Socialism in Cuba: Is It Worth Saving?

August 14, 2012 | Print Print |

Vincent Morin Aguado

HAVANA TIMES — During the most recent expanded meeting of the Cuban cabinet, President Raul Castro exclaimed: “Discussing limitlessly – that’s democracy!” Because we at Havana Times (HT) also “discuss limitlessly”, we’ve been labeled by some people as “counterrevolutionary,” especially when it concerns something that’s vitally important: whether socialism in Cuba is worth saving.

Perhaps I’m in the minority in this discussion, but — thinking that the issue goes beyond the scope of a small website — I’d venture to say that it is indeed worth saving socialism, not only for our country, but as something of global importance.

The articles in HT generally discuss many of the today’s concerns, revealing the toll of years of bureaucracy, stagnation, corruption, ineptitude and other evils of the system, which — as is well known — doesn’t even work for us.

None of this is aimed at “discovering America,” and it’s good to unload what we carry around inside, especially when it’s the truth.

Nevertheless, the inevitable catharsis has to lead somewhere, to some point or destination, one that’s inclusive of all Cubans and that leads us to our much longed for prosperity – at least as far as this is possible in the eternally limited material world and in the unlimited spiritual one. Otherwise, why complain so much?

This is why I want to stop right now and deal with a certain controversy: Socialism vs. capitalism.

Socialism, known up to now as a system established following revolutions marked by the Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat”, is presented as a failure. As for capitalism, whose origin is very different, we can say that it too is marked by frustration. In looking at the origins of these two systems, I am able to answer — for me at least — the dilemma behind those two failures.

Capitalism enthroned itself in this world as something that appeared natural because private property, markets, money and the concentration of wealth in a few hands are inherently linked to civilization from its beginnings, millennia ago.

The bourgeois revolutions contributed the renewed idea of human rights and the restoration of democratic republicanism, ancient traditions in Western culture.

Socialism was something very different, emerging in response to a contradiction that has remained insurmountable up until now: economic anarchy that has not been able to be stopped and democracy colliding with the power of money. The excessive desire for profit, impossible to control, conflicts with democratic ideals.

Marx’s idea was to create a society that was not the natural continuation of others before it; rather, he saw one that was the outcome of the cumulative historical experiences of humankind. This meant that people would become the subject of history and define their destinies for themselves. Up through today this has seemed utopian.

Based on previous suppositions, it’s logical that socialism is identified with the names of individuals responsible for its failures, just as capitalism will end up orphaned by those who are guilty.

This is why, after re-reading what has been written by many contributors to our website, I’m concerned that some aspects of the realities is left out; in other words, they are they are looking at the trees but missing the forest.

Cuba experienced an authentically popular revolution that eliminated the evictions of families in the countryside and in urban areas; socialized education, health, science, culture and sports; nationalized the country’s natural resources and regained national independence against aggressive US imperialism. This may sound like a lot of “yada yada yada”…but it is an inescapable reality.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat,” turned into caudillismo (strongman rule), are models we must now leave behind. What is indispensable is full democracy, which I understand as effective popular participation in all decisions. It is “limitless discussion,” like our President said recently, without so-called “collective rights” being used as a pretext to curtail the equally essential rights of the individual.

A single party is not the obstacle to democracy if that institution becomes all-inclusive, in addition to differentiating its functions in relation to the state, which must be constitutionally approved. The party, as understood by Marti, meant “with all and for the good of all.”

Socialism would then make sense, because people in our society would see that they were better  than they seem now and that they themselves would be the builders of their own futures.

At only 27, Marx wrote, “Philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.”

What I ask for and practice is the avoidance of beforehand discrediting of the people or issues that we write about, since actions speak louder than certain precedents.

Where did the reformers in the USSR, Maoist China or heroic Vietnam come from? The names will fade away, but what will remain are the results. This involves conceptions – not preconceptions.

According to Christians, “God made man in his image”; though atheists argue the opposite. The Bible tells us in the beginning: “The LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’” (Genesis 3-22)

Whatever the case, the equation is presented to us as a simple fraction: 1/1. It will always be the same because what is essential is the free will of human beings. This is why, I repeat, it’s worth saving socialism.
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To contact Vincent Morin Aguado, write: morfamily@correodecuba.cu

 

 


What's your opinion?

  • Dawn Archer

    It’s time to allow the young people make their own decisions… Opening the doors to Cuba will bring bad along with the good. It is impossible to stop change

  • Michael N. Landis

    I think you have articulated the hopes, the prayers, the desires of many HT readers. Although, since the 18th Century, Capitalism has accomplished much good, it is also responsible for much suffering. Socialism seems the best answer to why, so many millenia past, the human race first formed into societies. Thanks for seeing the forest–as well as–the trees! Let us hope we can all pull this off; otherwise, our species will be just another failed experiment and evolutionary dead-end.

    • john sparre

      it seems to me that many people are attracted to cuba as a communist or socialist country. i was more interested in seeing a society in transition. until you go to a country they are sort of mythical places. the cuban missile crisis. the bay of pigs. the evil communists. the evil capitalists. the accusations flow back and forth. throw in theories about JFK and it is the stuff of legend. i found cuba to be so ordinary and sane.

  • Alsdally

    I think the age of ideologies or “isms” is past. Societies need to focus on those things that work, that bring the greatest good for the greatest number and leaves no one behind. The future will belong to neither Capitalism or Socialism or all the other variations in between but to those policies that embrace the best of these systems. Governments can do what governments do best, and the private sector can do what it does best but above all the people should have a full voice in the direction of the process. One party systems have not produced this result but have invariably ended up as authoritarian regimes with rubber stamp parliaments, whether Capitalist or Socialist, Fascist or Communist, it makes no difference.

    • Okasis

      Unfortunately, while single-party systems have a history of failure, and often lead to a dictatorship, the same is true of States that claim to have a two-party or multi-party system.

      It also seems to make no difference whether these Governments claim to be Democracies, Republics, or a combination of both. Humans have never demonstrated good sense when it comes to governing others, or even themselves.

      However, I have noted that scale contributes geometrically to these failures. Most of the historical examples were either big countries to start with, or became big thru conquest. Countries like people, always want more, until they choke on that last morsel.

      In that respect, there may be more hope for Cuba than there is for most of us. Not only is Cuba a small Country, but it has limited natural resources, and certainly has lost much of its residual wealth because of trade barriers and the Boycott. Run-away growth seems unlikely.

      Other benefits Cuba enjoys in comparison with its neighbors, is a well-educated population, great potential for managing its land, water, and energy resources, and a strong desire to retain Sovereignty, in every meaning of the word. Another way to phrase this would be to call it an extremely stubborn society, that intends to remain Independent, come ‘Hell or High Water’.

      Add to those assets the current search for the best means to ensure that survival, and the survival of Socialism as the foundation of the Government. Cuba is unique in that both the Loyalists and the Loyal-Opposition agree on that.

      Now comes the hard part. How can Cuba continue to survive as an Independent, Socialist, Country, and improve the standard of living for the entire population, and become a more Democratic Society.

      I think Cubans, working together, can solve these problems. The question is whether it will have the time to do so before the Evil Empire to the North, once again tries to end the Revolution. Everyone knows that the US considers Cuba unfinished business. Knowing that makes it very difficult to concentrate on the many reforms that are needed.

      Until Cuba successfully ends that threat, I do not see how it will be possible to move towards an open society and a true Democracy. The conundrum reminds me of the old saying “If wishes were horses, then Beggars would ride”.

      • Moses

        It is a shame that OKASIS believes that the biggest stumbling block facing Cuba is US policy towards Cuba. Anticastristas have succeeded if his belief prevails among the majority who support the Cuban revolution. If OKASIS is right then Miami mafiosas need only to continue in their rejection of the Cuban regime to continue the worsening struggles facing the Cuban people today. These kinds of comments empower the old guard in Miami to keep on doing what they have been doing for 53 years. The truth is that Cuba continues to be its own worst enemy. Anyone who has spent any real time in Cuba knows this. The mid-level corruption, the unnecessary restrictions on the internet, even the lack of toilet paper are but a few examples of the problems completely within the control of Cubans. Fear of change has paralyzed Cuba and no “evil empire to the North” could ever cause the damage that these internal fears have manifested. I hope that Cuba will someday be a free country. Not free like the US but free like Cuba. Most Americans feel the same. Careful who you attack OKASIS. Cuba may need the US as a friend one day.

        • Lawrence W

          It’s obvious US policy towards Cuba is a major factor no matter how you look at it. Let’s do a ‘what if’ – what if there was no embargo?

          The free flow of goods, in both directions – across only 90 miles of water would eliminate a vast amount of problems and dissatisfaction in the Cuban people. Presumably this is why the US keeps up its insane embargo using the flimsiest of excuses – to maintain dissatisfaction.

          Last week the US government fined ING Bank millions of dollars for doing business with Cuba. This is an everyday occurrence. The US never ceases making it difficult for companies to do business with Cuba. The Cuban government is hardly perfect. It’s commonly pointed out change would occur more rapidly if the US stopped contributing to its siege mentality. Presumably the US will only be happy with a total regime change, subservient to the US.

          Again, to paraphrase that old Clinton aphorism, “It’s the embargo, stupid” that’s causing many of the problems for Cubans.

    • john sparre

      The government that governs least governs best.

  • http://www.wteague.com Walter Teague

    A good question, which needs much more discussion and clarification.

    Socialism is too small a word to describe all that Cuba has been since 1959. Born out many resistances to centuries of oppression and continuing imperialisms, Cuba has never had a calm moment to discover what might be possible under some peaceful variation of socialism.

    You do mention that “one party” government isn’t necessarily non-democratic. Good, but let’s get modern; democracies have been around for centuries and seldom if ever were they democratic for the majority. When were the general public allowed to be democratic without the corruptions of money, bias, and the general insanities? Today in the USA, money and false choices rule and the public is so numbed they hardly know what democracy means – the Occupations are a hopeful exception, but still too weak.

    So if one concedes there is some part of socialism in Cuba today, then it’s worth and viability must be judged in comparison to what the US and it’s Mafias would have otherwise allowed, what the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean would be like today without the Cuban influence and finally, what is still possible given the nature and limitations of humans, both Cuban and Imperial.

    Let me point out the obvious, the human behavior and all our political/social experiments have not yet proven we are “sustainable” species nor that we can create, without being economic vampires, just and viable societies. Think I am being too pessimistic, then what is your proof that we will somehow stop the destruction of the eco-system before it is too late to prevent catastrophic climate changes and all the horrors they will level on humanity. Sadly, human psychology has shown we react faster and better than we plan and prevent.

    • Moses

      Walter, Americans may indeed be “numbed” and unaware of what real democracy is but we sure know what it isn’t. A dictatorship of 53 years is hardly a role model for good government. Few governments in history have experienced a “calm moment”. That’s just life on this planet. Cuba, while having survived (barely) 53 years of embargo as airtight as screen doors has also had nearly as many years of foreign subsidies to the tune of billions of dollars per year. The six years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction Venezuelan teet to the Cuban economy represent the only truly independent years Cuba has ever experienced. And I know you know that they were eating small dogs and making grapefruit sandwiches to survive those “special” years. At the least, this partially refutes your insinuation that but for the embargo, the Cuba revolution may have prevailed. If you say take away the embargo, I say take away the foreign aid. Deal?

      • Lawrence W

        Whether Americans know what democracy is or isn’t is academic. More importantly, they don’t know how to achieve one in their own country, yet they insist on selling it overseas? Please, would you go to a car mechanic whose own car was a wreck? Let’s do an experiment. Get your government to lift it’s insane embargo and we will see if it makes a difference.

        Oh, I forgot, you don’t stand a chance accomplishing this despite the vast majority of Americans being in favour of it because you don’t live in a democracy and don’t have the foggiest idea or chance of changing the system. So why are you on about Cuba? It needs a mechanic that knows what they are doing, not one that tries to turn attention away from their own wreck of a government.

  • Mark G

    I’m frankly skeptical that single party rule could ever be truly democratic and include all political tendencies and ideologies. In addition to political parties, independent civil society groups are also vital to democratic governance.

    Almost every democratic country employs a mixture of socialist and capitalist economic and social policies. Some countries (and political parties within them) lean more strongly in one direction or the other depending on many factors rooted in their history, culture and experience.

  • Lawrence W

    Many good comments to a thoughtful piece here. Just wanted to comment on one sentence Vincent wrote: “Capitalism enthroned itself in this world as something that appeared natural because private property, markets, money and the concentration of wealth in a few hands are inherently linked to civilization from its beginnings, millennia ago.”

    I’m wondering if rather than writing “Capitalism enthroned itself … as something that appeared natural” it would be more accurate stating, “capitalism SOLD itself as something that appeared natural.”

    And for the statement that “private property, markets, money and the concentration of wealth in a few hands are inherently linked to civilization from its beginnings”, should not “inherently linked to civilization” be replaced with “relentlessly sold as civilization” be substituted?

    The simple fact is, human beings have lived in socialist environments out of necessity for millennia, something capitalists would not have us know. After a brief – in terms of the historical timeline – splurge of excess in recent times that is destroying our planet and returning us to the Dark Ages, it is it is imperative that we think about returning to policies and systems that service our common interests – aka, the common good.

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    Vincent, you infer that Karl Marx invented socialism. He did not. He and Engels came into the movement several decades after it had begun. The bourgeois duo injected the poisonous formula of state monopoly ownership into it, to try and render it innocuous .

    The original socialist movement was cooperative and muturalist, not statist. It had been forming , especially in France, for several decades before the bourgeois democrat Marx and the capitalist intern Engels met up and worked out their false ideology.

    The major danger to the banks and bourgeoisie at the time was the natural alliance between the nascent proletariat and the massive small bourgeoisie of peasants, shopkeepers, restaurateurs, et cetera. Marx and Engels split the alliance of these two anti-monopolist, working classes by attacking the honor of the small business class, and promising to nationalize their property. The small bourgeoisie thereafter became the bitter enemy of socialism.

    And so, yes, Vincent, socialism in Cuba is worth saving, and the way to save it is to throw out the counter-revolutionary, Marxist stipulation of state monopoly.

    • john sparre

      Grady, if you google french revolution 1848 wiki you will see the truth about your assertion that there was a natural alliance between the working class and the middle class of small business people and peasants in la france. the middle class and working class got together to get rid of louis philippe, in april, the middle class parties were elected to a majority, in june, the radicals were suppressed by military action, the national workshops subsidized by the peasants and other land owners were closed and in december louis napoleon was elected with the support of the peasants and middle class who were tired of revolution and instability and taxes for the benefit of the working class. thus began the second empire which ended with defeat in the franco prussian war. although you are not a marxist the hammer and sickle is a marxist fantasy. what is more true is adam smith’s assertion that most people act in what they believe is their best interests. small business people are in small business because they want to run their own race and low taxes and no bureaucratic interference is the way they vote. you can say if you like that people don’t know their best interests and i would agree that that is very often true. george w. was popular at the start because he gave everyone a tax cut which in the end benefitted no one.

  • grok

    Stalinism is not socialism; and a poor, small country surrounded by imperialist sharks cannot reasonably be expected to follow thru in the implementation of anything but the most basic levels of socialist organization, when socialist societies do not really exist anywhere else yet. However, with stalinist praxis as the model for the political-economic basis of society, no reasonable level of socialism could be expected to be achieved without a full, democratic organization of all social structures. And such, of course, appears to be the unfortunate case for Cuba.

    Cuba’s only hope must be to muddle on, until workers in larger countries finally succeed in advancing the democratic socialist dream. But that won’t be long now.