A Different View on Socialism from Cuba

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Parqueador. Foto: Juan Suarez
Watchman. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — “The vainglorious villager believes his village is the world entire.” This is the eloquent image with which Jose Marti opens Nuestra America (“Our America”), an enlightened essay that calls on Latin Americans to come together, overcome sterile differences and go in defense of their essence, their roots, against foreign interests. Though I have no hope of competing with Marti, it is in this spirit that I write this much-needed article. The issue I will address is very thorny for Cubans, evoking both hatred and love. I take this on like someone called to fulfill a difficult but unavoidable mission.

The word “socialism” has become somewhat disfigured in our day. Radical social models left us with such a bitter taste that they ended up distorting the real meaning of the word. Beyond the stigma that clings to the concept, socialism has a very clear and well-defined meaning: it is an ideal of social justice and equity.

Many still refer to orthodox-radical (or Euro-Soviet or Marxist-Leninist) socialism as “real socialism,” and this out of habit. This is counterproductive, for this only plays into the hands of extremists who, in order to trivialize other more realistic tendencies, proclaimed themselves thus. Those alternatives included social democracy, which, to me is, the closest to real socialism.

The extremist tendency prevailed in much of the world, including Cuba. But, in its attempt to reach its aims, it coerced reality and ended up doing more harm than good. Its failure has tarnished the prestige of those of us who have espoused the ideal, even though we make a point of distancing ourselves from radicalism. It even ended up alienating the workers themselves. There was no shortage of opportunists who aggrandized themselves at the expense of the loftiest goals. How many famous names come to mind right now, right?

Cuba has always been a stronghold of something. It happened with Spanish colonialism and it is happening now with radical socialism. It is probably a coincidence, but, in the future, we would do well to try and be at the vanguard. I pay close attention to our people, I observe and study what Cubans at home and abroad think and say. Here, there’s confusion as to what would be good or bad and there’s a fear of change. Abroad, there’s much resentment, passion and contempt towards socialism – not the radical socialism that has made Cuba stagnate, but anything that seems to fit the description. One can understand the reasons.

Radicalism is so harmful, I must stress this, that it managed to make the workers hate the system that was created to emancipate them. Stalin and company could not have done a better job had capitalists paid them to do it. They undermined the socialist ideal at its foundations, undermining the faith of the majority.

Photo: Juan Suarez
Photo: Juan Suarez

Most Cubans who vent hatred when speaking of socialism are simple workers, only a handful of them are actually capitalists. As for me, I am prudent enough to brush aside the dry leaves to lay my hands on the firm ground. I do not hate socialism, I have contempt for radicalism – both on the left and on the right.

The anger produced by the damage that radical socialism has caused in Cuba doesn’t make me blind to reality, that its aim is social justice and equity. To me, that’s good. That said, I do not fail to acknowledge the crucial role of democracy and capitalism in contemporary society because I am angry over neoliberalism and predatory wars, or the coups staged to protect the interests of big capital, or quite simply because I see the way in which democracy ends up being the prisoner of money instead of a vehicle of the popular will. A fair analysis of the situation is much productive than generalizations.

Democracy is key to building a better future, and so is capitalism. But so is social justice. None of these things is less or more important than the other. If one of these ingredients is missing, society won’t be good for everyone. We’d be prey to opportunists rather than be saved by those who wish to help the people. If we Cubans are tired of something, it’s opportunist demagogues.

I keep hearing here that, with democracy and capitalism, things come as if by magic, out of the tap. This is truly naïve. To mention Nordic countries as examples doesn’t help because they are the exceptions, not the rule. One needn’t be a mathematician to predict the type of society we’d arrive at down a similar road. The wish to have democracy and freedom can do us a lot of good, but it can also bring a lot of bad things if we don’t do things right. This is a time, not for romanticism, but caution.

Those capitalist and democratic countries with high rates of equality are good examples to follow. Let us have a closer look. It was there that the type of socialism I defend did its job and brought about such successes. I am referring to the socialist ideal of social justice, not that misguided notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Social democracy is a variant of socialism, not from democratic liberalism.

This is what I have in mind when I proclaim myself a socialist, and without reserves. What I want for Cuba and the rest of the world is freedom and progress, democracy and capitalism with equality and social justice. I want democratic and market socialism. As I see it, three things are needed to achieve this:

  • To free democracy of the influence of money as much as possible, especially in electoral processes.
  • The State must preserve decision-making prereogatives in strategic sectors of the economy, but not be obliged to manage them.
  • The broadest social class – the workers – must participate in politics through an alternative mechanism, as, through the party system, it is deprived of a voice before the interests of capital. I propose a new state power that can compensate for this democratic vacuum.
Patience run out. Photo: Juan Suarez
Out of patience. Photo: Juan Suarez

Generally speaking, this defines my vision of a free and just society. In Cuba, not even the much-touted achievements of the revolution work too well. We know this. But we would be blind not to recognize that they are achievements and that they merely need a more efficacious and functional social model. Many things ought to be preserved and improved, not left at the mercy of capital. It would be suicidal.

The aim is not to replace the dictatorship of the proletariat with a dictatorship of capital disguised as democracy. We want neither. We can and we must create new institutions. We can and we must make the new Cuba be a better Cuba than the one that existed before and after 1959.

Every society is made up of different actors. To achieve total justice, we must balance the legitimate interests of everyone. We would need to create new spaces. That is the essence of a more fair society, the search of social balance.

Let us not be blinded, we can have a different vision of socialism, capitalism and democracy. Neither should Batista convince us that capitalism is bad (because he punished us with a right-wing dictatorship) nor Fidel Castro convince us that socialism is bad (because he gave us a left-wing dictatorship).

Let’s put an end to extremism once and for all. Let us be different in the new Cuba we set out to build and forge a country where social equilibrium reigns, “for everyone and for the good of everyone.”

6 thoughts on “A Different View on Socialism from Cuba

  • The hard part is the willingness to share power.

  • The Castro family communist regime has made much play of trying to persuade Cubans that Jose Marti the ‘Apostle of Cuba’ was an early proponent of their views. To that end Cuban TV shows the goose-stepping honour guard at the Jose Marti mausoleum in Santiago de Cuba frequently, but without mentioning that it was constructed during the period of Batista’s rule.
    Jose Marti was dependent upon freedom of the press for his livelihood as a writer and poet. He detested the means by which Spain kept the people of Cuba subjugated as he favoured freedom and died pursuing it. His views of the United States where he lived for several years were reflected when he wrote of his:
    “profound admiration for those many basic liberties and opportunities open to the vast majority of American citizens.”
    As an obvious Liberal, he also wrote:
    “Being good is the only way to be free. Being cultured is the only way to be free. With human nature in general however, to be good one has to be prosperous.”
    No doubt if alive today, Jose Marti would continue to be seeking for his fellow Cubans freedom from the oppression now under the system of ‘socialismo’ and be seeking for Cubans those same conditions which he observed and wrote about a century and a quarter ago in the US.

  • How many different “real meaning[s] of the word” have to be postulated and replaced before everyone realizes that whatever “meaning” was originally intended, in practice the true definition of the term “socialism” is that of “an economic philosophy that invariably leads to failure”. No need to go any further in terms of “meaning” than that.

  • With Bernie Sanders as our leader we work toward that goal.

  • Excellent article. I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Socialism is an attractive theory and a hideous reality.

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