Saturday, 24 January 2015

Cuba -- Socialism -- Anarchism (Part 1)

Some time back, after we got the news about the recent rapprochement between Cuba and the USA, I had an online discussion with some friends on the significance of this development. Thinking that it might be a good contribution to understanding the prospect for eco-socialism, I am reproducing below my contributions (Nos. 2 and 7) along with the relevant parts of some other contributions. A second part will follow.

(1) On 18.12.2014, Kamran Nayeri wrote

“And today, we have the wonderful news that U.S. and Cuba have reached an agreement to release prisoners and open embassies in each other's capital. Obama has announced further liberalization ….
    The announcement … is nothing short of a decisive victory for the Cuban revolution. 
    A growing section of the American ruling class recognized that they are isolated in the world community and in the United States itself in their Cold War approach to Cuba. In the last U.N. vote only two countries--the U.S. and Israel--voted against the resolution that condemned the U.S. embargo.”

(2) I (Saral) wrote to him the same day:

 “I am afraid you are rejoicing too early. And if the Cuban revolutionaries are still real revolutionaries, they too are rejoicing too early. This news actually filled me with consternation.
    I remember having heard a bon mot of Latin American (perhaps Argentinean) origin: “Do you know why there has never been a coup d’état or a regime change in the US? Because there is no US-embassy in Washington”. The US embassy personnel anywhere in the world are actually CIA personnel. Their embassies are packed with electronic bugging equipment. And they will come to Havana with millions of dollar bank notes in their suitcases to buy up those who are today only dissatisfied. Soon there will be a color revolution against Raul Castro’s government. And then the Cuban revolution will finally be history.
    You may have got the news that the US embassy in Berlin even bugged the private handy conversations of Angela Merkel. You may have read about the strategy of the former Federal Republic of Germany to overcome socialism in the GDR: It was called “change through trade” (“Wandel durch Handel”). They succeeded eminently, you know!
    In the German media, the commentators said American companies will now heavily invest in Cuba. Raul Castro’s government has already implemented/enforced many measures to encourage/compel Cubans to work as small capitalists. From now on they will do what the Chinese did. And in the end we shall have a capitalist Cuba with a “communist” party ruling the country.
    You know much more about Cuba. It would be great if you could write an informative article that might allay my consternation.”

Jonathan wrote on 22.12.2012

“I would add a few thoughts re Cuba.
    I am certainly no expert, … but I share Saral's consternation. Washington's move to end the embargo likely signifies that they now feel ready to move from outright punishment of a successful rebel state, towards the ultimate goal of full integration of Cuba into neo-liberal globalization (a goal they have for other 'rogue' states - see Syria, Iran, Libya etc). This, in my view, is not just the project of U.S 'imperialism' but a strategic goal shared by what I and others would call a
Transnational Elite (TE). .… They will likely seek to work with dissatisfied Cuban constituencies, to build and promote a 'colour revolution' in Cuba. This almost always takes the form of liberal 'democracy' (which has very little to do with authentic democracy - in fact often flaunts democratic procedures - see Ukraine!) combined with the opening and liberalization of economies, so that the TNCs who control the world economy can get greater access and start promoting consumer culture in Cuba (at least for those Cuban's who have thick enough wallets to engage in it!)! .....
    All that said, Cuba of course has the right to celebrate the end of the embargo and make use of it to develop its economy as it sees fit. But they would be wise not to see this as end to the hostility, but rather a new strategy by the TE, to end its little revolution once and for all.    
    But I also have a question for you Saral. … I have spoken recently to friends of mine who went to Cuba. They are not leftists, but honest folk. Their (anecdotal) reports about life in Cuba were not positive. They speak spanish and claimed to talk to many locals in native tongue who, they claimed, almost always reported dissatisfaction, even outright hostility, towards the government. My friends reported poor services even, they claimed, in the highly regarded educational/health sectors (although I am somewhat skeptical here because it is very hard to get an accurate sense of social services from tourism!). They reported several stories of Cubans who wanted to advance themselves, mainly materially, but also just in terms of their occupational skill etc, but found a lack of opportunities and incentives. There was a widespread sense of people feeling  trapped in Cuba without any chance of traveling overseas to seek opportunities. This, of course, is the common lot of the world's poor but, perhaps, I had expected something better in Cuba. I say all this because I know you have made a case, in your book, for the necessity of a frugal socialist society. What answer would you provide to my friends if, indeed, their reports are (roughly) correct?
    As you have noted above, Cuba is slowly liberalizing its economy to allow for private sector among small businesses. In your book 'eco-socialism or eco-capitalism' I recall that you said that while there could be a small/family buisness sector, the means of production (land, technology etc) would have to be nationally/socially owned or controlled by society and leased to tenants. Does the Cuban situation pose a challenge to this scenario? What are your main reasons for thinking that the problems that seem to have beset Cuba's attempt at socialism could be addressed in a future eco-socialist society? I know you have thought deeply about this. I also know that a future eco-socialist society would (have to) differ dramatically from 20th century attempts at socialism, even in Cuba. … For me, one huge deficit in 20th century state-socialism, no less Cuba, is obviously the lack of democracy. This must have crippled any attempts to bring about the 'new man' motivated by moral rather than material incentives, as hoped by Che Guevara. Any eco-socalism would also have to be built around direct-participatory democracy in all spheres of life.“

(4) Ted Trainer wrote on 23.12.2015

“Just a note on one of the themes the discussion of Cuba raises.  Firstly I think Saral and Jonathan are quite right to worry about the new direction.  The Transnational Elite is fiercely and ruthlessly committed to getting everything.  They have in general been rather ham fisted and brutal but the lifting of sanctions seems a bit more savvy than usual.  It has seemed to me that for decades they have been too dumb to realise that lifting sanctions and enabling trade and investment with Cuba would be the easiest and quickest way to put the rot into the system.  You can now confidently predict that the rich in Cuba will start to pull away from the rest and generate the usual force for privileges and greater involvement in the global economy where they can best prosper.  The development will also greatly increase opportunities for foreign capital to go in and link with the local compradors, generating more pressure on the government to shift from the policies that have enabled such remarkable provision for the poor, equity and justice.
    As I see it, the Cubans have always faced a dreadful dilemma between the authoritarian rule that has enabled remarkable provision for the masses, by stopping the rich from grabbing more than their fair share, and on the other hand democracy and “freedom”.  This has been the problem for the classical model of socialism.  I can see that if the planet is to be saved or if tolerable societies are to be organised it may well be necessary for socialist governments to rule with a very heavy hand.  In the present world there are two powerful classes that will massively resist such goals and would have to be forced to accept them, a) the capitalist class plus lackeys, b) just about every one else in rich countries,  who believe in freedom of enterprise and well-stocked supermarkets. (So how on earth does the socialist think we are going to get socialist governments in to save us?)
    This general “socialist problem”, and the particular problem Cuba faces, cannot be solved unless and until people in general have accepted a Simpler Way world view.  Only if/when people understand that cooperative, frugal, self-sufficient etc. lifestyles and systems are necessary, and attractive, will they be willing to build and run sensible settlements and systems with no need for authoritarian governments.  Thus the implication for action which is implied by the version of eco-anarchism I endorse; i.e.., working on developing that understanding is the most important thing to do.”

(5) On 26.12.2014, Peter, who is an anarchist, wrote:

 “Afraid I’m going to throw the black cat among the red pigeons here re. the Cuba conversation, folks.
    As a non-violent, non-sectarian anarchist (for want of a better term), I have often felt queasy at a lot of progressive/leftist discourse about the international politics of nation states or ‘geopolitics’ and have refused to join in because I didn’t share the hidden assumptions and perspectives. They felt plain wrong, even dangerous.
    If we believe in the crucial distinction between order-givers and order-takers (no matter what the current level of awareness of the latter), I’d argue that we should avoid personifying states in our discussion where possible. Rather, our language should express the obvious: the Bronx taxi driver, Walmart check-out chick or Vermont small farmer won’t be doing anything to ‘Cuba’, it’s Obama and the transnational capital interests/elites he serves who will or won’t.
    Equally, it is in no way ‘Cubans’ in general who ‘
have always faced a dreadful dilemma between the authoritarian rule that has enabled remarkable provision for the masses, by stopping the rich from grabbing more than their fair share, and on the other hand democracy and “freedom”’ (Ted). Rather, it’s the ordinary people who have, quite without any sense of a ‘dilemma’, suffered the authoritarian rule and oppression by the communist elite who, in turn, are neither practising voluntary poverty nor in any ‘dilemma’ about introducing any kind of democracy and freedom because it would get rid of them.
    Jonathan writes: ‘Cuba of course has the right to celebrate the end of the embargo and make use of it to develop its economy as it sees fit. But they would be wise not to see this as end to the hostility, but rather a new strategy by the TE [transnational elite], to end its little revolution once and for all.’
    By using terms like ‘Cubans’ or ‘Cuba’ or ‘the Cuban Revolution’ as an entity that can act like a person in a sentence, or experience things like dilemmas or celebrations, we are lumping together, or confusing, the ruling elites and the people they rule as one uniform, harmonious national unit, i.e. perpetrating the ‘one nation’ myth so beloved of all state authoritarians.  We are equating order-givers and order-takers.
    (I’ll leave out the question here of what the so-called ‘Cuban revolution’ actually was, a guerrilla putsch without mass self-organisation that quickly segued into the usual Marxist-Leninist terror system. Although rambling, Sam Dolgoff’s study might be useful here).

Leftist Identification with ‘Socialist’ Ruling Classes

All this is not just about semantics or the dangerous use of language. I think one of the things that puts a lot of ordinary people off ‘socialists’ or ‘socialism’ is the fact that state socialists in fact often do identify with ruling ‘socialist’ state elites or ruling classes rather than with the people they rule or oppress. (With anarchists it’s the other way around.) I again get this feeling reading Kamran and Saral.
    Again and again, state socialists have given their qualified or unqualified support to the likes of ‘progressive’ dictators, oppressive ‘communists’, ‘well-intentioned’ butchers, caudillos or nationalist authoritarians like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Guevara, Mugabe, Chavez. (And of course there were differences, as there were between Hitler and Mussolini or Franco). I would argue that if any form of libertarian (eco-)socialism is to be salvaged from those historical ruins and millions upon millions of victims, the terrible legacy of state ‘socialism/communism’ has to be well and truly seen for it was/is and unceremoniously ditched into the dustbins of history.
    Why this identification with the ruling elites? State socialists, and many liberal progressives in general, usually legitimize their, however qualified, support for ‘socialist’ states and their ruling classes by pointing to their often considerable welfare achievements (usually health, education, employment, standing of women). Although closer analysis (e.g. of the old Soviet Union) reveals many of these to be facades for considerable material privileges of the communist ruling elites/nomenclatura, nevertheless many of these are doubtlessly quite laudable (e.g. Cuban doctors in developing countries, although this will also negatively impact medical services to the Cuban poor).
    However, if such state welfareism were a key criterion of socialism and a post-capitalist liberated society (rather than free self-management), then not only some affluent social democratic states (Scandinavia, pre-neoliberal Australia and the German social welfare state) but Saddam’s Iraq would have been a close contender as would Juan Peron’s Argentina or Hitler’s National Socialism (lots of worker welfare schemes, liberation of women into the workforce).  As Bakunin presciently predicted, historically ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ without total freedom/self-management has indeed always been some form of totalitarian ‘state capitalism’ or ‘red fascism’ (council communist Otto Ruehle, Cuban libertarians) which is even worse than liberal capitalism for the common people and for anyone struggling for a better, post-capitalist society.
    When these ‘socialist’ ruling classes turn out to be a little too brutal or later effortlessly segue into outright neoliberal capitalists/oligarchs (Russia, China, soon Cuba), state socialists often talk of these phenomena as deplorable, avoidable ‘mistakes’.  (In a similar fashion to liberals talking about ‘Washington’s mistakes’ in Vietnam, Iraq etc. rather than of imperialist interests and structures). That is, they suddenly abandon any Marxist, historical-materialist analysis of socio-economic and class structures and struggles and idealistically reduce everything to a question of leaders, persons, ideologies and subjectivities. In contrast, a socialist of truly Marxist persuasion would apply Marxism to Marxist-Leninists and analyse the move from Fidel Castro’s Stalinism to Raul Castro’s move to neoliberalism within the context of shifting internal and external economic transformations, constraints, working class resistance and multi-class conflicts etc. (Applying Marxism to Marxism might give you something like anarchism, so maybe that’s why it’s not a popular practice among state socialists).

A Few Simple Questions

No big theories are needed to find one’s way through the leftist/liberal maze of often abstract or conspiratorial discussions about nation states and governments. I’d propose that one way of judging any society, so-called ‘socialist’ or other, from a bottom-up perspective is to ask a few simple, common sense questions:
    Who calls the shots? Who are the order-givers? Do the order-givers have material privileges? Who runs the factories? Is there a secret/political police and/or citizen-spying system? Is there an independent judiciary? Are there free media? What do the common people live like, want, complain about? How many dissidents, anarchists, artists, homosexuals, and political prisoners are behind bars? Who do we identify with, the rulers or the ruled, the statist ‘dilemmas’ of the powerful oppressors or the suffering of the oppressed?
    On Cuba, I think on all counts the facts speak for themselves for anyone not too blinded by abstract ideologies, leftist groupthink and Machiavellian foe-foe=friend thinking.  Like all other ‘socialisms’ present and past, the Cuban system has as much to do with ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’(as originally conceived) as the ‘free West’ has to do with freedom or the Christian churches have with Christianity.
    I’ll close with an anarchist declaration on Cuba and the ‘Cuban revolution’ from 2003:

From: Declaration of Principles, Cuban Libertarian Movement
Mexico, Fall 2003

1. Since 1959 until today the Cuban government, self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ and represented only by the personality of its ‘Maximum Leader’ in a fascist fashion, oppresses and assassinates our class brothers and sisters, assuming the functions of Sole Tyrant in the name of the Cuban people.
 2. After over forty four years of despotism without equal in this hemisphere, the Cuban people find themselves mired in poverty, corruption and forced obedience, without rights of any kind, brutally and inhumanely threatened and terrorized by the regime’s political police, with a judicial and correctional system comparable to that of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Gulags.
3. The long-suffering Cuban proletariat (industrial and agricultural workers), falsely represented by vertical and fossilized unions of fascist ideology, finds itself trapped inside a social system that persecutes and imprisons for such acts as trying to organize freely; a system that exploits and discriminates, racially and politically, without the right to strike, protest and

(6) Craig Collins replied to Peter’s above text on 26.12.2014

OK, let's get right to it.  Peter has given everyone the best example of an idealist Anarchist analysis.  It stands entirely outside of historical context and critiques the world from a position of pure idealism.  His final questions say it all.  According to Peter, anyone can judge whether Cuba or other countries are worth anything but Anarchist disdain depending on whether they live up to a set of ahistorical Anarchist criteria:
    Of course, no country meets these utopian criteria.  Elites, not masses, "call the shots" in every country on the planet and (one way or another) those who threaten their power & privileges are suppressed.  So what else is new?  But when you get back to the real world and ask: COMPARED TO WHAT??  Things look a bit different, don't they?
    I've been to many Latin American countries and I'd much rather live in Cuba than El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, or Honduras.  Why?  Because the ruling elite of these countries are far more ruthless and repressive than the Cuban elite, and the Cuban population has far more political power at the provincial and local level and far more access to the limited economic wealth of the nation than the masses in these other countries.
    Of course, Cuba is no anarchist (or socialist) utopia.  But the Cuban revolution, for all its many historical drawbacks and weaknesses, has improved life for the average Cuban far more than for most people living in countries still under the thumb of the US ruling elite and their junior partners throughout the world...and far more than for Cubans before the revolution.  I've met a lot of Cubans and very few of them would like to radically alter their system of government.  Not because it's wonderful, but because its better than the REAL WORLD alternatives they see around them.  The main alternative that does appeal to a significant minority of the Cuban middle class is a opening up to foreign capital and a competitive market.  Anarchism isn't even on the radar screen for most Cubans, not because its suppressed but because there is simply no realistic way to achieve it in a world run by political power, military might & profit.  If Peter thinks that's not true he should show us examples of places (besides Anarchist micro-collectives) where his ideal society thrives, or at least give us some idea of how to get there...I'm all ears!

(7) I (Saral) wrote on 27.12.2014

Once more on Cuba and Some Relevant Issues

It is better to ignore Peter’s and his Mexican anarchist friends’ ranting and calumnies (e.g. “Fidel Castro’s Stalinism”, “fascist” “sole tyrant”, “Nazi”, “Gulag” etc.) and take his more substantial points seriously. Before I do that, however, I have one request to Peter: Why don’t you request the CIA to publish some documentary evidence on the existence of Nazi concentration camps and Stalinist Gulags in Cuba, and why not also some photos from the torture cells of Cuba comparable to those from Abu Ghraib? Your Mexican anarchist friends may be able to help you. If I find them convincing, I will join you in condemning the Cuban leadership.
    Craig Collins has replied adequately to some of the substantial points made by Peter. In the following Peter may find my response to some more fundamental points:
    (a) In 1959, Fidel, Che and their comrades wanted to free Cuba from the yoke of American imperialism. That is why they fought against the Batista dictatorship. Their immediate goal was that, and not creating an ideal society in Cuba. Maybe they also dreamt of a future ideal society (I am sure, at least Che did). We, however, know that in 1959, the people of Cuba were in no way ready for an anarchist-socialist society. And according to Marxists, they were also not ready for a Marxist socialist society. Fidel, Che etc. must have known that too. They were intelligent people, though not well versed in the theory of anarchism, Marxism, socialism etc. Peter and his Mexican anarchist friends ignore this historical fact. They take a position that can be formulated as follows: Either Cuba was (already in 1960) the ideal society, or it was (has since then been) the most evil society, fascist, Nazi etc. etc. This is utopian in the most negative meaning of the word. Here I see no understanding of politics as a process through history.
    What should they – young revolutionary type of people boiling with rage against American imperialism and its slaves ruling in Cuba – have done in 1959? Should they have sat back and waited until the masses were ready for an anarchist or Marxian socialist revolution? That cannot be expected of revolutionary type of people anywhere in the world. Such type of people cannot wait and wait and wait until they become old and die. They act here and now to fight against the current evil. They may then, after success in their immediate fight, try to build an ideal society, and fail, without knowing why they failed. After all, they do not control all the factors involved in the endeavor.
    Fortunately for Cuba and the rest of the world, soon after capturing power they became imbued with the ideal of socialism. But their country was still full of supporters of Batista and American agents. Should they have, in that situation, introduced anarchistic/participatory democracy and risked and accepted the return of American imperialism? (The Nicaraguans experienced that many years later).Whoever says they should have been ready, in the spirit of “democracy”, to accept that, is naïve, has no sense of reality. Does not know how history works.
    Great historical changes do not, cannot, take place through majority vote of the people. Such changes take place (by violent or non-violent means) through the initiative of revolutionaries from the educated middle class, who succeed in mobilizing the support of a section of the people, not necessarily of the majority. The majority is in principle conservative, they do not want to risk the uncertainties of radical change. What happens in times of revolutionary change is that history just takes place, breaks over the head of the people like a storm surge, and the majority is compelled to take sides. Some do that however willingly. That is what happened in November 1917 in Russia, and in November 1918 in Germany.
    (b) Anarchist socialism (or fully participatory democratic socialism), if at all possible, can only be the long-term goal, the ideal society. Even if and even when that goal is attained, “total freedom” “total self-management” (Peter’s words) will be impossible, nonsensical, because humans will have to live with many constraints: limits to resources, the compulsion to share them with other humans, compulsion to show consideration for the others etc. That simply is a part of the human condition. The way to that ideal society is strewn with many obstacles. Overcoming obstacles is not a question of principle but one of practicability. My experience with anarchists in India and Germany has been that they are more concerned with the primacy and purity of the way and less with the goal. Their motto seems to be: the way is the goal. Gandhi said that, although he also practically worked for an ecological economy. I have discussed these points several times with Ted.

The immediate and the most important goal we should be pursuing today with a great sense of urgency is to save the planet (Ted too has said that in his response). The next most important goal is saving human societies from breaking up in hundreds of warring groups. Democracy and individual freedom are not more important values than these. They are of tertiary importance.
    What is the use of anarchistic or fully participatory democracy for attaining this most important and most urgent goal? We see that in election after election (albeit of the currently prevailing bourgeois-democratic type) the majority is voting for the parties that favor business as usual. They do not even vote for the Greens who are not advocating any radical change any more. The 20 to 30 years time that Jonathan and Ted think they need for convincing the majority will not be given to them. The collapse will come much sooner. Not perhaps first in Australia, USA and Canada, but surely in the majority of the less developed countries. And thereafter there will be no democracy anymore, of any kind, anywhere. Actually, in the latter group of countries the collapse has started as an ongoing process. Those who can see through the façade of growth and prosperity in such countries, can see this ongoing process of collapse. Even in Europe, neo-fascist parties and movements are gaining the upper hand.

When the full-scale breakdown is there, when chaos reigns – as, already now, in Somalia, Syria, Libya, Egypt. Iraq, Yemen, Colombia, Mexico – when Jihadi forces attack and undermine governments, when storms devastate coastal cities like Takloban, even New York, when hundreds of thousands of refugees storm the gates of the rich countries, then either there will be no democracy of any kind any more, or the “democratic” governments will not be able to do anything to save their own respective countries, let alone contribute to saving the planet. Democratic structures are already crumbling away in many countries. For instance, racism and hatred of the police structure is gaining the upper hand in the USA.
    I am pessimistic. I am afraid we will fail to convince the majority soon enough. Then the armies will step in to rule the respective countries. Maybe the masses themselves will request the army to save them, as they have already done in Egypt and Thailand. Also in Europe, in 1974, it was the young officers of the Portuguese army, and not the masses, that carried out the dissolution of the dictatorship and the winding up of the colonies in Africa. In France, it was a general, General De Gaulle, who was invited in 1958 to take over power and carry through the withdrawal from Algeria, when the French colonists there revolted. In Africa, it was a young army officer, Sankara, who gave Burkina Faso, the first good government. Army rule is not a desirable scenario, but it may be the most probable one. Maybe we should already now also try to influence army officers and teach them the ecology lessons. I will be happy, however, if my fears prove to be unfounded. But, unfortunately, they may be justified.

(a) Let me come back to Cuba. Who are we to tell the Cubans to do this or refrain from that? We, who have failed to achieve anything in our own respective countries? Yet, as sympathizers, we could tell the Cubans how worried we are. Of course, Raul Castro has in the meantime assured us that he is not thinking of system change. But who knows what he is really thinking? The Chinese communists still tell us that they are a communist party and are working for a socialist society. Maybe some of us, those who have contacts with Cuban communists, could write e-mails to them.
    I remember, when Gorbachev told Fidel that Cuba will no longer get oil at a discount price, and when later the Soviet Union broke down, Cuba imported a hundred thousand (or more) bicycles from China, did not capitulate like the Soviet Union. We can remind them of that glorious time in their history.
    (b) Jonathan reports about dissatisfaction in Cuba that his friends, who visited the country, have perceived. I believe such reports reflect the truth. In fact, dissatisfaction is universal. Especially people of poor countries want to try to achieve personal prosperity and fulfill their personal desires through emigration to a rich country or through a more capitalistic policy of the state. In Cuba too, they have not all become new men!
    The question is: what are the leaders of the Communist Party there telling the people: Are they telling them that the socialism of the 21st century must be and should be a frugal socialism, because the planet must be saved, because further development will only destroy the environment? Or are they telling them (more) prosperity is possible now that the US embargo is going to be lifted? Another question is how much higher the personal standard of living of the Cuban leaders is than that of the average Cuban. Are they too as corrupt as the Chinese leaders?

I do not think, we can immediately do something about Cuba. This discussion group could however become more active in trying to convince the people of the world that the planet must be saved first and the best way to do that is to ditch capitalism and build up a frugal socialism, in whichever way that is possible.
    I am convinced that without the leadership of a committed group of people the transition to an eco-socialist or eco-anarchist world will not be possible. It is a great folly of both anarchists and Marxists that they believe that the working class has the unique privilege or capability of leading this transition. Leadership for the purpose can come from any class. In fact, the majority of the working class is so worn out through their struggle for bare survival that this class is the least capable of taking the leadership role – be it intellectual, be it organizational. At the most, the working class can overthrow a leadership that has, after a successful transition, become corrupt.

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