By Erasmo Calzadilla
A few days ago, I had my first opportunity to read comments made by people from different places about my articles that appeared on this website. It was exciting to see that people from all over were interested in my perspective.
As this was my “first time,” I reacted with a degree of exaggeration. I was ecstatic with any show of agreement, but equally depressed when anyone criticized my thoughts.
I’ve not been able to participate directly in the debates as I would have liked to, but a few days later when I had the opportunity to read them, I felt especially compelled to respond to one of the commentaries.
It turns out that one of the people who read my article (about the mysterious and recent expulsion from Mt. Olympus of important political figures in Cuba), someone identifying himself as a philosophy professor, turned attention away from the burning issue I had raised to aim his guns at me instead.
This person stated that if I were one of his students he would have given me a low grade for the vagueness of the following sentence: “The antithesis of socialism is not capitalism, but alienation.”
I will therefore take advantage of that provocation to respond. This is not to defend my capacities as a philosopher, nor to evaluate anyone else in turn, but to continue sharing my points of view with the desire that this strange dialogue will help clear up certain ideas for me.
To begin with, I understand perfectly that someone could sense a degree of “vagueness” in the expression previously referred to. For that reason I request a chance to better explain a point to my appraiser, even within the narrow framework of a blog.
For a long time (better said, for an entire lifetime), I have heard about the struggle between socialism and capitalism. The former, at least as we paint it, is a just, ethical, and above all humanistic social system, while the latter sacrifices everything for the profits of the powerful.
Seen in this manner, only a selfish, degenerate, son of a bitch could prefer the latter.
Fortunately, however, reality is not so simple. We have all had time to appreciate life under the construction of real socialism, where we have seen the centralization of power not in the hands of the workers, but in the managers. Ordinary people have been marginalized, left to play only the role of passive consumers of the system’s benefits. If this marginalization of the masses continues, the level of alienation generated will ultimately prove to be self-destructive.
Since I don’t like this form of socialism, but I don’t want to completely give up on the idea of socialism either, I latched on to a good point made by Marx for attacking both capitalism and this variant of socialism. The key word is “alienation.”
From this perspective, capitalism is not only deplorable in that it generates poverty, but is especially disgraceful in that workers do not possess any control over the productive process. They cannot recognize themselves in the fruits of a labor that wasn’t of their choosing and which they perform only to earn a paycheck.
For this same reason, they never see themselves as the creators of the wealth that they consume, nor of the beauty that they enjoy, perpetuating in this way their practical and emotional dependence on capital. In short, capitalism -like all social systems in which the producers do not control the process of production- is alienating, since it prevents people from ultimately being their own bosses.
Socialism, at least the version that sparks my admiration, is not simply a system that distributes consumer goods equitably -even if that were the actual case- but one in which people become the true and concrete owners of the production process in which they expend their energies. In this scenario, they then become conscious generators of their life project, from the individual level to the broader collective realm.
Returning to the point, if under socialism, the managers make all the important decisions, but they do not explain their reasons to the “ordinary” working people, this will generate mass alienation, among a host of other problems. It undermines socialism, at least as I recognize that system.
That is, in short, what I tried to say and what I continue to maintain.
Do I get a better grade professor?