Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Translation: Sustainable happiness?

In my last post I commented on the illusion, widespread in Cuba today, that China is building socialism. In this noteworthy commentary, Ricardo Ronquillo Bello looks not to China for inspiration but to one of China's neighbours, the little-known kingdom of Bhutan, where they strive for "Gross National Happiness" rather than GDP growth. 

He warns against those inside Cuba who peddle the snake-oil of neoliberal capitalism in a bottle labelled "socialism" — hinting that, unsurprisingly, such neoliberal views are held by at least some in the PCC, most likely administrators with a pro-capitalist outlook who calculate that they might become millionaires if capitalism were ever restored in Cuba. Of course, such elements cannot openly advocate capitalist restoration. And they are up against a formidable obstacle: a mass revolutionary socialist party led by the historic leadership of the 1959 revolution with some 800,000 members, firm roots in the working class, a heroic tradition of internationalism and, counting the PCC's predecessors, five decades of hard-won struggle experience. As Carlos Alzugaray Treto pointed out in "Cuba: Continuity and political change":

Despite the fact that the PCC leadership has committed errors that have been recognised and/or rectified, and that methods and styles of work bearing the imprint of their origins in the Soviet political model still persist — such as the excess of centralism, for example — in reality the Cuban leadership has been concerned with two central aspects: the vanguard character of its militants that must be the first in every political social initiative, and the struggle against manifestations of corruption in its ranks. The honesty, sensitivity and the spirit of sacrifice championed by Che Guevara have been, in general, paradigms of Cuban communist conduct and not the privileges and perks of the nomenclatura, as happened under actually existing socialism [e.g. Soviet bureaucratic "socialism"]. 

Sustainable happiness?

By Ricardo Ronquillo Bello

Juventud Rebelde, January 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Postmodern and technocratic humanity is challenged by a "little finger" [small] state between the Asiatic mountains. It stopped measuring development according to the vagaries of the gross domestic product, to do it with something as marvellously carnal and tender as gross domestic happiness.

The more one considers this "eccentricity" of Bhutan, in a world governed by financismo and extreme marketing, the better one sees its connection to what Cuba aspires to in its economic updating.        

According to analysts, the Buddhist leaders and people of this nation try to combine economic modernisation with cultural solidity and social wellbeing. Gross domestic happiness is much more than generalised [economic] growth that favours the poor. Bhutan also asks itself how to combine economic growth with ecological sustainability, how to preserve traditional equality and foster its unique cultural heritage, and how individuals can maintain their psychological stability in an era of rapid change, signalled by urbanisation and an avalanche of global communication.

When dwelling on such considerations, one concludes that few planetary spaces are like Cuba in having a sediment so essentially humanistic as a basis for entrenching such a proposal, since the island awoke on January 1959 to the triumph of an insurrection that placed man, her freedom, hope and happiness, at the centre of things.

This can ensure [the continuity of this project] despite the well-intentioned errors of idealism, one of whose consequences is precisely that of having wanted to redistribute more wellbeing than the economy would allow with its implacable logic, in the end creating disproportions and unmet needs that the reactivation now underway seeks to rectify.

We forgot the venerable Marx in his warnings that the economic basis determines the superstructure; and the readjustment aims to correct this inconsistency with the classics of socialism, because only the broad tree-trunk of the economy allows the enduring growth of the branches of happiness.   

But the strange dream of Bhutan brings other warnings. It does so against those who nourish from within [Cuba] certain ideas of "neoliberal socialism", which have nothing to do with the premises of the updating [of Cuba's socialist model]. Unaware that on the historic corner of 23rd and 12th Streets, in Havana, it was proclaimed almost 50 years ago, on the eve of the fighting at the Bay of Pigs [where the US sponsored a failed mercenary invasion] that Cuba's was a Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble; and because of this, socialist.    

What's more, it warns us against those who try to boil for us bitterer brews as a remedy for errors, masking adverse reactions and side-effects to prescribe it in pharmaceutical tones. By chance, circulating on the internet is one of those analyses that does not tastefully replicate what is said by those who hold the reins of the global misinformation machine.              

It turn out that there is a UN report that recognises the grave social consequences of the change to capitalism in the former USSR and Eastern Europe. Reproduced by a columnist for the magazine Free Thinking, its contents point to the fact that this restoration signified a regression for all the Eastern European countries, both on the economic and social planes.  

According to the UN, the step from a planned to a market economy was accompanied by big changes in the distribution of national wealth and wellbeing, and the figures show it to be the most rapid mutation of its kind ever registered. "This is dramatic and has involved a high human cost." The international organisation stressed that the state-owned economic sectors were sold off at ridiculously low prices and a large part of the powerful economic and industrial apparatus was dismantled. In a matter of years, it specified, the great industrial power that was [Soviet] Russia became a Third World country. The Soviet Union regressed some one hundred years.     

If in the field of economics this is like the Guernica of that model of socialism, the social situation would cause those same Buddhist monks of Bhutan to cross themselves, because the list of calamities is long. The UN refers to the around 150 million inhabitants of the ex-URRS that were plunged into poverty at the beginning of the 1990s. One tenth of the inhabitants of the old [post-capitalist] Eastern Europe are undernourished.

The document points out that for the first time in 50 years illiteracy reappeared, tuberculosis is once again almost at Third World levels, the number of syphilis cases grew substantially and the number of alcoholics doubled in Russia. The UN estimates that the number of deaths in the former socialist countries that can be attributed to new illnesses (that are easily curable) and to violence (war), was two million in the first five years of the step towards capitalism.      

All of this panorama, the article reveals, led to the population oscillating between deception, resignation and indignation. Not even Poland, recognised for having been left the most unscathed by the transition, escaped this. 

In that country, where socialism was never pleasant, 44% of the inhabitants judged the Eastern bloc period to have been positive, while 47% think socialism is a good doctrine that "has been badly applied". Some 76% of Germans agree with the Poles in this regard, and only one in three are satisfied with the way their nation works today, to mention some examples.     

This harsh deception enjoins us, as [Cuban writer and critic] Graziella Pogolotti said recently, to rescue, tempered by the premises of our times and extracting the lessons of our own secular apprenticeship, our stage, valid for the future and for responding to our challenges.    

The Cuba of the economic and social updating, led by the [Cuban Communist] Party and the Revolution, has before it the necessary recasting of its humanism. So as the prestigious intellectual [Pogolotti] explains, more than any other, the national circumstances demand the ascension of this perspective.         

We just have to learn to guide the economy efficiently so that this renewal produces sustainable happiness.   

1 comment:

  1. Looking critically at China is very important. China's recent economic success seems to have swung a lot of the world's left toward crude productivism and the use of market mechanisms as key elements of building socialism. Insofar as Ronquillo Bello argues against this, it is great.

    Just one quibble with his argument, though. Perhaps he would do better to cite the utopian "Living Well" philosophy of some of the Bolivian revolutionaries. Because Bhutan, for all its rhetoric sounds like a terrible place, at least if you aren't Bhutanese. Their treatment of ethnic Nepalese, many of whom are natives of Bhutan, is terrible, and there has been a huge displacement of these people who are now living as refugees in Nepal, India and elsewhere.


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