Socialism Through Socialist Means

“There’s no way to freedom, freedom is the way.” -Indira Gandhi

Pedro Campos

Pedro Campos

HAVANA TIMES — The speakers preceding me* addressed general concepts of complex ideologies, allowing us to identify their values and meanings for social classes and powers that advocate and support them, the reason for which there are ideologies.

Here, I will refer to one concrete philosophical element present in ideologies: the relationship between the means and ends, a matter of prime importance for understanding and undertaking political tasks and those of any other nature.

For pragmatism, the prevailing philosophy of imperialism, what matters is achieving an intended purpose, the utility of the method, not the method in itself but the action. For pragmatists, the value of actions, politics and methods is not determined by the nature of these in themselves, but by their immediate practical consequences.

For them, what matters is achieving a goal or an objective. The nature of the means used in achieving the purpose doesn’t matter, only that it is achieved.

It is like this because the bourgeoisie — a class that changed the face of the world with its tremendous boost to the development of science and technology, believing itself to be all powerful and eternal — does not believe there exists the possibility of its “achievements” being reversed, and therefore the “collateral effects” of its actions are considered secondary; these are thought to only leave “transient, fleeting effects.”

Once achieving an end, imperialism does little or nothing to evaluate its consequences. This is the natural result of a system dominated by the profit motive. Whatever happens along the way or afterwards doesn’t matter.

The powerful only begin to measure the consequences of their actions when these clearly double back on themselves, though without them ever understanding the ultimate cause of these reverses. They always look outside of themselves, which means that the repetition of mistakes is inherent.

In his work The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli (one of the forerunners of pragmatism) taught that “the ends justify the means.” In his classes in governing given to the Florentine princes in the early sixteenth century, he was already teaching that to achieve a certain goal, leaders should be willing to use any means, any tactic – no matter how dirty.

Is this the same for revolutionaries today?

Is this also true for contemporary revolutionaries? Does the nature of their methods matter? Is the problem one of achieving some end, winning at all costs, regardless of the consequences left in the wake?

For modern revolutionary ideology, interconnected with Marxist philosophy, there’s an undeniable relationship between ends and means, since socialist ends can hardly be achieved with capitalist means. One cannot achieve peaceful ends through violent means, libertarian ends through authoritarian means, human ends through inhuman means, or by using undemocratic means to achieve democratic ends.

In several previous articles I addressed the pragmatic approach to the economy adopted by the Chinese Communist Party. This was summed up in the expression: “The color of the cat doesn’t matter as long as it catches mice.”


This is at the root of the pro-capitalist deviations of the party-government, which to develop their “economy” they put the emphasis on the exploitation of wage-labor workers by domestic and foreign capital.

This is what led to the full restoration of private capitalism in China at the cost of enormous sacrifices and the intense exploitation of the Chinese people to the benefit of imperialism, Chinese national capitalists and a political-military bureaucratic caste that is turning bourgeois or which will end up being removed from power by the bourgeoisie that it itself has engendered.

The outcome is undeniable: China turned into another capitalist power – vices and all.

Under the current conditions in Cuba, it is important to clearly understand that the maxim of pragmatism (“the end justifies the means”) might make sense for imperialism and for pragmatic pro-capitalists Chinese “communists,” ready and willing to do whatever with the objective of achieving “capitalist economic development in order to reach the goal of socialism” — but not for those seeking a society that is just, free, without exploiters or exploited, socialized, truly democratic, humane, inclusive and peaceful, “with the participation of all and for the well-being of all,” as proclaimed in the current constitution, which cannot be violated because it’s incomplete.

This is because socialist aims — which are just, democratic and libertarian, human and peaceful — cannot be achieved by other means that are not the same.

The end does not justify the means for the modern revolutionary philosophy; rather, the ends determine the means. The nature of the ends determines and conditions the nature of the means to achieve them.

History shows that when people use other methods in attempting to achieve progressive aims, those methods wind up taking precedence over the goals, tactics wind up taking precedence over strategies since the manner of carrying it out — the politics and the actions adopted — conditions the objective, coopting it, contorting and re-shaping it until changing its very nature.

As with any phenomenon, there also exists a cause-effect relation in the use of means and methods. The use of violent means, for example, generates a violent backlash. Violence begets violence, this is known.

The use of inhuman means and methods — including torture in its various forms (executions, terrorist acts, kidnapping, the abuse of detainees, the abuse of power and the like) — ultimately turn on those who use them.

Throughout all epochs, the powerful have come to power through the use of force, brutality and violence without hesitation. Yet sooner or later they have ended up as victims of their own methods

Revolutionary ethics demands that the means and methods that compromise the end not be used. A legitimate method legitimizes the end achieved. And conversely, a method that isn’t legitimate discredits the end.

This applies to all human actions, whether in the narrow family framework in dealings between a couple or with their sons and daughters, or in dealing with colleagues and co-workers, or in any relationship with other human beings for any reason, such as in political and economic actions of political groups or governments.

Coherence and consistency between aims and methods is a guarantee of success. Methods, in short, are therefore equal in essence to their purposes.  The means equal the ends.

I invite everyone to think about the relationship between ends and means and to take this into account when taking action in any terrain.

In concretizing this philosophical assessment of failed socialism, one of the explanations for the fall of the socialist camp is that the methods used compromised the established goals. This can be seen in articles, essays and books by many philosophers, political scientists, historians and modern revolutionaries who have studied the phenomenon.

The violence committed in various forms, the forced expropriations, the establishment of “dictatorial” governments, the suppression of democratic participation by workers and people in all major decisions that affected them, the jailing of people for thinking differently; prohibitions against freedoms in general and those of speech, the press and association in particular; and especially the continuation of the wage-labor form of exploiting labor, ended up contradicting the “socialist goals” of those societies.

This experience, valid for all those interested in contributing to a new society, should also serve in selecting the means and methods that contemporary revolutionaries propose to use in achieving their aims.

We supporters of participatory and democratic socialism considered the inseparable relationship between the ends and means when we presented our proposals for the advancement of socialism in Cuba during the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

In articles related to the discussions of the Sixth Congress of the PCC, the “Guidelines” approved there, and the First PCC Conference, we highlighted some of the inconsistencies between stated socialist goals and means and methods that aren’t socialist.

Those in power are attempting to achieve these goals, but — in our opinion — they will ultimately come into conflict with those ends – modifying them, conditioning them and achieving different outcomes.
(*) Address in the panel discussion “The Value of Ideology” at the Sixth Critical Observatory Social Forum (May 26, 2012)

Pedro Campos can be contacted at: [email protected]


10 thoughts on “Socialism Through Socialist Means

  • The ultra-Left Maoists (RCP, et al), and the Trotskyists of every stripe all agree that China is a capitalist country. They are all Marxists and they are all wrong on this fundamental question. This proves that they have no chance whatsoever of building a transformationary party, winning the masses to socialist consciousness, winning state power, or even reforming a mode of production under socialist state power (as in Cuba).

    China is socialist because the CPC holds state power. By throwing out the dysfunctional Marxian formula of state monopoly, they have been able to avoid the fate of the Soviet Union, and China has become a world power. The mode of production in China has major capitalistic elements, it is true, but the party is utilizing these adroitly to build their country and challenge world capitalism internationally, achieving many positive things.

    What the Left critics of China cannot understand is that socialism must be built according to the scientific method. This means that if something is not working–as with China under Mao and the Marxian economic dogma–a new hypothesis has to be put forward and a new experiment pursued. China under socialist state power is experimenting and pushing forward. They have even brought back the Gung Ho cooperatives that Mao had nationalized.

    Leon Trotsky and Mao Zedong were alike in that they were both state monopoly socialists. Mao however was a great revolutionary leader who led his people to state power against enormous odds and against the betrayals of the Comintern under Stalin. Trotsky never led the working people of Russia politically. He only headed the Red Army because Lenin needed a good organizer and Trotsky fit the bill.

    Mao was wrong about a workable mode of production under socialist state power. Trotsky wasn’t even in the same league as Mao, Lenin and Ho.

    Trotsky was a windbag Menshevik who fought Lenin and the Bolsheviks right up to the last moment. He was utilized by Lenin because of his badly needed skills as an organizer, and also because he led many intellectual elements whom the Bolsheviks hoped to bring into the real revolution.

    Trotsky, to our knowledge, never said one good word about worker cooperatives, because he was a devotee of Marxian state monopoly socialism. He was a statist, through and through. All he ever could do was to bellyache about horrible bureaucrats–just like some Cubans we know–because he lost out in the struggle between bureaucrats to an even more monstrous bureaucrat.

    Oh, yeah. Guess what? All the political types mentioned above also agree that Cuba is state capitalist, and not at all a socialist country! It is said in my country that some people don’t know the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground.

  • A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified.

    (Also quoted as “The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.”)

    Leon Trotsky

    Their Morals and Ours (1938)

  • No, Moses, trade has existed long, long before capitalism. Capitalism is when the accumulation of Capital becomes an end in itself.

  • How is it possible for comrade Pedro Campos to be so correct on so many particular things regarding workable socialism, and yet be so incorrect in general with regard to socialism in both China and Cuba?

    With regard to China, he states, “The outcome is undeniable: China turned into another capitalist power – vices and all.”

    With regard to Cuba, he states repeatedly in his writing that Cuba is “state capitalist.”

    Well, if China is capitalist, and Cuba is capitalist, then why doesn’t Pedro, as a revolutionary, call for the revolutionary smashing of both the Cuban and Chinese states (and perhaps even the Vietnamese state, which I assume, in Pedro’s brain, is capitalist, just like China)? I mean, hell, if they are capitalistic state powers, then let him bluster forth and call for their destruction!

    Pedro, it seems, cannot follow a logical train of thought. The fact is that China, Cuba and Vietnam are socialist states, even though they have very different economic modes of production, modes that do not jibe with Pedro’s sectarian, not-connected-to-earth preconceptions. Pedro does not, and apparently cannot distinguish between a state power and a mode of production. He shouts therefore that everybody, everywhere is a capitalist or a bureaucrat because they don’t fit his self-righteous mental picture.

    But, no, comrade you are utterly mistaken. The three countries mentioned are socialist, because the socialist transformationary party still holds state power. Under this state power it is possible to tweak the mode of production and make it more workable, and therefore more socialist.

    The real problem that Pedro should be investigating and helping to find a solution for is the correct formula for a workable economic mode of production under socialist state power, in Cuba, the US, China, Britain and every other country in the world. He wastes his time and the time of those under his influence however with typical ultra-Left rhetoric about all those horrible bureaucrats who have screwed up socialism.

    Pedro never admits that the stupid formula of state monopoly socialism dished up by Engels and Marx came from them, because they are the gods of his intellect-paralyzing, secular religion. His is a fantasy of the Devil Stalin, the Virgin Mary Marx, and the sacrificial son of you-know-who.

    The above article is of use primarily to show that Pedro Campos, who has the capacity to be a real leader of socialist transformation in Cuba, wallows instead in epithets and denunciations and, in the end, says nothing of transformationary consequence, at all. Too bad.

  • Until the Cuban workforce improves productivity, Cuba will not be able to produce anything at a global market level. Cuban tourism is not the panacea of hope for the Cuban economy either. By comparison, the nearby resort town of Cancun, Mexico (pop. 735,000) received more than 3.2 million visitors last year. This is more than the entire island nation of Cuba (pop.11 million) which received 2.5 million visitors for 2011. While still a very important source of hard currency to the cuban economy, competiting Caribean destinations are too far ahead in terms of infrastructure and conveniences to give Cuba any hope of near-term salvation.

  • Yes, it is trade. I trade my products for your hard currency. And that Luis is capitalism! Don’t let what you have read about the unbundling of market-based derivatives or ghost mortgages or mezzanine-level funding fool you. These are simply sophisticated machinations of the basic principal of buy low and sell high. Why capitalism works, despite its setbacks and inequalities is because it is based on fundamental human nature. While socialism appeals to our intellect and our sense of humanity, capitalism appeals to our lusts and our vanities. Unfortunately, lust and vanity trump intellect and humanity.

  • The Chinese argument as I have always understood it was that China could not go from a feudal society to a communist one without experiencing capitalism in between… the question remains is the communist party of China able to steer China through the capitalist phase without becoming corrupted?… I have my opinions but I leave that open… Cuba has a different historical context having already experienced capitalism albeit at the periphery… I have given up considering alternative economic models for the time being… but what I am convinced of is that Cuba must find an alternative source of resources to tourism…

  • “To have money you need to produce and sell a product or service that buyers outside of Cuba want.”

    Wait, that’s not capitalism, that’s trade!

  • The “socialist means” that Pedro advocates will not keep the buildings in Havana from falling down and killing little girls. To do that you need lots of steel reinforcements, cement and well-paid architects and construction workers. To accomplish that you need to have money. To have money you need to produce and sell a product or service that buyers outside of Cuba want. A socialist collective sitting around a campfire in Camaguey, sounds ideal but it won’t pay the bills. Capitalism, as it advances, does indeed leave a path of collateral damage. But unlike the pursuit of socialism (since real socialism has never existed), capitalism advances.

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