Seeking a Better Grade

By Erasmo Calzadilla

 For an entire lifetime I have heard about the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Photo: Caridad
For an entire lifetime I have heard about the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Photo: Caridad

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.

Socialism, at least the version that sparks my admiration, involves conscious generators of their life project, from the individual level to the broader collective realm.
Socialism, at least the version that sparks my admiration, involves conscious generators of their life project, from the individual level to the broader collective realm.

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?

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 “<em>Seeking a Better Grade</em>

  • dejáte de joder che!!! que voy a contar aquí lo que tú hacias en la universidad. Ta’ bueno acere, voy a ver si veo otro artículo, ahora mismo se lo mando a to’ el mundo pa’ debatirlo….

  • Venezuela is fast becoming the worst of both worlds, from what I can see from afar: it won’t let go of capitalism at all — and everything this implies; and then what passes for socialism there is for the most part handled bureaucratically and from the top-down. And yet people in Venezuela and supporters outside feel compelled to defend this setup nevertheless, regardless, out of a misplaced sense of loyalty. And this latter situation also appears to be the case in Cuba, at least in part.

    Beyond Cuba having a more-or-less unavoidable stalinist past, the problem everywhere socialist democracy is attempted seems very much to hinge on the lack of complete democratic control from the “bottom”-up. I’m no anarchist, but it’s abundantly clear to me that Party and organization and ‘necessity’ are used by those inside that power structure as an excuse to avoid giving up power to the masses — who really should be the masters of the situation from the start. The problem, of course, is that the masses are often ill-prepared to take hold of that power. Which is where the excuse-making comes in. Clearly, not enough thought and democratic debate has taken place which actually advances the ideas of popular “grassroots”, proletarian democracy — which must then immediately be put into practice. Certainly, the concept of “consejos comunales” and communes in Venezuela is an advance in that direction; but only barely so as concrete reality, from the look of things there.

    In Cuba, the problem has to be approached somewhat differently — but the issue remains: power is not ensconced with the masses in any meaningful sense. And this has very much to do with a stalinist past, as well as the lack of a highly-developed working-class during the initial revolutionary upsurge. But how to “devolve” power, then? The bureaucracy — like all bureaucracies thruout history — does not wish to give up what it now holds. So frankly: AFAIC — the solution still lies with revolution outside Cuba (and Venezuela), in the more advanced industrialized countries.

    Which is not to absolve the cuban bureaucracy of their present responsibilities.

  • Erasmo, I sincerely hope you are reinstated. To do otherwise would be a great injustice, to you and your students. You are seem to look at philosophy–including the philosophies of political economy–as a dynamic process, much as did Socrates and Plato and all the great philosophic avatars, including Marx. Throughout history there seems not only to be the struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, but also between those who are forevor trying to codify religion and philosophy, and those who want to make it an organic, inquiring, process. This is what really good science is about, too. Yet there seems to be something that is “hard wired” into our thought process which also has a strong desire for stasis, for certainties, for stability. I hope that, after searching their souls, the authorities see that they have taken the wrong path, and turn back to the branch in the trail where the correct one lead to,–where else–but, err, True Left! I may sound a bit naive in appealing to their better natures; although I am not quite as old as Brother Cowderly above, still, no matter how old I become I shall never loose faith in human reason and our ability e to do the right thing once we have discovered our errors. The gods (orishas?) know that, time-and-again, I’ve been utterly wrong-headed, but the older I get, the more I am willing to revise my views, and I hope the same prevails for them–and for you, too!

  • Erasmo,

    China is a communist society. Cuba is a communist society. Some of the Scandinavian countries are socialistic. These labels don’t bother me. If I want to visit these countries I just go there.

    I lived for parts of 3 years in Mexico. I got the gout. The Mexican doctor charged me a fraction of what it would have cost me in the US. Maybe Mexico is Socialistic. I no not know. All I know is I had a good time living in Mexico

    The Democratic party in the USA is about to vote for some form of Universal Health Care. Perhaps this is some form of Socialism.

    Again I don’t get upset. I just “go with the flow” because my peace of mind is very important to me.


  • Erasmo, since posting the comment to which you refer, I’ve regretted posting it more than a few times, especially since finding out you’re being terminated from your university job for being too much of an independent thinker. In fact I tried to at least indirectly take it back in a later comment (#5) on the same March 6 diary entry. I hope you were able to read that later comment as well, as well as comments made on your other diary entries in which I express solidarity, support and admiration.

    I’m not interested in repeating my mistake by grading you on the entry above other than to say I consider myself a socialist. But in my mind socialism is inseparable from political democracy and respect for universal human rights, both of which are lacking in today’s Cuba.

    I wish you the best. You are displaying the kind of courage many of us in democratic countries might not in your situation.

Comments are closed.