Pedro Campos Interviewed by Dmitri Prieto
HAVANA TIMES, June 25 — For some people in Cuba, Pedro Campos Santos needs no introduction. However for the majority of Cubans he’s still probably a stranger. What a shame, a consequence of the lack of horizontal flows of information and ideas here on the island.
“Perucho” belongs to an informal group called SPD (Participative and Democratic Socialism), which for the last several years has been devoted to promoting the socialist path for Cuba’s present and future. This is a socialist road based on a self-management model with freedom for all people who form a part of it; it is socialism “with all and for the well-being of all,” as Jose Marti wanted.
We conducted this exclusive interview with “Perucho,” in which he gives us the details of his fascinating biography and the reasons for his political commitment, as well as some background on his comrades in SPD.
HT: Perucho, you belong to a generation that participated directly in the radical changes that occurred in Cuba after 1959. What does it mean to you to be revolutionary?
PEDRO CAMPOS: Each historical moment demands a specific attitude of its revolutionaries. In Cuba in the period 1953-58, it was to struggle against the Batista dictatorship for democratic restoration. In the early years after the revolution of 1959, the struggle was for the consolidation of what had been achieved, the cultural revolution, the real transfer of power (economic power), the political/decision-making ability of the workers and the people, and for basic socioeconomic transformations that would make possible the advance toward socialism. However, this was an epoch in which statist deviations and centralization had already begun.
Today the basic goals of that stage remain incomplete, and these are — in my opinion — to promote in all possible ways the process of the democratization and socialization of the political and economic life of the Cuban people.
The revolution of 1959 did in fact free us from the tyranny of Batista. However it also centered property ownership in the hands of the state. Cuban and foreign capital; big, middle-sized and small capital, was concentrated and centralized even more by the state. Political decision-making was also centralized. It was believed that this was socialism. This was the typical centralization of Stalinist “socialism” and its variants. People thought that this would facilitate the socialization of property and the results of production as well as contribute to the necessary democratization of political life. However, in the long run this form of centralization became an insurmountable obstacle. That’s why it failed both in Eastern Europe and here.
To consolidate itself, for some time the Cuban revolutionary process has had the goals of advancing from statism to socialization [of economic power] and from concentration of political power to its democratization. What changes to make, how to implement those changes while avoiding undemocratic “decentralization” (leading to major privatizations and greater disillusion on the part of the workers and people generally), are the tactics we are now discussing in Cuba. The capitalists’ mouths are watering hoping that the “updating” of the model favors the development of national and foreign large-scale private capital.
The history of the “socialist camp” left very clear lessons as to what should not be done when the time comes to change the neo-Stalinist system. Proceeding slowly and tortuously in the process of the renovation of state socialism (especially in the USSR and China, which are today aiming at capitalist development), we witnessed the principal errors: These included the inability to carry out transformations that facilitated direct control by the workers over companies or the empowerment of the people to make important decisions of all types, the deep penetration of big foreign and national capital in combination with the transmutation of the bureaucracy into the bureau-bourgeoisie, the absence of a clear program of socializing transformations, the continuation of excessive centralization in all types of decision-making, the permanency of top-down “verticalism” and the anchoring of neo-Stalinist dinosaurs in important positions of leadership in the party and the government.
By definition, Gorbachev’s perestroika sought to “renovate” the model, to reform it, when what was needed was a change in its base. As we don’t want that same experience to take place here. We have presented a program that, while it certainly might be incomplete, doesn’t stop at “renovating” the model of state monopoly capitalism — believed here to be socialism — but proposes changing it for democratic socialism with the real participation of workers and people. In this, they are the ones who directly and democratically make all the decisions that affect them. To advance in those two main directions (the socialization and democratization of the economy and politics, with resolute steps and clear initiatives) is what I believe is revolutionary in Cuba today. To oppose that course is contributing to counter-revolution.
HT: In your writings, especially in the latest ones, you’re very critical of the political leadership of our country, including the new leadership that emerged out of the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). In your opinion, doesn’t being revolutionary include loyalty to the historical leaders of the revolutionary process?
PEDRO CAMPOS: I didn’t note the specific difference that you’re pointing out between my current and previous texts. I’ve never criticized people; I criticize the methods, enthroned sectarianism; the democratic, socializing and libertarian deficits of the statist system that are presented as socialist. I involve myself in the world of ideas. Most of my generation, me included, we’ve been loyal to the revolutionaries who have headed the Cuban process. We’ve put up with a lot and have remained quiet so as not to negatively affect the cohesion within the revolutionary ranks.
As for the leaders, we’ve always respected them and we would like to see them go down in history as people who have contributed to Marxist socialism. But that will depend on them. Our criticisms and our private and public proposals are examples of our loyalty – not the reverse. Those who are disloyal are the ones who prefer to opportunistically hide or justify their misdeeds in order to preserve their positions in the bureaucracy.
I don’t consider myself an independent actor outside the revolutionary process. I’ve been an active participant in the revolutionary effort and I feel committed to it, even though I differ on more than a few actions and policies. As a historian I don’t confuse loyalty with ignorance or unconditional positions, and much less with fear. Nor do I believe that being revolutionary is measured by loyalty to specific individuals; rather, we should look at one’s adherence to principles, to methods, to the objectives and contents of the revolutionary process.
Often shortsighted, political leaders make mistakes; even more so when they don’t take others into account and they naturally disappear over time. If the revolution gets confused with its leaders, it could disappear with them. Leaders play important roles in certain historical moments to the degree they’re consistent with the character of the revolutionary processes. When, for whatever reasons, they cease serving that process, they lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people, in the eyes of history. Leaders, in the old sense of the word, gradually lose their validity as social movements increasingly are the principal players in revolutionary processes.
HT: What thinkers, heroes, leaders and martyrs of our revolution have most inspired your work?
PEDRO CAMPOS: Fidel and the Che, among the most recent, despite the fact that I don’t agree with some of their actions and positions taken in the face of certain events or conjunctures. From them I learned how to be consistent with my principles, without caring about the personal consequences, to never trust imperialism, to always look for the truth and to defend it. Like all Cubans I was first a follower of Jose Marti, since I was a little boy. My parents, both elementary school teachers, instilled in me the knowledge and the respect for the work of Marti as well as his life of sacrifice and love of freedom.
That’s why I believe that, on the whole, the figure that has always had the most impact on me was Jose Marti, who I consider the most integral and brilliant of all Cubans. What’s more, his work remains relevant today because some of his revolutionary objectives are yet to be achieved. Marti didn’t seek only our independence from Spain, he was seeking a society of equals, “with all and for the well-being of all.” He was ultra-democratic, seeing the distribution of property as the basis of freedom. He criticized “socialism” early on for what he saw as the bureaucratic state, in “La futura Esclavitud” (Future Slavery). Although he was a figure who lived in the 19th century, his intellectual role in the Cuban revolutionary process transcended the 20th century and has now entered the 21st.
HT: What did Pedro Campos Santos do before becoming involved with the socialist self-management movement in Cuba?
PEDRO CAMPOS: I have always dedicated much of my free time to studying the history of Cuba, philosophy and Marxist political economy. After leaving the Foreign Service, during the most difficult years of the “Special Period” crisis I worked in tourism, then in a pizzeria. I also drove a taxi, sold books and worked as a street photographer. But over all that time I kept returning to studying Marx. I researched the causes of the collapse of the socialist camp. I tried to better explain to myself the phenomenon of revolutionary Cuba as I was forming a collection of ideas on how to face the complex internal situation in my country without forgetting that we are confronted by that same imperial threat. All this was aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the revolutionary process and our advance toward socialism.
By the time of the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 1991, I had presented to my party chapter an analysis of the country’s problems and a group of proposals bearing more or less in the same direction as now. But these didn’t come only from me; there were many people involved. However in 2005, when Fidel said that revolutionaries themselves could destroy the revolution if they didn’t face the serious problems of corruption and bureaucracy, and he called on people to fight against these, I believed we were moving along the same path and I prepared to make my analyses and proposals public.
I wrote a book about enterprise and social self-management and I sent digital copies to several comrades in the leadership of the party and the government. I tried to publish in Cuba what I had researched and when denied space for my articles in the official press I began to distribute them to international left websites (Rebelion, Kaosenlared, Insurgente and others). Each of my articles was sent to Granma, Trabajadores and Juventude Rebelde. In short, before issuing our Programmatic Proposals in 2008, I carried out extensive theoretical and practical work to clarify and popularize the ideas of socialist self-management.
HT: Why did you issue that proposal? Can you define its meaning in a couple words?
PEDRO CAMPOS: My comrades and I have issued several proposals. And not only that, at the time of the Fourth Congress, in my party chapter I had already presented a group of proposals pointing in the direction of the democratization and socialization of the country’s political and economic life. In 2006 I presented a general plan of self-management socialism to the Congress of the Cuban Federation of Workers (CTC), which was published in Kaosenlared and other sites. Then in 2007 I published “15 Concrete Proposals for the Reactivation of Socialism in Cuba.” In 2008, anticipating the Sixth Congress of the PCC, we presented “Cuba Needs a Participative and Democratic Socialism: Programmatic Proposals.” In 2011, a new edition of those Programmatic Proposals, which contained many of the suggestions that we received, was published under the title: “Proposals for the Advance to Socialism in Cuba.”
Our objective has always been to try to contribute to the national discussion on the problems of the Cuban Revolution in the current stage and to spread such ideas to all strata possible, and certainly to the discussions in the Sixth Party Congress, where I spoke about the issue when it was not being raised there. How to define this in a couple words?: Socialization and democratization, which would be incomplete without full freedom.
HT: Can you tell us more about the SPD collective of “Pedro Campos and other comrades?”
PEDRO CAMPOS: We are revolutionary fighters, workers and professionals of different ages, with the majority having completed university studies and lived active revolutionary lives. We’ve all worked directly at the grassroots, in the rank-and-file, as wage workers or independent laborers. We have written works.
Some had mid-level responsibilities in the government and some have been grassroots leaders of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League. Some comrades ended up having responsibilities at the regional, provincial and national levels as directors or sub-directors of press organizations.
With absolutely no organizational obligations, among us are people who were in the old underground, members of the former Socialist Youth organization, ex-employees of security agencies and the armed forces, internationalists, diplomats, jurists, journalists, economists, theologians, historians, philosophers, psychologists, poets, university professors, writers, other artists, manual workers and people in other professions and occupations.
We are promoters of ideas and we have been gaining ground and expanding our influence. We don’t classify ourselves in any type of political sect, nor do we seek unanimity or impose our points of view on anyone. We are anti-capitalists and support a type of socialism very distinct from what’s known as “real socialism” or “state socialism”; we advocate a form of socialism that has free and full human beings as its aim.
HT: Do you think that what you are doing has repercussions among Cuban decision-makers and the academics who advise them?
PEDRO CAMPOS: I don’t know to what extent the work that several of us comrades have been carrying out in this direction has influenced those decision-makers or their advisors. We’ve noted that they read what we write and some of our proposals are being implemented, though I don’t believe that’s because those came from us; rather, it was because reality itself imposed it on them.
HT: And among the people?
PEDRO CAMPOS: Equally, my comrades and I don’t have a concrete means of measuring our impact on people, but we have received e-mails commenting on our articles and thousands of opinions from Cubans here and abroad, with them discussing, supporting or criticizing parts or all of our writings.
We’re certain that our writings circulate widely over the Cuban intranet and outside through cyberspace and other means. We’ve noted that if at the beginning we were a few voices speaking openly about the issue in the international left press (in private, in academic and narrow political circles, there were always those who dealt with self-management initiatives and proposals) all that changed some time ago. Now there are many of us.
Today to speak of cooperativism and workers’ self-management as socialism is becoming more common in our country. The Sixth Congress has just approved the extension of cooperativism and self-employment, although still with many limitations. These limits are because of their state-centrist perspective and the failure to understand that cooperativism and workers self-management are the generic forms of production under socialism.
They do not grasp that for socialism to triumph, these forms of production would have to prevail and be integrated into a system of economic solidarity that tends toward equivalent exchange with democratic planning. (Moreover, this would have to be built on a communal base to overcome the isolation that those productive forms are subjected to by the market, governments and capitalist financial systems.)
Now I know that in practically all of the provinces there are comrades who think similarly. Certainly our work has served to bring them together, to bring ideas closer, to clarify positions among others and within ourselves. In this process we’ve learned a great deal.