Originally I intended to post this much sooner in opposition to passing the new constitution on the grounds that it legalizes private property. It is much too late now though, as the constitution has already been passed. The spirit of the letter today can be interpreted as a plea for an alternative both to the undemocracy of the continuation of Stalinist planning and the undemocracy of capitalist private property. Needless to say we fully supported other progressive reforms such as LGBT+ marriage, anti-discrimination legislation, the presumption of innocence, etc. I am posting it regardless because the alternative is still viable to the Cuban people. The party leadership said those who vote against it are “counter-revolutionary”, but in actuality the opposite is true! While many reforms were necessary, the legalization of private property is a potential grave digger of the gains of the revolution. The letter may be regarded as a piece of social alarmism. In the face of history I accept this verdict, for it is better to be cautious in these dangerous times. I write in the interests of Liberty. I hope that this letter will have some small impact on the minds of even one Cuban citizen. If I can do just that, I consider my mission accomplished.
Citizens of Cuba! You are voting on the approval or disapproval of a recently drafted constitution, a first of its kind in 40 years. Change is undeniable necessary, but in what direction? What will be best for the Cuban people? What will improve their own lives both materially and spiritually? Should the Cuban people support or fight the passing of the new constitution? There are two provisions of concern here to the general public:
-The recognition of private property
-The legalization of LGBT+ marriage
Our view is that the constitution should be fought against. We are against the constitution because we are against the legalization of private property on the premise that we are also against the continuation of Stalinist central planning. Naturally it would be absurd to advocate immediate change, what we do advocate is a gradual transition to real industrial democracy (another word for socialism). We are for the legalization of LGBT+ marriage insofar as it forces no church to perform any ceremony contrary to the religious conscience of the believers– and there are many churches in favor of having LGBT+ weddings. But as for the economy, how can we be against both the legalization of private property and the continuation of the current model? To answer this question, historical context is needed.
On the 26th of July, 1953, Cuba was liberated from the former dictatorship, and a new popular government was put in its place. This new government espoused the principles of socialism, albeit while modeling itself after the largely totalitarian, bonapartist, model of Stalin’s Soviet Union. In spite of its Stalinist character and the inflexible rigidity of a state-capitalist, undemocratic, centrally planned economy in a de facto undemocratic state, the ruling Party along with the Cuban people rightfully recognized the dangers of world imperialism and global capitalism.
Legalizing private property today is but a first step towards a return to the days of Batista when Cuba was no more to the west than a Sugar Plantation, a source of dirt cheap labor, a brothel, and a place for the rich to go to party and gamble. Cuba’s stagnant economy doubtlessly needs revitalization, the question is how? Is such a grand capitulation to capitalism necessary to attain this end? Or is it in fact, contrary to this end. Some think anything better than the current system is preferable. We say that the best path is the road less traveled– neither capitulation to capitalism nor a continuation of the current model! Has Cuba not taken steps in the direction of capitalism? Necessarily, it has, and in many ways this move towards capitalism has brought with it much of the corruption of the old regime. Are the down-trodden people of Cuba not tired? Indeed they are, and many workers inside the country support the new constitution. Unfortunately, the new constitution if passed, will not alleviate the burning desires of the Cuban people for freedom and prosperity. Even if multi-party democracy was instituted, it would not alleviate this burning desire. An alternative is needed, but that alternative lies neither in the Stalinist model of undemocratic, centralized state planning nor in the undemocracy of “free” market capitalism where private property is recognized. What then is the alternative?
State capitalism in Cuba, up until the collapse of the Soviet Union, was a primarily progressive force in Cuban society. Anyone old enough remembers what life was like for the people under Batista knows this, the positive liberties (in regards to healthcare, education, housing, child care, workers rights, etc.) won under Castro would be done away with under the capitalist system. A path different to either Stalinist planning or “free market” capitalism could maintain the positive liberties of Cuba today and bring about the negative liberties so treasured by the “free world” (real freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, etc.) while maintaining social and political stability. In these frustrating times it is all the more necessary to put the Cuban revolution into historical perspective.
The Cuban revolution, while nobly aspiring to the highest ideals of humanity, was nonetheless a Stalinist revolution. Genuine revolutionaries and intellectuals whose hearts trembled at every injustice, seriously looked to Stalin and the social system he embodied as a viable alternative to the misery of the capitalist order. Stalinism of course, attempted to legitimize itself as the “rightful heirs” of the October revolution under Lenin and Trotsky (while of course, erasing the latter figure from history). Furthermore, Stalinism called itself socialist in this spirit to gain popular support of the laboring masses all over the world whose liberty loving hearts longed for socialist democracy. Stalinism claimed to embody the socialism and socialist democracy that workers and oppressed people’s all over the world longed for. Stalinism also, necessarily in the same sentence, claimed to embody genuine political democracy. For it is a well-known fact, at least up to that point, that socialism could not exist without genuine democracy. Today it seems absurd to think of Stalin as a democrat. Speaking of the social system in Stalinist Russia, Stalin is quoting as having said,
“This is what we call socialism in daily life, this is what we call a free, socialist life. It is on this basis that our really free and really democratic elections have arisen, elections which have no precedent in the history of mankind.”
Che Guevara, a hero for all progressive people’s throughout the world, grew up in this confusing time. He was nonetheless a hero, embodying the virtue of a saint and the burning justice of liberty herself. “The life of a single human being”, said Che, “is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.” Che had traveled Latin America in the course of his life and seen with his own eyes the horrors of US imperialism and the world capitalist system. In this time, it is not surprising and, for us, forgiving that Che looked to Stalin as a figure diametrically opposed to this system of oppression and exploitation. Che is quoted as having said, after seeing the horrors of Guatemala under the domination of foreign capital, “I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won’t rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated.” In hindsight we can say that Che believed Stalin’s lies, but the ideals Che stood for unquestionably bypass Stalin and the Stalinist system he stood for. Stalin was a fraud who used socialism as a shield to deflect criticisms against himself and the totalitarian system he had constructed in its name. Capitalism happily gave Stalin this victory, for if this was the “socialism” workers were always making trouble about, it would be good to call it precisely that– so that when people saw the horrors of Stalinism they could say, “oh but this here in the Soviet Union is socialism”, and thus, they would not want it. As Chomsky correctly argues time and time again, it is very hard to convince people that the one thing two historic world superpowers agreed on was actually wrong. The victims of Stalin are both those he terrorized, the people under him, and those men and women, as virtuous as saints, who took up arms against capitalist oppression while falling for Stalin’s deception that his road had the answers they were looking for. There are some who argue that Che understood this towards the end. He is said to have been carrying books by Leon Trotsky towards the end of his life. Whether or not he ascribed to Trotsky’s ideas at the very end remains unclear. What is clear however, is that the Cuban revolution emerged as a vestige of Stalinism, its political and social system still takes Stalinist forms.
Socialism itself is defined as “a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership of the means of production and workers democratic self-management“. A centrally planned economy is regarded as meeting the criteria for socialism only insofar as the mechanisms used to plan the economy (i.e. the state) are genuinely democratic. The legitimacy and healthiness of a democracy under a one-party Marxist-Leninist (Stalinist) state need not be mentioned here, for its nature is quite self-evident. An undemocratic centrally planned economy meets the criteria for state-capitalism, and that can sometimes still be a progressive force. Needless to say, the socialist mode of production, by its simplest definition, was not realized in the undemocratic, centrally planned economy of the past, precisely because they were in practice, undemocratic. Cuba’s economy up until now has been largely state capitalist in nature, but it has been a form of state capitalism that has a largely progressive role in the lives of countless working people. In spite of the brutal imperialist embargo, the lives of the poorest Cubans are significantly better relative to the lives of the poorest people’s of other Latin American countries under the yoke of foreign capital and imperialist domination, even in Latin American countries that are wealthier than Cuba.
It is widely accepted that the idea of “socialism in one country”, as advocated by Stalin is impossible, or at the very least extremely impractical. History shows that such a model leads to economic stagnation (through lack of democracy and/or autarky) and eventually to economic and social collapse. The lives of working people may get better for a time, but stagnation is inevitable. Any notion that Cuba can continue under a centrally planned economy without substantial foreign aid or economic and political is utopian. Without a Soviet like superpower to help her, her economy will continue to decline under the present model.
But socialism is such a wide school of thought, socialist modes of production so diverse in possible applications, that the idea of “central planning vs. private property” seems absurd to anyone familiar with its diversity. The Marxist critique of capitalism has led to many schools of socialist thought. Modern Marxian economist Richard Wolff takes Marx’s critique of capitalism (a very valid critique) as something that in the modern world could be addressed by Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises. Marx after all, never gave “prescriptions” as how to address the problems his critiques scientifically and empirically revealed beyond the general idea of the working people of the world uniting to democratically figure out how to transcend this predatory system of exploitation. Lenin attempted to do so, so did many anarchists. The diversity here in socialist thought is truly astounding.
Even within the framework of a market economy, Dr. Wolff looks to many examples, both modern and historic, of economic models whose primary feature is workers ownership and democratic management on the enterprise level. Under such a system, workers democratically control their own work-places, either directly at the local level or hierarchically by democratically electing (yes, electing!) their own CEO’s and members of a company’s Board of Directors, who in turn determine company policy in all its complexities, and are at all times re-callable and accountable to the workers and the public at large. Under the traditional capitalist model (which this constitution would endorse), such Board Members would be responsible only to a number of wealthy share-holders, most of whom are in the richest 1% of society. They would be responsible for determining how much they got paid, and how much the workers who produced the wealth got paid. They would work not in the interests of the workers or the public at large, but in the interests of their own bank accounts. Democracy at work would regard public companies as responsible to the public, it would bring power to the streets where the people live. This is not at all theoretical, all over the world, in Italy for instance, such Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises are coming into being. Italy even gives unemployed workers incentives for creating such (socialist) enterprises. When a worker in Italy is unemployed, they receive a check from the government every so often while they look for new work. But at the same time, the government gives them an alternative option to get 2 years worth of unemployment checks at one time if they, with 7 or so other unemployed workers, agree to start a workers self-directed enterprise. In this way, socialism is incentivized into a capitalist economy. A country such as Cuba could put forth even more radical policies in this regard. Perhaps a balance could be found between Workers Self-Directed Enterprises and open and democratic planning. This is but one possible example of socialism, an example of which that is viable even in a market economy.
The new Cuban constitution represents an almost complete counter-revolution, it foregoes all possible alternatives and surrenders the Cuban people to the domination of the capitalist system. At the same time, it opens the door to world imperialism. The revolution against capitalism was just, the forms it took in addressing the ills of the former society in many ways was not. Real industrial democracy would likely work towards the democratization and opening up of Cuban society as a whole, without the political and social destabilization that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bloodshed of Tienanmen Square. I am not here to give the specifics of what an ideal constitution would say, the new constitution is a question for the Cuban people themselves. But if such a question is not seriously asked and debated, then all is lost.
Do the Cuban people want to continue on the road of Stalinism? They unquestionably do not. Do the Cuban people want to go on the road of capitalism, opening the way for imperialism? The Cuban people are tired, and many may see this as a possible alternative, but many Cubans understand the danger here. If this constitution passes, it is my belief that the Cubans will regret it 10 or 15 years down the road just as the people of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union regretted not looking into alternatives to their own predicament. There are two examples that come to mind here when considering a capitulation to capitalism in Cuba: that of China and that of the Soviet Union. Capitalism in the Soviet Union destroyed Soviet society, its effects on life expectancy alone paint a broad enough picture as to the horrors such “reforms” can wrought upon a people. In many Eastern European countries, people say that life was better under Stalinism than it is now. Such statistics are less to paint a virtuous picture of the horrors of Stalinism than to show the very real horrors of capitalism and world imperialism. In China, many millions were brought out of extreme poverty by capitalism under the strict control of the Chinese State. But China is still a dictatorship, one of the most authoritarian in the world, it is even more authoritarian than the one the Cuban people are under today. This unfreedom too, is a vestige of Stalinism. It is absolutely absurd to speak of socialism without liberty, this too can be viably addressed if the Cuban people opt for a different road than the one they are on. As Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg argued in her day,
“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party however numerous they may be is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege…
Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously at bottom, then, a clique affair a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins.”
Cuba is ripe for a spiritual and political rebirth, but that rebirth can take many different forms. It could be a spring of popular rule, a spiritual rebirth, a flowering of countless opinions and ideas. It could bring forth industrial democracy, real socialism as an alternative to Stalinist planning, and over time, it could bring forth real liberty for the Cuban people. Cuba could in time become a bastion of freedom and democracy in the world, an aspiring model for all people’s. At the same time it could be a bastion of socialist democracy, a fortress against world imperialist domination. Perhaps in time, it could become the world’s first successful example of revolutionary democratic socialism in practice. But today the opposite seems to be on the table. On the horizon there appears to be a spring of political and social counter-revolution in the highest echelons of the party bureaucracy. If the constitution passes, the party bureaucracy itself will almost certainly grow rich off the blood and sweat of the Cuban people. This could mean Cuba progresses down the Chinese model of brutally successful state-capitalism at the expense of even further diminished civil liberties, or the party bureaucracy could complete the counter-revolution even more totally and abandon it entirely– in which case the Cuban people would suffer the same hardships as the people of the former Soviet Union suffered in the 1990’s along with the imperialist domination of the country. Which do you prefer? Increased dictatorship and the further diminishing of civil liberties or exponentially worsened poverty, inequality, and the eventual installment of a new Batista-like dictator? These are two extremes, admittedly, but nonetheless the threat here is very real and it should be taken seriously. In popular discourse the “other option” (i.e. in not passing the constitution) is a continuation of the status quo, which to many seems equally deplorable. This “other option” however, is not the only “other option”. Do you not realize that real socialism is on the table? We are not speaking of “socialism” as Stalin spoke of it, in the same way he spoke of his “genuinely free elections” and his “real democracy”. We are speaking of socialism proper, albeit in a different form than the one Fidel or Che imagined. Where in Cuba are the capitalists to oppose you if you go down such a path? They are nothing to the capitalists faced by the Latin Americans of other nations under the yoke of US imperialism. Cuba longs to come into the 21st century, let the Cuban people freely discuss and debate all possible options!
In summation of our views:
-For the new constitution? No.
-The legalization of private property? Neither that nor a continuation of the Stalinist planning, let the Cuban people find their own way in order to reduce the inevitable human suffering both positions would bring. What alternatives are there? There are many. Perhaps, even in a market based economy, in the form of workers self-directed enterprises; where corporations are democratically run and boards of directors are responsible to the workers and the public at large. This is a viable alternative to both the undemocracy and rigidity of Stalinist planning and the undemocracy and inequality of the capitalist enterprise. Such a position would likely lead to a stable democratization and opening up of Cuban society. This is a path to genuine socialism and real liberty.
-The legalization of gay marriage? The constitution might not pass due to its legalization of gay marriage. The church leads the resistance of the new constitution on this basis alone. Do we support the legalization of gay marriage? Absolutely, but at the same time we respect the rights of each individual church and congregation to decide whether or not to have gay weddings in accordance with their own religious views and individual consciences. It is immoral for the state to forbid gay marriage, just as it is immoral for the state to force a church to perform it. Let those opposed be opposed, that is their right and such a right I will defend to the death, but let not those opposed force their opposition on the whole of society, that is in violation of the ideals of liberty which every socialist ought to aspire to embody. There are many churches and many congregations who would happily perform gay weddings and I for one applaud them. Our opposition to the new constitution is on the basis of private property alone. We fully endorse the rights of LGBT+ people’s all over the world.
Needless to say we are in favor of the following provisions:
-The creation of a two consecutive five-year term limit imposed on the president;
-Extending the terms of municipal council delegates to five years;
-Banning discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, (formerly included leading to the possible legalization of same-sex marriage)
-The restoration of a presumption of innocence in the justice system, last provided for in the 1940 constitution.
Cuban citizens! The future of your children is in your hands! The revolutionaries in the 20th century were radical and creative; be radical and creative yourselves!
Neither a continuation Stalinist planning nor the legalization of private property!
Down with the new constitution and its provision to legalize private property!
Defend the reforms advocated for, draft a new constitution that removes the provisions on private property!
Fight to create real Citizen’s and Worker’s democracy– both politically and industrially!
¡Hasta la victoria siempre!