HAVANA TIMES, August 17 – It has been a disastrous tradition in the left to try to impose one’s position or to discredit and exclude others who don’t agree with the ideas one defends. This is sectarianism: the eternal error. It exists among those who believe themselves to be completely correct and who entirely reject those who don’t share their point of view or simply have tactical differences that the disparities of experience encourage.
It’s not necessary to mention specific names. It’s not necessary to enter into personal polemics with anyone in particular. More often than not such exchanges end up in sterile irreconcilable brawls, despite the sides having more in common than they do differences, like the debate between Marx and Bakunin that did so much damage to socialism. The battle is one of ideas, not of people. It’s not necessary to attack anyone. Those who insist on personalizing criticism do not share constructive positions for the solution of problems; instead, they look to complicate them.
As it has still not been possible to structure the new socialist society —the one that is as free and democratic as so many revolutionaries have dreamed for over centuries— no one is entitled to claim themself the absolute owner of truth, which must be demonstrated in practice. Much less can they aspire to exclusive approaches and focuses in concrete politics – which is not the same as ideology.
Basic ideological principles can be shared as people simultaneously think of distinct policies, actions and tactics for similar situations. This is especially true if the analyses are made in different geographical or chronological situations, and with dissimilar experiences. But to seek to impose a position, or to try to ignore those of others who are from equally revolutionary origins, is plain and simple sectarianism. All sectarianism should be rejected.
It also means trying to destroy critics when their disagreements are not clearly motivated out of error or are concealed counter-revolutionary activities (in the worst cases); sometimes it’s never known. However, given the lack of information, the most serious case should not be assumed.
Sectarianism as the rejection of criticism
When the possibility appears on the horizon to realize the society that all true socialists desire, as has occurred in Cuba since the victory of the revolution of 1959 —even with all the defects and errors of the process and of the actions of its leaders— this compels us not to impose any “line” on the events, proposals or imaginations of any individual or groups. Instead, assistance in the form of healthy and committed criticism is required for and by the good of all.
Why is this help rejected and not wanted to be heard? Why is the dissemination of ideas blocked and its promoters harassed? This is indeed happening, but it cannot tire us or lead us into a confrontation. There have always existed differences among revolutionaries. There have always been those who have reconciled themselves with the dominant forces; those who have opted for open confrontation between revolutionaries and erred in tactics; those who have preferred to leave their country or have left to continue that same struggle from other countries; as well as those who have opted to face the complex political situation within its very bowels and exercised constrictive criticism from here, against all risks.
Something has indeed been demonstrated in all revolutionary experiences up to the present: division, sectarianism, disrespect of other revolutionaries, lack of dialogue, undisclosed and secretive actions, the absence of transparency in positions, “ad hominem” allusions, insults and other similar attitudes have always been among the factors that have led to the failure of revolutionary processes and socialist initiatives.
But of course this is not defending “unity without principles” as a false unanimity that attempts to conceal the diversity of revolutionary thought and to make a single doctrine sacred. It is not to turn one’s cheek and later the other. It is to struggle because there coexist in an open and democratic atmosphere —based on respect— all of the different forms of thinking of revolution and socialism. From sharing and exchanges between these emerge a resulting political line, without impositions, that not everyone has to approve of completely. Nor does consensus mean having each revolutionary agree on everything, but it must satisfy most of the yearnings of everyone. Interests are diverse. What is difficult is often bitter… as we know.
In any case, there have always existed extremists and sectarians of diverse stripes who have aspired to “impose” (a verb that revolutionary Marxism rejects in principle) their way and manner of doing and projecting things. They underrate and even attack other positions that we cannot share, however they part ways with those who have demonstrated their honesty and have risked their necks to defend the interests of the majorities.
I have outlined this on other occasions and now it is even clearer: Yes, I aspire for us to begin dialogue between all those who want a socialist, democratic and better society without exclusions – any exclusion. Those who have believed themselves capable of achieving this from a stance of narrowness have not won a single inch in the advance toward socialism.
The evolution of sectarianism in Cuba
At its beginning, the July 26 Movement was not sectarian; it couldn’t be, given its democratic and emancipatory objectives and because of its social composition that arose from a crucible of ideologies. It included positions that ranged from the defenders of diverse bourgeois and landowner ideologies, to anti-imperialists and even liberals and the whole gamut on the left – all the way to the extreme left. The radicalization of the revolution once in power and its “filtering” starting from its first months of existence, led to the integration of many of those left currents into the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). But it also resulted in many of these distancing themselves and others deserting or being fought against in a sectarian fashion.
The later evolution is known: excessive economic centralization and that of political decision making, led to a single party system in which democracy lost ground to centralism. Collective leadership remained as an aim that was not reflected in systematic meetings of governmental bodies that assembled to discuss and to come to agreements on tactics and strategies. Policies created through a military type of chain of command came to prevail, which was the breeding ground for deviations as or more disastrous than sectarianism: nepotism, favoritism, clientelismo (machine politics), arribismo (“top-downism”), corruption and others.
It was not by chance that Raul Castro has talked about a more democratic Party, diversity and collective leadership. He has in fact raised these issues, though some believe that it was done only to placate some of the more dissatisfied elements.
Today in Cuba there exists a broad radical socialist current within and outside the PCC. This current aspires that we escape from the current stagnation starting by superseding the current bureaucratic-authoritarian statist structure. This social current for change includes communists, socialists, Trotskyists, Guevarists, Marxists, Gramscians, Guiterists, anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, Martianos, self-management socialists, free thinkers, Santeros, Christians, religious believers of several other denominations, liberals, homosexuals, pacifists, radical democrats, eco-environmentalists, anti-racists, municipalists, nationalist, internationalists and others: all generally defenders of broad political and socio-cultural diversity, and among all of whom are both young and old revolutionaries.
However, that current by itself cannot achieve its yearnings. It seems that what is revolutionary in Cuba today is to attempt to link all of these people —keeping in mind their differences— with other democratic and anti-imperialist forces in support of a socialist-oriented program. This must be built on the basis of consensus and count on the support of those in government leadership who are true proponents of changing everything that must be changed, those who are capable of rescuing and encouraging the original democratic and emancipatory content yet to be achieved but that succeeded in reaching a broad consensus in 1959. If an expressed political will towards socialization is not reached by the current leadership, the alternatives will be in favor of capitalist restoration. But that would be just as sectarian, trying to exclude the current sectarian rulers.
Obstacles to change
It is clear that there exists a group, a tendency or a corrupt wing in the bureaucracy that is interested in hijacking the revolution and that is seeking its own salvation in an alliance with international capital. They are willing to share in the exploitation of Cuban “human capital” (our workers, technicians and professionals trained by the Revolution). Nevertheless, the entire leadership cannot be identified as such, nor does all of the bureaucracy have those aims. Those who don’t know our revolutionary process intimately can make a mistake in fully appreciating this. Those who have experienced it intensely know that it’s not like this.
The main obstacle to socialism in Cuba today is not in and of itself the State, nor certain figures within that State, but the ultra-conservative bureaucratic and centralized-State mentality that still exists among some comrades. What must be removed is that mentality: consisting of a certain group of concepts about society, production relations, the party, the state, government, freedom, democracy, human rights and others.
Those who believe that “the death of the dog means the end of rabies” forget that rabies is dispersed among many animals and is in the atmosphere. According to that approach as a solution, it would be necessary to kill vast numbers of dogs and animals. However, it’s not necessary to kill; it’s necessary to vaccinate them and cure them. Marx, Stalin and Bakunin died and Trotsky was murdered; but Marxism, Stalinism, anarchism and Trotskyism didn’t die.
Sectarianism in the bosom of the left has led to the failure of revolutionary processes in deeds and thought. It has ended up being imposed anti-democratically and almost always by force, and at the cost of other left tendencies, which in the long run have nonetheless resurged.
On occasion that resurrection can become pregnant with sectarianism by one or another representative who unfortunately may sometimes seem more interested in avenging the events of the past than in helping the workers find the path away from political and ideological alienation. But certainly there are those others, I respect them, who overcome bitterness and past punishment to put the general interests of the revolutionary movement ahead of everything else, without giving up their principles.
Lessons to be learned
Dogmatism is not exclusive to Stalinism. Inveterate sectarians of all stripes behave as if they don’t want to learn from their own errors and as if they want to mechanically reproduce the old contradictions or to transplant similar (but unequal) phenomena into us; this has occurred in other times and places. Beware of simplistic analogies!
Whoever is unable to accept the existence of other concepts, other ways of achieving the same ends or similar ones, and those people who lack the capacity even to forgive others who have committed errors (you don’t have to be a god to forgive a fellow being) and are willing to correct them, are without knowing it serving the cause of divisionism and in the long run abetting those who do not want to leave any vestige of what has been accomplished here in Cuba over this past half century.
It is true that historically, in the 20th century, Stalinist centralizing currents have achieved hegemony over the revolutionary process and have mercilessly attacked other forces of the left, even committing murder. Basically these forces have been social democrats, Trotskyists and various anarchists. But if the positions of those tendencies are to act as an opposition at all costs, they will only be reproducing their own ghosts, serving to strengthen traditional hegemony and deferring the socialist advance.
Peaceful and patient action, open to originally minority currents, is the sole road to making others comprehend the need for understanding among revolutionaries. If the response to low or sanguinary blows is of same character, there will be no correcting of problems, and “tit for tat” and “eye for an eye” reactions will only lead us into interminable feuds between the Montagues and Capulets.
It’s known that force conquers but it doesn’t convince, and in the long run reason imposes itself. Those who do not trust their own arguments and try to impose themselves through armed force against other revolutionaries, instead of winning them in the battle of ideas they will sooner or later lose them all.
Diverse stripes of sectarianism were not only largely to blame for the debacle of the former “socialist camp” and the USSR, they were also responsible for the division of the revolutionary and democratic movements before and after the first and second world wars. Sectarianism was a basic component of the division in the revolutionary and democratic movements of Latin America in the 1960-80 period; and today, in this new 21st century, it continues to wreak havoc in the core of the Cuban Revolution, in Venezuela, in Ecuador, in Mexico and in the rest of the revolutionary and democratic movement in Latin America and the rest of the world.
Behind sectarianism can be the open or concealed hand of the imperialist enemy, who has always played upon the division of the left and its internal confrontations around tactical questions and hegemonic personalities. I’m not accusing anyone who commits sectarianism of being an “agent of the enemy,” but objectively they can be made the object of media manipulation and disinformation campaigns, of “psychological operations” of distraction and diversion aimed at sowing confusion, at misinforming revolutionaries and seeking to turn our discussions into other types of confrontations. “Divide and you will conquer.”
Beware of the “white noise” and the campaigns of the imperialistic special services: the news that so-and-so is a “murderer of revolutionaries,” that Joe Blow “is a copy of so-and-so”; while one side is made up of “counter-revolutionaries” and the John Doeists “sold out.” All that, which in its time could occur as a consequence of the inflamed class struggle, in certain periods of the revolutionary processes becomes inflated and multiplied by disinformation specialists working for specialized services of the empire.
The maturation of the revolutionary movement, its capacity to overcome differences, to enter into dialogue and subordinate personal interests and those of particular groups to the general interests of the revolutionary and socialist movement: these are among the most urgent tasks in this new 21st century, especially now that the imperialistic crisis is opening up new horizons and spaces for the resurgence of revolutionary and socialist processes.
Critical support of Cuba
When comparing Cuba with other revolutionary processes, it’s necessary to appreciate its general features that offer similarities, but also its particularities that offer differences. The excessive centralism that is criticized as being neo-Stalinism in politics and in the economy is certainly here, but it would be unfair to assert the occurrence of bloody or massive repression against revolutionaries and communists as occurred in Russia and other countries.
Here it exists, but it’s veiled, fox-like, low-intensity and only occasionally overt. However, as far as we know, up to now it has been bloodless. It has been appropriately criticized, without stridence, in an attempt to prevent the repression of the left from serving the interests behind international campaigns directed against the revolutionary process as a whole.
Over the last several decades, Cuban revolutionaries have been “separated” from the Party, threatened, “changed” or fired from their jobs. Those in power have tried to prevent them from participating in May Day parades with posters, they have been “visited” and made the victims of other abuses of power; yet there is no possible comparison with the crimes of Stalinism.
Study old histories to learn errors, yes; to relive the bitterness, no.
For a revolutionary, it’s more painful to be attacked by the irresponsible fire of a supposed “friend” than to fall in combat attacking the enemy head on.
* Pedro Campos Santos. Former Cuban diplomat in Mexico and at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. International political analyst. Head researcher of the Center for United States Studies Project the University of Havana. He is currently retired. His articles can be read at the following site: http://boletinspd.eltinterocolectivo.com
Contact Pedro Campos at: [email protected]