The Chinese road?
Samuel Farber, Cuban “Third Camp” Marxist and author of The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered, was interviewed about the book in US socialist journal Against the Current (November 2006). Here we reprint an extract with his predictions for Cuba without Castro.
There are many indications of Raúl Castro’s outright support for China’s direction. Visiting Shanghai in April 2005, Raúl said: "There are people who are worried about the Chinese model — I’m not; China today proves another world is possible".
I find this comment obscene, in appropriating the slogan from Seattle and the global justice movement to promote the Chinese model. But it’s more than statements alone: there’s the role of the Cuban army, Raúl’s stronghold, as a big player in joint enterprises, including the tourism industry.
You have a number of army officers who are businessmen in uniform, deeply involved in transactions with international capitalism through the Cuban armed forces. The military has also been involved in what they call “enterprise improvement” [perfeccionamiento empresarial], i.e. organizational efficiency, the kind of economic experimentation that would be consistent with the Chinese model.
Raúl of course will not move a finger so long as Fidel is active. The question will be what kind of forces will exist in Cuba both for and against this kind of direction. I believe those forces exist in embryo. So the whole relation with Washington and Miami will be entangled with the emergence of that kind of “party.”
The existing small enterprise sector in Cuba has been sharply reduced since the concessions of the 1990s. It was never that important; at one point there were up to 150,000 people licensed to operate very small independent enterprises (e.g. beauty parlors, small family restaurants, the so-called “paladares”), but now fewer.
I see it [the impetus toward authoritarian capitalism] coming from people in the army and outside civilians who are engaged in joint-venture capitalism. It’s interesting here to contrast what Raul Castro said in Shanghai in April 2005 (cited above) with an interview with Fidel Castro by Ignacio Ramonet, Spanish-born editor of Le Monde Diplomatique. When the topic of China came up, Fidel’s answer was pure evasion.
Politically of course Fidel wasn’t about to openly criticize China, but he certainly didn’t praise it. So within the Cuban regime there’s clearly this difference over the Chinese model. But in pointing to tendencies, one can’t predict events that will be brought about by a combination of internal and external forces.
There will be people in the apparatus who will resist these changes, people who are called “Talibanes” (i.e. ideological fundamentalists) such as Felipe Perez Roque, the foreign minister, who was essentially Fidel Castro’s chief of staff and became foreign minister when the previous one got into trouble. He’s young, in his forties.
But I must caution that there are elements of speculation in all these things.
No solidarity with the regime!
Dan Jakopovich, editor of Novi Plamen (a left-wing magazine on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia), on Cuba today:
It would be sad to succumb to capitalist propaganda which characterizes today’s Cuba in chiaroscuro technique, where great progress has nonetheless been made since the fall of the odious dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Free healthcare, free education (but completely state controlled), a successful literacy program, a high degree of ecological protection, interesting (although very limited) experiments with participation by the population in decision-making at the local level (in a broad authoritarian context, of course) – are all noteworthy.
Moreover, solidarity is a natural reaction of people who know something about decades of countless forms of sabotage and terrorism, the continuing comprehensive blockade/embargo of the US, hundreds of assassination attempts on Castro etc., etc.
Solidarity with the Cuban people is fully justified – but not with the Cuban regime. Cuba is enslaved in a system of a one-party dictatorship, a political and economic monopoly of a small minority – of the party-state apparatus. Castro greatly consolidated his power through the execution of thousands of political opponents, court-martials, and brutal prisons (in which many were held without trials), as well as the suppression of free unions (which also included the killing of union organisers) and the suffocation of any type of workers’ democracy. Workers are still supposed to remain silent if they do not agree.
It is less well known that there were still labor concentration camps in Cuba during the late 1960s for “social deviants” (an Orwellian term) which included, for example, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses! Like other non-governmental organisations, associations for homosexual rights still lack the right to public assembly.
It should also not be forgotten that the Cuban bureaucracy rode the coattails of the monstrous Soviet Union to the very end. Such a regime, naturally, could not and cannot be excessively interested in the idea of democratic socialism and social self-management.
Even today, according to the Human Rights Watch, the regime insures the obedience of the population through criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, police warnings, surveillance, house arrests, travel restrictions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment. The end result is that Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law.” hrw.org/english/docs/2006/01/18/cuba12207.htm)
The Cuban regime has criminalized “enemy propaganda”, the spreading of “unauthorized news” and the “defamation of patriotic symbols.” Today Cuba’s prisons/torture chambers (Cuba is one of the few countries that does not permit the Red Cross to inspect) hold dissidents without charges, solely because they have been denounced as dangerous for state security. The death penalty has still not been abolished. People are not permitted to leave and enter the country without official state permission. Parents are frequently not allowed to take their children with them on trips out of the country, a measure intended to prevent them from emigrating.
The victory of bureaucracy and the state marks the death to the prospects of a new society based on freedom and equality. Authentic libertarian democratic socialism must be based upon respect for the broadest human rights and democratic freedoms, for direct economic, political and social democracy (actual self-management), which also implies a pluralism of perspectives on the future (as opposed to party-state paternalism).
Until Cuba achieves this, it will remain – unfortunately – only another unsuccessful attempt at overcoming capital-relations, an attempt which drowned in a swamp of violent, authoritarian bureaucratism.