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magbana Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-02-09 09:34 AM
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GOWANS: "Cuba and the Real Battle for Democracy"
"April 30, 2009
Cuba and the real battle for democracy
Filed under: Cuba, Democracy, Socialism gowans @ 11:00 pm

By Stephen Gowans

While Obama may have contrived to create the impression at the recent Summit of the Americas of extending an open hand to Cuba, its clear that his aims are no different from those of George W. Bush or any other of his presidential predecessors, all the way back to Kennedy. The point for the US state has always been to recover Cuba as a field for US investment, and the surest way to achieve this goal is to dismantle Cubas socialist system, or at least to severely limit it. So it is that after making the obligatory rhetorical references to Cuba needing to improve its human rights situation (see Netfa Freemans recent Black Agenda Report article on Cuba and US hypocrisy), Obamas aides outlined a series of steps that Cubacould do to demonstrate a willingness to open its closed society. The principle step was allowing United States telecommunications companies to operate on the island. (1) In other words, moves would be made toward lifting the US embargo, if Cuba first made moves toward opening its doors to US capital. Since the purpose of the blockade has always been to extort this concession, how could it be said that the Obama policy is any different from that of his predecessors?

That the prize is an open society in Cuba, which is to say, open to capitalist exploitation from abroad, was made plain when Canadas prime minister, Stephen Harper, remarked that, If the objective is to see change in Cuba, its hard to see how a trade embargo would do anything other than keep the economic system closed. (2) Harper opposes the blockade, not because he wants to see Cubas socialism thrive, but because he thinks lifting it is the best way to undermine Cubas socialist economy. Engage Cuba has always been the Canadian position. Eventually it will come around to our way of thinking.

Cubas socialist system offers a materially secure existence to all, with free health care and education through university. It does this despite limited resources and in the face of nearly 50 years of economic warfare by the United States. Imagine what it could accomplish if the United States wasnt continually trying to undermine it.

Prying open Cubas economic system would profit Western banks and corporations. But would it benefit Cubans in the majority?

Not under conditions the US government would favour. The ideal situation from the point of view of the US state and the corporate interests it represents is the replacement of Cuban socialism with an open, multiparty electoral democracy which to Westerners, even most leftists, is a political summum bonum.

To those with lots of money, and the need to find places to invest it, multiparty electoral democracy offers two advantages.

The first is that practically everyone is for it. Accordingly, marshalling support for measures to build democracy abroad is never difficult. The US government can act in whatever way the structural imperatives of the capitalist system demand without incurring too much opposition so long as it says its promoting democracy, implicitly understood as regular electoral contests between two or more parties (not the ancients rule by the rabble or Marxs dictatorship of the proletariat.)

The second advantage of a multiparty electoral democracy to the states and interlocked corporate interests that favour it, is that the entire process can be easily hijacked by the rich. Modern elections, popularity contests contested by ambitious exhibitionists who vie for the backing of wealthy patrons, are driven by money. Generous campaign financing or lack of it can make or break a campaign. Ambitious politicians know this, and make their peace with the reality, or are weeded out. Once in office, they know that if they play their cards right, there are perks and handsome opportunities awaiting them in their post-political lives. Easily circumvented electoral laws forbidding foreign donations fail to stop funding from foreign sources rolling into candidates prepared to sell their countrys sovereignty, natural resources and labor to the imperial center. It may be facile to put it this way, but the golden rule of multiparty electoral democracy is that those who have the gold, rule. And so democracy has travelled the path from rule by the plebs to the dictatorship of the proletariat to ambitious lawyers chasing after the patronage of the rich.

Not in Cuba. But if Obama and Harper had their way, the golden rule would prevail. And what would the consequences be? A minority of Cubans those who facilitated the exploitation of their country by foreign business interests would benefit. But the majority would find their lives becoming increasingly insecure, roiled by the vicissitudes of the market, and in turn, by decisions made in foreign boardrooms. Hollow promises would be solemnly made. Cuba needs foreign investment, and the way to get it is to turn Cuba into an investor-friendly environment. Do this, and Cubans will be lifted out of poverty. The deception is evidenced in the state of Cubas Caribbean neighbours, in Haiti, in Jamaica, where free trade and the open door and untrammelled foreign investment have piled up misery and poverty at one end, while vast riches are accumulated at the other, hundreds of miles away, to the north.

While lifting the trade embargo would be a welcome step, the act, by itself, would in no way represent a lessening of hostility to Cuban socialism, only a different tact in the unceasing campaign of corporate-dominated governments to recover Cuba as an open field for investment and cheap labor.

There are no changes Cuba needs to make to accommodate the US; the US has not been wronged. But it would be nave to think that whatever concessions Washington makes, if any, will represent Washington taking the first step along the path to peaceful co-existence. So long as the United States remains a corporate-dominated (that is, a capitalist) society, and Cuba a socialist one, a structural compulsion will exist to shape US foreign policy toward unceasing efforts to remove whatever obstacles are in the way of profit-making. Since an egalitarian system which defines a materially secure existence for all as the summum bonum is the antithesis of one based on the incessant drive of the few to accumulate great wealth by exploiting the many, there shall never be peace between the two. The only hope for peace is the destruction of one by the other, and in these days of renewed economic crisis, it is clearer than usual which system it would be in the interests of the bulk of us to prevail.

It may be objected that whatever the advantages of Cuban socialism in offering a materially secure existence to all, it is still an existence at a lower level than enjoyed in advanced capitalist countries, and therefore, how can socialism be the preferred system?

To this could be replied, first, that to the bulk of humanity, which lives outside the advanced countries of the West, capitalism is hardly a system of consumer riches and abundance. It is instead a system of dearth, misery, and ceaseless toil. This too is true of tens of millions of poor people who live in the advanced capitalist world.

It is true that socialist countries have been poorer than advanced capitalist countries, but their lower material level has not (and in the case of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European peoples democracies had not) been caused by socialism; on the contrary, it had been largely overcome as a result of socialism. The socialist countries started out at a lower level compared to their advanced capitalist counterparts, building their productive assets without the benefits of the slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism advanced capitalist countries relied on to get rich.

In popular Western discourse, the division of the capitalist world between the affluent countries of the north and the underdeveloped countries of south is glossed over. Capitalism is equated with the West, and therefore with great affluence. Capitalism could just as readily be associated with the south, and therefore with great poverty, for the south is as thoroughly capitalist as the north. But it suits the purposes of spreading the capitalist doctrine to equate capitalism with a part of the world whose affluence is due to capitalist imperialism rather than capitalism itself, as if any country that embraced multiparty democracy and free markets would soon find itself a facsimile of the United States.

In 1983, Shirley Ceresto found that if you divided countries into poor, middle income and rich, the socialist countries occupied the middle range, even though most were poor before embarking on paths of socialist development. In terms of satisfying basic human needs, the socialist countries did better than all the capitalist countries combined, better than middle income capitalist countries, and as well as advanced capitalist countries. (3) (What socialist countries offered that advanced capitalist countries didnt, was security of income, gender equality, and secure access to health care, education, housing and necessities.)

As the socialist countries were struggling to catch up to the West, they found they needed to safeguard their revolutions from the incessant threat of military intervention from a stalking capitalist world. This diverted a significant portion of their more limited resources to military spending and away from productive investments. Despite these handicaps, socialist countries did grow at a rapid pace, and were closing the gap with their capitalist adversaries. At the same time, the socialist community was becoming more egalitarian, both within and between countries, and an increasing portion of necessary goods were available to their populations for free or at highly subsidized prices. (4)

Nowhere is the incidental (and not causal) connection between socialism and poverty more evident than in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) where the regression to capitalism has done nothing to close the gap with the former West Germany or make the lives of east Germans better. After experiencing two decades of a resurrected capitalism, half of east Germans want to return to what they had before. Reuters, hardly known for promoting socialism, revealed that a public opinion poll had found that 52 percent of east Germans had no confidence in capitalism, and most of them wanted to return to a socialist economy. Heres what east Germans told Reuters (5).

Thomas Pivitt, a 46-year-old IT worker from east Berlin:

We read about the horrors of capitalism in school. They really got that right. Karl Marx was spot on. I had a pretty good life before the Wall fell. No one worried about money because money didnt really matter. You had a job even if you didnt want one. The communist idea wasnt all that bad.

Hermann Haibel, a 76-year old retired blacksmith:

I thought communism was shit but capitalism is even worse. The free market is brutal. The capitalist wants to squeeze out more, more, more.

Monika Weber, a 46-year-old city clerk:

I dont think capitalism is the right system for us. The distribution of wealth is unfair. Were seeing that now. The little people like me are going to have to pay for this financial mess with higher taxes because of greedy bankers.

Ralf Wulff:

It took just a few weeks to realize what the free market economy was all about. Its rampant materialism and exploitation. Human beings get lost. We didnt have the material comforts but communism still had a lot going for it.

The former socialist countries have not been transformed into the consumer paradises many of their citizens believed they would become. Instead, citizens of former socialist countries have been liberated of materially secure existences and are now dominated by decisions made in boardrooms, many located in foreign countries, and are governed by ambitious exhibitionists who cater to the interests of the wealthy by necessity (for if they didnt, they wouldnt have access to the resources they need to get elected.) The same retrograde fate is the desired future for Cuba of the Obama administration, and will remain the desired fate for Cuba of every succeeding administration, until such a time as corporate interests no longer dominate the US state and the few no longer exploit the many; that is, until the real battle for democracy is won. (6)

1. Ginger Thompson and Alexei Barrionuevo, Rising expectations on Cuba follow Obama, The New York Times, April 19, 2009.
2. Ibid.
3. Shirley Ceresto, Socialism, capitalism and inequality, The Insurgent Sociologist, Vol. XI, No. 2, Sprint 1982.
4. Albert Szymanski, Is the Red Flag Still Flying? The political economy of the Soviet Union today, Zed Press, 1983.
5. Reuters, October 16, 2008.
6. The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy, wrote Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto. Democracy would be exercised through the dictatorship of the proletariat. The working class would use its state powers to repress its class enemies and prevent their return. Since dictatorship and democracy are today understood to be opposites, its difficult to grasp how a dictatorship could be thought of as democratic. The democracy Marx and Engels were thinking of was closer to the original definition of democracy than the current understanding based on universal suffrage, representative democracy and regular multiparty elections. Democracy from antiquity had always been a class affair, which is why anyone who mattered was against it. The Marxist view was that capitalist democracy couldnt be democracy in the original sense, because it allowed the majority to be governed by the few, who use their money power to dominate elections and the state. In a democracy as Marx and Engels understood it, the state would be dominated by the working class, its policies aimed at the interests of the working class and hence encroaching upon those of the capitalists, who would ardently seek to recover their previous advantages. The only way to secure democracy against the counter-revolutionary designs of the capitalists would be to be dictatorial in a new way against the capitalist class. To socialist countries, most of which had had no tradition of liberal democracy, this meant that elections needed to be dominated by the Communist Party, as the leader of the working class. What was clear was that no party committed to reversing the gains of the revolution could be allowed to operate freely. In Cuba, elections are not party-based, and the Communist Party has no role in them. Instead, individuals stand for election. It is understood that elections are carried out within the socialist system and that the reversal of socialism is not on the table."
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Peace Patriot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-03-09 07:04 AM
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1. An interesting essay, but it seems blind to a couple of things.
One is that liberal democracy as we posit it in the U.S. (not as it works out here, but our ideal) is in fact the system that is working very well, indeed, to implement socialism in many Latin American countries, notably Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, and to varying degrees, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, with some situations too early to tell, that is, the people have elected leftists, but policies are still being formulated (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Paraguay and Guatemala). These countries have multiparties. Ecuador, for instance, just held a presidential election with eight candidates on the ballot, representing different parties and interests. And all of the above countries routinely now hold regularly scheduled elections in which many parties and interests contend for power. The two biggest differences between these Latin American elections and our own (as our own work out in reality) is that they have honest, aboveboard, transparent vote counting, and we do not, and they have strong election councils enforcing election rules, and good "best practice" rules, such as limits on campaign spending and the length of campaigns, and bans on campaign ads in the period just before the election (to prevent "hit piece" ads). They do not, however, have honest news media. Their news media are as bad as, or worse, than our own. This proves that the fundamental condition of democracy is transparent vote counting. The people in a democracy can overcome the lack of objective journalism, and elect leaders who represent the interests of the poor majority, against the will (and fascist propaganda) of the corporate media, so long as they have transparent vote counting (which has been taken away here).

This article, strangely, fails to mention this amazing leftist democracy revolution in Latin America.

Secondly, Cuba is a special case. It is a tiny island that was once aligned with the Soviet Union, and was nearly the cause of nuclear armageddon in the 1960s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were at their most hostile. James Douglass, in his recent book, "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters," tells the riveting historical tale of how that crisis sobered up President Kennedy (who was initially a "Cold Warrior") about where the "Cold War" was heading, and documents JFK's backchannels to Krushchev and Castro, for the purposes of nuclear disarmament and world peace--the policies that got him killed.

Cuba has a unique history, unlike any other country, and for which there are no easy analogies or parallels. It is the only country on earth where communism has succeeded into the 21st century, and it is only a few miles off the Florida coast, next to the biggest and worst of the capitalist monsters--us. It is an amazing country, not at all easy to categorize. It is not Russia (prone to heinous dictatorships--of which Stalin was the worst). It is not China (same problem). It is not Vietnam (where benign and democratic communism won an all-out war against the biggest, richest, most capitalist country on earth, with the biggest military power, by means of a peasant army in straw hats and sandals, and then succumbed to predatory capitalism). Cuba has suffered the relentless hostility of the U.S. government, and endless plotting against it, but has not suffered an invasion (except for the failed "Bay of Pigs" invasion--the CIA plot for which JFK fired CIA Director Allen Dulles--likely signing his own death warrant). It doesn't have a democratic system, as we know it (in ideal form), such as now exists in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. But it does have elections that are quite real at every level except president, and it has quite amazingly achieved economic democracy without any of the draconian measures of a Stalin or a Mao. Castro simply is NOT in the Stalin/Mao mold.

I was thinking about all this about a year ago, and it suddenly dawned on me that Cuba can best be described as a benevolent monarchy, in which the monarch stands for the unity of the people--and for the land itself--and is only mildly dictatorial on certain key issues (such as economic equality, universal education and health care, and common ownership of resources and businesses). The English monarch held a similar position in the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, as the defender of ordinary people against the greed of the lords and barons, and, somewhat later on the timeline, against the Calvinist bourgeoisie, and also as protector of the country's resources--its forests, farmlands, etc. The people generally loved their king or queen. Why? Because he or she stood for the land and its people, not for the nobility. There is still some echo of this today. Queen Elizabeth has no formal power, but represents the country itself and its people. She is their unity, in some mystical way that we supposed democrats cannot really fathom (except by the way we tend to worship rock stars and good-looking, benevolent king-presidents).

Castro has held the revolution together in a very similar way, and, to most Cubans, he is a sacred figure, above it all--not a contender for power, but an inherent holder of power by moral or mystical right, like a monarch. And it is a system of government that is not easy for us to understand--but most Cubans are happy with it, like most of the English have been happy with their crazy monarchical/somehow still democratic system.

Although Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have all developed charismatic, socialist politicians, they are not Cuba--not even close. Their kinship with Cuba has entirely to do with social justice, and also Latin American sovereignty. But in terms of how power works, and how things are held together, they are not monarchies. Venezuelans, for instance, have the power to recall their president. Cubans do not. It is theoretically possible for alternatives to Chavez, Morales and Correa--including rightwing alternatives--to be elected president. In fact, rightwingers hold important public offices in these countries--governors, mayors. Not so in Cuba. The corpo/fascist 'news' monopolies operate freely in these countries (except when they participate in violent rightwing coups, as did RCTV in Venezuela, and was rightfully and legally denied a license to use the public airwaves because of it)--spewing corpo/fascist propaganda, 24/7 (as here, and even worse than here). This is not permitted in Cuba. The CIA operates in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, in various guises. These are open societies, vulnerable to that kind of penetration. Cuba is not. Cuba's socialist/communist government wouldn't exist if they did allow it. But Venezuela's, Bolivia's and Ecuador's socialist governments have managed to survive and thrive despite all the dire U.S. plots against them (most recently this last September in Bolivia--a white separatist civil war instigated by the U.S.--and probably the recent assassination plot against Morales). The U.S. plots have failed because of, a) the strength of these democracies (the people in Venezuela literally saved their president from a fascist coup attempt), and b) cooperation and solidarity among the leftist leadership of South America (which acted swiftly and unanimously to back up Evo Morales, when he threw the U.S. ambassador and the DEA out of Bolivia, for their collusion with fascist rioters and murderers).

Benevolent monarchies are more vulnerable, overall, however, because when the monarch dies, how does the society hold itself together? England has managed to do so, over the centuries, but sometimes very shakily. (Having a non-benevolent monarch come to the thrown is also a problem.) American democracy was specifically designed to overcome this problem. The PEOPLE are the sovereign in this land (at least theoretically). Continuity is guaranteed by the PEOPLE's sovereignty, not by a royal bloodline. The Constitution was designed to prevent a monarchy of any kind from developing. This was the revolution that startled the world. The PEOPLE as the monarch.

Castro and many Cubans talk about "the revolution" in sacred tones akin to monarchy. And there may be truth in this--that "the revolution" holds Cubans together, to some extent. But they have also developed a monarchical system, dependent on a personality, one man, and his wisdom and benevolence.

This may sound like a counter-revolutionary assertion, but I don't mean it that way. I know that it might be taken as a slight on Cuba. I don't mean it that way either. I think it is just the reality--people need a unifying figure, and Cuba has needed one more than most countries, because of its geopolitical position as the mote in the eye of the Biggest Superpower, right off shore, and the object of greed by the Cuban mafia in Miami and U.S. global corporate predators. It may be just a transitory need, given the relentless U.S. hostility to Cuba (so venomous that our own war profiteer establishment assassinated a president here--and probably his brother as well--for even thinking about peaceful competition with communist countries and nuclear disarmament). But I think it defines the difference between Cuba and the leftist democracy revolution that has swept South America, and parts of Central America. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are mixed socialist/capitalist economies, with a strong emphasis on social justice, and are 'traditional' democracies in which the leadership can be changed by voting (should anyone come along who is better than the present leaders, in the voters' opinion). Cuba is a benign monarchy not by formal choice of the Cuban people, but by happenstance. That's how things happened. And the "benign" part is that they were able to achieve economic democracy, and self-rule, with this sacred figure--Fidel Castro--as their guide and their "king."

The reality just does not fit into Marxist or predatory capitalist ideology. That's what I'm saying. We need to evaluate things in human terms--how they actually work out, among human beings. The writer of the above article tends to gloss over the difference between socialist democracy and communism, as well as the individual characters of countries and peoples. Socialist democracy is the concept that is sweeping Latin America, not communism. Cuba, as a benign communist state, is virtually alone in the world. It has no peer. It is unique, and its circumstances and history cannot be replicated, and probably should not be used as a model. Cuba has never been successful at exporting its governmental system, and stopped trying to do so years ago. It does export its excellent medical system, and its excellent literacy program, and a social justice ethic. But its efforts to support armed leftist revolution elsewhere--the way it happened it Cuba--simply resulted in U.S. vengeance and carnage. What worked in Cuba did not work anywhere else.

The writer does make the excellent point that socialist countries may not be "rich" like the U.S.--often because they did not start out rich, and also had to defend their systems against warmongering capitalists--yet create better lives for the vast majority of people, by socializing education, health care and other basic human needs. Soviet Russia DID provide jobs and pensions for everyone, as well as health care and education--and they started out with vast, almost unimaginable poverty. East Germany did the same--starting out with utter devastation from WW II. But Sweden also is a cradle to grave welfare state--and a democracy--that provides similar social protection. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are much more like Sweden than they are like Soviet Russia, or Cuba. And that is where the bulk of the socialist revolution is occurring today--in Latin American democracies, modeled on European and U.S. democratic (but not capitalist) ideals.
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magbana Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-03-09 09:44 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Peace Patriot, I encourage you to send your comments to
Steve Gowans at the website listed at the bottom of his article. He's a laid back guy and would be interested in what you have to say.
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