A Cuban Philosopher on ‘Obsolete & Futile’ Communism

Erasmo Calzadilla

Alexis Jardines (r) last year in Havana.

I met Alexis Jardines on a university campus. He was a philosophy professor and later I enrolled to try to become one too.  His theories seemed to me back then to be so brilliant on one side and so opaque on the other.  I mentioned that to him one time but he disagreed.

Alexis recently immigrated to the US. I don’t know under what circumstances but a University of Florida professor, Gerardo Muñoz, asked him a “silly” question:

“Is it true that there’s nothing salvageable from communism if we understand this word as the central idea of politics as far as life with other people and even to what extent our task isn’t just thinking about concepts and words that don’t try to borrow external realities, but to make another future possible for the nation?”

I was able to read the extensive response by Jardines — Redescubrimiento de la cultura? (Re-discovery of culture?) — in the report on the colloquy “Pluralidad e Ideologia,” which took place on the website Estado de Sats.

It’s always possible that I don’t understand anything about anything, but it seemed to me that Alexis was operating well below his tremendous capacity for analysis; and also, it almost hurt me, politically speaking. That’s why I picked myself up and decided to stir things up by rebutting his contention a bit.

I’ll start working with three of his propositions and then, if I feel the subject is interesting, I’ll continue with the rest of his reply.

Jardines responds to the professor at the University of Florida:
“I’ll begin by giving an answer to your double question with an emphatic statement: No, there’s nothing redeemable in communism because it’s nothing but a chimera, an ideal that has no relation to life or to the structure of any given society.”

I say:
Let’s imagine a shaft where one end is communism taken to its height, the uniting (communion) of identities in an impersonal being, and on the other end is an atomism of identities, with each having an individuality that’s absolutely different from other beings. Anyone who has studied a little about philosophy — and Alexis has done quite a bit — knows that neither the sole Being, where everything unites, nor extreme atomism are sustainable positions.  Unity and plurality are complementary and cannot exist without one another.

Putting it in language a little more accessible: both ends (communism and individualism) are probably unattainable ideals for a real society, and because of this all actually existing societies are combinations of these two poles, some tending more toward individualism while others with a stronger dose of communism, each depending on their own history and how each society has established itself for its functioning.

In any case, the boundary that separates one individual from another is open, diffuse; there’s always some degree of overlap, a lack of differentiation of some identities with others.
Seen this way, I don’t understand why Jardines says “there’s nothing redeemable in communism,” especially since he understands it as a chimera.

And the beauty is that he, in the style of Enrique Ubieta, doesn’t argue his roughly hewn claims.

Jardines continues:
“The theoretical foundation (of communism) is noticeably past its prime; and what’s most important is that it lacks a cultural context. What feeds communism and Marxism are things of the past and, as such, they could only be embraced in societies that were economically, politically and socially underdeveloped (meaning the Third World). But neither here would I predict success, whenever the process of globalization is underway it will also make them superfluous in these regions of the planet.”

I say:
Alexis knows full well that in philosophy — like in any science and in any society, and especially in postmodern society — the past is always present.  No theory and no ideology are valid or cease to be because they belong to the past.  No argument withers with age.

The history of philosophy like almost everything in life involves a constant return of the forgotten, of what seemed would never again be reborn – be it Marxism or fascism.

I really don’t know what he means about the globalization process making Marxism superfluous, especially since this theory was able to predict the globalization process itself.

Moreover, the neo-liberal globalization to which Jardines is referring generates the path through which pass asymmetries of power, exclusion, deepening social conflicts and neglect, while in response to this emerge collectivist and humanistic movements such as those that have been occurring in Latin America over the past 15 years. Marxism isn’t collectivism and humanism in the strict sense, but it has much more to do with these qualities than does neoliberalism.

From my experience with Latin American youth, I’d say that Marxism is deeply rooted in them, and not as some kind of nostalgic sentimentality. Personally, I don’t consider myself a Marxist, but listening to Alexis I almost became one.

Jardines adds:
“On the other hand, one might ask: Can one really build communism? Who, with first and last names, would be responsible for undertaking such a feat? And if it’s an impersonal or collective task, let’s ask the working class, which in much of the world has disappeared and will continue disappearing before the state – and this is a flagrant contradiction at the heart of Marxist theory. In the most developed capitalist societies the working class languished while both the state and the middle/upper classes were preserved and strengthened. (Note that I’m not speaking about the bourgeoisie).

I say:
Has the working class disappeared? Who built everything? Who provides the services? Who works? – the machines?
I think Jardines is raising a false alarm.

It’s true that the working class lost the political strength and consciousness that it had in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s true that financier capitalism seems to produce wealth from nothing. It’s true that the welfare state and the enrichment of countries in the First World allow a comfortable status to a large number of people; perhaps for that reason they don’t consider themselves members of the working class.  But to go from there to asserting that the working class has disappeared I think is a tremendously huge leap.

The concept of “class” has become blurred as a self-identifying reference, but the group of people who labor for a wage paid by the owner of the means of production still exists, despite their consciousness of their being members of this group being in a deep coma or is concealed with other identities.

It’s true that the state didn’t disappear. The state will exist as long as there is private ownership of the means of production and that has not ceased to be the case. In any case, I’m far from defending Marxism to the death; I only think that the way Alexis refutes it is overly simplistic and always leaves the stench of “neoliberal capitalism will take care of everything.”

That’s it; with these words I’ve culminated my rambling for the time being regarding the response that philosophy professor A. Jardines gave to the question posed by Professor Gerardo Muñoz at the University of Florida.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

5 thoughts on “A Cuban Philosopher on ‘Obsolete & Futile’ Communism

  • John, my comments are erased perhaps 50% of the time when I hit the “Submit” button. To avoid this, I’ve taken to highlighting and copying my comment before entering the code and clicking Submit. That way, I’m able to quickly paste in the text again and re-submit. This has always worked. Cheers.

  • Thanks Circles but the problem turned out to be on my end and was solved with a maintenance package.

    Your website, the writers and the opportunity to interact with them are truly unique and deeply appreciated.

  • John, It appears your comment made it. If you have further problems please write and let us know.

  • Pardon my confusion but I had always thought that communism was a FUTURE utopian state which Noam Chomsky describes as anarcho-syndicalism.

    If it is a future stae and based on a economic and societal transition from capitalism via democratic socialism to communsim, how can it be said to have never worked nor that ist could never work.

    We have yet to make the transition from capitalism to socialism anywhere on the plalnet and sos to me saying it is a failure is invalid due to its prematurity.

    Can someone please point out where I am in error? ever

    Alsi in attempting to post this wjheneer whenever I hit the delete key my entire post gets erased and this is the fifth attempt and I am not using the delete key to avoid having to do it for the sixth time.
    Anything on HT’s end causing this?

  • Okay, Erasmo, let’s talk. You say that the “state will exist as long as there is private ownership of the means of production . . .” When we speak of the state however, we should keep in mind that the state has two major components. One is coercive, consisting of police, prisons, armed forces, et cetera.

    The other is the civil coordination, consisting of its political structure and its many routine, productive tasks–like economic guidance and monitoring, space exploration, environmental protection and repair, infrastructure creation and repair, and so on. So, when we make generalizations as you have done in the statement above, we tend to lose sight of the dual composition of the state, and that one component is “bad” and one is “good.”

    The theoretical withering away of the state was never meant to mean the withering away of the necessary, constructive, productive component. Some sort of civil coordination will be necessary in any future society, whatever this might be called.

    The future theoretical classless society, the one to which the socialist bridge was supposed to lead, was never conceived as having a complete lack of social coordination. It was thought of however as ultimately having a complete lack of a coercive element. This lack of a coercive element was to be based on the fact that, without classes, and without all the human perversions generated by exploitative class society, there would eventually be no need for police, prisons, armed forces, et cetera.

    And so, Erasmo, I think it would be more correct and more useful for us to say that the coercive component of the state will exist as long as there is private ownership of the means of production.

    It should be added however that, as long as the socialist state–flowing from the Marxist core stipulation–centralizes ownership of all the instruments of production, an absolutist coercive component will always be needed to enforce this unnatural and bureaucratic mode of production.

    As history has shown, this coercive component will tend to become more and more corrupt and alienated from the people, until such a socialist state power collapses.

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