D’Amato maintains that the achievements of the Cuban Revolution are limited. The Cuban Revolution, he maintains, has achieved national independence, but it is not a socialist revolution, inasmuch as its economic system is based on the exploitation of wage labor. Having not liberated the working class, Cuba is incapable of attaining full liberation with respect to race and gender, he maintains.
Beyond noting that nationalization is not identical with socialism, D’Amato does not, in this article, explain the characteristics of a system that has eliminated the exploitation of the worker. He notes that societies that have called themselves socialist are not in reality socialist, and he refers specifically in this regard to the former Soviet Union and the former nations of the socialist bloc of Eastern Europe as well as China and Cuba. D’Amato maintains, moreover, that Marxism should not be criticized on the grounds that various forms of oppression continue to exist in socialist societies, inasmuch as the self-proclaimed socialist nations are not truly socialist.
D’Amato represents a tendency in European and US Marxism, in which there is a fixed idea of the meaning of socialism, on the basis of which the various socialist projects of the world are found lacking. Such a perspective appeared to receive empirical support with the collapse of “real socialism” in Eastern Europe. But the recent triumph of self-designated socialist revolutions in Latin America provides empirical basis for a reformulation of the meaning and characteristics of socialism. In this situation, I maintain that all of us who carry the banner of socialism should permit the triumphant revolutions calling themselves socialist to define in practice the characteristics of socialism. These include the triumphant revolutions in Russia (1917), Vietnam (1945), China (1949), Cuba (1959), Chile (1970), Venezuela (1998), Bolivia (2006), and Ecuador (2007).
Studying the characteristics of these socialist projects, we can discern that they all involved the taking of political power by an alternative political formation led by a charismatic leader and supported by various popular sectors. In these cases, the working class was not in the majority, and it was not in the vanguard. The leaders in the revolutionary processes came overwhelmingly from the radical wing of the petty bourgeoisie; and the popular sectors included peasants, students, workers and women. Once in power, the triumphant revolutions confronted enormous challenges with respect to the production and distribution of necessary goods and services. Of necessity, their orientation was not so much toward the emancipation of the worker but the marshalling of labor to provide for the needs of the people. They relied heavily on nationalization, but they sanctioned various forms of property in addition to state property, including cooperatives, small scale private property, and joint ventures with foreign capital. They all believed that the state should be the author of a national development project and that the state should be a major actor in the economy.
As socialism evolved in practice, it assumed characteristics that were different from what was projected by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. But the formulators of classic Marxism-Leninism understood that their theoretical formulations were tied to observations of particular conditions and social movements, and that revolutionary theory would continue to evolve, connected to practice. Lenin, confronting immense challenges with respect to providing for the needs of the people in the aftermath of the Civil War, adopted out of necessity the New Economic Policy, which could be interpreted as violating some of the theoretical tenets of Marxism. Moreover, observing the failure of the proletarian revolution in the West to triumph, and seeing as well the anti-imperialism of the oppressed nations, Lenin discerned that the vanguard of the socialist revolution would move from the Western European working class to the oppressed peoples of the East, which we today call the Third World or the South.
Marxism-Leninism should be understood as an evolving theoretical project, linked to practice. It has evolved since the Lenin’s time in the form of revolutions of a dual character in the colonized regions of the world, characterized by a quest, on the one hand, for national liberation from European colonial domination, and on the other hand, for social liberation from class exploitation and related forms of social oppression. Paradigmatic charismatic leaders that have formulated the evolving theory of Marxism-Leninism include Ho, Mao, Fidel and Chávez. And it is they who define the characteristics of socialism, an authority that they possess because of their demonstrated capacity to mobilize their own peoples in defense of the national and social liberation that their peoples seek. The characteristics of socialism cannot possibly be defined by those who are removed from the evolving global popular revolution.
The current epoch is characterized by a structural and terminal crisis of the world-system and by a turn of the global elite to neoliberalism. And it is characterized by anti-neoliberal protests and popular movements and revolutions in all regions of the planet, attaining its most advanced expression in Latin America. To understand the meaning of socialism for our time, we must appreciate that theory is tied to practice, and that the peoples and movements of the Third World have taken the role of the vanguard in revolutionary practice. We must seek to understand Third World movements and the insights of their charismatic leaders, just as Marx sought to understand human history and modern capitalism from the vantage point of the Western European worker, who constituted the vanguard of revolutionary practice in Marx’s time.
In tomorrow’s post, we will discuss D’Amato’s observations concerning race in Cuba.
Key words: socialism, Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, theory, practice, Third World