Cuba at the Crossroads – Cuba and the debate about Socialism of the 21st Century

Cuba is reaching a turning point. Cuban professor Frank Solar points out the dangers and opportunities the Revolution is facing. See also in Spanish.

Throughout half a century Cuba has been, for this continent, the utopia that has been possible. It is the most clear and palpable example of what is needed in the pursuit of a better world. This small Caribbean island, still blockaded, still assaulted, still poor and underdeveloped, despite its inefficiencies and errors, despite even the fact that it still has a long way to travel in the construction of socialism, shows what it is possible for a people to accomplish when it decides to take in its hands the construction of its own destiny.

This Cuba, where the full dignity of man is worshiped, whose enormous advances in the social, educational, health and sporting realms never loses its capacity to amaze, is today the hope for peoples who wish for a better future.

Now that more and more in America are speaking forcefully of a Socialism of the 21st Century, we should ask ourselves seriously what part Cuban socialism has to play in this debate, what Cuba has to contribute, and what Cuba has to learn from it and from the new experiments that Latin America is providing.

The discussion about Socialism of the 21st Century starts from the premise that the Stalinist deformation suffered by the classic socialist model that predominated during the 20th century should be superseded by what is being attempted in this century, and should avoid the repetition of its errors. Therefore Cuba, as a socialist experiment of the 20th century, that carries some of its negative elements, has to do some serious rethinking. The Cuban project, if it wants to be in tune with the march of history, should participate in the construction of the new socialism that Latin Americans seek to achieve, it cannot remain on the margin, precisely when it has so much experience to contribute with regard to the development of its own revolutionary process.

But it also has much to learn, and should open itself to new experiments, subject itself to a critical debate amongst its revolutionaries, to analyze what failed in the socialist experiments of the 20th century, whose inheritors we in many respects are, and what we should improve in its present and future undertaking. For example, the hugely useful experiments of workers' control that are occurring today in Venezuela, of factories taken over and put to work under the control of workers, under a council of workers that is in charge of all decisions taken in the factory, of the whole productive process, of the whole process of distribution. These are amongst the most valuable examples that can be assimilated by our socialist project. It cannot be that in America they have revived a very active debate about socialism, and Cuba continues as if there was nothing to change, to update, and to re-think. As Fidel said, "Revolution is to change all that must be changed", and to determine this last point, we should all participate in an open public debate.

The planned economy has demonstrated itself to be much superior to that of capitalist economy. The extraordinary results achieved in Cuba throughout five decades, despite an infamous and genocidal blockade, and the achievements of the Soviet Union, are very far removed from what would have been achieved in any capitalist country under identical conditions. What failed in the USSR was not the model of a planned economy but a type of bureaucratic management that acted as an absolute brake on the totality of its potentialities. And precisely what this type of economic organisation requires for its effective functioning, like the human body needs oxygen, is collective direction by the working class. It is not a question of luxury, an alternative that can be opted for or declined: workers' democracy is a sine qua non condition for the development of a socialist economy. Without this it deforms, and finally, withers away. It becomes inefficient and does not respond to the needs of society. Yes, with the dead weight of the bureaucracy the USSR did achieve spectacular advances. It is not difficult to imagine what it could have achieved under a regime of workers' democracy.

In the transitional socialist society power necessarily needs to be in the hands of workers, there are no short-cuts if deviations and degenerations are to be avoided. That social ownership over the means of production be real, effective, and not merely nominal, requires increasing the direct participation of workers in the processes of the organisation and direction of production and services.

The dictatorship of the proletariat should be the only state organisation, and from the first day of its existence it should begin to disappear and transmit ever increasing quotas of its power to an increasingly self-organized society, to a society of freely associated producers. In reality, one of the greatest examples of how far removed "real socialism" was from the original socialist ideal, is that the opposite occurred. That is to say, that the State, instead of disappearing, became eternal, more complex, more strengthened. It bureaucratized, escaped from the control of the masses, became bigger, more totalitarian, and more repressive. And power - that in the time of Lenin had been held by workers self-organized in Soviets - was usurped by the bureaucracy after the Stalinist counterrevolution.

A fundamental guarantee of the success of the Cuban socialist project, and of its permanence, is the preservation of unity, but this should be the result of consensus generated through debate between different revolutionary visions. Frank and open discussion cannot but strengthen the involvement and unity of the elements most firmly committed to the Revolution and socialism. Conscious participation, impossible without constant debate, is the best antidote against the constant ideological pressure of capitalism and against the mortal trap of bourgeois democracy, that is nothing more than the hidden dictatorship of big capital.

For Marxists it is clear that socialist construction cannot be realized through an enlightened leadership that takes decisions in the name of and in favour of the people, while they remain like spectators or passive beneficiaries of a social drama that is written from above and for which the people should show itself thankful, mobilizing in support of that vanguard every time it advertises. No. It should be that the construction of socialism is an enormous collective force, the conscious proactive involvement of the masses in all of the processes of the political life of the country and the taking of fundamental decisions. And this can only occur through public debate, in a common search for solutions to social problems, in the creation, discussion and free choice by the masses of the different means required for the construction of socialism. Only with this participative process that implies the self-transformation of the individual as a political subject, can we guide ourselves to a superior type of society. Because in Cuba there exists an exceedingly hostile context - of imperialist harassment and of economic underdevelopment - the forms and dimensions this process takes may be tempered, of that we can be agreed - but there is no other path.

In our country in 2005 there was a moment of very important reflection, when, on November 17th Fidel, in a lecture in the University of Havana, referred to many of the dangers that threaten the Cuban Revolution. He expressed very clearly that the revolution could be reversible, that it could be destroyed, and not by external imperialist forces but by internal errors committed both by Cuba's revolutionaries and the problems he set out that day - bureaucracy, squandering, illegality, inefficiency and under-production. From that lecture, which strikes me as having been a very accurate diagnosis of the principal ills that affect Cuban society, an instinctive search for solutions has resulted.

Until now that search has fundamentally been conducted through administrative channels, from above, that can, maybe, in a best case scenario, resolve social problems in time and, to all, identify those growing problems that the Cuba of today faces as a result of the havoc caused by 15 years of a very hard Special Period. But the real and definitive solution will be found in workers' control, in the deepening of the spaces of workers' democracy that the Cuban revolution has. This is to say that our difficulties cannot be combated by more bureaucracy, under whatever form it assumes. Nor can they be by calls to morality. They can only be combated with the active participation of the working population in all of those themes that affect them in their daily lives, even in those issues that concern the strategic direction of the Revolution, with mechanisms for workers' control of the whole state bureaucracy. This is the best formula to confront the phenomena of corruption and workers' indiscipline: the worker as a collective people exercising pressure, authority, over the administration and also over the worker as an individual - realisable only through the exercise of workers' democracy.

The optimum form for the exercise of this type of democracy from below, validated many times throughout history, is none other than the model of councils & assemblies, where representatives are elected that can be recalled at any time, who have to produce reports periodically for the base, above all in the productive units, in the workplace. This model was known in the Russian Revolution as that of Soviets, but has taken different names in other historical experiments: councils, juntas, communes. This and none other should be the embryo of the State apparatus of socialist transition. It was studied by Marx and Engels in the Paris Commune and by Lenin and Trotsky in the Soviets of the Russian Revolution, in 1905 first and later in 1917. And it functioned in a successful way, its own contradictions such as there are in any revolutionary process notwithstanding, until the death of Lenin, when the whole leadership of the Bolsheviks was physically exterminated by Stalin.

The call to the people cannot only be to participate in the implementation of an already decided strategy. There cannot exist a structure that substitutes its participation, that from above decides the policies to pursue.

That the high leadership of the Party and of the Government take note and study the difficulties that affect us today, the everyday and the structural, and work in the best way possible to resolve them, appears to me to be very good but, frankly, insufficient. The real and lasting solutions for the revolution and socialism will come from below. I want to say that what is decisive in this question is that we rely on a systematic machinery that makes possible the emergence of debates of the type that was generated after the lecture given by Raúl on July 26th 2007, and that their channels for expression no longer need be anonymous - letters to the press, or reports from Public Opinion.

We shouldn't wait to discuss our problems, that they were 'discovered' by Raúl, Fidel, or the leadership of the country, and those from above indicate themes for debate. Cuban society has to find the ways that will permit it to find and raise solutions in the face of whatever anomalous situation or deviation that arises in the revolutionary process. It cannot be that negative phenomena known by the whole population only begin to form part of the public discourse after they have been denounced by the leadership of the Revolution.

This is a way of proceeding that I consider very harmful to the Cuban Revolution, and it will be worse still overall when it is not the Revolution's historical leadership that is in control, and new generations of leaders succeed those whose ties to the living traditions of the Cuban Revolution have weakened sufficiently to give open impulse to a process of capitalist restoration that we saw in the USSR and those supposedly Socialist countries in Eastern Europe.

As I see it, one of the most preoccupying phenomena today for the sustainability of the Cuban Revolution, is the contemptible political apathy that is to be observed amongst our youth. It is dangerous because its extension will represent an ideal breeding ground for capitalist restoration in Cuba. Capitalism counts precisely on the demobilization of the youth, on its banality, on taking them to a place where they are interested only in totally trivial things. It counts on their conversion into compulsive consumers, and the fomentation of disinterest in any political question. That is, they don't engage in politics, it is distant from them, it is not attractive, and it deceives them. In so much that capitalism encourages the political demobilisation of youth, socialism needs, to exist and deepen itself to produce a youth completely conscious, that is interested in and participates in political phenomena, and that is active as a collective transformer in the solution of everyday problems. There is a need to make all politics the politics of Socialism; socialism as a doctrine and system. There is a need to make it attractive to the youth. Marxism should attract them, and that can on be achieved by offering them the possibility of decisive participation within the revolutionary project.

Cuba comes from an heroic resistance of 50 years duration, especially more heroic than ever in its last three five-year periods of a very hard Special Period, with very accentuated material difficulties. There are three basic avenues open today to Cuba: One, a frontal confrontation by imperialism against Cuba, the possibility of military intervention, of a more direct attack against the Cuban Revolution that will be an attempt to destroy it. The second outcome is the maintenance of the Revolution, that, in this case, is equal to its deepening. The only way to achieve its survival is to deepen it along socialist lines, and this also will only be possible through the extension of the Revolution in Latin America and throughout the world. Because, by any other means, and this is the third possible scenario, to continue its isolation, and in the absence of the triumph of other processes in the continent, to survive it will be seen to be obligatory to apply market economic mechanisms of an New Economic Policy type, like those practiced in the 1990's. Without a clear perspective that considers these means transitional, an unfortunate but time-limited necessity, and in the context of continuing isolation, unfailingly, at some time, these economic reforms will grow into a dynamic towards the slow and subtle restoration of capitalism. And the social distortions that these same reforms have created, in the end, will return to confront and threaten the Revolution. To advance in this manner will inevitably strengthen those pro-capitalist sectors within Cuban society. And here we see, in a very straightforward and crude way, the impossibility of constructing socialism in one country. Much less in a country like Cuba, where there is not even the minimum opportunity for self-sufficiency: a small island, without economic resources, without material resources, a castaway in a Capitalist sea.

The only solution for Cuba is, on the one hand, to incentivise, to deepen mechanisms of workers' control that at certain times have been but interim solutions, to make them systematic, institutionalise them in the economy and politics of Cuba, and of course, the extension of the revolution in Latin America, the greater confluence and integration towards a Socialist Federation between Cuba and Venezuela, like that which Chavez asked for in his last visit to Cuba.

The spirit of a whole epoch palpitates in the Cuban Revolution. Much of the destiny of humanity will depend in forthcoming years on its fate. Today capitalist prehistory not only signifies backwardness, servitude and abysmal inequalities. Its levels of consumption, wastefulness, of irrational exploitation of natural resources, of aggression against the environment, have arrived at a point which has put the very survival of the human species in danger. Therefore, what is at stake with the advance or backward movement of this revolutionary process is something as serious as our very own existence. The very permanence of the Revolution signifies an enormous impulse to those who rebel, to those who confront domination, to revolutionary struggles across the globe, to the dream of making better this world of ours.

Frank Josué Solar Cabrales,
University Professor
Faculty of Social Sciences
Oriental University, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Translated by Daithí Mac an Mhaistír

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