Saturday, November 19, 2011

Translation: Awakened dreams

In this Juventud Rebelde commentary Luis Sexto ends with a poetic flourish: "Dreams are awakened by the insomnia of necessities." In other words, Cuba's economic difficulties spur revolutionaries to think outside the box and even dream a little. If hyper-centralisation doesn't work, what might? What role for worker participation in management? What scope for cooperatives?

In What is to be done?, Lenin, in a delightful passage, reminds us of the importance of dreaming:

“We should dream!” I wrote these words and became alarmed. I imagined myself sitting at a “unity conference” and opposite me were the Rabocheye Dyelo editors and contributors. Comrade Martynov rises and, turning to me, says sternly: “Permit me to ask you, has an autonomous editorial board the right to dream without first soliciting the opinion of the Party committees?” He is followed by Comrade Krichevsky; who (philosophically deepening Comrade Martynov, who long ago rendered Comrade Plekhanov more profound) continues even more sternly: “I go further. I ask, has a Marxist any right at all to dream, knowing that according to Marx, mankind always sets itself the tasks it can solve and that tactics is a process of the growth of Party tasks which grow together with the Party?” 
The very thought of these stern questions sends a cold shiver down my spine and makes me wish for nothing but a place to hide in. I shall try to hide behind the back of Pisarev.  
“There are rifts and rifts,” wrote Pisarev of the rift between dreams and reality. "My dream may run ahead of the natural march of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the working men.... There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyse labour-power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science, and practical endeavour.... The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well." 
Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their “closeness” to the “concrete”.
Awakened dreams

By Luis Sexto, Juventud Rebelde, November 3, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

I hope most readers would agree with me that the antiseptic task of changing a certain predominant mentality in Cuban society requires, among other things, a space and an attitude: debate. It doesn’t seem likely that we’ll pass from opacity to clarity through slogans, exhortations or incantations.

There are more than enough opportunities for debate. Because while they are not usually tangible, they are more or less visible, audible or “readable”. They are heard once in a while on the radio and TV or are read in this newspaper or that computer screen. Among the opinions expressed, those that defend the forms that we must largely transform still display their belligerence. This is logical: the old mentality will not cede its territory without resistance. Is it not true that when we’re about to try a new dish prejudice obliges us to grimace, or that we don’t listen to the gastronomic objections of a silly child?

Experience tells us that what’s difficult is acting in order to change. And debate is also difficult. Sometimes one reads things with viewpoints or ideas that are worthy of consideration, but the tone, the language, bursts forth like artillery fire that thunders from the opposing side. OK, in short, I note that the role of the state in our society is discussed. Recently, in spite of all the criticism of errors and tendencies regarding the extremely centralised state that is responsible for all economic, social and political activity, I read a letter to the editor that insists on defending the old all-encompassing role of the state.

For my part, I also defend the state as guardian of our socialist aspiration; watchman over our social justice; preserver of independence. But I express another viewpoint when a mechanical equivalence is established between the “statisation” and the socialisation of property. The difference is apparent. In certain capitalist countries the railways or the oil industry or other sectors are state-owned, and this doesn’t mean they are socialist. It seems we must examine this aspect to grasp what we’re proposing, all of us who believe, at least, in what our history commands: social justice as the sun of the moral world, and independence, that is, the absence of foreign interference or submissive lackeys as the guarantor of the purity of our light, of our land. Our destiny as a nation.

I don’t believe that the way to achieve socialist abundance – that is, full social justice – is to propose once again a paternalistic and controlling state. Social property, as I understand it, is that which makes the worker a co-owner of the means of production. Real co-owners. And that provides every member of the work collective with the opportunity to work for their wellbeing without gifts or fraud. With the voice and vote to decide on the means to secure their livelihood, without which the director of the enterprise has no managerial power*. Perhaps that which most closely approaches democratic perfection would be the community itself electing or approving enterprise directors. As a theory, this could prove to be true.

Others take the idea of social property to the extreme: the handing over of all the means of production to the workers. But there are types of social property that require a developed material base**. Does Cuba have this? In all this debate we’d have to concur that de-contextualised theory, detached from the circumstances, tends to cause indigestion. Perhaps, following a rational theoretical line adjusted to reality, and not to virtual reality, we must do, for now, what’s possible. And for this, the authoritarian mentality engendered by excessive centralisation will have to be allowed to go bankrupt. Some have felt comfortable making decisions without taking people into account. I won’t be going overboard if I reaffirm my view that, in certain places, decisions are being taken that not only ignore the opinion of the electors, they compromise the safety of the inhabitants of the sugar mill town, the village or the municipality.***

In the end, I’m not alarmed. We’re engaged in a constructive, regenerative debate against outdated habits and concepts in the midst of certain exhausted structures. We have, therefore, a unique opportunity to think, debate and act amid the necessary and inevitable differences over how to do it or where we’re headed. The word “dream” is not an economic term, yet dreams are awakened by the insomnia of necessities.

*Here, Sexto seems to be saying that without worker participation in management, state enterprise directors have no real power because they respond only to directives from higher up the administrative chain of command.

**If dilapidated state enterprises are handed over to the workers to manage as cooperatives, where are they going to get the investment funds needed to modernise them? The challenge is to harmonise central planning, subordinate market mechanisms and worker participation to spur labour productivity growth.

***In Sexto’s commentary “The good and the bad” he gives the example of a town of some 6,000 inhabitants that no longer has an ambulance.

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