Cuba: 27N is not leftist, but liberal and pro-capitalist – response to comrades Olimpo Fonseca and Frank García

In the following polemic, Jorge Martin (editor for responds to a pair of articles in a Cuban magazine, which mischaracterise the 27N movement as being left wing. In fact, this movement of artists and intellectuals for ‘democratic freedoms’ is liberal at best, and openly counterrevolutionary at worst. We also include a letter by Martin, addressed to the Comunistas blog, laying out our differences and calling for communists to stand unequivocally on the side of defending the Cuban Revolution and its conquests.

In recent days, an article by Olimpo Fonseca in the independent Cuban magazine Tremenda Nota argued that the 27N movement was not anti-communist and that Tania Bruguera, one of its most prominent spokespersons, is a left winger. A few days later, the historian Frank García, who openly declares himself a communist, came out with another article in the same magazine to support Fonseca’s thesis. I have to say clearly that I disagree with both Olimpo and Frank. In my opinion, their approach not only has no basis in the facts but is also the result of an incorrect analysis of the current situation in Cuba.

Read the original in Spanish here |

Although the purpose of this article is not to delve deeply into the events leading to the emergence of 27N, it is important to briefly explain the facts. 27N arose from a protest of artists and intellectuals at the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), in solidarity with some members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI). The MSI is an openly counterrevolutionary group that calls for the “fall of the dictatorial regime” and one of whose most prominent members is rapper Denis Solís who publicly declared that Trump was his president. Another prominent member of the MSI is rapper Maykel Osorbo who publicly called for a US invasion of Cuba. The spark for the gathering at MINCULT was to protest against the raid on the MSI headquarters where 14 of its members had held a protest demanding Solís' freedom (he had been jailed for contempt earlier that month). The gathering was on 27 November, from which the collective took its name.

Clearly, among those who met on 27 November at MINCULT - artists, intellectuals, filmmakers, writers, mostly young people - there was a wide diversity of political ideas. Some were members of the MSI or sympathised with their positions, but others were artists who simply wanted to speak out against censorship and in favour of democratic rights in general. There were also some who considered themselves socialists. It is clear that, although the state’s treatment of the MSI was the spark for the protest, it also reflected a broader, pre-existing malaise, over measures such as the 2018 Decree 349 that regulates private cultural activity.

Although there was no overt repression, the police were employed to prevent more people from joining the sit-in. As a result of the protest, a dialogue was opened between the vice minister of culture, Fernando Rojas, and a delegation of those present, and subsequent meetings were scheduled. Ultimately, this dialogue was unsuccessful. The truth is that the MSI did not want it to happen and introduced a series of outrageous demands, which derailed discussions entirely.

The editorial board of the blog Comunistas, of which Frank García was a member at the time, issued a statement on the events in which they noted the following important point:

“There is a socioeconomic factor without which these events would not have happened. The rebirth of the bourgeoisie in Cuba, or, as it is customary to say: the private sector of the economy. The bourgeoisie, as the social class that it is, is not only born with economic ramifications but also cultural and political ones. This class, which has been reborn after the measures implemented by the government during the last decade, has had a strong political and cultural impact on society, specifically, on civil society and the university students of Havana, even more amongst those linked to the arts, literature and humanities. This class, like civil society itself, has strongly promoted the expansion of a whole new civil society consisting of media outlets, associations, private galleries, independent film studios, and its conservative wing even promotes conservative churches." (‘Statement on something more than the events of San Isidro’, Comunistas blog, 29 November, 2020)

I do not think it can be said that in Cuba there is already a bourgeoisie as such, but it is true that there is a nascent private sector of the economy, that a process of accumulation of capital has begun, and that this nascent bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie is beginning to recognise its economic and political interests and act upon them.

At that time, I had already written critical comments on a part of the statement that the comrades of Comunistas issued, which they then published in the special issue of their magazine La Comuna about 27N (which I recommend reading as it is very comprehensive). I have attached those comments at the end of this text.

In the Comunistas statement, even those who did not start from a position of support for a pro-imperialist counter-revolutionary group (the MSI) are defined as defenders of the "expansion of the private sector of the economy." This is precisely the sector that has become part of the 27N movement.

However, now Frank García states that the analysis made by Comunistas of 27N in November was wrong. “At Comunistas we did not know how to fully understand what was happening then, nor did we understand why a group of honest intellectuals, such as Julio César Guanche or Hiram Hernández, drew attention to San Isidro. We had simplified the facts."

So, what are the arguments on which Olimpo and Frank base themselves to say that Tania Bruguera, and by extension 27N, should be considered left-wing?

Olimpo’s article, mentioned at the start of this polemic, asserts that Bruguera has used the word "neoliberalism" to describe the package of currency and foreign exchange measures introduced to Cuba on 1 January, collectively named the Tarea Ordenamiento (“Ordering Task”), and this means that she is on the left. Apparently, the author has found another quote from 2015 in which Bruguera also criticises the Cuban government for "making neoliberal laws."

In another article, we analysed the meaning and dangers of the Tarea Ordenamiento, but in this case, one word alone is what leads Olimpo to describe Bruguera as a person who has maintained a “coherent left-wing discourse for years”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Tania Bruguera has never declared herself as a left-winger (for example, she sometimes speaks of "my friends on the left" as something alien to her), and in fact she has said on more than one occasion that she is against socialism (although she has also said that she is against capitalism). It is difficult to describe Bruguera's ideology, but all her "artivism" (as she describes her art performances) is based on challenging the limits of what is legal and possible in the field of censorship and civic rights. At best, she can be described as liberal.

After stating that Bruguera is on the left, Olimpo performs a logical pirouette and concludes that, therefore, the 27N itself is left wing:

“As Tania Bruguera is one of the main figures of 27N, it is clear that this platform is not an anti-communist group. On the contrary, based on the fact that Bruguera is one of its main representatives, 27N would be a space where the left is assumed as a positive principle and neoliberalism as negative."

On the other hand, Frank García, who describes Bruguera as left-wing, although 27N as simply “not on the right,” adds another “logical” argument in relation to 27N:

“In the programmatic manifesto of 27N… its editors… affirm that compliance with the [Cuban] constitution is part of their fundamental principles. This fact can lead to the following deduction: 27N supports the construction of socialism, inasmuch as it recognises, accepts and demands compliance with a socialist constitution... they end up recognising, and therefore granting legitimacy, to the socialist constitution. That position automatically excludes 27N from anti-communism... A citizen living under a socialist state, if he recognises and demands compliance with the constitution in force in his country, at least, cannot be anti-communist."

If one carefully reads the manifesto of 27N, it is true that it mentions the [Cuban] constitution, but nowhere does it say that compliance with it is "part of its fundamental principles". What they do say is that they act under the protection of rights that are recognised in the constitution, which is not the same. From this, it cannot be deduced in any logical way that 27N cannot be anti-communist.

However, to know the character of the 27N movement and their ideas, it is not necessary to speculate or make logical deductions, simply refer to their own manifesto, which comrade Frank García has read in detail. There you can clearly see what their “main demands” are. Point one refers to political freedoms. That would make them liberal, but not necessarily left wing.

But the most important thing is point two, a point that did not appear at all in any of the discussions in MINCULT and that is really the most significant of the entire statement:

“2. Economic Freedoms. We affirm the right of every citizen to engage in different forms of economic activity, ownership and management. We value the role of private initiative and the exercise of economic freedoms that enable the promotion of productive capacities and generate goods and services essential for the development of the nation."

In this paragraph, which seems to have escaped the notice of comrades Olimpo and Frank, we find the crux of the matter. The right to private ownership of the means of production, that is, the right of a minority to exploit and profit from the work of the majority, is actually the focus of this 27N document. Furthermore, this point directly contradicts the idea that 27N is not anti-communist, or “cannot be”, as Frank says.

Communism is precisely the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and is incompatible with the defence by 27N of "the right of every citizen to property" and "private enterprise." Not only that, but it contradicts one of the arguments of comrade Frank when he defines his criterion for the left: "Let us establish that the left proposes social justice over the free market in their political discourse." Well, the manifesto of 27N, although it speaks of a "society with social justice" (and also speaks of very beautiful things, such as love, poetry, the truth, etc.) clearly says that it is in favour of "economic freedoms" and the "right to property," that is, the free market, which inevitably takes precedence over the general interest.

Comrade Frank is a historian and sociologist and should also know that manifestos and declarations must be judged not only by what they say, but also by what they omit and by the context in which they are written.

In this case, this manifesto is not issued in a vacuum, or in the context of a capitalist dictatorship. The context in which it is issued is that of the Cuban Revolution. This revolution came to power 62 years ago and declared its socialist character just 60 years ago, on the eve of the counterrevolutionary imperialist incursion of Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs). The Cuban revolution carried out the expropriation of the multinationals, the land, the banks, and also the national bourgeoisie, in addition to freeing itself from the yoke of imperialist domination.

On the basis of state ownership and the planning of the means of production, it achieved very important advances, particularly in the fields of healthcare, education, housing, and the general living conditions of the population. It is true that the Cuban Revolution suffers from important bureaucratic deformations that have three sources: the coming to power of a guerrilla army, the close relationship with the bureaucratic USSR, and the isolation of the revolution.

However, this is not an obstacle to recognising that all the achievements of the revolution are based on the abolition of private property of the means of production. After the fall of the USSR, the isolation of the revolution became much more acute. The problems that the Cuban Revolution faces today from an economic standpoint are due to this isolation, and they are aggravated both by the fierce imperialist embargo and by the bureaucratic management of the economy and the state. To this must be added the severe blow of the pandemic that has eliminated a large part of the country's foreign exchange earnings in one stroke.

All of this has undermined the conquests of the revolution, which survive despite everything, although they have been weakened.

What does the 27N manifesto have to say about all of this? Practically nothing. But what little it does say is significant: "We want to leave behind the misery and shortages imposed by the incompetence of the prevailing system." In other words, for the authors of the manifesto, "misery and scarcity” have nothing to do with the blockade and imperialist aggression, which are not mentioned even in passing, but are "imposed" by "the incompetence of the system.” That is a clear political position. Although Frank García highlights that the 27N has “dissent as consensus” (or to put it in plain language, that they agree to disagree), the fact is that the manifesto reflects a clear position on the issue of the blockade and imperialism, even if by omission. This stance certainly cannot be described as left wing.

To this we add the fact that prominent figures of the 27N have dedicated themselves to attacking the artist Wilfredo Prieto for putting up a poster demanding the end of the blockade from US President Joe Biden, and the public solidarity of 27N with the UNPACU (a rabidly anti-communist, counterrevolutionary organisation).

It is a public and well-known fact that at the MINCULT protest on 27 November there was a wide range of people, including those who describe themselves as socialists. It is another thing to say that the 27N movement, particularly after releasing its manifesto in April, is a left wing community.

In Cuba today, defending "economic freedoms" means advocating the restoration of capitalism, which seems to me to be certainly counterrevolutionary, although some may not like being described in that way.

Comrade Frank García says:

“Let's start from the fact that a political subject is on the left as long as they recognise themself to be on the left. The lefts gather together everyone from the most timid and conciliatory social democrat that attempts social changes through partial reforms so as not to disturb big business, all the way to the deified Marx and Lenin and the subsequent revolutionary Marxisms, to the Stalinist deformations with ‘Polpotianism’ as the maximum expression of their degeneration."

Firstly, I have not found any evidence that Tania Bruguera, nor the 27N itself, recognise themselves as being on the left. Quite the opposite. Their prominent spokespersons have always insisted that "this is neither left nor right" and they have "rejected this false dichotomy". In those same terms, the artist Julio Llópiz-Casal protested against Olimpo Fonseca's article.

But I would ask, what is the use of determining if someone is on the left? What practical conclusions should be drawn from the definition? If the "left" spans from social democracy to the reactionary Stalinist madness of Pol Pot, what sense does it make to determine whether or not 27N is left-wing?

Actually, to conclude, things have to be put in their spatial-temporal context, not in the field of abstract digressions, but in that of their practical consequences. I have no doubt that there are people who identify with the 27N movement who in some way or another consider themselves socialists or social democrats. The way in which we communists can (and should) enter into a dialogue with them is not by embellishing 27N and declaring it “not right-wing”, but by clearly explaining and arguing that the “economic freedoms” that the 27N manifesto speaks of mean the restoration of capitalism, and with it, the destruction of the conquests of the Cuban Revolution that, although weakened, still exist.

Another question, and this will be the subject of another article, is what attitude should the communists in Cuba have in the face of the demand for democratic rights, the inability and clumsiness of the bureaucracy to deal with it, and what are the best methods to defend the revolution and its conquests? It is a long subject, which deserves fuller treatment, but as a starting point, we communists must base ourselves on the principles of workers' democracy, which are very topical now on the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune. The heroic effort of the communards established the legacy of the way in which the working class can govern its own destiny without bureaucrats or privileges.

The Cuban Revolution is at a historical crossroads. It is imperative to place ourselves clearly on the side of defence of the revolution and its conquests, against imperialist aggression, and against capitalist restorationist tendencies, whether they come from the leadership of the state or the nascent bourgeoisie in the private sector. The widest discussion of these questions can only serve to clarify and strengthen the struggle for socialism and workers' democracy.

29 Apr 2021

Comments on the statement of Comunistas "On something more than the events of San Isidro"

Dear comrades,

I read carefully, as I always try to do with your texts, the last statement published on the Comunistas blog, ‘On something more than the events of San Isidro’, about what happened in Havana on the long weekend of 26-29 November [2020].

27N ManifestoThe 27N Manifesto and the statements of their prominent members reveal their true political character / Image: fair use

In my opinion, the statement contains a series of very sharp points that I have not seen in other analyses of the events in question. For example, the characterisation of where this sector of the intelligentsia and the artists that came together in the MINCULT emerged from. As you point out, we have seen in Cuba in the last period "the rebirth of the bourgeoisie, or, as it is customary to say: the private sector of the economy... This class, as a civil society itself, has strongly promoted the expansion of a whole new civil society consisting of press media, associations, private galleries, independent film studios... "

I would say that rather than a bourgeoisie, what we have seen reborn with the expansion of the private sector of the economy is a petty-bourgeois layer. They are not so much owners of the large means of production, but rather owners of small businesses, as well as those in liberal professions, artists, the self-employed, etc. They aspire to become the bourgeoisie, and from this sector, an actual bourgeoisie can emerge.

It also seems important to me to point out that the majority of those who came together at the MINCULT, although they did not necessarily support the MSI, “have two important points of contact with the proposals of the San Isidro Movement. Both have as their goal the expansion of civil rights. Both support, in different ways, the expansion of the private sector of the economy in Cuba. The only thing that differentiates them is that the San Isidro Movement openly supports Trump and submits to imperialism."

This is a crucial point to understand. The petty-bourgeois intelligentsia (to describe it precisely), is in favour of the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. They speak of "civil society", of "rule of law", of "Republic", of "institutionality" and of the Constitution, but what they really mean is that they are in favour of bourgeois democracy. Some call themselves socialists, or democratic socialists, but in reality, what they are is social democrats. In the context of Cuba, where the economy is still based on state ownership of the means of production, their aims can only be achieved with the restoration of capitalism.

That being said, there are also some points where I think the statement is unbalanced or incorrect. The first is that we should start with a crystal clear characterisation of what the so-called "San Isidro Movement" is. The MSI is not simply "an organisation linked to culture" that "calls for the fall of the ‘dictatorial’ government and one of its main leaders openly supports Trump." In reality, the MSI's counterrevolutionary provocation is not accidental, nor does it come about on its own initiative. It is part of a plan of US imperialism, formed in the last days of Trump's mandate, to create provocations that seek a counter-reaction from the Cuban state that prevents any attempt to return to the "Obama doctrine."

And this has to do with the second point. The first of the demands that Comunistas raises in the declaration is: "Prohibit... the exercise of all kinds of censorship that falls on intellectuals, artists, press media -state and non-state-, blogs and other forms of expression." Here we see, in my opinion, the same error of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia: the abstract demand for democratic rights, which omits the class question. On a small island in the Caribbean 90 miles from the strongest imperialist power on the planet, which has been subjected to a 60-year-long siege, can we ask for democratic rights for all including the open counterrevolution financed by and at the service of Washington?

I think that this is an error that also contradicts other parts of the same statement and even the demands that are ultimately raised. What is at stake in Cuba is an open struggle between different sides. As communists, we can only be on the side of the defence of the revolution. Not on the abstract side of the defence of democratic rights, which in the end is the side of bourgeois democracy, but on the side of the defence of workers' democracy to effectively defend the revolution and the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production. Under these concrete conditions, we cannot be in favour of freedom of expression for the defenders of imperialism so that they can organise a violent counterrevolution. They already have sufficient means to make themselves heard.

We are in favour of the broadest freedom of opinion, discussion, and expression for Cuban youth and workers to decide the course of the revolution and against the suffocating bureaucratic censorship that undermines it.

With communist greetings,

Jorge Martín, International Marxist Tendency

4 December 2020

(Originally published in the Dossier of La Comuna on the political crisis of November 2020)

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