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

  • June 7, 2012 at 2:32 am

    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.

  • June 6, 2012 at 6:28 am

    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)

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