Why I Write Personally and Plainly About Democratic Socialism
Note: This is an excerpt from a lengthy essay on Cuba I wrote around eighteen months ago when, without my knowledge, the U.S. and Cuba entered secret negotiations to reestablish relations. It was part of my political coming of age pamphlet I published later that summer, which can be obtained in English or Spanish at gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com. (To read about my Cuban American ancestors, including my radical ancestor tío Pancho and his sobrina, my very own wonderful Cuban American Granma, mi abuela Laura, please go to the pamphlet!) I republish now the parts of the essay that most relate to Cuba’s future and the future of socialism–in celebration of this historic moment, and also in hope that the future will not be an end to the socialist revolution, much less a capitalist takeover, but a new glorious phase in Cuba’s history that can be an example of deep democracy to the entire world. I dedicate this republication to the revolution my Cuban American ancestors dreamed of, and helped pay for twice, and to my dear close Cuban-born friend mentioned in the essay.
The Granma was invincible, like the spirit that moved within its deck! There were forces at work in addition to purely physical ones, and they too withstood the storms and drove the boat onward to its destination. One thought, one common ideal, one single desire, was projected in a single direction: the soil of the enslaved homeland.
I have no doubt that the voyage of that nearly sinking yacht, grossly overloaded with filthy and seasick would-be liberators, represented the dream for Cuba of my ancestors and hundreds of other forgotten families like them who came to the U.S. during the 19th century to provide workers for the newly-established domestic cigar industry. That is why the year before the voyage Fidel Castro came to Hillsborough County, Florida for several days to raise money. By then most of my West Tampa ancestors were only in the memory of mi abuela and a few other scattered relatives, their gravesites long since placed beneath a highway by the City of Tampa. All Granma-related propaganda and superstition aside, it is nice to think that they were part of a universal spirit of deep democracy that “moved within its deck!”
As we cautiously begin to improvise the next voyage of our Granma, this one to provide deep democracy to the whole earth, it is important to search for this spirit. One way to find it is to remember that the roots of the Cuban revolution extended beneath the Florida Straits to poor Cuban-American working families who were socialized to believe that they were part of something that included more than them and their own serious crises. They were militant labor people, and many of them were also socialists, communists, anarchists, and various mixed versions of these uniting in anti-capitalist views.
Their dream was not the hollow U.S. corporate version of freedom still ruling Cuba when the 82 revolutionaries set their feet on Cuban soil. That version of freedom had repressed them just as it continued to repress those in Cuba when Castro and his comrades came ashore. That version of freedom, in typical reckless boom-and-bust circumstances discussed by Marx generations before, had caused the Depression that variously put them out of work. Then that version of freedom became cozy with Franco. When Castro came to town, that version of freedom was Batista’s. Thus, by the time Castro got there to solicit funds, generations of cigar workers and their families in West Tampa and Ybor City had never hesitated to collect from what little they had in mutual aid to each other and to the causes of true freedom in Cuba and Spain.
Some of my family probably walked to and from the factory not only dreaming of a better day but also whistling the Internationale. Over a century of demagoguery and repression in the U.S. repels most of its inhabitants at the mere mention of the name Karl Marx. Capitalists who Marx aptly described snicker at their own cleverness. They thank mammon that Stalin, Mao, and other exemplars of totalitarianism practiced their inhumanity as “communists” and “socialists” with some words twisted from Marx and inverted to their own ends. I do not agree with some of the things I have learned about Marx’s beliefs, and he certainly failed to work out a mature system for socialism. But he was a humanitarian and not a promoter of cruelty or totalitarianism.
Under the combined daily influences of the corporate media, the pressures of consumerism, and a host of opiates, literal and figurative, good people can be unconsciously converted into forces of reaction. They are kept in debt, in fear of layoffs, and quick to consciously or unconsciously do their masters’ bidding—which include avoiding any rational discussion of the pros and cons of capitalism, socialism, or some reasonable blend thereof. The daily pornography of giveaways to transnational corporations, global financial gamesmanship, economic injustice, the defense industrial complex, cow-towing to dictators who control dwindling supplies of irreplaceable resources, and global warming escape notice.
In the streets of West Tampa and Ybor City beginning more than a hundred years ago, the working people were taking keen note of the world near and far and were not repelled by Marx or other leftist intellectuals. They were politically-oriented, actively participated in electioneering when political institutions were open to them, and wanted to learn the alternatives to capital exploitation. They saw capitalism as a system that potentially fed them but also one of racism, oppression, and imminent abandonment, the deeply flawed heir to imperialism.
Capitalism wanted to treat them like things—just like other things such as Cuban tobacco, but ideally more expendable. Tobacco leaves were not hated, beaten, and fired for striking. Tobacco was a valuable commodity always desired. Skilled cigar makers had some clout for a time, but this only incited greater rage on behalf of the capitalists who hated having to treat workers as human beings. Always vulnerable to oppression, unredeemable union people to the end, by the 1930’s many of them were out-of-work and completely destitute, forced to piece together one meal at time before moving on, if they were lucky, to low paying jobs outside the cigar industry, locally or in other cities like New York, or in the case of mi abuela, Miami. Vicious anti-labor firings and repression, machine production of cigars, consumer shifts to smoking cigarettes, and for the lectors, replacement by radios emitting non-confrontational advertising-fueled pablum—all of these contributed to the end of a now forgotten major portion of Florida history. This history was a major part of the great labor struggle in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries, which for the most part capital won, using any means necessary.
In the early 21st century and still in the southeastern U.S., at least one of the descendants of the losing side is now a socialist. I have learned of and will not forget their lives and values—and the U.S. roots of the Cuban revolution, which is in turn a continuing inspiration to the desperate throughout Latin America and the world.
I recently had a lengthy conversation with a close friend from my initial college days long ago. He was born in Cuba in the early 1960’s and emigrated to the U.S when he was a small child. His family was in the second wave to go and was not at all comprised of Batista supporters. They did not fully experience Cuba’s shifting forms of “actually existing socialism” and state-forced bureaucratic communism, which Hampshire College Professor Carollee Bengelsdorf analyzed in detail. His grandparents were small farmers on his father’s side and cobblers on his mother’s side—hardly enemies of anyone’s state. His father had gotten an engineering degree around the same time Fidel Castro was at the same university. He did not oppose the revolution in any way and disliked Batista very much, but he was deeply religious and not a communist, although his best friend became a devoted and sincere communist soon after Castro came to power. Meanwhile, my friend’s mother, also deeply religious, liked Castro very much, happily greeted the revolution, and had hopes for major positive changes as a result, to include political democracy and also measures to address the country’s economic injustices under Batista and U.S. puppetry.
This young couple gradually came to live in fear of the state repression that ensued—the show trials, the neighbors spying on neighbors, the discrimination against those who went to church or applied for emigration. Perhaps most of all, they were devastated at the state’s assumption of a primacy relationship with children, which strongly undercut the traditional roles of the nuclear family and parents.
Many of these policies have now been abandoned or at least mitigated, but it is too late for them. The small farm would be welcomed today for its high productivity and hopefully the cobbler shop would be too. They are caring and conscientious people, like the caring and conscientious Cuban-Americans in my family who came to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Castro reasonably could have kept them on his side through pursuing democratic socialism and allowing civil rights. In the U.S., they worked hard and succeeded in building a new life, but they never stopped loving Cuba. To this day they have retained hope of moderation in Cuban policies that will allow caring and conscientious persons of Cuban heritage to be better united and a reciprocal moderation of U.S. policy.
It is not my intent to make this pamphlet a tract aimed at lecturing Cuban officials from afar or to argue that U.S. policy should be kept in place until a basis for “reciprocation” exists tied to conditions in Cuba. I believe the U.S. blockade and other reactionary policies toward Cuba are and always have been dead wrong and should be eliminated immediately without preconditions, just as I believe political repression in Cuba is and always has been dead wrong and should be eliminated immediately without preconditions. If the U.S. can trade with and allow free travel to China and Saudi Arabia it certainly should be able to do the same with Cuba.
The point I am making regarding my friend’s family is that it is not a family from the inflexible right or on some sort of pro-Batista fantasy trip seeking return of divested property or a return to the heydays of Cuban sugar and tobacco barons much less U.S. corporations and the mafia. They simply believe that Cuba needs to authentically respect all human rights because it is the right thing to do and always has been, and that, as a matter of fact, this will in turn lead to major U.S. changes of a highly positive nature.
From my vantage point as a deep democrat with a more than a century-old Cuban-American labor heritage, I believe I speak fairly and morally, and for the wishes of my ancestors, when I say something similar yet somewhat different: Cuba should allow free elections of all leadership with full participation of multiple political parties, it should release all political prisoners, and it should no longer engage in repression or deprivations of civil rights, but it also should constitutionally ensure that it will continue to provide economic justice and a sustainable future for all of the Cuban people, which will not come with unbridled unsustainable profit-centric capitalism and democracy-lite—never has, and never will. Until the U.S. changes its own political and economic system to become deeply democratic, it has no basis for exporting its system to Cuba or anyplace else.
The pre-Castro capitalist-colonial exploitation and oppression of the Cuban people was real and should not resume, just like it should be eliminated from all other nation states around the world. Capitalism would gladly accommodate the private interests of elite former socialists in Havana just like it once accommodated Batista and his cadre. “The inefficiencies” of addressing the material and educational needs of the poor would have to end, as would “the inefficiencies” of creating a sustainable agricultural system. That would not be building a good and compassionate Cuba any more than it has built a good and compassionate world.
Since Batista days, some things have changed in the U.S., of course, but not all for the better. The U.S. has greater civil rights for African-Americans than it did in those domestic apartheid days. It clearly is no longer on the ascendance, no longer has those nasty unions to worry about, and no longer is producing most of the products its advertising promotes. It clearly is living on borrowed money and borrowed time because that is what capitalism wants it to do. It is now mostly useful for its credit-driven consumerism as long as the party lasts.
Unlike pre-Castro days, the elite capitalists in the U.S. and around the world now are good at integrating market and state capitalism to provide transnational structures of nation state-sanctioned profiteering. The descendants of Mao and Stalin are now fully integrated into the profiteering and in some ways surpassing the old private capitalists. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and other protected natural resource dictators now have their own major “sovereign wealth” interests the U.S. also must fully accommodate until their natural resources run out or U.S. credit runs out, whichever happens first.
For all its arrogance, and assuming for the sake of argument the purest of intentions toward Cuba (hardly reality), the U.S. at best does not know what it is doing structurally, domestically or internationally. I like President Obama very much, but his hands are largely tied from doing much good because of democracy-lite. For President Obama or any other centrist liberal U.S. Democrat to point out that “the capitalist” has no clothes is to lose any tenuous grip on partial political power in mid-term elections. The U.S. is trapped within the structures transnational corporations, financiers, and private equity have chosen for themselves, a capitalist world of orchestrated tea party rhetoric with scarcely hidden racial undertones that, for all its bluster about bailouts, denies these structures chosen by transnational corporations, financiers, and private equity have anything to do with the problems of the U.S. or the world.
The world has been flattened like a pancake and the people of the world are supposed to be content with any capitalist crumbs that by chance fall their way. We now live in an integrated neoliberal market and state capitalist world that is good at depopulating the countryside and over-producing consumer goods wherever the lowest paid workers can be found, then running for the private communities and blaming the poor and dark people for being jobless and living in urban slums. This world is good at allowing capitalists to make a lot of money, to drive the world economy off cliffs, to destroy the environment, and to burn through irreplaceable resources.
Back in the U.S., it is particularly good at manipulating democracy-lite, which has literally become synonymous with capitalism in the eyes of most white U.S. inhabitants. When the masses once in a great while are able to demand action of democracy-lite, the action taken must be that desirable to the capitalists and, if necessary, favored professional classes. Thus, U.S. democracy-lite, when forced to dabble in welfarism, set up the most expensive and wasteful medical and prescription drug plans that could be dreamed up, which have still managed to do great good for those in need. U.S. democracy-lite also is quite good at giving away money to the defense industry, the prison industry, and industries using and abusing public resources, water, and water. It is good at allowing whatever middle class manages to rise up from the ashes of capitalism to max out credit cards and incur unworkable education, medical, and mortgage debts.
And no, the U.S. does not have the purest intentions abroad. For generations now, the types of political moderation Cuba needs for its own internal improvement, coupled with reliable assurances of economic justice for all, have been made much more difficult through, among other things, coup-fixated reactionaries aided by the CIA, assassination plots, and the massive U.S.-engineered blockade intended to destroy the Cuban economy. While Cuba has set a bad example for human rights in Latin America, much more so has the U.S. As long ago written by my distant cousin:
[T]he help the Latin Americans need from us to avoid there being two, three Viet Nams is urgent. I am convinced that the only thing that can prevent them is the reversal by the American people of our government’s use of its diplomatic and military power to sustain and further the economic interests of American corporations on the continent. Only this can free the energies of Latin Americans—from reformers to revolutionaries—to work to change in a positive way the misery of the present situation. Without this, all the talk of helping them to help themselves is at best paternalistic cant; at worst, another means of maintaining our presence there. Mine is a large order yelled into the wind.
(Yglesias, J., 1970. Down There. The World Publishing Co, 28.)
As discussed below, for a few decades, through both anarcho-socialistic and when possible political means, despite the constant opposition of the KKK, my Cuban-American ancestors and the other cigarmakers of Hillsborough County, Florida did a relatively good job of building a just, deeply democratic, and meaningful subculture in U.S. society, whenever the capitalists would allow them to do so. Cubans themselves should not underestimate the tremendous capacities of the Cuban people for innovation that, rather than losing economic justice, makes economic justice the centerpiece of an attractive, racially-harmonious, and vibrant society—the type of society that for the most part has never been allowed to exist in the U.S. or Latin America because of the divide-and-conquer capitalist agenda. I believe that caring and conscientious persons of Cuban heritage can work much better with the Cuban leadership to ensure the civil and economic rights of their brothers and sisters back in Cuba without U.S. democracy-lite interference in Cuba.
Meanwhile, socialism itself desperately needs to move forward deeply and democratically, in Cuba and around-the-world. The world needs socialism, but socialism needs to adjust itself to the current and long-term deeply democratic needs of the world. Marx himself effectively brought imperfections, both of economy and polity, into the revolution. These included from the outset the potential for democracy and centralism to come into conflict, a conflict that has wreaked much havoc in Cuba (Bengelsdorf).
As a deep democrat, I believe that in the future, the people should be entitled to politically resolve conflicts of democracy and centralism, as well as other conflicts that are bound to occur, democratically and iteratively depending on the circumstances in which the people find themselves. Central bureaucrats should not be beyond reach of the people and their ballots. This principle applies to the U.S. too, however, which, among other places, does the same thing with its Federal Reserve Board, which controls much of the U.S. economy on behalf of capitalist priorities but is beyond the control of the people. Whether in Cuba, the U.S., China, or Saudi Arabia, deep democratic control should be allowed of all sectors, including the seemingly sacrosanct financial sector. This should ever be the demand of the people. The days of bankers being bailed out and then cashing the bail-out checks for themselves should be over.
Cuba’s revolutionaries, who include all of the Cuban people who have “lived” a continuing revolution, have sacrificed much. Once in power, the Castro brothers and their associates made many mistakes, some of which they have acknowledged. As Bengelsdorf observed, the Cuban leadership was trying to unite a people that had never been allowed to unite before, while doing their best for the poor and withstanding a U.S. absolutely committed to their failure. Under these circumstances, given the lack of a good road map from Marx, mistakes not only were inevitable but also should not be frozen in time.
Let us not look backward but recognize that from now on, all socialists need to be united in the making of a deep global democracy, one that is both economically and politically fair to all. I am thankful for, and on behalf of my ancestors, proud of the initial Cuban revolution and for the tremendous efforts at economic justice that have been made, even when they may have partly or completely failed. While I am deeply dismayed at the political persecutions, that the revolution did not bring about full and free elections and civil rights, that wartime rules have remained in effect for generations, and at many of the choices made under bureaucratic economic centralization, the U.S. has no credibility to complain and much of the blame.
Not to please the U.S. and anti-Castro U.S. inhabitants, but for the sake of the revolution of true freedom my ancestors envisioned and, most importantly, the Cuban people, democratic reform needs to come, including the establishment of political democracy and civil rights for those with opposing views. While hearing from dissenters is a good and smart thing, and punishing dissenters is wrong and ultimately counterproductive, this is so not only for Cuba but also for the repressive nation states of U.S.-protected dictators, such as those in Saudi Arabia, and for the people of the world as a whole, whom the powerful do not wish to see united. The desperate and their allies need to be thinking much bigger and much more democratically than the powerful ever would endorse. The hypocrisy of capitalist proponents of neoliberal democracy-lite will become most apparent should the citizens of the earth ever unite in calling for a plebiscite for the earth as a whole. The use of the earth cannot be rendered sustainable and democratic without the people of the earth being in control instead of the powerful.
It would be a tragedy if the reckless trampling of the environment and humanity called free market capitalism, which the U.S. promotes and enforces by almost any means necessary—when convenient as an alternative to the reckless trampling of the environment and humanity of authoritarian state capitalism in China, et al. or of religious authoritarianism in Saudi Arabia, et al.—on its own shores, continental shelves, and around the world, and which enslaved Cuba prior to Fidel Castro, arrived on the heels of much-needed national elections in Cuba or in any other country that has created some small measure of economic justice for all of its inhabitants. Neither “free market” capitalism nor authoritarian state capitalism nor religious authoritarianism presents a compassionate and sustainable future for humanity.
Attempts, as in Europe, to establish a single currency system among nation states which do not unite politically under direct control of the affected people are the stuff that capitalists and international bankers may prefer, but they are red-lining the lives of the mass of people from deep democratic control. Needless to say, imposing neoliberal global trade zones without the true and ongoing consent of the people affected is undemocratic. These evasions of deep democracy have left those at the bottom out of work, hungry, and living in crime-ridden unhealthy urban slums in places that are always in a depression but cannot hope to see a global “new deal” to ameliorate the pain. It is no wonder in such circumstances that anger would set in and economic want supersede capitalist political theory.
I approve of the ninth and tenth socialist commandments. Nation states of all political bents are constructs of the powerful, by the powerful, and for the powerful. In the 19th and 20th centuries they were major steps up the geopolitical evolutionary chart from kingdoms and empires, which inhumanely served faux royalty. But they are inadequate for humanitarian purposes as the primary means for human self-rule. Humanity is divided and conquered by nation states and by the only legal entities allowed to hold effective power beyond national boundaries—transnational corporations, including too big to fail global financial institutions, and various multi-national commissions and organizations controlled by the powerful.
Nation states give us nationalism so that the people of the world will be confused into believing that it is unpatriotic for them to unite. I disagree with those who tell me I should be “patriotic” to a single nation state in preference to the world as a whole. National chauvinism is not internationally humanitarian. I still rise, place hand over heart, and say the pledge, which was drafted by a socialist, but I leave off the Constantinian “under God” words added in 1954. I like the aspirational “one Nation … indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” parts. (If it was descriptive, perhaps it would say, “highly divided and alienated Nation … with invisible masses having little economic liberty or justice.”) Similarly, I rise to the Star-Spangled Banner at ball games and cannot help but love my country, even though it so disappoints me because it has so much unrealized potential for good.
All the while I am thinking that my true love needs to be for the people of the U.S., not for this powerful figment of the nation state. I should love my “nation state” to the extent that it provides deep democracy to its own inhabitants and promotes deep democracy around the world. Nation states are in our heads and in some of our hearts, undeservedly so. They are “legal” creations of the powerful that are not “real” in any material sense. At the present time, with so many global challenges, they are inherently reactionary and allow us excuses for not doing better, to the great peril of those who are desperate. They create “corporations” intent on evading responsibility and maximizing profit, not one of which has ever died for anyone or anyone’s country.
The real people acting as the nation state of the U.S. have on occasion managed to some marvelous things, such as defeating Hitler. Many of the real people have died correcting great wrongs of the nation state itself, as when inhabitants of the North and many escaped African-Americans fought and died in the Civil War which ended slavery. Later, many of the real people rose up and forced the racially-divided nation to imperfectly rid itself of other express forms of racial oppression. After that, many of the real people made the U.S. end the Vietnam War. Even today, although much of U.S. interventionism has been completely wrong, not all of it has been.
Sometimes the U.S. “government” has acted with appropriate humanitarian intent, and I am not one who will deny this important truth. On the other hand, to whatever extent the U.S. can appropriately exert itself outside its boundaries using force it undercuts itself by much of its other conduct. In general, this nation state, putting aside its hypocritical relationships with dictators and killers to its liking and its ethos of hyper-militarism, has a malfunctioning political system designed to facilitate the status quo of a reckless boom-and-bust global economy carved on the backs of the expendable invisible people of the world by mercenaries working for the most powerful. Most of the world sees this except most of the inhabitants of the U.S.
The global battle for the earth’s last resources will not be engaged in by nation states with clean hands, because none exist. All will have various levels of dirtiness. In the interest of humanity, international control of the earth’s future is needed.
Humanity has never been given the opportunity to determine the way our world should be structured and run. The powerful and their nationalistic enforcers are intent on keeping it that way. The powerful are driving the world over a cliff environmentally. The need for effective global democracy is not merely a matter of needing to better run the world as we know it in the interests of humanity, as opposed to in the interests of the powerful. The world as we know it is drastically and adversely changing because of capitalism, both on the free market capitalism consumer-driven demand side and on the state capitalism production-driven supply side. While billions of humans hunger, thirst, and are more exposed to the elements as the earth heats up, the Arctic Circle is being divvied up by nation states and transnational corporations, just like humanity’s other lands, resources, fresh waters, and oceans have been, as well as the atmosphere (Klare, M.T., 2012. The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources. Metropolitan Books.).
The Arctic Circle is all of humanity’s, present and future, not just those who live in adjacent countries. It is melting, to humanity’s great devastation, including the nations of the southern hemisphere. It is being invaded on a daily basis in a throwback to colonial times. Any economic “benefits” from the Arctic Circle are products of calamitous behaviour and environmentally risky pillaging. In the event humans go get any of these resources, this needs to be internationally managed with the utmost care, with any proceeds carefully stewarded for all of humanity in a sovereign trust fund for the world, particularly for those poor who are or will be suffering the most from the melting, not enjoyed by the fortunate few. In truth, however, the fact that humans would ever be tempted to mine the Artic regions for chemical resources is a red flag about the unsustainability of consumer-driven capitalism.
Coming up with ways to ensure the basket of summer fruit is there to be harvested and fairly distributed will be challenging. But it undeniably is a moral imperative and part of the essential business of humankind, “right of conquest” and other self-serving doctrines of the powerful notwithstanding.
Good stewardship requires that humans do the best they can, which means cooperation on a global level to solve or minimize the serious problems of humankind, present and future. Global democratic socialism—ideally direct but alternatively perhaps indirect based on socialized nation states mediating through a robust intergovernmental governmental organization such as a revitalized UN—that ensures basic needs are sustainably met for all, present and future, should be a major part of the economic and political vision we share for Cuba, to be sure, but also for the rest of the earth, our island home, as well.
Through those lenses, Cuba’s paternalism appears to be far above average in terms of economic justice, and some aspects of its productivity, particularly with regard to sustainability, remarkable. Given what they have had to work with and all they had working against them, Cuba’s leaders have hunkered down and never given up Fidel’s dream of a unified island nation of, on some level, economically liberated people. Capitalists and imperialists my ancestors despised had their hands on Cuba, and these capitalists and imperialists, or their descendants, want it back so that the exploitation and oppression can resume. Who knows how well Cuba might have done without a half century of U.S.-led economic sabotage?
But on another level, this misses a key point of socialism according to Marx. We now know that alienation can result from both private capitalism and centrally-controlled, so-called “real” socialism. From what I can tell, many 20th century Hispanics, including most of those in my own extended family, were concerned about not only economic conditions but also alienation. Focused on labor solidarity, they seem not to have viewed social justice purely in terms of material possessions, of which they often had very little. They also cared deeply about family, fellow workers, community, and self-expression, sometimes for existential or aesthetic reasons, but often in pursuit of practical visions that were larger than themselves.
Aspects of their self-expression were deeply democratic and outward looking—one could say almost evangelistic. It should not be forgotten that what came to be expressly known as “liberation” theology arose from the mouths and pens of clerics in the Catholic Church in Latin America (citing Peruvian Father Gustavo Gutierrez’s Teología de la liberación, see Calvez, J-Y, S.J., 1991. Faith and Justice: The Social Dimension of Evangelization, 15. The Institute of Jesuit Sources). These priests were observing real life conditions of their parishioners under capitalist structures that caused desperation. They became agents of solidarity, just like the workers of West Tampa and Ybor City in their own ways.
I take from these phenomena two things:
(1) The desire for truly meaningful liberation for one’s brothers and sisters circles back to the pragmatic and material. As a priest may say:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
James 2:15-17 (NRSV).
(2) However, structural obstacles to group cohesion, truth, reconciliation, creativity, and free expression of noble human impulses can cause alienation and prevent solidarity from flourishing.
The remaining living revolutionaries from the Granma no doubt understand these sensitive issues far better than I. They have been sincerely searching for what is best for a long time, but nothing has ever been easy, except to accept the U.S. offer of a resumption of neocolonial capitalism (Bengelsdorf, 1994). It is easy to take pot shots from afar, from the right but also from the left. As an outsider with imperfect access to information and one who has not lost hope in the possibilities for the future, I look ahead and have not in this pamphlet adopted a strident tone toward the Cuban leadership. Yet, my concerns are well-stated by those of the opposition who want nothing but the best for the Cuban people and see authoritarianism as an obstacle not a tool. I hope that the leadership will allow democratic socialism to take root in Cuba, something that many Cuban leftists are pushing for (http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=97032). I do not believe that democratic socialism would bring utopia, but rather that it would be the best approach among imperfect ones down here on earth.
Beyond Cuba, I am concerned that Cuba’s example of authoritarianism is being emulated, albeit generally on a lesser scale, by some, but not all, of the leaders of the left in Latin America. Cuba could once again be the leader of a great positive revolution, this time around the world, if it could figure out how to move to democratic socialism, even in the harsh blockaded world the U.S. has created for it.
Cuba may still voluntarily make serious democratic political changes, without losing economic and environmental justice, in which case it should be easy for most Cuban-Americans to proudly say once again, “¡Viva la revolucion!” I feel sure that is what proud tío Pancho would say.
Truly democratic socialism must not have academic barriers to entry. Equally important, it must not be fixated on the teachings of any one person or group of persons, living or dead. We each get inspiration from different places but can unite in support of democratic socialism. We are at a far different place than when tío Pancho was almost killed for reading about Marx. Although beatings, killings, and other forms of harassment of socialists and others who stand up for social justice still frequently occur, a century of uncertainty and occurrences has transpired.
As socialists, we must make sure that:
(1) we have the “open” sign on all around the world, including in places where only one or two socialists may be present. We must take all humans all around the world where we find them. Socialism has always been focused on the international brother and sisterhood of humankind. Our true heritage is one of values, especially the value called love. (Please read over again the Socialist Commandments.) Great varieties of human experiences exist, and people may come to socialism with complex and difficult histories. People’s stories, including their inner journeys, are important to them, and, subject to item (2) below, they need to be able to be true to themselves—if they can find out what that means. No one thing, including socialism, may satisfy every human issue of alienation. Each human must be free to grapple with the meaning of her or his own existence.
(2) we are efficiently and pragmatically focused on identifying and doing what needs to be done to better manage planet Earth. We need to do the work of maximizing cooperation, mutual aid, and collective self-help among those in solidarity with humanity. We also need to do the work of building an economically and politically democratic global framework for sustainably meeting basic human needs. …
Because it has been forced to by circumstances, Cuba has shown that sustainability is possible. However, its own population is deeply discouraged and alienated—in part because of authoritarianism, in part because of blockade-driven economic duress, and perhaps in part because of the same desire for consumption that affects many in the third world connected to the first world by the internet.
Can the good parts of tiny role model Cuba be obtained without authoritarianism? That may be the most important question not only Cuba but also the world—without knowing it—faces. If Cuba can transition from authoritarianism to democracy without losing sustainability and economic justice, this truly would be a marvelous thing, a global sweet spot, especially considering the U.S. government has been attempting to induce Cuban failure for half a century. On the other hand, if Cuba fails, this may be detrimental to the cause of humanity far beyond Cuba’s lovely shores.
Are deep constitutional changes needed globally to ensure that no matter what the whims of democracy, masses will not be left lacking the provision of basic needs? Honestly and humbly, to what extent should we reform versus replace the countless various components of capitalism if we could, and what exactly should be the form and structure of the socialist replacement components? You know, meat and potatoes, real world issues—what about them? The role of centralization versus the role of democracy was not a dilemma Marx sorted out, although he steadily opposed bureaucracy and alienation (Bengelsdorf).
I am most interested as a prioritizing species-being in humanity meeting basic human needs for all its members, including both material needs and, because humans do not live by bread alone, the need to avoid alienation. Whether you call it democratic socialism, deep democracy, or chopped liver, whether you go on reading this pamphlet or not, I hope we as species-beings can begin to figure out how all of humanity, present and future, can meets its basic needs.
That is more important than going to Mars, winning football games, or developing the next brand of a gadget with a shelf life of months or more efficient ways to blow each other up. It is also more important than any labels, including “socialism.” You or someone you know may be having it rough. You may not want to focus on esoteric values or political doctrine, much less labels that might ostracize you in the job market. So if the word socialism is troubling to you, substitute another. The initial important thing is to educate ourselves as to the values most of us share, values that often are contradicted by the very structures that both market capitalism and state capitalism impose.
Final Note: For my attempt at an entertaining analysis of one of Cuba’s most compelling features, which may also be its most serious threat to capitalist hegemony, please see this piece I wrote earlier this year: Final Cuba Jeopardy Answer–“The Emergence of Marxist Holism”.