Making Revolution in Cuba Today (Part 1)

Pedro Campos Interviewed by Dmitri Prieto

Pedro Campos

HAVANA TIMES, June 25 — For some people in Cuba, Pedro Campos Santos needs no introduction.  However for the majority of Cubans he’s still probably a stranger.  What a shame, a consequence of the lack of horizontal flows of information and ideas here on the island.

“Perucho” belongs to an informal group called SPD (Participative and Democratic Socialism), which for the last several years has been devoted to promoting the socialist path for Cuba’s present and future.  This is a socialist road based on a self-management model with freedom for all people who form a part of it; it is socialism “with all and for the well-being of all,” as Jose Marti wanted.

We conducted this exclusive interview with “Perucho,” in which he gives us the details of his fascinating biography and the reasons for his political commitment, as well as some background on his comrades in SPD.

HT:  Perucho, you belong to a generation that participated directly in the radical changes that occurred in Cuba after 1959.  What does it mean to you to be revolutionary?

PEDRO CAMPOS:  Each historical moment demands a specific attitude of its revolutionaries.  In Cuba in the period 1953-58, it was to struggle against the Batista dictatorship for democratic restoration.  In the early years after the revolution of 1959, the struggle was for the consolidation of what had been achieved, the cultural revolution, the real transfer of power (economic power), the political/decision-making ability of the workers and the people, and for basic socioeconomic transformations that would make possible the advance toward socialism.  However, this was an epoch in which statist deviations and centralization had already begun.

Today the basic goals of that stage remain incomplete, and these are — in my opinion — to promote in all possible ways the process of the democratization and socialization of the political and economic life of the Cuban people.

The revolution of 1959 did in fact free us from the tyranny of Batista.  However it also centered property ownership in the hands of the state.  Cuban and foreign capital; big, middle-sized and small capital, was concentrated and centralized even more by the state.  Political decision-making was also centralized.  It was believed that this was socialism.  This was the typical centralization of Stalinist “socialism” and its variants. People thought that this would facilitate the socialization of property and the results of production as well as contribute to the necessary democratization of political life.  However, in the long run this form of centralization became an insurmountable obstacle.  That’s why it failed both in Eastern Europe and here.

To consolidate itself, for some time the Cuban revolutionary process has had the goals of advancing from statism to socialization [of economic power] and from concentration of political power to its democratization.  What changes to make, how to implement those changes while avoiding undemocratic “decentralization” (leading to major privatizations and greater disillusion on the part of the workers and people generally), are the tactics we are now discussing in Cuba.  The capitalists’ mouths are watering hoping that the “updating” of the model favors the development of national and foreign large-scale private capital.

The history of the “socialist camp” left very clear lessons as to what should not be done when the time comes to change the neo-Stalinist system.  Proceeding slowly and tortuously in the process of the renovation of state socialism (especially in the USSR and China, which are today aiming at capitalist development), we witnessed the principal errors: These included the inability to carry out transformations that facilitated direct control by the workers over companies or the empowerment of the people to make important decisions of all types, the deep penetration of big foreign and national capital in combination with the transmutation of the bureaucracy into the bureau-bourgeoisie, the absence of a clear program of socializing transformations, the continuation of excessive centralization in all types of decision-making, the permanency of top-down “verticalism” and the anchoring of neo-Stalinist dinosaurs in important positions of leadership in the party and the government.

By definition, Gorbachev’s perestroika sought to “renovate” the model, to reform it, when what was needed was a change in its base.  As we don’t want that same experience to take place here.  We have presented a program that, while it certainly might be incomplete, doesn’t stop at “renovating” the model of state monopoly capitalism — believed here to be socialism — but proposes changing it for democratic socialism with the real participation of workers and people.  In this, they are the ones who directly and democratically make all the decisions that affect them.  To advance in those two main directions (the socialization and democratization of the economy and politics, with resolute steps and clear initiatives) is what I believe is revolutionary in Cuba today.  To oppose that course is contributing to counter-revolution.

HT:  In your writings, especially in the latest ones, you’re very critical of the political leadership of our country, including the new leadership that emerged out of the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).  In your opinion, doesn’t being revolutionary include loyalty to the historical leaders of the revolutionary process?

PEDRO CAMPOS:  I didn’t note the specific difference that you’re pointing out between my current and previous texts.  I’ve never criticized people; I criticize the methods, enthroned sectarianism; the democratic, socializing and libertarian deficits of the statist system that are presented as socialist.  I involve myself in the world of ideas.  Most of my generation, me included, we’ve been loyal to the revolutionaries who have headed the Cuban process.  We’ve put up with a lot and have remained quiet so as not to negatively affect the cohesion within the revolutionary ranks.

As for the leaders, we’ve always respected them and we would like to see them go down in history as people who have contributed to Marxist socialism.  But that will depend on them.  Our criticisms and our private and public proposals are examples of our loyalty – not the reverse.  Those who are disloyal are the ones who prefer to opportunistically hide or justify their misdeeds in order to preserve their positions in the bureaucracy.

I don’t consider myself an independent actor outside the revolutionary process.  I’ve been an active participant in the revolutionary effort and I feel committed to it, even though I differ on more than a few actions and policies.  As a historian I don’t confuse loyalty with ignorance or unconditional positions, and much less with fear.  Nor do I believe that being revolutionary is measured by loyalty to specific individuals; rather, we should look at one’s adherence to principles, to methods, to the objectives and contents of the revolutionary process.

Often shortsighted, political leaders make mistakes; even more so when they don’t take others into account and they naturally disappear over time.  If the revolution gets confused with its leaders, it could disappear with them.  Leaders play important roles in certain historical moments to the degree they’re consistent with the character of the revolutionary processes.  When, for whatever reasons, they cease serving that process, they lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people, in the eyes of history.  Leaders, in the old sense of the word, gradually lose their validity as social movements increasingly are the principal players in revolutionary processes.

HT:  What thinkers, heroes, leaders and martyrs of our revolution have most inspired your work?

PEDRO CAMPOS:  Fidel and the Che, among the most recent, despite the fact that I don’t agree with some of their actions and positions taken in the face of certain events or conjunctures.  From them I learned how to be consistent with my principles, without caring about the personal consequences, to never trust imperialism, to always look for the truth and to defend it.  Like all Cubans I was first a follower of Jose Marti, since I was a little boy.  My parents, both elementary school teachers, instilled in me the knowledge and the respect for the work of Marti as well as his life of sacrifice and love of freedom.

Pedro Campos at a May Day rally. "Socialism is Democracy"

That’s why I believe that, on the whole, the figure that has always had the most impact on me was Jose Marti, who I consider the most integral and brilliant of all Cubans.  What’s more, his work remains relevant today because some of his revolutionary objectives are yet to be achieved.  Marti didn’t seek only our independence from Spain, he was seeking a society of equals, “with all and for the well-being of all.”  He was ultra-democratic, seeing the distribution of property as the basis of freedom.  He criticized “socialism” early on for what he saw as the bureaucratic state, in “La futura Esclavitud” (Future Slavery).  Although he was a figure who lived in the 19th century, his intellectual role in the Cuban revolutionary process transcended the 20th century and has now entered the 21st.

HT:  What did Pedro Campos Santos do before becoming involved with the socialist self-management movement in Cuba?

PEDRO CAMPOS:  I have always dedicated much of my free time to studying the history of Cuba, philosophy and Marxist political economy.  After leaving the Foreign Service, during the most difficult years of the “Special Period” crisis I worked in tourism, then in a pizzeria. I also drove a taxi, sold books and worked as a street photographer.  But over all that time I kept returning to studying Marx.  I researched the causes of the collapse of the socialist camp. I tried to better explain to myself the phenomenon of revolutionary Cuba as I was forming a collection of ideas on how to face the complex internal situation in my country without forgetting that we are confronted by that same imperial threat.  All this was aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the revolutionary process and our advance toward socialism.

By the time of the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 1991, I had presented to my party chapter an analysis of the country’s problems and a group of proposals bearing more or less in the same direction as now.   But these didn’t come only from me; there were many people involved.  However in 2005, when Fidel said that revolutionaries themselves could destroy the revolution if they didn’t face the serious problems of corruption and bureaucracy, and he called on people to fight against these, I believed we were moving along the same path and I prepared to make my analyses and proposals public.

I wrote a book about enterprise and social self-management and I sent digital copies to several comrades in the leadership of the party and the government.  I tried to publish in Cuba what I had researched and when denied space for my articles in the official press I began to distribute them to international left websites (Rebelion, Kaosenlared, Insurgente and others).  Each of my articles was sent to Granma, Trabajadores and Juventude Rebelde.  In short, before issuing our Programmatic Proposals in 2008, I carried out extensive theoretical and practical work to clarify and popularize the ideas of socialist self-management.

HT:  Why did you issue that proposal?  Can you define its meaning in a couple words?

PEDRO CAMPOS:  My comrades and I have issued several proposals.  And not only that, at the time of the Fourth Congress, in my party chapter I had already presented a group of proposals pointing in the direction of the democratization and socialization of the country’s political and economic life.  In 2006 I presented a general plan of self-management socialism to the Congress of the Cuban Federation of Workers (CTC), which was published in Kaosenlared and other sites.  Then in 2007 I published “15 Concrete Proposals for the Reactivation of Socialism in Cuba.” In 2008, anticipating the Sixth Congress of the PCC, we presented “Cuba Needs a Participative and Democratic Socialism: Programmatic Proposals.”  In 2011, a new edition of those Programmatic Proposals, which contained many of the suggestions that we received, was published under the title: “Proposals for the Advance to Socialism in Cuba.”

Pedro Campos, left, and Miguel Arencibia at a May Day rally.

Our objective has always been to try to contribute to the national discussion on the problems of the Cuban Revolution in the current stage and to spread such ideas to all strata possible, and certainly to the discussions in the Sixth Party Congress, where I spoke about the issue when it was not being raised there.  How to define this in a couple words?: Socialization and democratization, which would be incomplete without full freedom.

HT:  Can you tell us more about the SPD collective of “Pedro Campos and other comrades?”

PEDRO CAMPOS:  We are revolutionary fighters, workers and professionals of different ages, with the majority having completed university studies and lived active revolutionary lives.  We’ve all worked directly at the grassroots, in the rank-and-file, as wage workers or independent laborers.  We have written works.

Some had mid-level responsibilities in the government and some have been grassroots leaders of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League.  Some comrades ended up having responsibilities at the regional, provincial and national levels as directors or sub-directors of press organizations.

With absolutely no organizational obligations, among us are people who were in the old underground, members of the former Socialist Youth organization, ex-employees of security agencies and the armed forces, internationalists, diplomats, jurists, journalists, economists, theologians, historians, philosophers, psychologists, poets, university professors, writers, other artists, manual workers and people in other professions and occupations.

We are promoters of ideas and we have been gaining ground and expanding our influence.  We don’t classify ourselves in any type of political sect, nor do we seek unanimity or impose our points of view on anyone.  We are anti-capitalists and support a type of socialism very distinct from what’s known as “real socialism” or “state socialism”; we advocate a form of socialism that has free and full human beings as its aim.

HT:  Do you think that what you are doing has repercussions among Cuban decision-makers and the academics who advise them?

PEDRO CAMPOS:  I don’t know to what extent the work that several of us comrades have been carrying out in this direction has influenced those decision-makers or their advisors.  We’ve noted that they read what we write and some of our proposals are being implemented, though I don’t believe that’s because those came from us; rather, it was because reality itself imposed it on them.

HT:  And among the people?

PEDRO CAMPOS:  Equally, my comrades and I don’t have a concrete means of measuring our impact on people, but we have received e-mails commenting on our articles and thousands of opinions from Cubans here and abroad, with them discussing, supporting or criticizing parts or all of our writings.

We’re certain that our writings circulate widely over the Cuban intranet and outside through cyberspace and other means.  We’ve noted that if at the beginning we were a few voices speaking openly about the issue in the international left press (in private, in academic and narrow political circles, there were always those who dealt with self-management initiatives and proposals) all that changed some time ago.  Now there are many of us.

Today to speak of cooperativism and workers’ self-management as socialism is becoming more common in our country.  The Sixth Congress has just approved the extension of cooperativism and self-employment, although still with many limitations.  These limits are because of their state-centrist perspective and the failure to understand that cooperativism and workers self-management are the generic forms of production under socialism.

They do not grasp that for socialism to triumph, these forms of production would have to prevail and be integrated into a system of economic solidarity that tends toward equivalent exchange with democratic planning.  (Moreover, this would have to be built on a communal base to overcome the isolation that those productive forms are subjected to by the market, governments and capitalist financial systems.)

Now I know that in practically all of the provinces there are comrades who think similarly.  Certainly our work has served to bring them together, to bring ideas closer, to clarify positions among others and within ourselves.  In this process we’ve learned a great deal.

(See Part Two of the interview with Pedro Campos)


11 thoughts on “Making Revolution in Cuba Today (Part 1)

  • Dear comrades in Cuba,the US and everywhere,

    What are we really debating, bottom line, in the context of Pedro Campos’ article? It is the nature of a correct, core economic principle/hypothesis for a workable socialist republic. Pedro seems to say it’s for the state to continue to be the legal owner of all enterprises, but for workers in those enterprises to be organized as self-governing cooperatives. His theory seems to say that workers in such state-owned but worker-managed cooperatives are the real basis of true socialism. Many HT readers who have commented apparently agree with him. But hasn’t this already been tried experimentally in places like Yugoslavia, and failed?

    This view of socialism seems to proclaim: “State ownership, yes; bureaucratic management, no!” But, comrades, this still means that private productive property rights and the price-fluctuating trading market are abolished right now, today (which is what Cuba did in 1968). It is forcing something onto present-day society in the socialist stage (abolition of private property) that can only be reached in that future goal society toward which socialism is supposed to be building. It doesn’t make sense.

    The socialist cooperative republican position is that you cannot and will not have true workers’ democracy and self-management unless and until those who do the work of society are those who own their workplaces directly. This means retention and utilization of private productive property rights and the conditioned market in the socialist stage.

    Most or all significant industry and commerce would be owned by employee/associates on the Mondragon corporation model, with partial-but-silent stock ownership by the state–to avoid taxes and tax bureaucracies. Small business would be owned directly by businesspersons, with perhaps minor, silent co-ownership by the state. The economy would still be macro-planned by the socialist state–a state led by a vanguard party (or parties) elected by the people. But bureaucracy would be eliminated and people would have natural economic, political and social democracy because the people would own the means of production broadly.

    We’ve got to look at what is at issue, for Cuba and every country. The state owning everything is unworkable and is repugnant. Those who do society’s work must own their workplaces directly, not through the agency of the socialist state. This is the issue, and this is what we’ve go to debate and work out. If we do not debate it, but continue to wallow on this or that tweak of Marx’s and Engel’s original formula, we will remain isolated from the broad mass of the people, and the monopolists will continue to rule and destroy the world.

  • Grady, what exactly have I denied? Didn’t Lenin apply small-business private incentives – I’m talking about the NEP – in the 1920’s that you so tirelessly claim to be the ‘road to socialism’?

  • Luis: It says clearly in the Communist Manifesto–second chapter, next-to-last page–that a socialist state should and would concentrate all the instruments of production in its hands. This and the other general principles of the Manifesto were reaffirmed in 1882, a quarter-century later, in the authors’ preface to the new German edition. If you deny this, you are only fooling yourself.

  • “cooperativism and workers self-management are the generic forms of production under socialism.”

    This was the original soviet that emerged in the early years of the Russian Revolution before they got screwed up by Stalinist statism.

    In the former Yugoslavia, there was a kind of cooperativism that resembled what Pedro Campos and his comrades seek for.

    I truly hope that that’s the way Cuba is heading to.

  • Hello Laurence, “We” are the Cooperative Republic Movement, and you may ask for my email address from HT.

    The problem, as we see it, with trying to run state-owned enterprises with sufficient workers’ control (avoiding bureaucratic control) is that it has proved to be the impossible dream. In trying to learn from historical experience–which by the way is instinctive application of the Scientific Method–we deduce that “if we want worker or workplace democracy, we must have direct worker, not state, legal ownership.”

    Examples of this sort of workplace democracy exist in your own Berkeley neighborhood at places like the Cheeseboard and Inkworks Press, and in nearby Arizmendi bakeries–plus dozens of other nearby worker owned coop enterprises.

    But for such cooperative ownership and such workplace democracy to exist, the power of state must value and defend private productive property rights. Old style socialist thinking can’t seem to reconcile this reality with reform of the state-ist system, and insists that workers who own their own enterprise are miraculously transformed into money-grubbing capitalists.

    Comrade Pedro Campos, whom we admire and wish the best, apparently will not let go of the idea that the state must own the means of production, in order that these means are “socialized.” At the same time, he believes that the bureaucracy that inevitably results is the product of bad bureaucratic personal character flaws, and that somehow the bureaucracy might come to its senses and grant workers democratic self-management.

    What is really at heart to all this is the fact that, when a socialist state nationalizes all the instruments of production, this automatically destroys the historically-evolved institution of private productive property. State-ism therefore is merely another form of Utopian socialism which tries to abolish private property rights directly out of capitalism. This is the theoretical blind spot that afflicts not only Comrade Pedro, but the entire Marxian Left.

    To clarify: State-ism commits the Utopian-style error of trying to force a core attribute of the far-in-the-future classless society–abolition of private productive property–onto society in the period emerging out of capitalism. It never worked for the Utopian commune builders, and it has never worked for the state-ist models of socialism.

    The socialist bridge was never supposed to abolish private property immediately. As Engels reasoned in his first draft of what was to become the Communist Manifesto, this abolition would have to be gradual and would have to traverse a whole historical era. Unfortunately, the second and third drafts stipulated that the state could and would do this immediately. This theoretical change has screwed up and discredited the socialist movement ever since.

    The good news is that, now that we can correct this theoretical error, we have a chance to win over tens-of-millions of people in the US to socialist consciousness in a very short period of time. Socialism, real, workable socialism is a very charismatic vision and program, and developing and propounding this program is what all socialist organizations should be about–including those in Cuba.

  • Hello Grady.

    You raise the right question. Do we prefer independently owned workers’ co-ops (with some community input) or do we believe that state owned enterprises can be run with sufficient workers’ control to avoid bureaucratic rule? My own tendency is to agree with you in favor of independent co-ops and collectives. But I am not absolutely certain that some state institutions can not be run by worker-community control. We need to learn a great deal more, by experience and study rather than by theorizing.

    And by the way, what exactly do you mean by “our nascent movement in the US?” Who is your “we?” I would like to be in dialog with them.

  • Good interview, Dmitri. We look forward to the next installment.

    Our nascent movement in the US agrees with comrade Pedro when he says, in the third-from-last paragraph, that “cooperativism and workers self-management are the generic forms of production under socialism.”

    Where our views do not coincide is how to bring about this cooperativism and workers self-management. Pedro still believes that it can be achieved without the legal institution of private productive property rights. We, by contrast, believe that socialism must value and retain this vital institution.

    At the same time, we believe that those who actually do the work of society–workers, intellectuals, small and cooperative entrepreneurs–must be the direct, primary owners of their instruments of production.That is, private productive property rights must exist, but they must exist in practice for those who work and produce.

    The socialist state can silently co-own the instruments of production, in order to get its revenues quarterly and avoid taxes and tax bureaucracies. Primary ownership however must be in the hands of the actual producers, not the state.

    Comrade Pedro says “yes” to “cooperativism and workers self-management.” At the same time, he says “no” to the institution of private productive property.

    We see this as an honest and well-intentioned theoretical error that is similar to the old Utopians and early communists who believed that private property is the great evil, not who owns it.

    We see this error as trying to force the “classless society goal” onto the socialist bridge stage just emerging out of capitalism, where it can only lead to massive bureaucracy and state absolutism; and ultimately to the rebirth of capitalist state power.

  • It is absolutely thrilling to know that the perspective of “cooperativism and workers self-management” is alive and growing in Cuba. I hope that now at last it is possible to create the REALITY of co-operative self management as opposed to simply talking and writing about it. Even if that co-operation takes place more in neighborhoods than in work places, the reality will eventually be irresistible. I would like to hear more about how co-operation and self management are being put into practice today.

    Your comrade in Berkeley, California

  • Pedro Campos is hopefully the vanguard of the new Cuba.
    His positions fairly echo those of people like Noam Chomsky who clearly state that socialism without worker control; without democracy from the bottom up is not socialism but statism.

    The interview brought out a viewpoint that I hope will be the future of Cuba.
    Democracy is the future.
    Socialism is the future.

    I hope Raul and the revolutionary leadership recognize and work towards this ideal rather than shrink from it.

    The change begins with implementing the reforms of the Sixth Party Congress and hopefully it will not be long until the Seventh makes the big jumps needed to bring true socialism to Cuba.

    We cannot move towards communism without a move towards bottom up democratic worker control of the economy.

  • Definitely the right and only way. With all the corruption happened just under the eyes of the leaders and almost always justified by the higher ups with their “posible” relation with them, many were afraid the denounce them. I am glad that the yes men finally had been kicked out by Raul, better not mention who brought them in… Lost 50 years of revolution and now on the edge of changing it when the old revolutionary are almost too old to control it. I hope the oppurtunist have no chance to convert it into capitalism, there is still a very long list of corrupt individuals in the country.

  • Great work – can’t wait to read the next installment!!

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