Sunday, January 30, 2011

Debate: China, Cuba and socialism

[Tom Whitney, a reader of my blog from Maine in the US, asked if I'd encourage readers to sign on to a new petition urging Obama to free the Cuban Five. Here is a link to the petition.]

One of the aims of my blog is "to provide a space for discussion and debate among supporters, however critical, of the Cuban Revolution to sharpen our understanding and, hopefully, to inspire our ongoing solidarity." Most of my posts have been original translations introduced by brief comments, and I intend to maintain this balance of content. With the next post I'll resume my translations.

Below is my reply to Fred Feldman, a US Cuba solidarity activist and former member of the US Socialist Workers Party, who responded to my own comments on China in relation to Cuba (in two recent blog posts here and here) on the CubaNews e-list. I asked Fred's permission to republish his comments here in full, followed by my reply, but he declined, because he feels that such a debate does not belong on this blog and that my reply, which quotes from his comments, is adequate. I respect Fred's wishes so if you want to read his full comments, here they are at CubaNews. My reply, originally posted to CubaNews, has been edited for clarity. 

Fred prefaced his comments as follows: "I have been very impressed with the Cuba's Socialist Renewal website created by Marce Cameron, a devoted supporter of the Cuban revolution. It is a tremendous source of information and inspiration, and continually thought-provoking, about the difficult process Cuba is going through. Nonetheless, I think a couple of the recent posts have shown a tendency to shift gears, bringing in another country which supposedly we must correctly evaluate to determine the situation in Cuba. Not the United States, which influences and pressures Cuba in countless ways, but CHINA."

Debate: China, Cuba and socialism

By Marce Cameron, in reply to Fred Feldman <>       

I'd like to thank Fred Feldman for his comments on my blog, which are constructive criticism and most welcome.

Firstly, I'd like to reassure Fred that is not my intention to turn "Cuba's Socialist Renewal", which is about Cuba, into a blog about China. Nor is it my intention to engage in gratuitous China-bashing. The question of China is relevant to my blog, it seems to me, only in so far as it relates to Cuba's socialist renewal, since the aim of the blog is to sharpen our understanding of the debates and changes unfolding in Cuba.

China has a bearing on these debates and changes in two important ways: economically and politically. Economically, the importance of China is obvious. After Venezuela, China is Cuba's second largest trading partner. Politically, China has an influence on developments in Cuba. How much, and in what direction, is a legitimate subject of discussion and debate.

Why? Because China is viewed by some leftists, in Cuba and elsewhere, as an example of a socialist-oriented society that other countries that aspire to build socialism should seek to emulate. Of course, nobody would suggest that Cuba should try to copy "the Chinese model" exactly, if for no other reason than China and Cuba are two different societies. After uncritically assimilating elements of Soviet bureaucratic "socialism", the Cubans are wary of copying anybody else's model. 

On the other hand, there is no question that Cuba can learn something from China, as it can from any other society. The question is, what? If Cuba emulates China in allowing more space for small-scale private and cooperative initiative then no harm is done, in my opinion, to Cuba's socialist project. But what about the privatisation of large-scale state-owned enterprises? Or the 2002 decision to allow capitalist billionaires to join the Chinese Communist Party?

Neither of these are being contemplated in Cuba, as far as I'm aware, for obvious reasons. But given that Fidel and the rest of the PCC leadership are obliged to publicly laud China's success as a socialist-oriented society and something of a model for Third World development — regardless of whether or not they actually believe this to be true — advocacy from within Cuba for China's pro-capitalist policies, rather than just those policies that coincide with the needs of Cuba's socialist renewal, is effectively encouraged.

That China is building capitalism, rather than socialism, seems clear to me, and I don't understand why recognising this is such a big deal for some Marxists. The state is capitalist, defending and advancing the class interests of the Chinese capitalists. A very strong argument could also be made (though this is beyond the scope of my blog) that the Chinese economy is no longer post-capitalist, but capitalist. As for China's ideological contribution to socialism, there is none. I can think of only four reasons, none of them compelling, why leftists might mistakenly cling to the idea that China is still somehow, despite everything that has happened during the past two decades, socialist (meaning socialist-oriented): (1) ignorance of basic facts regarding China's political regime and social order; (2) the world looks less unpleasant that way; (3) as an overreaction to imperialist China-bashing, especially in the US; (4) Fidel says China is socialist.

In my introductory comments to my translation of Carlos Alzugaray Treto's "Cuba: Continuity and political change", I pointed out one possible — and entirely legitimate from the standpoint of revolutionary statecraft — reason why the PCC leadership publicly lauds China's impressive economic growth rates as having something to do with socialism: revolutionary Cuba's need to maintain excellent trade and diplomatic reasons with China. I pointed out that this was also the case with the Soviet Union in decades past, and that China's capitalist ruling class has geopolitical reasons, unrelated to furthering the international proletarian revolution, for seeking to support socialist Cuba against US imperialism. Any serious discussion of the relationship between the Cuban Revolution and China today needs to address these points.

There's another possible reason, although less likely in my opinion, for the PCC leadership's public endorsement of China's allegedly socialist trajectory. It could simply be that Fidel and the rest of the PCC leadership are wrong on this question. If so, it wouldn't be the first time, since the Cuban comrades are not infallible. Whatever the case may be, the argument that China is socialist because Fidel says so is hardly convincing. The question can only be answered, for Marxists, by a concrete analysis of Chinese economy and society. This, of course, is beyond the scope of my blog. But given that my blog expresses my own views, as well as those of the Cubans whose works I translate, it seems reasonable for me to comment, in passing, on China as I understand it in relation to the Cuban Revolution.

Now I'd like to clear up some misunderstandings in relation to Fred's comments. He writes: "The website has treated his readers to some pretty unbridled denunciations of China." I said that China is not building socialism. That's not a denunciation, it's a political judgment. Neither did I "present the Kingdom of Bhutan on the Indian subcontinent as a positive alternative to China, at least on the level of economic principles." I said that the Cuban journalist whose commentary I translated did not look to China but to Bhutan for inspiration. With regard to what? Not Bhutan's monarchy, semi-feudal social relations, discrimination against the Nepalese ethnic minority or repression of leftist movements, but something very specific: Bhutan's adoption of an alternative measure of national progress that aims, at least on paper, to take into consideration such things as ecological sustainability and preserving cultural identity, rather than the sole neoliberal criterion of maximising GDP growth.

Fred writes: "Marce complains that the Cuban leaders and rank and file have 'illusions' about China, fed by the fact that after the death of Mao (who had a strongly anti-Cuba policy in the last 10 years of his rule, when China was supposedly authentically "socialist") and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, China moved toward a more and more friendly stance toward Cuba, verging on alliance." 

Maoism was a species of Stalinist bureaucratic "socialism" with Chinese characteristics. Up until about 20 years ago, the Chinese socialist state defended post-capitalist property relations, yet this in no longer the case. Hence my view that China is a capitalist state. Secondly, I did not argue that the widespread view in Cuba that China is socialist is a result of China's trade relations with Cuba. Rather, I argued that such illusions are largely a consequence of the PCC's public endorsement of the Chinese leadership's claim to be building socialism, most likely due to legitimate considerations of revolutionary diplomacy.

Fred asks if I support China against imperialism? Yes, as a matter of principle. China is not an imperialist country, it is a Third World country, for all the hype we hear about China these days. "Marce seems to feel that Cuba-China friendship is a current or potential problem for Cuba, threatening its socialist objectives. He seems to feel that the Cuban people must be educated that China is a counter-revolutionary power that plays a reactionary role in the world. He believes that the Cuban CP, if not the government, must spread the news that China has restored capitalism, and that its successes or alleged successes threaten Cuba with capitalist restoration."

I do not think that China's capitalist state is playing a counter-revolutionary role anywhere other than China, and I have never described China's role in the world as "reactionary". This would suggest that China is in the same category as an interventionist imperialist power such as the US or Australia, but non-revolutionary is not the same as reactionary. I never argued that the PCC leadership should denounce China as capitalist. On the contrary, I argued that in the circumstances it is understandable and even principled for the PCC leadership to not do so, because it's the lesser of two evils. Were Fidel or Raul to come out and contradict the Chinese leadership's nonsense about building socialism in China, it would do nothing to advance the cause of a new proletarian revolution in China, while the economic and diplomatic consequences for Cuba could be serious. Just as in the Soviet era, when Fidel and other Cuban leaders kept much of their real views on Soviet "socialism" to themselves, until the Soviet Union itself began to unravel (Che Guevara was more outspoken, especially in relation to Soviet foreign policy).

"Marce assumes — virtually takes for granted — that China has restored capitalism. Fidel and Raul do not believe so as they have often stated. I want to state here that I do not believe so. I really don't know whether my reasons are similar or different from those of Fidel or Raul." I have formed my own opinion on the basis of reading numerous articles and reports on China. One book I can recommend is "China and Socialism - Market Reforms and Class Struggle" by Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett, Aakar Books, Delhi, 2006, 155 pages. It makes a compelling case from a Marxist perspective that China is building capitalism rather than socialism. Also "Socialism and the market: Chinese and Vietnamese roads" by Mike Karadjis, and "Theses on the class nature of the People's Republic of China" by the then Democratic Socialist Party of Australia.          

Fred says that "the world-shaking national revolution in China" has not ended, and that China has retained and defended its sovereignty and independence: "But the national and anti-capitalist revolutions are intertwined. Although the two are not as tightly connected as in Cuba (where the end of socialism means the end of independence, full point) they are still not wholly separable." In my view, there is no revolution in China, there is a capitalist social counter-revolution against the remnants of the post-capitalist planned economy. To say that there is a revolution going on in China, the same revolution that brought the People's Liberation Army to power in 1949, is to confuse the rhetoric of China's capitalist leaders with reality, and they don't even talk about revolution any more, they talk about making money.  

"Marce suggests that there is some secret faction of bureaucrats in Cuba who want to impose 'neo-liberalism' (so that they can become millionaires) — their concepts supposedly borrowed from or offered to or perhaps even demanded of Cuba by China. Does he have evidence of this, besides his belief that it must be true? I have none whatever." If there is a secret pro-capitalist faction in the PCC then I would be unaware of it, and it would be foolish to speculate about the existence of such a faction. If there were a faction and it wasn't secret, then the members of this faction would presumably be expelled for factional activity by the PCC leadership given that, understandably in Cuba's circumstances, factions of any kind are banned. I made no such claim.

"Should Cubans today be sniffing around for potential 'capitalist roaders' or should they be letting everybody speak their minds and not ruthlessly interrogating the "logic" of their positions which are assumed to leads to such and such evil end?", Fred asks. Clearly, Cuba's revolutionaries need to do both. They need to take up Raul's call for free and frank debate and, at the same time, argue against those who propose pro-capitalist policies for Cuba (such as the privatisation of large-scale socialist state enterprises), whether inspired by China or not. China's ruling capitalists are capitalist roaders, and the arguments of those who advocate pro-capitalist "reforms" for Cuba on the basis of China's "socialist" successes need to be refuted. In refuting such arguments, it helps to be able to explain how and why China is not building socialism, but capitalism.

I am not the first to suggest that there are people in Cuba with a pro-capitalist outlook who advocate Chinese-style neoliberal "solutions" to the problems facing Cuba's revolution, or who practice an ethical conduct consistent with Deng Xiaoping's best-known contribution to "socialist" ideology: "To get rich is glorious". Here is an extract from a commentary by the late Cuban revolutionary Celia Hart, daughter of Armando Hart and Haydee Santamaria, two leading figures in the Cuban Revolution. Celia Hart was a PCC member until 2006:

"The Communist Party of China says it is building Socialism .... Chinese private property continues increasing, instead of decreasing. As I have read, China is currently the favourite destination of big capitalists: the country has become a tremendous exporting machine. China's total exports grew eight fold — to over 380 billion dollars between 1990 and 2003. Five hundred of the biggest multinational corporations of the planet have businesses and investments in that country. Besides, in order to mitigate the tension created recently by the massive layoffs by state corporations, 45 million workers in the last five years, Beijing has allowed foreigners to add 450 billion dollars to its economy. Is the socialist market economy a temporary NEP [New Economic Policy: concessions to market mechanisms in Soviet Russia following the civil war under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky]? I don't think so. If the economic power is so strong, how come 58,000 workers launched a strike and they are illegal? Why is it estimated that unemployment affects 23% of the Chinese workforce, about 170 million people affected by privatization, adjustments by State corporations because of their low productivity and population growth? Why is it that the World Health Organization states that seven out of ten of the most polluted cities in the planet are in the People's Republic of China? Could it be that the means became the end? Do Chinese social indices correspond to its economic power? And if the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square happen again, whom should we support? China's Communist Party, just because it is called Communist?

"I can understand that these are manifestations of the current economic situation. I have already explained that Cuba is doing it to some degree. But where is China's antidote? How many Chinese are teaching schools or taking care of the sick on the Asian continent? Where is their anti-imperialist position? That is how my country is different. In Cuba, these two tendencies are struggling against each other, with socialism clearly in the front. In China, the Communist Party invites business executives to become members of the Party."

Note that Hart says that in Cuba, "these two tendencies are struggling against each other, with socialism clearly in the front." Such a struggle between pro-socialist and pro-capitalist tendencies, taking the form of currents of opinion and of ethical conduct rather than factions in Cuba's case, must have some reflection in the PCC. The revolutionary party, which is a party in power, cannot be hermetically sealed off from such pro-capitalist ideas and influences. (Washington's tiny bands of hired "dissidents" have hardly any influence in Cuba). Such influences must be combated ideologically. Hart continues: "We have to grant China that it has become the model of efficiency in the capitalist world. I have no urge, however, to applaud that achievement. China is not experiencing socialist revolution. This is regardless of the fact that China is maintaining correct trade relations with developing nations (or undeveloped, as I should say). But they are still just trade relations." Exactly.

Fred: "China is another huge subject, one of the most complex and inclusive in the world, I have a feeling that you stumbled into this on the assumption that all right-thinking citizens agreed with your assumptions, but this is not true." Perhaps, but we should not avoid this discussion nor prevent it from spilling over, a little, into a blog that aims to sharpen our understanding of the debates and changes in Cuba. "Placing support to Cuba side by side with hostility to China as a single package, and asking that it be accepted as a package, opens up a debate which your site is not strong enough to bear, and has no reason to carry. I suggest that you take your views on China to the Green Left List, often militantly anti-China (not racially but as a reactionary and counterrevolutionary state in their view), and other left lists. But do not make this part of the political axis of your valuable list."

I don't expect readers of my blog to accept any of my comments either individually or as a "package". I hope that readers will consider them on their merits, be inspired to read further and make up their own minds, as I'm sure they will. My blog is not an instrument of Cuban foreign policy and I am not a member of the Cuban Communist Party. I am in political solidarity with the PCC, a relationship that obliges me, among other things, to tell the truth as I see it. I do not think that to support the Cuban Revolution you have to have a correct view of the class nature of the Chinese state.

But it helps, because it allows us to better understand the debates and changes underway in Cuba in their connection with the rest of the world, and understanding is the basis for solidarity. China is not only a big part of this world in which revolutionary Cuba is inserted, it is also a point of reference for Cubans in their own debates over the future of Cuba's socialist project. A point of reference for what? A successful model of socialist development for a Third World country? A successful capitalist restoration? That's the subject of debate in Cuba and elsewhere. I don't see why I, or other supporters of the Cuban Revolution, should seek to avoid this debate or confine it to the Green Left email list, as Fred suggests.

Marce Cameron

1 comment:

  1. Marce noted 4 reasons why leftists might cling to the idea that China is still somehow socialist. I could add a 5th: a confusion between a nationalist bourgeois programme and socialism. I think that despite the obvious penetration of multinational capitals into China there are also strategic parts of the economy controlled by the state. They are not following a simple neo-liberal free trade course; they still build big state infrastructure projects and so forth. The Chinese push into renewable energy (for energy security, largely I think) may be another example of such a pro-active move that benefits the development of indigenous capitals in China and their national independence.

    I think there's enough evidence to suggest that this national development is no longer tied in any way to the development of socialism, as Marce points out here fairly convincingly.

    China is not either a simple poor third world country. Compared to India, also hyped as an up-and-coming economic power, it is light years ahead. I think this is related to its revolutionary history. Firstly, the partial state control of the economy which India has not had; and second, land reform in China means rural poverty is less dire and probably results in a much more educated potential workforce, as rural families are still able to send their children to school.

    I haven't read extensively on China but the commonsense wisdom that it is no longer "socialist" in any way seems to be fairly accurate; it's not socialist, nor third world, nor imperialist, it is in transition and that is probably why it is causing such a stir in international politics. That's an impression not a carefully researched thesis, but I thought I'd add it in.

    As this relates to Cuba, where (as it's been noted) the national-independence and socialist revolutions remain essentially intertwined, I can imagine that many in the PCC might also make the error of assuming that the ongoing national-independence revolution in China remains tied somehow to an opposition to capitalism; or even that regardless of socialism, China is progressing so well on so many fronts that it is worthy of emulation in any case. I think there are huge pitfalls in that related to a productivist view of building socialism, but that's another discussion.


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