    Believing that top-down management constitutes socialism is analogous to believing that one can be Roman Catholic and not believe in Christ.
    But we have a goodly number of individuals who post that sort of erroneous thinking on a regular basis.

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