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Cuba, a country both wished for and possible

By Luis Toledo Sande
Source Cubadebate 25.08.2016

bandera cubana
bandera cubana
With the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Cuba obtained independence and sovereignty. If they’ve really existed since then and not just as a goal, their preservation remains as a challenge. To respond, Cuba must not only continually attend to national defense in the face of external enemies, but also achieve economic efficiency and functioning. Without them, Cuba won’t be able to satisfy the population’s material and spiritual necessities.
There are obstacles along the way that, from the point of view of pragmatic thinking, may seem unconquerable. But Cuba’s very existence as a sovereign and independent nation is the fruit of its revolutionary
vanguard at the end of the 19th century having carried out something that pragmatic thinking of the time would regard as unrealizable, specifically, to win the country’s independence from Spanish colonialism and U. S. imperialism. The thinking was that the latter, having been checked, might not end up stronger through the expansion that was underway. It was necessary to block it so that all of Our America could be free of that threat and world equilibrium, already endangered, might be preserved.
That goal, which José Martí embraced as the essence of the revolutionary project he envisioned for liberating the country, gave rise to the emancipating will that led to the victory of January 1959. In turn, that determination early on accounted for the reversal of frustration imposed on Cuba through U. S. intervention, which in 1898 snatched away Cuba’s victory over Spanish colonialism. It was a mindset rooted in identification with the poor, who were decisive in the independence struggle. That was something the very rich, with exceptions, pretended not to understand.
After 1959, and especially after April 15, 1961, when the country’ s socialist project became explicit, Cuba would have to confront great obstacles to keep the flags of social justice flying. The worldwide context then was of domination by crisis-ridden but still vigorous imperialism. Facing up to obstacles like these with hope of success always requires the greatest possible clarity in order to understand, explain, and above all confront the realities.
The intellectual resources employed in this undertaking must serve to generate light rather than add to confusion between realities and goals. By themselves these don’t make for miracles nor substitute for thinking. Of all such resources, the DAFO scheme (initials in Spanish for weaknesses, threats, strengths, and opportunities) has gained favor in the world. Its origins date from the 1970s in the United States where DAFO served entrepreneurial and commercial competition. Like the others, it can be a useful tool, but isn’t a magic wand.
The texts provide a good guide when they set forth precise ideas and don’t try to replace reality with them. A voracious reader, Martí asserted that, “The book that interests me most is life, which is always the most difficult one to read, and which has to be consulted most often when it comes to politics -which ultimately is the art of assuring people the enjoyment of their natural powers for thriving.”
Cuba, where the teaching of the legacies of José Martí and Karl Marx is well established as part of its history, is rich in extraordinary documents. With no extra zeal and considering only the supposedly preeminent stage of the Cuban revolution – its unleashing on July 26, 1953 –History Will Absolve Me, and the First and Second Declarations of Havana can be cited, and likewise the Main Report and the Programmatic Platform approved by the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party. They provided the basis for the new Constitution of the Republic of Cuba.
After a broad, productive consultation with the people, the Sixth Congress of that organization approved the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policies of the Party and the Revolution. That document led to the recent Project of Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model for Socialist Development. Both documents respond to the necessity for putting the economic model into practice. Although the second document was approved in the Seventh Congress as an actual project, the leaders are presently looking to perfect it through necessary collective, democratic discussion within the ranks of the Party and in mass organizations.

As regards changes or transformations in the model of socialist development, ideally it should be possible to find a happier verb than “to update,” which is associated with chronologic order. Yet in the world of today the Greenwich meridian of the economy passes though capitalism, which is not Cuba’s compass, nor should it be. But what’s certain is that the country needs to re-structure its economic functioning. And speaking of economic matters brings us to other spheres inseparable from the economy but which don’t end there.

We must rely on objective, calculated possibilities, and with the force of will that concentrates thinking, a force that is indispensable for guiding a people, inasmuch as the extremes of volunteerism can end up harmful and show up even as euphemistic formulations. Hence the need emerges of realizing that the most recent Congress of the Party recognized the necessity of calling things by their name. Although the concept of private property evokes apprehensions and annoyance, a private business doesn’t stop being just that merely because it takes on another name. Words and good intentions don’t suffice for channeling the changes that are coming within the class structure of the country.

Regarding specific prohibitions against concentration of property and wealth by individuals or by legal non-state organizations, there are now trustworthy indications that legislation is being zealously applied that go along with our socialist principles. One example is legislation specifying, formally at least, that concentration of property can be legally blocked, but it doesn’t happen that way with wealth gained within the realm of private property, not to speak of wealth resulting from plunder regardless of where it takes place.

Our assumption that Cuba’s Second Law of Agrarian Reform eradicated large land holdings may have reinforced confusion stemming from commonpractice that puts landholder and the owner of a large land holding in the same category. According to the etymology, a landholder is one who possesses land, and today in Cuba a property owner can earn enormous amounts of money through the productivity of relatively small parcels of land, and also through the paltry competition they face from products marketed from lands administered by the state.

They tell of places where, in reaction to attempts to investigate cases of enrichment, voices are heard warning, “Be careful, this producer is making it so that people can be fed.” At times it’s not even a question of basic foods, but of condiments that, raised under conditions of doubtful healthfulness, are sold strictly for use in centers where food for health institutions is produced. The concern shouldn’t be disregarded, because these are situations where middlemen are enriching themselves exorbitantly and also because commissions they earn often end up sky-high. And who even knows who these people are?

A brief look here and there suggests that property owners gaining new wealth actually exceed many of their predecessors in access even to technological resources: trucks, tractors and other machinery, and also passenger cars and motorcycles. Will this have to be stopped? Surely not, but there must be less obvious examples we know nothing about. In regards to income and possessions on hand, we must look at complaints about inadequate controls imposed on state-sector functionaries.

Although information provided the public regretfully doesn’t cover criminal activities very well, the conclusion is quite obvious: there is a need to prevent and eradicate growing corruption. And those whose responsibility it is to watch over social order and monetary contributions shouldn’t make the mistake of overlooking what’s happening. To minimize the danger of survival often being bound to forms of corruption can lead to tremendous deformations and prepare the ground for measurably worse corruption. And if this seriously disrupts socialist property, how can there be any doubt about its capacity to interfere with the social benefits anticipated from private property becoming a full reality?

Economic pragmatism is useless for nurturing those ethical values personified by Fidel Castro. Following Martí, he warned – I am paraphrasing here – that, “Being around big money generates corruption.” Rich people, or the aspiring rich, regularly take on admirers, imitators, servants, accomplices. They exert political influence which extends to political organizations and society, although they aren’t always interested in dedicating themselves to political tasks, since their businesses provide more income. As they move into varied roles and functions, the empire, by no means coincidently, saves a place for them in its plans for Cuba.

Fallout from the wealthy gaining influence doesn’t disappear or ratchet down just because getting rich is legal. Even that land for which long-term usage was granted by the state will be put into production with practices that turn out to be money laundering. After all, those producers operate with resources removed from state entities.

To suppose that citizens laboring in various non-state forms of property share characteristics with the owners very likely will lead to conceptual and practical errors. To begin with, that idea detracts from the clarity we need for discussions on the way about the class structure of the nation. Furthermore, that notion obscures the fact that in the non-state sector there are proprietors and employees, owners and wage workers, and thereby, in our view, exploiters and exploited. That’ s because of surplus value.

Some will think themselves happy to be exploited in exchange for salary totals far superior to those received by persons working in the preeminent and essential sector associated with social property of all the people. But they would be forgetting reality or sugar coating it, or convincing themselves that the wage worker is well-defended in a labor union section with an owner close by. He or she will be there extracting surplus value and imposing particular working conditions.

There is the situation of social property owned by the entire people who must not be replaced by the state, whose purpose is merely to represent the people. There is another one of owning in common through cooperatives in which all members have similar roles in the productive process and share profits. But cooperatives may not all be alike. In any case, they are forms of collective but also private property. That’ s frequently ignored.

Objectively, surplus value and exploitation do exist. But they go against the grain of the best intentions associated with a socialist project. To deal with them, laws and labor codes must be perfected overall. Private owners, latching on to general assumptions, believed labor relations posed little problem, or none at all. They accepted that some of their earnings were destined for big public services and national defense, except for some being siphoned off by corruption or flawed administration.

In the present circumstances, the state and especially the unions must broaden and deepen their attention to those who, situated outside areas of state purview, may be on the verge of suffering – or are already suffering – from no longer benefiting from that which workers gained historically through long and often bloody struggle against capital. It’s not enough just to assume that the existence of non-state forms is automatically in sync with the objectives of socialist development.

There’s no magic in any of this. We must attend even to the apparently most insignificant details and thus to facts and the conclusions that follow.

Perhaps that time from 1968 to the present that’s been dedicated to reducing private property to a minimum did sow prejudices, difficulties, or confusions interfering with its revitalization now and causing problems. People think we must honor the little, or now not so little, manifestations of private property. They presume that the revolutionary prestige of social property automatically transfers to workers in that sector.

Reality has shown that in the public’s view economic solvency brings prestige to workplaces. There’s a joke that illustrates the abominable and painful result of such thinking: a highly qualified professional was drunk and expressing delusions of grandeur; he thought he was a hotel baggage handler collecting tips in hard money.

Idealization can expand through persuasion that paints private property not just as a particular means of production but also as a contribution to employment, an efficient economy, and overall well-being. Although there may need to be forms of private property in a context dominated by socialist relations, putting a good face on things will come about mainly through putting essential, and as yet unspecified, mechanisms in place for holding off excesses like egotism, everyman for himself, corrupting influences, and even racism.

The most resolute and responsible participatory democracy will serve as the most effective antidote for such excesses, and for others like bossism, enthronement of bureaucracy, and nepotism. And all of these can infect social property. It would be an unnecessary redundancy to speak of democratic socialism except for the fact that an openly socialist project can take on profound deformations. It can end up like royalty, even perpetuating the dynastic tendencies peculiar to feudal modes of social organization. The world’s experience confirms this.

These evils must not be considered as separate from particular cultural formulations. These would be the human tendencies reflected in Karl Marx’s words saying that, “the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” José Martí knew that the “interests of the oppressors and their habits of command” were linked to and reinforced the weight of tradition. It’s not enough merely to expound upon a more or less abstract democracy.

In order that the socialism to which Cuba aspires not be confused with state capitalism, democracy is vital and indispensable. It will be differentiated through its participatory character. There must be active, responsible intervention by the people in debates, in arriving at decisions, in discussions about administering resources in areas of work situated within social property. As for the latter, discussion must exert a fruitful influence and move beyond debates over criteria and beyond achieving catharsis. Socialist democracy must have function and power that distinguishes it from the bourgeois variety, so exalted by capitalist propaganda.

Fully-formed facts serve to counter such unbounded praise. One example is the trick played on the Greek people through the referendum benefiting the European Union. Another is the coup against the French people through the government’s labor reform that privileged private companies. That action tarnished the label “socialist” through obedience to neo-liberalism and turning the worst kind of social democracy into a reality.

We must now give the lie to traps devised through manipulation by the capitalist media. As the existence of civil society in Cuba is being recognized, other fundamental revelations are emerging that facilitate the functioning of democracy. The least of them would be non-recognition in the past of interrelations between civil society with its rights and duties and reason of state, and also the differences between the two.

Civil society can be appreciated as being fundamentally identified with the state, which takes charge of administering the property of all the people, and that – with the participation of all the people –assures national defense and the quality of international relations. But the state has to be guaranteed space and necessary resources in order to express repudiation, merited, we say, by actions occurring in other countries with whose governments Cuba has relations. Otherwise, a rule of silence could prevail, with harmful implications in regard to ethics.

That doesn’t concern just the international arena. When it becomes urgent to get rid of corruption, it’s necessary to strengthen the ethical sense of existence. Corruption is a force that undermines the social entity and stands out among others that could bring down the project of revolutionary transformation from inside.

There are these forces demanding that an ethical way of being be consciously nurtured: the political, economic-financial, social, demographic, territorial, scientific-technical, and formative-cultural dimensions of protecting and conserving resources and the environment. There are also the politics of communication, so necessary for true change; politics itself; and generally all factors influencing the forward march of the nation.

These aspirations depend in large measure on the quality of education. We now point out something that may not be explicitly or even prominently included among those aspects of education seen as strategic for the development of the country. We are thinking about the undesirable influence of economism, something that ought to be done away with. That’s a term alluding to crude economic ideas. It comes to mind because education has fostered scientific development which, among other good results, is one of Cuba’s main sources of income. And yet, originally, education was one of the main battlefields of revolutionary work in Cuba.

Education does not end with strictly an economic purpose. In order that its usefulness may be fully fledged, the role of education in the ideological and cultural formation of the people, necessary so that the nation can protect all of its gains, must be maintained and perfected. The process requires the greatest possible outreach and depth based on scientific rigor and cultivation of spiritual values.

Consolidation of socialist principles and achieving a high economic and social development are two goals indispensable for safeguarding and strengthening the independence and sovereignty that Cuba gained with the victory of the revolution in 1959. At that time there was no imperial force capable of staving off the victory of the rebel army, the mambises of that era, although that may only have been so because, at that beginning stage, the empire underestimated the reach of the victory on the way.

Now the empire admits that more than a half century of policies openly hostile to Cuba hasn’t worked for realizing its plans. The character and scope of its purposes can be measured in juxtaposition to severe damage caused by armed and terrorist actions and by the blockade against the Cuban people, still in force. Its aim was to asphyxiate the population through hunger so that responsibility for it would fall on the state and the people would rise up against it.

But even the achievement of a truly prosperous, democratic, and sustainable socialism will end up with a disabled socialism unless it bestows upon the population a free existence and an environment that, being free of bureaucratic hobbles and based on social discipline and living together decently, assures the dynamics and atmosphere of a livable country. It’s not enough that that the country is wished for and is possible; the need is urgent to make it real and true and on a daily basis.

Translated by Tom Whitney

Luis Toledo Sande

By Luis Toledo Sande

Nació en Velasco, Holguín, en 1950. Licenciado en Estudios Cubanos y doctor en Ciencias Filológicas por la Universidad de La Habana. A lo largo de su trayectoria profesional se ha desempeñado como redactor-editor en la Editorial Arte y Literatura; investigador y sucesivamente subdirector y director del Centro de Estudios Martianos; profesor titular de la Universidad de Ciencias Pedagógicas Enrique José Varona, tarea compartida con la asesoría nacional, en la dirección del Ministerio de Educación, para la presencia del legado de José Martí en los planes de enseñanza del país; jefe de redacción y luego subdirector de la revista Casa de las Américas. Hacia finales de 2005 fue nombrado Consejero Cultural de la Embajada de Cuba en España, responsabilidad que concluyó satisfactoriamente en diciembre de 2009. De regreso al país, optó por ejercer el periodismo en la revista Bohemia.

Ha mantenido programas radiales semanales en CMBF y en Radio Habana Cuba. Ha participado como asesor en programas televisuales, y ha sido jurado en el Premio de la Crítica, el de la Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba y otros certámenes nacionales, y en el Premio Literario Casa de las Américas.

Ha impartido conferencias y participado en foros profesionales en su país y en otros de América (Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Estados Unidos, México, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, República Dominicana, Venezuela), Europa (Andorra, Checoslovaquia, España, Italia, Yugoslavia) y Asia (China, India).

A su obra pertenecen volúmenes de diferentes géneros: Precisa recordar, Flora cubana, Tres narradores agonizantes, Libro de Laura y Claudia, De raíz y memoria, Textículos (reúne Amorosos textículos e Infernales textículos), De Cuba en el mundoMás que lenguaje, Detalles en el órgano. Cuerdas y claves en la Cuba de hoy (nacido de su colaboración en Cubarte) y varios acerca de José Martí. Entre estos últimos se hallan las colecciones de ensayos Ideología y práctica en José Martí, José Martí, con el remo de proa y Ensayos sencillos con José Martí, así como el estudio Aún algo más sobre ¿Martí masón? y la biografía Cesto de llamas, que recibió el Premio de la Crítica de Ciencias Sociales, cuenta con ocho ediciones en español dentro y fuera de Cuba y se ha publicado asimismo en inglés y en chino.

En Cuba y en otros países textos suyos de diversos géneros han aparecido en numerosos libros colectivos y publicaciones seriadas. Ha prologado, y seleccionado en varios casos, obras del español Luis Vélez de Guevara; el haitiano Anténor Firmin; los cubanos José Martí, Miguel de Carrión, Jesús Castellanos, Carlos Loveira, Jorge Mañach y otros. Preparó y prologó el primero de los dos tomos de la Valoración Múltiple sobre José Martí y el volumen Playa Girón. Victoria de pueblos.

Entre los reconocimientos que ha recibido se halla la Distinción Por la Cultura Nacional.

Tiene un blog, que llama artesa, con el acceso http://luistoledosande.wordpress.com.

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