Historical consciousness is of fundamental importance for understanding the issues that we today confront, and as is typical of his posts, Harry provides an overview of Cuban history and the history of US-Cuban relations. And he demonstrates an appreciation of the fidelity of the revolution led by Fidel to the Cuban movement for national and social liberation and to the promise to the people made in conjunction with the attack on Moncada barracks of July 26, 1953.
However, I have two critical comments with respect to Harry’s post. First, I believe that we intellectuals of the Left in the United States must educate our people concerning the colonial foundations of the present-day world-economy. In this respect, Harry’s description of colonialism and neocolonialism is insufficient, for it does not touch upon the economic structures developed during the colonial process. This is fundamental to our understanding of the world-economy today, for colonial economic structures are still in place and continue to create development in the West and underdevelopment in the Third World. And this is central to understanding the Cuba, for the Cuban Revolution seeks to transform global economic structures as a necessary precondition for the true sovereignty of the formerly colonized nations. (See various posts on the Origin and Development of the World-System and on Neocolonialism; see also “Cuba: The historical and global context” 6/12/2014; “Cuba and the United States” 6/13/2014).
Secondly, as I have expressed in a previous post (“The role of US intellectuals, Part I” 8/5/2015), I am not in agreement with Harry’s characterization of the new economic and social model that has been unfolding in Cuba since 2012. Harry believes that the “economic reforms” promote “work-place democracy” and “empower workers.” In my view, this is a misreading of current Cuban dynamics, invoking a rhetoric that one scarcely hears in Cuba. The new model has been formulated by the party as a response to the growing dissatisfaction among the people with respect to the material standing of living, a phenomenon that has emerged as a consequence of two significant trends since the early 1990s, namely, international tourism and economically-motivated emigration. Both trends are results of the economic adjustments made necessary by the collapse of the socialist bloc, and both imply an increasing concrete awareness among the people of the standard of living of the developed economies of the North, establishing in popular imagination a reference point that is impossible for an historically underdeveloped nation to duplicate.
In the current debate in Cuba, “workplace democracy” is not the issue. Quite the contrary, since 1959, the development of mass organization and structures of popular power have created structures for the empowerment of the people, including workers, all of whom are organized in the Confederation of Workers of Cuba. The problem is that the control by workers and by the people of structures that themselves have control over limited resources can be very satisfying and fulfilling to some of the people, because of the opportunities for leadership that they provide; but not for many of the people, especially those whose perspective is focused on material goods.
So the people have said that the standard of living ought to be higher, and hearing this, the party is searching for ways to improve the productive capacity of the nation. The new model is developing various strategies to improve production, including the development of cooperatives, which Harry applauds, but also including a relaxing of some restrictions of foreign investment as well as the expansion of small-scale private enterprise, which Harry does not applaud.
Harry and many of his colleagues of the Radical Philosophy Association, who have sponsored interchanges in Cuba for more than twenty years, champion the development of cooperatives, and they call upon all those in solidarity with Cuba to support the cooperatives and the work-place democracy that they represent, seeing them as an alternative to the private entrepreneurship in Cuba that the Obama administration is supporting. The Radical Philosophy Association and the Obama Administration are in a battle for the soul of Cuba, the former proclaiming “cooperatives,” and the latter providing financial support for private enterprise.
Both the Radical Philosophy Association and Obama believe that the private enterprise being promoted in Cuba by the party and the government contradicts or potentially undermines Cuban socialism. But this is a mistaken belief, because it is small-scale private enterprise, and it is being developed in the context of socialist principles, such as: an economic and social plan directed by the state; a significant level of state-owned enterprises; strong state intervention in the economy; the control of the media by the state; and the overwhelming predominance of socialist consciousness at all levels of the educational system. Recognition of various forms of property in a socialist economy is one of the basic principles of the new forms of socialism that have been emerging in Latin America, proclaimed as “socialism for the twenty-first century.”
We also should question if anyone from the United States, whether it be the Radical Philosophy Association or Obama, has the moral authority to offer guidelines for the future development of the Cuban nation. Few of the Left would doubt that the Obama administration is imperialist and ethnocentric, arrogantly believing that the United States has the right to shape the structures of the world. But what should be said of US Leftists who believe that they know the correct road for the future of socialist Cuba? I am reminded of what a Cuban academic said to me a number of years ago: “The worst imperialists are the Leftists.”
I believe that we US Leftist intellectuals must acknowledge that socialist and progressive movements in the United States have accomplished far less than their counterparts in Latin America, and especially the Cuban Revolution; and that we in the United States have much to learn from progressive and socialist movements in Latin America. Rather than supporting tendencies within Latin American movements that are consistent with our conception of socialism, we should be oriented to studying the strategies of the Latin American movements, understanding how they accomplished as much as they have, and trying to figure out what this might mean for strengthening socialist or progressive movements in the United States. We socialists and progressives in the United States do not have the experiential foundation for formulating socialist concepts to be recommended to other nations, especially since the fall of the Revolution of 1968 during the 1970s.
Harry’s concluding recommendations reveals the limitations of a perspective that has not learned from Latin American examples, where Leftist intellectuals and activists formed alternative political parties that have taken power. Harry calls upon activists and solidarity organizations to continue with their efforts in pressuring Congress to end the blockade of Cuba and in educating the people with respect to Cuba. Harry seems to imagine the possibility of US Leftists contributing to the empowerment of workers in Cuba, but not the possibility of the empowerment of the people of the United States.
Key words: Cuba, socialism, cooperatives, Harry Targ