“Thanks for your responses Craig and Saral. …. I guess we might find it difficult to agree on Cuba (and probably other ‘communist’ states past and present) and even on the meaning of the word ‘socialism’. I still think the debate may be important for clarifying how we differ regarding our notions of a desirable post-capitalist eco-society worthy of the name. I think we have radically different assumptions about the most fundamental things/values, e.g. authoritarianism, freedom, heteronomy, self-management, leaders and autonomy/self-organisation. (BTW Just to clarify two statements of fact, Saral: the anarchist statement on Cuba I quoted was not from ‘Mexican anarchists’ but from exiled Cuban ones meeting in Mexico, since Castro’s regime has been as murderously hostile to anarchists as Communists have always been. Since the Bolshevik terror, we have been among the first ones the Communists, with whom you seem to so warmly sympathise, stand up against the wall. Also, in your long interpretation of the Cuban ‘revolution’, which I think fully supports my contention of state socialists identifying with ruling ‘socialist’ elites rather than with the suffering common people. … ). I’ll close my Cuba contribution with some excerpts on its ‘socialism’ from various wikipedia (CIA too?) articles on Cuba and one on ‘Violations of social and labor rights in Cuba, 2003’ from a report to the International Labor Organisation in Geneva (CIA too?). I’ll leave the judging of these ‘rantings and calumnies’ to the group.”
Hereafter Peter listed many human and labor rights violations including political executions (4000 to 33000) that have allegedly been committed by the Cuban communist regime. Details can be had from Peter (<"<pbln"@internode.on.net>>)
(2) Craig Collins wrote on 29.12.2014
Even if I were to accept the complete veracity of all your sources, which I don't, my main problem isn't with your contention that the Cuban government isn't the anarchist utopia you wish it was. Of course it isn't! Like all states, it's been dictatorial and repressive toward its perceived enemies. My problem is with the ahistorical non-comparative method you use to judge the Cuban regime. Can you name ONE country with a relatively comparable level of "development" in Latin America (or the "Third World") where people are better off than Cubans in basic levels of education, health care, wealth distribution? You never compare Cuba with the rest of the REAL World. You just show us that Cuba doesn't live up to your abstract anarchist ideals...so what? Who does?“
Earlier Craig had written:
“ I don't think Cuba is "socialist" by any stretch of the term. That would require actual democratic control over the political and economic institutions of the country...not elite control by nationalist/populist party bureaucrats. I don't judge Cuba by what the government calls itself (socialist) any more than I judge the US by what it calls itself (democratic). The economically corrosive and politically repressive powers of global capitalism preclude actual democracy or socialism.”
(3) Steven Johnson wrote on 2.01.2015
“In partial response to some of Saral's comments and queries, I would call attention back to what Ted said about the necessity of convincing a critical mass of the population before an effective socialist government can emerge. It is, to my mind, inconceivable that some kind of clique of revolutionaries could 1) succeed in taking power, and 2) continue using that power in the service of socialist transition without being coopted, and 3) successfully impose socialist transition on a populace that, like Cuba in 1959, has no strong or deep consensus in favor of socialism.
I am no expert on the Cuban revolution, but, given the basic facts of the history that I am given to understand, I cannot see how anyone would ever imagine that it could have been successful in achieving socialist transition, built as it was on the shallow basis of Fidel's enormous popularity in the wake of overthrowing Batista (and the leverage that gave him in order to consolidate personal power and engage in a game of manipulations and coercions from the top), rather than on the more solid basis of years of patient pre-revolutionary cultivation of a deep commitment to socialist transition in a critical mass of the population, the development, beginning in pre-revolutionary times, of institutions of democratic self-management in the organizations of struggle, and arriving at a tentative general consensus, in broad terms, concerning how the post-revolutionary economy and society would function. I mean, seriously, Fidel overthrows an unpopular dictator, and then SUDDENLY SPRINGS on the world a commitment to socialism, afterwards, which significant elements of the revolutionary forces did not share at all! Then he and his most favored comrades "wing it" from there. Just how promising of success is that? I cannot be disillusioned by the failure of such a revolution to bring about socialism, since I see no reason to have ever expected that the means that were employed would have likely brought about that result.
Does that mean that anarchists (or, for that matter, Trotskyists) who do not politically support the Cuban Communists must therefore deny that this government has achieved anything positive, or that it is better to live under it than in, say, Haiti or Honduras? Of course not. Any number of capitalist, state capitalist, fascist, or other kinds of non-socialist societies can be evaluated in relative terms on a number of criteria. But that is not relevant to the question of what kind of society we are seeking to achieve, or to the question of whether, in fact, Castro and the Cuban Communists were putting Cuba on a path that could be reasonably expected to result in socialism.
What to do, then? I will not try, at this moment, to comment on the alternative revolutionary paths that should have been pursued in the Cuba of 1959. But my inclination for us in the present moment is to say that, at this stage, we should not focus on seizing power before there is a critical mass of support, but should instead focus on creating that critical mass of support. Our strategic thinking should focus on how better to achieve that goal.
Once there IS a critical mass of support, will it really be necessary to "rule with an iron hand" using coercive means? If it is, to defend against a minority of people seeking to cling to power and privilege, it will be the great mass of people acting in concert, out of shared convictions about what needs to be done, rather than an elite clique of enlightened rulers imposing their will on the majority of people.
Somewhat tentative thoughts, open to correction or revision....”
P.S. Does anybody have any thoughts to offer on Samuel Farber's Cuba Since the Revolution? He does not share our understanding of limits to growth, but his critique of the often almost comic economic foibles of top-down undemocratic economic management seems, to my non-expert mind, to be valid and damning.
(4) I (Saral) wrote on 1.01.2015
Reg. Cuba– Socialism– Anarchism
Allow me to add some more points/thoughts. I think it could be useful in getting clarity on the issues raised:
(1) When I started studying the history of the Soviet Union, I thought the main purpose of reading history is to learn lessons for the future. Otherwise it is merely satisfying curiosity. I have drawn lessons from that study which have helped me arrive at my current political positions. The first two chapters of my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? deals with the question Why the Soviet Model of “Socialism” Failed. We are now discussing the history of Cuba since 1959. Perhaps it can help us a little to come to a correct analysis of and correct views on the present-day world situation.
(2) I had requested Peter to publish some documentary evidence in support of his condemnation of Cuban communist leaders. Later, I realized that was a mistake. There is a saying: in war the first casualty is truth. That can also be applied to political war. Now Peter has published some “evidence”. But how should one know that they are facts, correspond to truth? We know witnesses can lie, newspaper reporters can lie, authors of books can lie, even photos and TV-films can be manipulated. The accused can easily say that the accusations are all false. There have been so many cases in the USA (surely also some cases in other countries), where innocent people have been punished, people accused of murder and sentenced to death were later acquitted and set free because it could be proved that the witnesses had lied and the judges and juries had erred. As for Peter’s “evidences”, Craig has already expressed doubts about their veracity.
After my study of the history of the Soviet Union, I came to the conclusion (actually very early, i.e. already in 1956) that the accusations against Stalin & Co. were convincing. Previously, we could say all that was enemy propaganda. But in 1956, it was the Chief of the Communist Party (Chruschev) himself who admitted that the accusations were all correct. Ever since, when referring to Soviet socialism, I always write the world socialism within inverted commas (“socialism”).
have no time to study the history of Cuba in detail. But I would like to know, what the Cuban communists themselves say to these accusations. Do they say all that is only enemy propaganda? Or do they say that is all (or partly) true, but all that was necessary to protect the revolution?
If all or even a part of Peter’s and other anarchists’ accusations somehow prove to be true, and if the atrocities prove to have been unnecessary for protecting socialism, I will condemn the Cuban communist leadership, and I will be very dejected. I will say to myself: So another effort to build a socialist society has failed. What lessons do you draw from that, Saral?
You see, my interest in the question is not just curiosity. I want to learn lessons. And I would like to ask Peter and the anarchists who condemn the Cuban communists: What lessons do you, Peter, draw from this Cuban experience? And more: What then is your alternative strategy of transition to a socialist society? Anarchists are socialists, isn’t it?
(3) This leads us immediately to the question: what are the criteria for characterizing a society as socialist? From what I have understood from reading Peter’s contributions (also from reading an article by …? ), these criteria are mainly moral in contrast to economic. I too value the moral criteria higher than the economic ones. In my afore-mentioned book, I said socialism is mainly a moral project. If one values the economic criteria higher, one would argue: look, firstly, in the Soviet Union, capitalism had been abolished, there was no capitalist there, all the means of production were property of the state (or had been socialized, the kolkhoz e.g.). And, secondly, the economy was not left at the mercy of market forces, it was scientifically planned. That justifies, one would argue, calling the erstwhile Soviet Union a socialist society. The same can be said of Cuba, till now.
I accept these economic criteria as two important ones among several. Since, however, the Soviet Union did not fulfill the moral criteria, which I value higher, I preferred to characterize its society as “socialist” (within inverted commas). You simply cannot say that state ownership (or socialization) of the means of production and planned economy do not count at all. The moral society cannot be built up without this economic base. Of course, one may object that the communist leaders and senior cadres allowed themselves much higher incomes (official and/or real) than that of the average worker. That was not denied. But that had generally been considered to be necessary in the transition period for building up socialism.
(4) Assuming that Cuban society under communist rule failed to fulfill the moral criteria and hence did not fully deserve to be called a socialist society, we must now ask, what could have been done under the given historical circumstances?
Assuming that the accusations of Peter are sound and the evidences conclusive, were the violent acts necessary to protect the “socialist” revolution? Here we may be facing a very difficult judgment. Since the anarchists do not recognize the Cuban revolution to have been a socialist one, they will probably say: in Cuba there was nothing good or no socialism at all to protect. People like us would say: Liberation from American imperialism, abolition of capitalism, planned economy, relatively egalitarian distribution of income and social achievements (education, healthcare etc.) were indeed things that were worth protecting.
Then of course comes the question: Was it necessary for that purpose to kill and/or imprison the “enemies” of the revolution?
My personal view is as follows: If one decides to make a violent revolution, one also does not have any qualms about killing enemies. Then one also kills soldiers who had only been recruited and forced to fight for the enemy. Given that position, why should a revolutionary hesitate to kill an enemy of what he considers to be a great cause, a socialist revolution. (That was the reason why Gandhi, as a matter of principle, rejected the idea of using violence even for a good cause, namely liberation of India from British rule.) However, I personally still think, in the USSR as well as in Cuba it should have sufficed to detain the internal “enemies” of the revolution in prison. Or let them go into exile to the USA or Mexico.
(5) I have a question to the anarchists: What would they have done, had they succeeded in making their revolution in Cuba? The American imperialists would surely have tried to snuff out their revolution by means of a version of “Bay of Pigs”. They succeeded in the case of Grenada. Of course, the anarchist leaders would mobilize the workers (or the workers would mobilize themselves) to build barricades around Havana. But that would be no match for the tanks of the US army.
(6) We know there are two types of anarchists: “the gentle anarchists”, the absolutely nonviolent Gandhians, and the Bakunin type of anarchists (example: the Spanish CNT/FAI anarchists). The latter had no qualms about using violence and killing enemies to make and defend their revolution.
The difference between the violent anarchists and the violent communists of the Castro-Che type then mainly boils down to only two points: the position of the workers in the revolutionary system (in the economy and politics), and human rights. The anarchists would let the workers directly (or perhaps through their representatives) determine and implement policy including economic policy, not only in the factory but also nationally. But in the world (the economy) as it is today (or as it was in 1959) do (did) the majority of average workers have sufficient intellectual capacity and knowledge to perform that task adequately? I strongly doubt it. As I have expounded in my previous contribution to this debate (see part I, Nos. 2 and 7)), I believe a morally strong and highly committed leadership is necessary for this task.
Lenin too once had the naïve idea that in communism even an average female cook would be capable of managing the affairs of the Soviet state. Already in 1918 (i.e. hundred years ago) that was foolish, utopian, rubbish. Lenin himself realized that. And he had to call back the Czarist bureaucrats and specialists to manage the various ministries and departments. How much more difficult would it be today!
(7) Gandhi had very early (1908) rejected industrialization in his vision of free India. His Indian economy of the future India after liberation from British rule, would be mainly a decentralized village handicrafts economy, villages being largely self-sufficient. In such an economy, Lenin’s idea of an average female cook being the chief manager, of a village economy (though not of the Indian republic), might be conceivable, but not in the Cuba of 1959. I can even imagine that to be possible in the alternative communities that Ted and Jonathan are advocating as preparatory steps toward an ecologically sustainable society.
(8) But the question is: how do you come from here to there? That is, how do you take over power in Australia, India or Cuba? That is, what is your strategy for the transition?
For Gandhi, the answer was relatively simple: mass movements of civil disobedience for the transfer of power from the British rulers to the Indian political elite (e.g. the Indian National Congress). As for the economy, Gandhi rejected from the very beginning any further Industrialization. In his times (say, in 1920), the Indian economy was still largely a rural handicrafts economy. He would have (if he lived beyond 1948) stressed rural development rather than industrial development.
But the problem today is infinitely more difficult. We have to dismantle the greater part of the present-day industrial economy, which is extremely globalized to boot. How can that be done in the transition period without a functioning state? You try to begin the very gradual dismantling, and the working class (of any nation) will demonstrate in their hundreds of thousands against that policy. They will try to defend every factory, even those that produce weapons. They will try to fell governments. How do you manage that without an authoritarian state dictating and implementing policy from above?
Should the government then use force, violence, against the working class? It would be better to persuade and create a cushion for those who will lose their job, or organize a redistribution of all remaining paid jobs. But all that too must be organized at a national (if not international) scale. Who will do that? The one million factory committees at the basis?
To close this article with Gandhi’s example, he was even prepared to help the British recruit Indian soldiers in the former’s effort to defeat the German and Japanese armies. In return he only demanded the promise that the British would leave India after winning the war. He too had a sufficient sense for reality.
(5) See also Kamran’s contribution published in his blog Our Place in the World:
The Cuban Revolution and the Decline of the American Empire: Opportunities and Challenges, Part 1