Cuban Socialism and the Asiatic Mode of Production

September 6, 2017 |

By Marlene Azor Hernandez

Cuba’s First VP Miguel Díaz-Canel (third from the left) with Kim Jong during a visit to North Korea.  File photo: KCNA

HAVANA TIMES — Talking about what is meant by “Cuban socialism” is taboo for Cuban public opinion. Political commissars who use this term do so making word associations but they never define concepts. Its principles are just as vague and so flexible that they can be applied in practice in cases that are the exact opposite of what they preach.

Supporting North Korea’s arms race when they say they stand for peace; decorating dictators who subject their people to outrageous poverty such as the majority of African governments plagued by corruption, or defending Maduro in his war against Venezuela’s rule of law and supporting repression against peaceful protesters amidst a humanitarian crisis.

According to Cuban political commissars, who include Cuba’s political and military elite and their spokespeople, when they refer to socialism they make this synonymous with the Revolution, with Fidel Castro, with sovereignty and that this is the same thing as the Nation.

As well as not explaining anything, such a confusion of terms stupefies the population who can’t get their head around what their internal reality really is because of the government’s information monopoly. It doesn’t understand where the government is heading and therefore they just worry about their tough everyday lives and/or escaping to any other country. The absence of democracy is key in stupefying the population.

Not defining concepts in an explicit condition to make reality elusive again and to turn propaganda into hollow words. This isn’t the result of a low cultural level, it’s the essential condition needed for ideological domination.[1]

National public opinion is limited by other bans, such as the discussion about Human Rights in general and about the current state of these in Cuba. It’s forbidden to use the term “public policies” when this refers to analyzing and evaluating government responsibilities. Plus, Afro-descendants can’t call themselves this as they understand it and the government has stopped them from calling themselves “afro-descendants” because this term “affects” national unity: civic autonomy is an “enemy” to the government.

Controls on permitted and banned vocabulary make up the government’s totalitarian controls, along with territorial and social space controls, with individual monitoring of every dissident and the application of dissimilar arbitrary reprisals by Cuban authorities themselves.

The person who takes on any of these terms and uses them in their analyses is labeled an “enemy” with the corresponding repercussions that this involves: ideological (“traitor”), political (ostracism) and economic. They are dismissed from their jobs or their licenses to operate in the private sector of the economy are nulled.

The Cuban government has banned any conversation about “socialism” in its 60 years. Labels are applied but it isn’t explained. Explaining it would lead to the analysis of Soviet socialism which Marxists classify as “the Asiatic mode of production”. A historic process in primitive ancient civilizations, a historic regression in periphery Western or central societies.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, a debate about the kind of socialism that really existed in the former USSR and China came about as the focus of analysis, between western Marxists and Social Democrats, among whom: Enrique Gomariz, Andre Gorz, Judolfo Paranico, Paul Sweezy, Harry Magdof, Charles Bettelheim, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Ernest Mandel, Issac Deutscher, Michael Long, Perry Anderson, Rudolf Barho, Ralph Miliband, Bernard Chavance and more recently Catherine Samary. This marxist and social-democrat debate is unheard of in Cuba.[2]

Western Marxism was never disseminated in Cuba, especially critical analyses of Soviet and Chinese socialism. These were banned from public opinion and from Cuban universities. The dissemination of Trotsky’s ideology was also prohibited, which only interested people know about who were able to get their hands on his books from their friends.

When the Philosophy Department at Havana University was closed down in 1971, the chance for western Marxism to come to Cuba and be disseminated ended. From them on, the distortion and lack of information would come from Soviet manuals and from the submissiveness of “organic intellectuals” to official discourse.

Like what always happens in these instances of “real socialism”, the first people to be repressed were the democratic Left and then they concentrated on “class enemies”, or put another way, the democratic Left was considered to be a “class enemy” first and foremost, and then everything else.

Rudolf Barho analyzes “socialist societies which really exist” as societies which choose “a non-capitalist path” in order to make agrarian societies progress into industrial societies. According to this author, these societies can be compared to the “Asiatic mode of production”, which is a link in union between the final patriarchal stage of primitive society and Asia’s class society, such as those cultures which flourished millennia ago on the shores of the Tigris-Euphrates river, the Nile, the Yellow River, in Asia minor, in Crete, in South Arabia, on the Ganges’ shores, and includes the pre-Columbian Inca society, all class societies but without private land property.

Similar features between real socialism and the Asiatic mode of production are:

– The kind of labor that is carried out in these cultures which demands a docile workforce in the form of great cooperation.

– The distribution of surplus was strongly hierarchic.

– Large-scale production and reproduction tasks demanded a layer of officials (the priestly caste) who took charge of controlling, organizing, managing accounts and disciplining so as to regulate this process in a centralized manner. The vast majority of wealth produced by manual laborers ends up with this sector.

– The social division of labor, between manual and intellectual labor, is a division in terms of “knowing” and “deciding”. Within these societies, knowledge, information and decision-making are attributes that belong to the priestly caste.

In this debate, Marxists and Social-Democrats agree on the fact that “socialism that really exists” are exploiting societies with more profound hierarchies than central capitalism, and the new ruling classes accumulates wealth via a centralized State while they block any kind of social emancipation while keeping their societies in misery.

The political and military leadership of the country doesn’t allow us to have a discussion about real socialism and much less for the person who deviates away from national consensus. The campaign against “centrism” is proof of the system’s worship of the Asiatic mode of production or Soviet socialism, a regression in national development.

We Cubans haven’t been asked whether we are devoted to ISIS’ values, which are openly anti-Western, or whether we have ever wanted the Asiatic mode of production or Soviet model. Cuba’s leadership needs to learn that we are a western country and that the subject of Human Rights is an agreement for “confrontational” opponents, for reformists and for all ordinary citizens who need to rise above widespread poverty. The “Asiatic mode of production” doesn’t allow economic progress nor does it ensure civic rights but our country’s leadership pretends like it doesn’t even realize it.
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[1] Goran Therborn “The Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology” Publisher: Siglo XXI, Spain, 1987.
[2]This is a small segment from the Doctorate Thesis “The Historical Experiences of World Socialism” Chapter 1., a thesis which was defended in two lower courts in 1996 and 1997 and was censored politically, therefore, the author went on to do another doctorate in Mexico in 2011.
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  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Wonderful article and a great picture of Miguel Diaz-Canel with the Third Generation North Korean Dictator Kim Jung Un whom the Castro regime supported by supplying arms, contrary to UN resolutions.

  • christie coolidge

    North Korea is a sovereign country as is Venezuela. Unlike the u.s. government, both these countries do not go around the globe starting one war after another putting an end to millions of innocent lives along the way for the sake of GREED. U.S. billionaires and their corporations who contol our government are in a race to strip all americans of the few rights they still have left. Very scary stuff. I love North Korea and Venezuela for standing up to all the evil the u.s. government spreads around the world and at their countries.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      When are you moving to take full benefit of your proclaimed love for dictatorship of the left christie coolidge? Your only challenge will be whether you prefer to be under the control and power of Kim Jung Un or Nicholas Maduro. Don’t be bashful, tell us which is your preference and when are you going to act upon your persuasion? Do please leave the US which you feel is evil.

  • richardmuu

    Can you give links or references to your 1990s dissertation and the 2011 dissertation you wrote in Mexico?

    Thanks for the summary of Barho. Regarding the division between intellectual and manual labor, we (the US and Cuba) have different challenges. Evidently Cuban authorities follow Stalin’s lead in assuming a classless ‘vanguard.’ Castro seemed to know that something was wrong about that but did not know what to do about it. In the US, commodification of human attention has produced a striking divide between the educated/credentialed and the uneducated. We wallow in the problem and are at a loss for what to do about it. If Cuba allows the commodification of its attention, it will have two grave problems.