Socialism or Death (Part II)

Yusimi Rodriguez

Abraham Ortiz

HAVANA TIMES — Abraham Ortiz is a Cuban who has lived the last year and a half in Spain. In his first visit back to the island he shares with us his perceptions of life across the Atlantic and here in Cuba. Today we bring you part two of his interview with HT.

See Part One of the interview.

HT: Yesterday you said that you are helping the director of a documentary about censorship and he asked for “images of other dictators.” Do you mean there’s a dictatorship in Cuba?

Abraham: Yes, when a president holds power for so long there’s a dictatorship. I once heard Fidel say he didn’t believe that talent was exceptional, that there could be many Nicolas Guillens or many, many Beethovens. I wondered if there could be many Fidels. His hold on power contradicts his words.

HT: But Fidel is no longer in power.

Abraham: How is it that a president can fall sick and tell his brother “hold onto to this for me for a second” and “keep on pitching,” as if our country were a ball? Why not let the people choose?

HT: What do you think of the measures taken by Raul Castro so that Cubans can buy and sell their homes and cars? And what about his immigration reforms?

Abraham: I think they were a long time in coming. This is what happens when one person thinks for the whole country.

HT: If your wife stays outside of Spain for two years, will the government consider her as having emigrated?

Abraham: No. But here the policy was based on the perception that those who left the country were traitors. That perception hasn’t changed in the roots of the thought of those who run this country. They feel that they educated you, clothed you and fed you, and therefore you owe them.

HT: Isn’t it true that we don’t have to pay for education or medical care? Isn’t it fair to expect repayment?

Abraham: Yes, but the state has to pay you when you work, but it doesn’t. That’s why we have the saying, “They act like they pay you, and we act like we work.” You can invent an earthshaking device and you’ll go unnoticed. What doesn’t go unnoticed is that the government educated you, although it really didn’t invest that much in you anyway.

By keeping everyone poor, they can hoard the wealth of the country and then give people trinkets one day to placate them. Under socialism people are treated like children. It’s like the parent that takes care of a child all their life and then says: “If you walk out that door, don’t come back” or “if you go, I’ll disown you.”

That’s what they did to people who left here. It was a position of: “If you go, I’m going to take your house.” They had to change because the economy isn’t holding up. At customs, they just charged me 440 CUCs (about $500 USD), and my wife 50 CUCs. Do you know how many monthly salaries they can pay people here with that?

This is how they can continue justifying their illusory expenses. They can manage the country’s wealth as they please. At one point they decided that it was fashionable to have social workers, so they created an army of them. It’s not profitable, yet Cuba has more social workers than anyone. And since the “government,” “revolution” and “Fidel” are synonymous, he gets the credit. Do you know of any institution in Cuba that wasn’t created by him? It’s not possible for one person to think for a whole country for 50 years.

HT: How do you see the future of Cuba?

Abraham: I think it’s going to have to hurry up. I think the generation between 35 and their 40’s is the better prepared, but they’re wearing down. They’re underutilized. They’re not evolving. I always have optimistic thoughts and I think the country can do well in the future, but we need to hurry. We have to get rid of a lot of the old guys who are running things.

HT: And maintain a single political party?

Abraham:  No. I think the situation should evolve to where there exist more political parties, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves with the multiparty system. A country with twenty-four parties that are stealing and lying doesn’t develop. There should be two or three, maybe four. I think we should get rid of Raul or Fidel.

HT: But Fidel longer counts.

Abraham: Many people say that investment in Cuba won’t take place until he disappears. It’s a psychological question. He’s like a father figure. Socialism is based on the manufacturing of icons to manipulate reality.

When I thanked Abraham, thinking we had ended the interview, he reminded me that we hadn’t talked about culture.


Abraham and his wife Camelia.

Abraham: There’s no culture. We’ve reduced the concept to music and dance to entertain people. Those who think the design of a cellphone or a computer or a city isn’t culture, are being left holding the bag. Culture is to learn and to put what you’ve learned to the service of others.

HT: You’re saying there’s no culture in a country where the admission to a movie costs four cents (USD) and a ticket to the ballet costs a dime. Right now the international ballet festival is underway and that only cost 90 cents (USD). Everyone here has access to culture.

Abraham: Here people have access to part of the culture, to what the government wants you to have access to. But do you have all your needs met and are also able to go to the movies and the ballet? Can you buy a computer, a television? How’s the furniture in your house?

HT: How often do you go to the movies, the ballet or the theater in Spain?

Abraham: Those are very expensive. But here in Cuba you do those things at the expense of not being able to buy a computer, having broken furniture and not having any shoes.

HT: In any case, I can’t address those problems with the money it costs to go to the ballet or see a movie, which is very little.

Abraham: That’s what I told you earlier: they keep you poor and manipulate the wealth that you get.

HT: Which is to say I’m poor but educated.

Abraham: It’s like the noni fruit. They overestimate it to you and then tell you, “I’m not going to give you any meat, but I’ll give noni.” It’s another trinket for people’s diversion. When you have enough money to go on a Caribbean cruise, I’ll see if you prefer the film festival. Those guaranteed benefits you have come at the cost of everything you sacrifice.

HT: Do you feel you have guaranteed benefits in Spain?

Abraham: Yes, people live perfectly fine. The society is designed to make the individual mindless.

HT: Isn’t that a contradiction?

Abraham: For us, dumbing down is bad because we have a certain cultural level, but 80 percent of the population feels good that way. We can’t impose our assumptions on others. There are people who aren’t interested in Swan Lake. It’s all the same to these people if that bird drowns or the lake dry up.

HT: Someone who has been dumbed down is easier to exploit and dehumanize?

Abraham: From my perspective, yes. But most people feel good and have the right to choose.

HT: Here I choose to go to the theater and ballet.

Abraham: You think that you chose within the universe of options but they have chosen for you. They take away your access to a lot of things, but they leave you with those trinkets: the cinema, ballet, Tropicana. It’s not so bad. Moreover, it’s easy to charge a dime to go to the cinema when they don’t pay for the films.

HT: What’s left of your dream of becoming a writer?

Abraham: I wrote a lot when I arrived in Spain, stories and even a book of poems. But there it’s not like here. If you’re not working in Cuba, you start writing, and literature serves as therapy. There, you have to pay the bills or they’ll take the house. If you have to give up writing, you give it up. But I do want to get back into writing when I return to Spain.


31 thoughts on “Socialism or Death (Part II)

  • November 27, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    “Seriously Luis, you’re defending North Korea now? Really?!!!”

    Contempt Griffin, the Straw-man Master!

  • November 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Luis, I am aware of the history of South Korea. Which facts did I get wrong? South Korea was ruled by a fascist dictatorship for years. But they have transitioned to a liberal democracy and have since then built a dynamic & prosperous society. If they had been conquered by North Korea, who were encouraged and supported in that imperial endeavor by Mao & Stalin, the southern half of the peninsula would suffering under the brutal Kim dynasty as the North does today. You think that would have been better.

    Seriously Luis, you’re defending North Korea now? Really?!!!
    Is there no limit to your self-abasement at the alter of Anti-Americanism in your cult of Marxism?

  • November 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Well, comrade, I must make a “more humble than thou” response. I haven’t read most of what you have listed above; but I have read a few things, and have learned a thing or two, here and there.

    All of this making-first-reference to mostly-dead writers gets us nowhere. We need to begin with simple common sense. Otherwise, we will be knee-deep in sectarian muck and never again see the light of day.

    The socialist program divides itself naturally into two major sections, strategic and tactical. For convenience we often refer to these sections as the maximum and minimum programs. The minimum program is all those things we do or try to do over the months and years, in order to achieve socialist state power.

    But through it all we have to build the vanguard party through our minimum program reform work, and constantly expound the vision and plan of reorganization of the future socialist republic, in order to deserve and know what to do with state power, on the one hand; and elevate the consciousness of the laboring people to a socialist level, in order to guarantee the acquisition of state power, on the other.

    The key element here, Luis, is the consciousness of the people reaching a socialist level. Not only is it necessary to achieve state power, but socialist reorganization needs to have an enthusiastic people ready and eager to carry out the reorganization and transform society. This democratic participation of the people is the real social revolution, not the achievement of political power–which can be accomplished by many different routes or methods, depending on the country and the times.

    None of this can happen if the vanguard party does not work out a correct, sufficiently detailed maximum program beforehand. This is the problem in Cuba, as it has been in all other Marxist-led states. None have never had a correct strategic, maximum program of social transformation.

    The reason? Engels and Marx said, in 1848, that the state ought to own “everything” productive, including the land.

    You ask what you have to do. I would say that you have to do what every sincere socialist needs to do. You need, first of all, to define clearly for yourself the core economic hypothesis upon which you believe any socialist state ought to function. This would mean choosing between Marxian state monopoly ownership, and modern cooperative, state co-ownership, socialism.

    If you choose cooperative, state co-ownership, you are, programmatically speaking, a non-Marxist–regardless of what you might think about the man Karl Marx. Then, we could begin an in-depth conversation.

  • November 27, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Don’t care, George. Griffin does not even gets his facts straight, as if South Korea right after the split had not have an autocratic rule by Syngman Rhee and then a fascist regime by Park Chung-hee. All backed by the ‘freedom-loving’ US of A.

  • November 27, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Slavery began in pre-capitalist feudal societies. It’s economic importance faded in Capitalism, which is why the more capitalist industrialized north fought the more rural & feudal south to end slavery in America. Slavery lives on today in North Africa, sanctioned by the Islamic laws of Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali & Sudan.

    Marxism too perpetuated slavery, in its own style. The Soviet Union used forced labour in their extensive Gulags to help “build socialism”. In North Korea, there exists a vast network of concentration camps where whole families live and die in brutal conditions. China continues the practice of slavery of their huge prison population. Where would the Cuban regime be today without the slavery they inflict on the Cuban people, selling their labour to the foreign corporations at a fraction of their true value?

    Yes, the US intervened militarily in other countries, sometimes with good intentions and sometimes not. But that does not in anyway refute the historical record of the the Marxist regimes. Indeed, in Korea, the US intervened to oppose the North Korean dictatorship, backed by Maoist China and the USSR from imposing a Marxist dictatorship on the south.

    You wrote, “The important point is that everything that has happened and is happening now is just part of the process.”

    That’s the kind of chilling inhuman logic that makes civilized people everywhere oppose Marxists who are ready to excuse any crime against humanity if it advances their ideological programme.

  • November 27, 2012 at 5:02 am

    “But there is also two crucial commonalities they all share:

    1. Marxism
    2. Lots and lots of killing.”

    This is totally disingenuous. Since 1945 the U.S. has intervened in over 20 countries, and that is post the establishment of capitalism, it says nothing of the millions of deaths that took place in the establishment of capitalism. Would there be capitalism today without slavery for example?

    Marx provided an analysis of capitalism that is still valid today. He also provided a manifesto for how to hurry on the emergence of the next stage. He did not say what the next stage would be, only that the contradiction of working class vs capitalist class would disappear. We have still not reached that next stage, but one can ask whether we would reach it quicker if people hadn’t followed Marx’s manifesto. We will never know the answer. Would a capitalist Russia have been able to defeat Nazi Germany, or would we be living under the Third Reich? Nor have the Chinese abandoned Marx’s analysis. They have reasoned that one cannot go from feudalism to communism by skipping the capitalist phase and have thus tried to implement a managed form of capitalism in transition. They are now considering bringing more corporations back under state control. This dialectic between private property and state ownership continues to play out all over the world, but it is important to note that Marx actually foresaw a withering away of the state as we reached the next stage. One could actually argue that socialist policies, such as well fare or the National Health Service in Britain have actually acted to forestall the emergence of the next stage as they have reduced the tensions in the class conflict that would otherwise have led to revolution. On the other hand, perhaps technology, which Marx believed was one of the determining factors in the progression towards communism, had not reached the level necessary for such a revolution to be successful. Perhaps with the invention of the internet, we are now getting closer to the ability to have decentralised communal control of the economy. The important point is that everything that has happened and is happening now is just part of the process. We are waiting for the day when the distinction between working class and capitalist class disappears. Grady has a different manifesto from Marx, but nothing he says goes against this fundamental prediction.

  • November 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Hi again, Grady.

    First, thanks for all the information. I do not know ‘a great deal’ about Marxism. I’m just an electrical engineer who dedicates some spare time on humanities. From Marx I’ve read only the Communist Manifesto and the Grundisse online. I first began with Labor and Monopoly Capital by Braverman and All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Berman. Then some passages from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. Then the Power of Ideology by Meszáros (which is a very difficult and tiresome reading, by the way) and some anthropology with Darcy Ribeiro’s The Brazilian People. But the real ‘cream of the crap’ started with Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle and Marcuse’s Eros & Civilization. And now I’m literally breathless with Deleuze and Guatarri’s Anti-Oedipus. Now that’s some serious eye-opener shit!

    Anyway, I’m very welcomed by “your help would be much appreciated.” Well, count me in. What do I have do to?

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