What the New Left in Cuba Isn’t Telling Us

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Photo: Carlos Durá

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 20 — One of the political facts that has surprised me most in the recent period is the number of people, networks and organizations on the left that have adopted critical positions towards Raul Castro’s “updating” of the Cuban economic model.

From a certain angle, there’s nothing new in there being a left critique in Cuba. In fact, this always existed within the academic realm, and at the beginning of the revolution there existed leftist political groups that had differences with government policies.

In addition — and no less important — within the organized opposition there are groups that are positioned in this place on the political spectrum, often programmatically more authentic than the Communist Party itself (as is the case, for example, of the Arco Progresista).

The uniqueness of these people is that:

• They do not belong to organizations that are known and entrenched, but to groups that have all the appearance of small discussion forums, which at the most act in concert with larger networks such as the Observatorio Critico (Critical observatory).

• Although they do not advocate a break with the political regime, they do not consider it necessary to follow the “proper channels” of criticism according to the party liturgy. Instead, they express themselves via various public and private means. Thus, even when they select the political class as their interlocutor (they end up advising it on how to do things to take advantage of what could be that class’s “last chance”), at the same time, they try to do the same with other interlocutors among the few Cubans who have access to the Internet or among the international left.

• This involves not only Marxist critics, but this is repeated by the whole variety of critics on the international left, ranging from social democratic and anarchist positions to specific positions in relation to gender, sexual preferences and environmentalism. These latter areas, noted in the margin, are where they have produced the strongest and most refreshing positions as possessors of a new vision of everyday life.

A Positive Sign, but…

All of this is a positive political signal. It’s very important that there appears on the Cuban political scene a critical left horizon ready to make demands on the entrenched authoritarian left and the Communist Party hierarchy. It’s good that in the future they will contest the political hegemony (in those insurmountable terms proposed by Gramsci as ethical-political leadership) over the other center and right political currents.

But at the same time, I think the emerging left faces several critical issues to be resolved if it wants to actually be a political alternative in Cuban society. Said in another way, if it doesn’t want to simply be a testimonial piece on the shelves of a left that don’t tire from marching from defeat to defeat toward a mythical victory.

Above all, most of the critics on the left still believe that the Cuban Revolution is a living process, with socialism only in a dormant condition (like Trotsky imagined with regard to his Soviet workers state, before falling dead to the blow of an ice ax delivered by one of Stalin’s agents).

As a result, the Cuban left regularly agrees on the diagnosis of the bureaucratization of the system as preventing the development of socialism. But for the accomplishment of this they see reserves that exist in both the party membership and within the political elite itself, particularly in an ideological fetish called the “historic leadership.”

Photo: Silvia Corbelle Batista

The problems of so-called “Cuban socialism” are, therefore, external problems (oligarchy, bureaucracy, authoritarianism) to this ideal system, ones that can be eliminated while retaining the essence of the system.

Therefore, the way to eradicate this is to emphasize those opportunities at the grass roots for democracy and cooperative ownership, and to lend advice that will unshackle the socialist re-appropriation process.

I am one of the first to recognize political value that this discussion possesses, as well as the clarity of many assessments due to these critiques on the left, which undoubtedly enrich the public debate and the just, united and democratic political tasks of the republic of the future.

For example, to me it seems very positive that these critics stress the importance of promoting cooperative ownership as well as workers self-management and co-management. These cases have been successful in many places, and therefore they constitute viable alternatives to privatization or the maintenance of the current state system.

However, we must bear in mind that due to its complexities and characteristics, not all of the economy can be cooperatively managed — not even the bulk of it — and that cooperativization entails other problems that are as acute as those generated by private property.

We are forgetting the simple chains whereby the relations of production determine the superstructure: all of this is much more complex, simply because today’s societies, including Cuba, are more complex.

Likewise, I find it highly positive that they raise the defense of a principle that has governed social services in Cuba: universal access to their benefits and the non-privatization of their providers.

One can discuss the best way to finance this system and to make it less inefficient, but not its relevance as a paradigm. To defend this achievement of Cuban society is indisputable goal.

But I’m afraid that to maintain the idea — the one held by most people — that a transition from the current state of affairs to a higher stage of socialism is possible, is actually a path that takes us back to square one.

It is clearly volunteerism and paradoxically ignores the ABCs of Marxist methodological analysis that these people and groups say they treasure.

A Military Technocracy

A socialist resurgence of the Cuban system is not possible. There is no longer a revolution and socialism never existed. What exists today is a post-revolutionary system adrift, one without visible counterweights to capitalist restoration and that operates under the direction of a military-technocracy in the process of conversion to the new bourgeoisie.

Moreover, this technocracy-turning-bourgeoisie will defend their economic privileges and control of the state with the ferocity Al Capone’s own bodyguards – and, curiously enough, they’ll do it in the name of “the nation, the revolution and socialism.”

The economy is a disaster that requires a heavy injection of capital, which doesn’t exist in the country. Cuban society consists of people who are educated and intelligent, but impoverished and weary of the epoch-making goals that place the future beyond their own lifetimes.

If the democratic left really wants to be a political alternative, it cannot continue clinging to utopias; the same goes for many intellectuals who embrace these utopias as a means of forgetting the miserable political world in which they live and in which they are ultimately complicit.

Democracy Is Vital

Above all, the left requires a good program for a better life in a scenario of freedom and solidarity, not emancipatory paradigms that call on people to sacrifice the present for the future.

Photo: Silvia Corbelle Batista

In this context, democracy is vital. Nothing is more authentic now for the left in Cuba than to call for political democracy and social autonomy. This is simply because only autonomy and the organization of popular sectors — unions, diverse associations and parties — can guarantee the preservation of the social achievements and serve to advance the country in terms of equity and social justice – goals inevitable for the left.

This can only be achieved in a democratic system, obviously for everyone, and especially for those who think differently.

Therefore, it’s also essential to break with the Cuban political regime and with all its ideological fetishes. You can’t forget the slapping around of the Ladies in White and express solidarity with the Chilean students being beaten and abused by the police.

You can’t ignore the systematic repression of opponents — no matter what their political stripes — and defend the right of the outraged to occupy Wall Street.

You can’t convince anyone that there’s a future beyond the mediocrity of the Raulist updating and his Chinese model by simply criticizing a bureaucracy that no one knows exactly where it is.

You can’t continue venerating a Communist Party charged with legitimating capitalist restoration via the authoritarian road while continuing to talk about post-capitalist emancipation.

Whenever I write about this, I recall an image from a novel by my friend Lichi in which a bearded woman named Bebe was trying not to open her eyes in the morning to avoid seeing the world. Dazed and hesitant, she was living through the trauma of romances gone wrong.

The emerging democratic left writes with the anguish of Bebe and warns its supposed interlocutor — the post-revolutionary political class — that time is running out for it.

But that’s not true; the fact is that time is running out for the left. And one day this left, like Bebe in her day, will understand that what remains from all of its lost love is “pure rubble that the wind or memory will leave for time to sweep away.”

*A Havana Times translation of the original article published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com


12 thoughts on “What the New Left in Cuba Isn’t Telling Us

  • “I believe monopolies are a real bad thing.”

    That’s the main point on which liberalism is flawed – if there were free-markets “for real”, we’d have ourselves one giant monopoly controlling the entire economy. Because the very nature of Capital is to grow and grow and form monopolies. To avoid that, ironically, the State has to interfere by making anti-monopoly laws.

    Isn’t this a wonderful paradox or what?

  • Thank you Grady.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too and your family and to the Havana Times writers.

  • It’s always a pleasure to exchange with you, Julio. We agree on a number of things, but that’s only part of the reason. You actually think. This is something that’s not so common with Marxists. Their intellectual cement was moistened years ago and poured into sectarian forms, and it has hardened into grotesque, cult-of-personality dogmas, especially the cult of Trotskyism.

    Exchanging with them can be maddening because they hold to their pre-concepts with the tenacity of religious zealots, and the thought process is rarely in evidence. No matter how many times I show them, line and verse that state monopoly socialism comes directly from Engels and Marx, and that only provocateurs could have brought such dysfunctional stupidity into the socialist movement, they cannot imagine such a thing to be possible. This can only be because they cannot and will not think. Their intellects have been turned to stone.

    You, by contrast, have great impediments in your thinking process, probably because you’ve become so embittered by the frustrating impotence of state monopolyism, but you actually think and try to make your viewpoint jibe with reality.

    I quite agree with your ideas in the fourth paragraph up from the bottom of your last long comment. Economic freedom is absolutely necessary, and this can only come from legal, respected, valued private productive property rights. The only reliable foundation of political and social democracy is private property rights. What you cannot understand, Julio, is that socialism originally was based on such rights, as well as on cooperative forms of property. This was so dangerous that the capitalist Engels and his well-to-do bourgeois cohort Marx came into the socialist movement in order to re-define socialism as the state, not the worker-associates, owning the instruments of production. This split the peasants and the rest of the small bourgeoisie from socialism, where they remain today.

    I’m getting so tired of explaining all this through Havana Times. HT is a great forum, but the problem is that the Marxist Left will not think and critique anything from an objective viewpoint. But let me say this one more time, Julio, for your benefit. Socialism is not the absurd Marxist revision, and it is not monopoly capitalism. Socialism is a cooperative republic, led by the people’s vanguard party and a democratic, scientific national plan.

    I hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  • Grady socialism and capitalism is the same as I explained before socialism is nothing else but a type of capitalism.
    That is why sometimes I may called it socialism (for me is a synonym to monopoly capitalism) and some others I may called with the full real name
    State monopoly capitalism.
    One thing is clear.
    State monopoly capitalism should be avoided. It simply does not work.
    I believe you do agree with me on that one.
    I believe monopolies are a real bad thing. Notice that every time we the people can not choose we loose!
    Be economical choices or political ones.
    We should be able to choose every time at any second. For that multiple choices are necessary. And we should not allow at all cost monopoly because is back again to what Cuba have a dysfunctional type of capitalism. A capitalism that fixes prices of goods and labor. Where individuals become slaves of the elite.

    Therefore that is why freedom is so central to us humans. The only way to build really humane and just societies is when we all have equal participation and equal say into what happen in society. Even if we are all not equal what should be equal is our vote. We vote every time we buy one product over another, we vote as we put gas on our cars, or food on our table or even when we literally vote for a person to represent us in the government.

    I have already explain Grady that I am not oppose to your projects of a cooperative but as long as there is economical freedom. Meaning that people can organize in any economical form the choose to organize. It should be the choice of people. Not of a government and let the best win.

    Take a look at Cuba. Even as they have turn 180 degrees towards a timid capitalism. They do so with great fear. The elite is in fear. That is why they put so many restrictions. Where they have to allow such and such profession but not this other. It is clearly wrong. It is clearly wrong to limit humans. The potential of humanity is in freedom.

    Soon there will be great technological innovations. Like not too far in the future possibly in less than 10 to 20 years we maybe able to download programs and print whatever we need. From cloth to transport machines to many other things we may not even know. As you probably know there is machines that can do those things already. What is the consequence of all this technological advances? I think the whole question of capitalism and socialism loose the meaning. It becomes one of a world where ideas matter. Where those that have the great ideas will be very successful.

    Chavez problems are his own making. As I was saying. From the economical point of view you can not fix prices. in this particular case he is going after the effect (Increase of prices) not the real cause as to why the prices increased. He should have gone after the real cause.

  • Look Julio, the models of the 20th century were fit for the 20th century. Both liberal ‘democracy’ and state ‘socialism’ have failed. We must look for alternatives.

  • Julio, I certainly agree with you as to the non-functionality of the Cuban mode of production. It doesn’t function well, and it can’t function well because it is unnatural and borderline moronic. But you kind of lose your bearings when you talk about that system. First you say it is socialism, and socialism can’t work. Then you say it is a form of capitalism, and that this is why it doesn’t work. I wonder if you could make up your mind? Is it socialism or is it capitalism?

    Perhaps you have a third possibility. Perhaps you have this dream of “free capitalism” in which capitalists are ethical human beings and market forces work to force prices to their proper, objectively-correct levels. Perhaps in your dream of free capitalism the quality of goods produced always gets better, due to competition, and the prices always get lower, due to competition. All I can say, Julio, is that you see to be living in a Libertarian dreamworld in which that capitalist monopolists are the bad guys, right along with the socialist bureaucratic bad guys.

    Let’s get real. The socialism experimented with in the Soviet Bloc countries and in Cuba is an absurd mode of production that comes directly from the writings of Engels and Marx. It is state monopoly ownership of the land and all instruments of production. But this is not the only socialist mode of production possible. There is another way to run socialism, and it has to do with discarding state monopoly ownership and reestablishing private productive property rights. The socialist state could unleash the tiger of entrepreneurialism and harness it for socialist construction. By partially co-owning most industry and commerce, it could have plenty of revenue from a dynamic economy, and never need to tax anything or have any tax bureaucracies.

    By the way, Venezuela is not a socialist country. It is a capitalist country that is trying to keep control of its natural resources and operate as a European-type social democracy. Too bad the US attacks that country constantly, and too bad the Venezuelan capitalist traitors stand with the US imperialists.

  • Luis what is different in the crisis than on any other? How will socialism solve the issue? when is not even able to work as an economic system? (Centralization does not work, at least not in the way implemented)
    Socialism tries to build on the top of capitalism it simply does not work. Capitalism or what I call free Capitalism is the best solution for that economical problem. As long as there is money and there is value assigned to things via money the current solutions is possibly the best. It has evolve on its own to be what it is.

    Look at it like an eco system of living organisms. Survival of the fittest. Darwinian evolution. Why is free capitalism still around ? Do not lie to yourself but socialism is nothing else than state monopoly capitalism. The worst type ever of capitalism. The opposite of what we individuals will like to see.
    It is in the interest of us the individuals that conform any society to have a great number of choices. So we can democratically elect the choices we like. (economical choices, political) in essence I am talking about Freedom. Without freedom we are doom. Because others will decided for us and we will become puppets of an elite or should I say slave of the elite? I had lived in such system (Cuba) where others make decisions for me and they always got it wrong. One shoe doesn’t fit all. We are not all equal. We are very different.

  • Open your eyes to the global capitalist crisis, for goodness sake, Julio.

  • Grady I think you have to look what Haroldo says framed in the context of Cuba naturally it can also be extended to the international left. When he said the left is running out of time. He means that Cuban people will not believe anymore the left have as a viable political and social program. The current elite has manage to get everyone or almost everyone disenchanted with leftist ideas.
    Unfortunately for the left they all have stick to the wrong ideological ideas. The economical ideas implemented by the left as socialism are not a workable economical form.

    For example you can see Chavez already having issues with scarcity


    and look at the solution. To fix prices, the total opposite of what he should be doing.
    The market economy will easily take care of the scarcity. By increasing prices naturally. But his solution goes after the effect not the real cause of the problems.
    This where the same things that conduced Cuba to the hole is in now and will also conduce Venezuela to a bigger hole.

    I will not be surprise if some time in the future Venezuela will need to import oil. Just the same as Cuba needs to buy sugar. (Cuba used to be one of the top exporters of Sugar in the world).

    Socialism as implemented is not a solution to any problems. It just creates a collections of other problems that are worst. Socialism is portrait by the left as a solution to worker exploitation as a more egalitarianism and just society for the working poor but in reality we can show that a worker in Cuba are exploited a lot more than a worker in the USA and many other capitalist countries. This happens because socialism is nothing else than state monopoly capitalism. Where labor prices are fixed and not negotiable and also food and other items have fixed prices but all of this as we can see conduces to scarcity. This happens because things loose their real value. Including work. That is why Raul have to ask people to work harder and to be more efficient and that is why people appear not to listen. Because things do not work that way with humans. Real humans will work only out of real need and desired. The so called “new man” does not exist. Is a myth. To all of this also you have to add the repressive and oppressive environment foster by the elite that is necessary for them to keep themselves in power. This explain why people do not want to live there. Why they try to escape by any means possible. Is the only way to solve the problem.

  • This is a clear and provocative analysis, Haroldo, and it impresses me very much. Much of what you say is true. Unfortunately, you make fundamental errors that render you conclusion incorrect and even absurd.

    You state that Trotsky believed that socialism was only in a dormant position within the Soviet workers’ state, with the inference that it could be awakened. This may be true, but it has nothing to do with the dysfunctions of all socialist experiments, including the Cuban, that have tried to build the socialist bridge to a classless society.

    Trotsky, like Lenin and all Marxists before and since, held firmly to the belief that the Marxian core principle of socialism consists of state ownership of the land and all the instruments of production. To my knowledge–and correct me if I’m wrong–Trotsky never uttered one word that contradicted or argued against this fundamental principle.

    You, yourself, define “socialism” as such full state ownership of everything productive in sight, and conclude that it, and the entire “left” who still believe in it, are running out of time.

    What is running out of time is neither socialism nor the left, but Marxism. This is a point that your and other critics of the Marxist bureaucratic state cannot comprehend. I think it is because you and others still cling to the quasi-religious faith that Engels and Marx are the fonts of all things truly socialist, and that therefore it is their ideological and programmatic bluster that is running out of time.

    Thinkers like you should at least consider the possibility that Engels and Marx were provocateurs, and that their bogus principle of the state owning everything in sight was brought into the socialist movement to destroy it from within. But I will not hold my breath waiting for you and others to consider the possibility.

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