Thursday, February 17, 2011

Translation: The fragmentation of anxiety

Regular readers of my blog may have been wondering why I had not posted any translations since February 8. Don't worry, I wasn't taking a break from Cuba solidarity work, I was working on the Sydney University Cuba-Venezuela Solidarity Club broadsheet for the start of the new university year in Australia. Four thousand copies have now been printed for distribution at Sydney University, the Australian National University in Canberra and the University of Western Australia in Perth. If you're interested you can view or download a PDF version of this broadsheet from the homepage of the Cuba-Venezuela Solidarity Clubs website.

I should also take this opportunity to thank Norman Girvan from the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, for compiling a nice PDF version of my complete translation of Carlos Alzugaray's essay "Cuba: Continuity and political change", with permission from the author and the magazine TemasHere is the link to the compilation.

Below is Luis Sexto's latest commentary in Juventud Rebelde. Notable is the following: "I've spent the past 40 years of my journalistic career expressing opinions; I have never been told what to think, nor what to say." He alludes to the fact that self-censorship, as much if not more so than official censorship, has contributed to the stifling of critical reflection and debate in Cuba's revolutionary mass media. This is changing: Raul Castro has repeatedly urged Cubans to speak their minds and abandon displays of false unanimity.     

The fragmentation of anxiety

By Luis Sexto

Juventud Rebelde, February 10, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Cuban Communist Party offices, Old Havana
Those who have suffered it may relate how anxiety fragments one from within; it perplexes. And without this commentator pretending to know anything about medicine, I could elaborate on this example and admit that a collective anxiety could undermine the general unity [around Cuba's socialist project].         

I've begun my commentary with such scientific "rigour" because some of the messages [from readers] that arrive in my mailbox pulse with anxiety. I don't doubt the sincerity with which they've been written; and I realise that rather than doubt, people feel somewhat desperately anxious that the problems be resolved or dissolved. And there's a danger in that, because anxiety, I've heard it said, is like the waiting room for depression and pessimism.

The anxiety seems to play with some of us. Before knowing about the socio-economic strategy [proposed in the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelinesto confront the weaknesses and deficiencies of our society, many revolutionary Cubans were alarmed because time passed and "nothing was done". We were anxious, and time snipped away at our hope... OK, Raul [Castro] had warned that everything had to be thought through very gradually, intelligently and maturely, so that the country would not make mistakes. We must not forget, and this is the opinion of this commentator, that sometimes in Cuba errors are rectified with other errors.    

Well then, now anxiety arises in some because they believe that what is decided is a brainchild of the bureaucracy aimed at dismantling the country. Yes, this has been said in the messages of some people who are very honourably worried. One can understand, then, that anxiety hopes that the solutions materialise in hours and that nothing changes so that nobody suffers. As if Cinderella's fairy godmother could change pumpkins into luxury coaches... when we can't even cultivate pumpkins.           

Excuse my frankness. I've learned to trust in a republic that has not only confronted its errors and its negative historical heritage, but which also has to deal with an external enemy which is not a child's bedtime story. Outside the country there are those who do their utmost to leave revolutionary Cuba defenceless.

On the other hand, if the Revolution and the socialist state cease being paternalistic institutions, pampering, unable to utilise everything and everyone efficiently, the cure for these ills will not be painless. Nobody doubts that [state-sector] payrolls were inflated, unbearable; nobody doubts that efficiency and everything else flows from restoring the value of work [i.e. reasserting the role of wages], and so long as five people do the work of one, work will never be valued. Nobody doubts, either, that there have been excessively generous pensions that need to be revised — albeit with caution and justice.            

I'd like to say, in summary, that when one pokes at a wound in order to heal it, it hurts. And because of this I believe that what has been projected and discussed so far, and what may be projected and discussed in the future is more than a mere bureaucratic formula; it's a decentralising strategy aimed at the bureaucratic mentality, which will surely be defended. Perhaps the principles [of the "updating" of Cuba's socialist economic model] published in well-known documents do not cede space [to workers, cooperatives and small-scale private enterprises]? Perhaps they do not aim to convert self-employment into a creative sector that contributes to resolving necessities? And if someone complains today about taxes, I'm of the opinion that at some point they'll have to serve as a stimulus [to production and services] while rationally controlling excessive enrichment.

There will be compatriots who don't share my opinions. I've spent the past 40 years of my journalistic career expressing opinions; I have never been told what to think, nor what to say. So I'll finish by saying, as I said a week ago: if those that committed errors are the same as those who will have to rectify them, I interpret this phrase as saying that they are the same because we are the same nation, the same people. And that therefore we must renew ourselves inside and out, ethically and patriotically, and accept that politics, from the municipality upwards, has to create confidence, to explain, to convince, and to make us — as Che  would say — the first to act and the last to receive. And also the first to trust. All this touches on everything we've done to justify our existence in the Revolution that arose to liberate us from external and internal leashes, despite errors and frustrated dreams that await our collective and solidaristic kiss to awaken, renewed.   

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Translation: Is service a pleasure?

In this editorial, La Calle del Medio editor Enrique Ubieta takes a magnifying glass to revolutionary Cuba's notoriously deficient service culture. He points out that in liberating themselves from capitalist servitude and servility, Cuba's working people embraced a service culture in which, more often than not, those who serve feel that it is beneath their dignity to really serve, which means to take pride and pleasure in providing a quality service, understanding that the roles of server and served are mutually interchangeable: the conscientious waiter who puts a folded napkin under an unstable dining table hopes that the taxi driver who takes her home from work that night is punctual, pleasant and does not fill the cab with his vile cigar smoke.

Importantly, Ubieta notes that while small salaries may contribute to indifference on the part of service workers, money isn't everything: much of the problem is due to what he calls cultural deficiencies, for which the only remedy is consciousness. Service providers must be more aware of their responsibilities, and those who are served must be more aware of their rights. The conversion of many small service entities into cooperatives and small private businesses should do much to improve Cuba's service culture. Breaking with the notion that the socialist-oriented society means state ownership and management of almost the entire economy, the Cuban Communist Party leadership proposes a harmonious synthesis of market mechanisms subordinated to social planning, rather than the premature suppression of the market — a return to classical Marxism's conception of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism.

Is service a pleasure?

By Enrique Ubieta

La Calle Del Medio, No. 28, August 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron

We often comment on the inefficiency of the services in Cuba. I refer to a broad spectrum of job descriptions, more or less specialised, whose content may be summed up in the verb: to serve, whether in gastronomy, banking, as a doctor or hospital worker, a salesperson, taxi driver, receptionist or an office worker who must approve something. In one way or another, all workers provide a service to society, directly or indirectly. But when we talk about the services sector we refer to those whose main responsibility is to satisfy in a direct way a specific request of a customer (client, patient, etc.). And the inconformity that we feel is not, in general, related to some material deficiency (which exist), but to cultural deficiencies.

Under capitalism, non-specialised services are generally provided by people with few resources to those with greater resources; and those who provide specialised services — to the middle class or those who aspire to become part of this class — do so in a disciplined way, because their job is insecure and there are many others waiting to take it.     

The Revolution made all citizens equal from the moral and juridical standpoints, and it delegitimised capitalist servitude, from which comes the concept of the servant (associated in modern cities with the domestic work done basically by poor women or immigrants, almost non-existent for many years in Cuban society); the Revolution placed human dignity at the forefront, and Cubans today usually feel very sensitive about anything that affects it. We are helpful, solidaristic — in a spontaneous way, because this is a free act — but we do not accept servitude and servility.         

I think one can perceive in this the source of a colossal confusion: when someone occupies a work post whose function is to serve, and receives a salary for this — larger or smaller, it doesn't matter — they must shed any false sense of egalitarianism. He who serves (and is paid for this) and she who is served (and who pays, whether directly to those who provide the service or to the enterprise they work for) are not equals, not in the sense of citizens but in the limited context of their social roles. If someone cannot remain unaffected by the server-served relation, it is the latter. It's common in our society for the service provider to tell those they serve about their weariness, disgust, poor working conditions when — beyond any possible relation of friendship or camaraderie — she who is served is not only distant from these problems and must remain so, but those who serve have no right to make such allegations as a premise for maltreatment.    

On occasion, celebrations are organised to mark socially significant dates — Mother's Day, bank worker's day or that of any other profession, etc. — during working hours, and the customer finds a note "justifying" the closure of the establishment, as if the explanation would have solved the problem. The service provider has no right to celebrate if this affects the service, and must do so outside work hours. Sometimes, a fumigator [Cuban homes and premises are fumigated against the mosquito that causes dengue fever] — another example taken from daily life — gets the administrator of a service  establishment to close an hour or two before the end of the work day, a mutually beneficial pact, but also unacceptable. Also inadmissible is lack of service during a long change of shift. The client or customer does not care how the employees change shift without affecting the service, but it must be done. Cuban society must reorganise itself not in favour of those that serve, but in favour of those who are served, which is ultimately all of us, because he who serves is also a receiver of multiple services.                

There is another aspect that has to do with formal education and the service culture. This is being treated well. Being friendly, respectful, helpful. Responding to the client or the customer with a "whatever you like, little sexy one", or "tell me what you want, my Asian-looking girl" is not friendliness — please! — it's lack of respect. To serve is not to sell a product, it's to satisfy a customer. An excellent service means that the person we attend to enjoys (as we do) the act of pleasing us. It's bad if a paying customer is a whiner, but it's inconceivable that someone who is paid for their services is so. The client cannot wait for the employee to finish an animated conversation with a friend to be attended to. Or that the workers in an establishment take refuge in the compartmentalised functions of each worker, so that a long queue waits to be served while two or more employees stroll around here and there doing nothing (or pretending to do something, or a task that can be postponed), detached and unperturbed.

The reason for such absurdities is not monetary, it is cultural. I've seen similar maltreatment in luxurious hotels, or in shops, where those that serve receive salaries and tips which taken together far exceed the national average. Serving must be a pleasure, more so in a socialist society, in which everyone enjoys equal opportunities. La Calle del Medio    

Monday, February 7, 2011

Translation: On the services sector

Since Raul Castro called for free and frank public debate on the future of socialism in Cuba soon after he became acting president in July 2006, institutional spaces for such ongoing debate have been gradually opening up. One of these new spaces is the magazine La Calle del Medio, a "monthly publication of opinion and debate" launched in May 2008. The magazine breaks new ground in Cuba for its attractive, modern, professional layout throughout its 16 colour pages.

Edited by Enrique Ubieta, whose essay "Revolution or reform in Cuba" I translated and posted previously, La Calle del Medio seems to have won, judging by the letters to the editor, a youthful following. Two pages of each edition are dedicated to such letters, which often begin with a note of appreciation to the editorial team for providing such a space for critical reflection and debate within the framework of support for Cuba's socialist project.

An archive of the PDF files of the magazine is here

On the services sector

Letter to La Calle del Medio, published in issue No. 31, November 2010   

Translation: Marce Cameron

First of all I'd like to congratulate you on the idea of creating this space for public debate, so necessary above all in these times in which we have been urged to express ideas that could contribute to improving our society in every sense.

I'd like to express my opinion on the theme of services. After reading the letters pages of No. 28 of your magazine, I'd like to say that I agree with almost everything expressed by the readers on this theme. However, I think there's something very important that is not talked about, regarding "culture" in the broad sense of the word as a generic expression that includes aesthetic culture — which refers to everything related to the vulgarity of the surroundings of some premises, the poor quality in the presentation of certain products, excessively loud music, the sloppy appearance of some employees due to the poor use of their uniform, sometimes with deficient personal hygiene etc — a consumer culture that at times has no other role model, and which accepts as good that which would be considered mediocre or bad in any other place, and in which one is so accustomed to being maltreated that one does not realise when one is being maltreated, and that in other cases poor education discourages the good service that, for example, a waiter in a restaurant tries to give, which disparages the professional conduct of this profession, and they say to you, for example, "Compadre, don't pick a fight about this when the thing is, they bring your food quickly."

The public in itself forms part of the aesthetic environment, loud and fragrant in a cabaret, cafe, restaurant or public office. Abstracting a little, now imagine the same place, with identical furnishings, with the same employees and the same service. Now imagine two different publics. In the first case, imagine the public conducting itself appropriately, speaking in an appropriate tone of voice, appropriately neat and well-dressed for the occasion and capable of appreciating and being grateful for the good service provided by the employees, that the music is appropriate for the occasion and the sound level suitable for the establishment. Now wake yourself up and think about how you would feel in this same place, changing only the public: now there's a certain stench of sweat in the air, mixed with garish perfume, cigar smoke and beer, the music so loud that it inhibits conversation so people shout to make themselves heard, the employees are forced to lower the quality of their service by the patrons, and what's more the quality service they know how to provide goes unrecognised or unappreciated.    

Finally, behind the lack of demand for the rights of the consumers is in many cases the lack of civic culture, which leads to things remaining as they are as if there were no solution. The lack of competition between establishments also has an influence, since often people have few options.        

In conclusion, I'd like to draw attention once again to "culture", which also has something to do with the paradigms seen so frequently on our TV, in the songs that seem at times to be the war hymns of the most savage cannibalistic tribes of the underworld, and at other times are just empty lyrics that stimulate consumerism, irresponsibility and lack of values, sung by singers decked out in chains, gold fangs and tattoos, whose gestures and movements have nothing to do with the elegance that always characterises Cuban dance. Apologies if I went on too long, and I hope I didn't offend anyone.

Enrique Cino, retired pilot

Translation: Assault on the highway

In this provocatively titled commentary, Ricardo Ronquillo Bello notes that within a few years, if all goes according to plan, "almost half of Cuba's GDP will come from non-state forms of management". It should be noted that this refers to management, and not necessarily ownership, of productive property.

For example, a hairdressing salon may be cooperatively or privately managed, but the premises will still belong to the state, i.e. to the municipal People's Power administration. Another example: Cuba's socialist state is leasing, rent free on a long-term basis, idle farmland, an arrangement known as usufruct. The Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines explicitly state: "3. In the new forms of non-state management, the concentration of ownership [of productive property] in legal or natural entities shall not be permitted."

While ruling out privatisation, the Cuban Communist Party leadership is proposing to expand the cooperative and small-scale private sectors. Cooperatives, small private businesses and the self-employed will be able to lease state property (land or premises) and will pay taxes. Their expanded contribution to production and services will have to be incorporated into social planning, which will continue to be "the principal means to direct the national economy", according to paragraph 1 of the Guidelines.

Assault on the highway

By Ricardo Ronquillo Bello

Juventud Rebelde, February 5, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

There are "assaults" that are welcome. To say this would seem folly according to the traditional conception, but as one traverses the National Freeway and the Central Highway these days, the laudable idiomatic derivations of these words "assault" in an untimely manner: incursion, attack, penetration...

She who undertakes a journey by these roads feels that the updated economic "architecture" that Cuba bets on is sketched in that sequence of small and very Creole farms, and in those people of all genders and colours that rush to the commercial conquest of the travellers [a reference to the petty traders that line Cuban highways].             

There's no doubt that along the edges of the highways and roads and the railways lines one discovers the most intimate depths of any nation. The opacity or splendour of the countryside and of the people that parade past the eyes of the traveller are like a perfect snapshot of its state of health.

Not by chance, the updating impetus of the Revolution had among its first wake-up calls the critical description of the abundance of the marabu bush [a thorny scrub that infests vast areas of Cuba's agricultural lands] along the edges of our highways by General Raul Castro [in a speech in July 2007].

We can then appreciate how national energies previously hidden or surreptitious [a reference to the black market] begin to reveal themselves without shame or atavism [i.e. reversion to defeated capitalism]. Also, how the diverse material forces which the economic reactivation must be based on begin to harmoniously reunite with their moral forces, as called for by Jose Ingenieros, one of the first and greatest Latin American Marxists.

The platform proposed in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution, that will enrich the public debates now taking place, opens the ideological space needed to reconcile the interests of the nation with the most diverse forms of channelling these interests, whether via the initiative of [socialist] state, cooperative, family or individual property.

One of Cuba's big challenges is to update an economy with a liberating, social and solidaristic vocation without betting on the hegemonic preponderance of state property. To this end, the Guidelines would have us leave behind the schemas, dogmas or distortions that would obstruct the path of the period of transition towards socialism.

The projection that within a few years almost half of Cuba's GDP will come from non-state forms of management [of state, cooperative or private property] is one of the most audacious structural propositions of the current updating process, and one which will demand profound changes in our economic and ideological conceptions.

One of the unavoidable theoretical and practical implications will be a radical change in the conception of planning, a principle that rescues and assumes an essential role in the socialist updating, so that all economic [i.e. property] forms can converge in the plan without traumas or ruptures.

Including those [petty traders] that are beginning to improve the verges of the National Freeway and the Central Highway, and who indicate to us the challenging though promising roads that the country will have to travel.       

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Translation: Port workers debate Guidelines

In Australia, port workers are known as "wharfies". In the US they are known as "longshoremen", while elsewhere in the English-speaking world they are "stevedores", "dockworkers" or "dockers". Such are the difficulties of translation for a multinational audience. 

At the other end of the lexical labyrinth are the peculiarities of Cuban Spanish. I once made the innocent mistake of asking for a "papaya" in a Havana fruit market, not realising that in certain parts of Cuba — unlike in the rest of the Latin America — "papaya" is a colloquial term for vagina. My request drew howls of laughter from the youths working the fruit stall.

Here is another report of a grassroots debate on the Draft Guidelines.

Port workers in the economic debate  

By Lourdes Perez Navarro

Granma, January 31, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Achieving an elementary understanding of economics among leaders as well as workers was a recurring theme during the debate on the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution that took place in the Haiphong Base Enterprise Unit, belonging to the Havana Port Services Enterprise of the ASPORT Enterprise Group [of socialist state enterprises].

Commenting on Chapter 1 that deals with the economic management model, Dionisio Zayas pointed out that the preparation of leaders from the enterprise point of view is very precarious. "The ABC of the [enterprise] director is the economy, having an understanding of accounting and finances; they don't have to be a specialist, as General Raul Castro said [in the National Assembly in December], but they have to know the elementary principles".                 

We come across enterprises, he added, where the technical economic plan is not discussed with the workers, despite the obligation to do so. "The plan has to be discussed first with the workers, not discussed in an office and then the order comes down to comply with this or that."

He concluded: "If everyone contributes what they're supposed to in an optimal way, we're going to leave behind the economic potholes that we have today."

Individual responsibility in the economic context also surfaced in the discussion. It's essential that we workers master fundamental aspects of the economy, said Hugo Pons.

Participation in the planning process, he said, is precisely one of the cardinal elements to ensure that the workers assume the role that corresponds to us if we truly are [co-]owners of the means of production.               

After reading an excerpt from Guideline No. 4 — that imposes a training process on all the institutions that would facilitate the structural, functional, organisational and economic changes in the enterprise system — Pons insisted on the need to "achieve ever greater mastery over every little thing we do, independently of the fact that, certainly, the management of the enterprise must be sound to begin with, but it won't be sound enough if its workers are not."

Dionisio Zayas intervened in the analysis of Chapter 5 on Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, and proposed a new Guideline: "Ensure the implementation of Law 38 on Innovations and Rationalisations".

Commenting on the chapter referring to transport policy, Gustavo Monteagudo expressed support for the idea of creating cooperatives in the public transport system for passengers, which would stimulate discipline, good service and care for the means of transport.   

In Guideline No. 264, which talks about "organising and prioritising attention to and the quality of technical services for the maintenance and technical readiness of the means of transport...", Juan Vasquez thought it would hit the nail on the head if rather than saying "attention to", it said "the assurance of technical equipment".

If we are not assured a supply of spare parts to make the changes when needed according to the maintenance cycle, the time will come when, at the end of the warranty period, the equipment is out of service, he said.   

Alicia Lean said that in Guideline No. 273, where it says that the work of maintaining and conserving the housing stock must receive priority attention, it should be added: "and reduce the paperwork for these efforts". They are so cumbersome, she said, that the people tire of them, stop going through the formalities and resort to illegalities.

One of the workers directed a question to the chair of the meeting: "Aren't we going to take a vote on whether or not we approve of the interventions of the compañeros? The response was a clear expression of socialist democracy: "Everyone is free to propose whatever they like; all the proposals will be recorded and compiled, and will enrich the debates of the 6th Party Congress."

Translation: Fashions and methods

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, founders of the doctrine of scientific socialism, foresaw the need for a period of transition between capitalism and a future communist society — which, it should be recalled, is only conceivable on a global scale on the basis of the revolutionary transformation of the most developed capitalist societies.

While the terms "socialism" and "communism" are often used interchangeably, in the Cuban context "socialism" refers to a socialist-oriented, post-capitalist society such as revolutionary Cuba. The "primitive accumulation" Sexto refers to here is not the accumulation of large-scale productive property by a bourgeoisie, but the development of the productive forces as a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the building of socialism. 

Fashions and methods

By Luis Sexto

Juventud Rebelde, February 3, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

It's curious: some of those who write about Cuba and its problems do so from a distance, physical or ideological, or from intuitions furnished by the speeches or prayer books of the ultra-left or the chameleon-like or yellow right. Even [Cuban-born anti-Castro terrorist] Posada Carriles declared recently in Miami that "now we're winning", in an allusion to the supposed return of capitalism to Cuba.

From that vantage point from which leftists and rightists are mistaken for each other, including terrorists, gestate various of these articles and declarations, so strictly doctrinaire that they give the internet indigestion. And what could the average Cuban, she who struggles for her supper in the daily bustle, say in the face of such reproaches that are formulated in the name of the dogma that Cuba is trying to extinguish? "OK, my friend, socialism needs food, shoes, clothes, transport. Or is it that you want to place me on the altar of your little demons, always awaiting gifts or the fulfilment of promises?" Accordingly, if the economic strategy that is applied in Cuba — necessarily drastic and, because of this, urging cooperation and understanding — helps to provide food, clothing, transport, to make health care and education more efficacious, winds back the subsidies and the gifts [from the socialist state to all Cubans regardless of their labour contribution] and pushes back bureaucratic authoritarianism, it may be that we Cubans who live in Cuba will see the beginnings of a socialist construction whose first requirement is to have goods to distribute. Because, and it seems I'm repeating this idea, no theory that promises to evenly distribute poverty, and only poverty, could be called socialist.

It seems to me that today, the step towards the perfecting of socialism is rational, reflexive, cautious, without improvisations that degenerate into excesses of idealism whose most harmful manifestation would be wanting to conquer in days that which requires years.

From the outside and also from within, Cuba is threatened by temptations that recommend new leaps into the void. For example, can work collectives be put in the driver's seat of [socialist state] enterprises with deteriorated economies and weighed down by the bureaucratic straightjacket from which emerged some of the best intentions of the revolutionaries?

One truth, it seems to me, superimposes itself over the multiple and opposed opinions: the country cannot invent nor experiment with hypothetical models that have never been put to the test. It must start from the known, or the most assured, though the springs of stimulation of the productive forces may have ten or twenty affinities with the market. Now then, production must be horizontalised: the workers have to be objects and subjects of production and also co-deciders of the destiny of the enterprise. I think we have to avoid any technocratic tinge in our methods, arguments and proposals, so that they are wrapped in politics and democracy, and that together with a demanding attitude, humanism is also displayed with regard to what has been projected to be applied to substitute certain rusted mechanisms of Cuban society.

Faced with any dilemma, it's preferable to go by our means and our will to the place where there seems to be, for now, the most reliable formula for economic scope and effective social order, than for the intermediaries of the so-called "exiled" counterrevolution to bring us capitalism if Cuba is not able to step back from the precipice that, according to Raul [Castro], were are now skirting.

On the other hand, we knew so little about capitalism that we labelled "capitalist" any attempt at bettering oneself through individual work [i.e. self-employment], or the minimal hiring of labour by private individuals, or allowing foreign investment — even if everything is regulated and controlled by the nation [i.e. by Cuba's socialist state] —  to stimulate immobilised productive forces in an aged [economic] order whose only guarantee of survival is the subsidy. Any judgement of Cuban society has to base itself on a thorough knowledge, or at least an honest appraisal, of the difficult internal situation and its urgent demands to attend to the circumvented "period of transition" [from capitalism to communism] and a prior "primitive accumulation" to take off towards a superior socialism.

What the manual recommends [an apparent reference to the Soviet textbooks on "Marxism-Leninism"] has discouraged for some time an examination of effectiveness. Marx — who would not be pleased if he were turned into a Messiah, nor an unappealable authority — only tried, as we know, to be a "guide to action". Therefore, it is preferable that the shoemaker applies himself to his shoe until he becomes a designer of fashions and methods.    

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Translation: Everyone's Congress

Everyone's Congress

By Alberto Nunez Betancourt

Granma, February 4, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Unity is forged and reaped in the broadest socialist democracy and in open discussion with the people of all issues, no matter how sensitive they may be. Raul Castro

More than six million Cubans have participated in the analysis of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the [Communist] Party and the Revolution. Working groups take into account all the proposals.

 *  *  *
Studying the Draft Guidelines
The congress of the people is taking place in the neighbourhoods and workplaces. More than six million compatriots have participated in the analysis of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution, with more than 70% of the projected meetings having taken place.

With responsibility, in free and open exchanges, Cubans examine every chapter of the important text, knowing that all the interventions or proposals for additions, modifications, deletions, doubts and/or concerns are gathered meticulously. After being processed and classified according to theme, they are considered, with the help of computer specialists, by more than 5,000 specialists in every municipality and province. The proposals are then referred to the 12 working groups that worked on the elaboration of the Draft Guidelines, under the guidance of the principal leaders of the Party, state and government. These working groups are now committed to evaluating the information collected and proposing the relevant changes with a view to presenting a final draft to the 6th Communist Party Congress [in April].          

The chapters eliciting the most opinions and proposals are Chapter 6, dedicated to Social Policy; Chapter 2 (Macroeconomic Policies); Chapter 1 (Economic management model); Chapter 11 (Policies for construction, hosing and water resources) and Chapter 10 (Transport policy). Of the Guidelines themselves, among the most discussed are No. 162, referring to "implementing the orderly elimination of the ration book [distribution system]..."; Nos. 61 and 61 (pricing policy); No. 133 (quality and rigour of the teacher training process); No. 278 (application of flexible arrangements for swapping, buying, selling and leasing of housing), and No. 54, referring to the process of working towards monetary unification.          

But if opinions that coincide and reflect consensus are important, also valuable, worthy of respect and considered [by the experts and working groups] is the valid opinion of any citizen with regard to additions or modifications to one or more Guidelines.

The current process of mass participation has its antecedents in the call made by General Raul Castro in his speech of July 26, 2007, in Camaguey, when he asked the people to discuss the future of our socioeconomic development. More than 1.3 million proposals were put forward in the subsequent debates. Two years later, in the popular consultation around the speeches of compañero Raul on July 26 in Holguin, and on August 1 in the National Assembly of People's Power, nearly 2.3 million proposals for action, supportive comments, suggestions and criticisms were added.

Nothing has remained rhetorical. The militants of the Party and the population participate in the political process of preparation of the upcoming Congress. Once again we talk about planning, profitability, efficiency, investments, savings. The economic battle is essential because our quality of life depends on it. The Guidelines also contain the spirit of rectification of errors and negative tendencies, a logical continuity of the [Rectification] process begun in the 1980s, and which does not deserve to be truncated. The analysis of the Draft Guidelines will be the sole theme of the Party Congress in April.

To set off along a better path, towards preserving what we have achieved and making our socialism irreversible, takes wisdom and courage. We Cubans are not in an era of lamentations, nor of defeats, but of taking sure steps to guarantee the socialist future of the homeland. We must delve into issues of organisation, of boosting the effectiveness of oversight, of demanding more [of those with responsibilities] in the midst of a complex reality for a country which has confronted, in the past five decades, the tremendous siege that the economic war waged by 10 US administrations amounts to.

Despite all this, the people discuss and contribute [to the debate] with optimism, because a true Revolution renews itself continually; is self-critical; learns from it mistakes; never ceases to promote [ethical] values; has confidence in its youth, which have never let it down, and less so will they do it now and later on, when they have the responsibility of continuing its work with an ever-greater protagonist role in its leadership, convinced that for our people the concepts of homeland, independence and socialism are indissolubly linked.                       

Friday, February 4, 2011

Translation: Revolution or reform (2)

Events in Egypt remind us that, as Malcolm X once said, "You're living in a time of revolution". Here is the second and final instalment of my translation of Enrique Ubieta's "Revolution or reform in Cuba". For those who read Spanish, Ubieta has a blog, The Unknown Island. Part 1 of the translation is here.

Revolution or reform in Cuba (Part 2)

By Enrique Ubieta

Cubadebate, November 23, 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron

The July 26 Movement's act of liberation was a new challenge to the apparently impossible: stormings of heaven, sea crossings and ghostly landings, and Fidel's words on meeting up with just eight survivors of the Granma landing, who carried seven guns, facing a well-armed war machine and the predictable hostility of the greatest imperialist power on Earth: "Now we've won the war!" From the program sketched out in [Fidel's courtroom defence speech] History Will Absolve Me, through the First Declaration of Havana to April 16, 1961, when the socialist character of the Revolution was proclaimed, events had evolved rapidly. A revolution that grew over from the anti-colonialism of the 19th century to the anti-imperialism of the 20th century was necessarily anti-capitalist. To look for external explanations [i.e. Soviet influence]  for the process, or to speculate about the consequences of a more comprehensive reaction from the US government, would be to ignore the nature of the events and their protagonists: it would be anti-capitalist or it would not exist. Fidel  explains this in an editorial published in the first edition of the magazine Cuba Socialista in September 1961:
"On April 16, when we accompanied the victims of the cowardly air attack the day before, putting all the national forces on alert, breathing the atmosphere of imminent aggression, on the eve of the battle against imperialism foreseen by everyone, the socialist character of the Revolution was proclaimed. The Revolution did not become socialist on that day. It was socialist in its will and in its defined aspirations when the people [applauded in a mass rally] the Declaration of Havana. It became definitively socialist in reality, in socioeconomic deeds, when it converted the sugar mills, big factories, department stores, mines, transportation, banks etc. into the collective property of all of the people. The socialist germ of the Revolution was already there in the [July 26 Movement], whose clearly-expressed proposals inspired the first revolutionary laws. (...) In a semi-colonial and capitalist social regime such as this there could have been no other revolutionary change but a socialist one, once the national liberation stage had been accomplished".
The compass pointed to the path of Eastern Europe, but our parents looked more to the point of departure — with its pending social tasks and powerful enemies watching closely — than to the hypothetical destination. The command for this embarkation did not come from the Communist Party [i.e. the Moscow-aligned Popular Socialist Party] — very well organised in Cuba and with a heroic history, but too entangled in the wisdom of its time and in immediate tactics — and this party did not bring any navigation charts. [Those in command] were irreverent youths, hairy and bearded, who despised bourgeois norms of conduct and invaded, with their guerrilla boots, the lounges of the defeated bourgeoisie; statesmen who, on being rejected by New York's luxury hotels, threatened to set up camp in the gardens of the UN headquarters or happily accept a room in a modest hotel in the black neighbourhood of Harlem (racial segregation was legal at the time in the US). But these were not politically immature men and women. Fidel, specifically, had conscientiously read works of Marx and Lenin and of history; had in-depth knowledge of the reality of his country, the visible and the latent; possessed a devastating revolutionary optimism (only what is believed to be possible is possible); and was gifted with a rare political instinct.
It was daily life, an accelerated learning curve, that drove forward the Revolution. Its leaders adopted a strict ethical code, expressed from the days of the Sierra Maestra onwards, regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners and the peasants in the surrounding countryside and, later, in relation to the people and international commitments. Despite this, Fidel said five years ago [in a landmark speech at Havana University on November 17, 2005] and reiterated a few days ago, "among the many errors that we have committed, the most serious error was believing that someone knew how to build socialism". But he also said: "What kind of society would this be, or what right would we have to feel happy when we meet in a place such as this, on a day like today, if we did not know a minimum of what must known so that on this heroic island, this heroic people, this people that has written pages [of history] never written by any other in the history of humanity, can sustain the Revolution?" Because it must be said that Cuban socialism never stopped searching, rectifying, starting afresh: each decade meant in some way a new beginning, a new search [for the right path].
It is usually said with bad intent or in ignorance that the aroused masses that accompany a revolutionary process lose their own will. In reality, only a Revolution is capable of transforming the masses into collectives of individualities, only a revolutionary process converts individuals into the subjects, actors, of their own destiny. 
The scene in the film Madagascar [a 1994 Cuban film directed by Fernando Perez, not the Hollywood animation] in which the protagonist searches fruitlessly in an aerial photograph of a mass public gathering in a newspaper of the period, convinced that she would find herself in it, is very revealing: this woman was unaware that her face would not appear because she felt herself to be a protagonist of that event, even though she was accompanied by a million Cubans. 
Individualised heroism and anonymous heroism are two expressions, sometimes complementary, sometimes in opposition, of a Revolution. A Revolution is the mediating process through which the masses begin to take shape as collectives of individuals. To the degree to which this process is completed or undone, it triumphs or fails. In Cuba, said Che, "this multifaceted entity is not, as is claimed, the sum of elements of the same category (reduced to the same category, what's more, by the system imposed), that acts like a herd." Nevertheless, he continued, "seeing things superficially, it may seem that those who speak of the subordination of the individual to the state are right; the mass carries out with matchless enthusiasm and discipline the tasks set by the [revolutionary] government (...)". And he put forward a working hypothesis that is truly revolutionary: "What is difficult to understand by those who have not lived the experience of the Revolution is this close dialectical unity between the individual and the mass, where both interrelate and, at the same time, the mass, as an ensemble of individuals, interrelates with the leaders".             
One of the strengths of Cuban socialism has been this multiple relation: the mass and every individual as a part, on the one hand; and the mass as an ensemble of individuals and their principle leaders, on the other. Let me give an example that is often used for its exemplarity: the government could have decided to send sugar to the Chilean people during the [Salvador Allende] Popular Unity period; but Fidel addressed a million Cubans who drove forward the Revolution with their presence in the Plaza [of the Revolution, Havana], and he asked them: are each one of you in a position to donate a pound of the sugar that you receive via the ration book to the Chilean people? The immense majority of those present raised their hands in a sign of approval. Each citizen, individually, as would happen by agreement between neighbours, donated part of their small quota of sugar to a sister people. The Economic and Social Policy Guidelines that will be debated and approved by the upcoming [6th] Congress of the [Cuban Communist] Party will be discussed in every workplace and neighbourhood in the country. Not for the first time, since this has been a common practice in our revolutionary history.
As an authentic Revolution, Cuba's was never seen as — and neither could it be, as some would have liked — an internal affair: it was the First Free Territory of the Americas and, in essence, a link in the world Revolution. For the first time in history, the internationalist vocation of a revolutionary state was conducted not according to the budgets, prejudices or interests of a more developed country towards less developed countries or regions. Cuba raised itself to viewing its brothers of misfortune as equals; from poor to poor, from ex-colony to colony. And it survived, beyond the so-called "big brothers" of [Eastern] Europe: today the Cuban Revolution is older than these states were when they crumbled.
Cuban internationalism is practiced as a duty, not as a favour. It shared doctors, teachers, soldiers, guerrilla fighters. For this, it was accustomed to receiving solidarity with gratitude, convinced that it did not receive a gift, but fair treatment. Fidel as a statesman founded a new practice of internationalism, outside of any geopolitical interests, that nurtured revolutionary humanism but rejected any ideological pretension — or the evangelising of the revolutionary doctrine — save for that which emanates from example, as Che would say. The communist International sent its emissaries, undoubtedly heroic, all over the world on "evangelising" missions, similar in character though different in their propositions to that of the Catholic or Protestant missionary.
The Cuban doctor does not talk about politics, cures rich and poor alike, neoliberals and communists, children and delinquents; she can even collaborate with the health authorities of fascist governments if this saves lives, as happened in Somoza's Nicaragua in the days following the [1972] earthquake; or with the [health] institutions of states with which Cuba does not have, and nor does it pursue, diplomatic relations. In 1991 came the collapse [of Soviet bureaucratic "socialism"]: of the horizon, of the revolutionary way, for those that always swim with the current, of fairer commercial relations. The US blockade closed all doors and turned out the light, both literally and metaphorically. Thousands of Cubans went to work each day by bicycle, with a wife and small child perched on the bicycle frame, postponing many life projects that seemed feasible. In times of momentary disorientation, our Revolution nevertheless kept alive the small flame that averted its freezing over.
Cuban socialism reoriented its efforts to the preservation of the most basic conquests. Even when, in 1998, when the word "internationalism" seemed forgotten, it sent its medical guerrillas to Central America and Haiti and thus initiated a new era of solidarity collaboration. That year also saw the electoral victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the beginning of a new age of constitutional revolutions in Latin America. Cuba's hard battle for survival and its defence of the principles of socialism and internationalism made possible this eventual collective renaissance.      
Is Cuban socialism a thing of the 20th century? Is there a socialism of the 21st Century that relegates it to the past, to academic study? Has Cuban socialism failed? More than 20 years after the collapse of the others, Cuba readjusts its economic model, searching for ways to make use of its forces, essentially human [i.e. Cuba's well-educated and skilled workforce] in a hostile world, and in different revolutionary circumstances. Is the concept of Revolution obsolete? I'm not going to recall the Fidelista definition [a reference to an excerpt from Fidel's May Day 2000 speech: "Revolution is having a sense of the historical moment, it is changing everything that must be changed... "] which is located essentially on the ethical plane. In one sense, Cubans seem more focused and earthly now, but our written dreams and our colossal achievements remain intact; this is a Revolution that made the impossible possible in a small country of the Third World, permanently subjected to an economic blockade and a media war: with First World indices of health and education, Cuba established guidelines for the relations between its leaders and the masses, between the revolutionary Party [i.e. the Cuban Communist Party] and the people.
The updating of [Cuba's socialist] economic model is not a reform; in the history of Cuba, as we have seen, Reform leads to a rupture between the ethical and the just. "The country will have more", Fidel has reiterated [in his November 17, 2005 speech at Havana University], "but it will never be a society of consumerism, it will be a society of knowledge, of culture, of the most extraordinary human development conceivable, development of culture, of art, of science (...) with a fullness of freedom that nobody will be able to prevent. We know this, we don't even have to proclaim it, though we should remember it".
Cuba has created a more diverse society because it has enriched its individuals; it's million professionals, its population with a minimum ninth grade level of education is the greatest of its conquests. Capitalism rewards individualism; socialism has not always known or been able to fully unleash, in the social interest, the potentialities of the individual. Cuba's updating of its economy promotes these possibilities. It would probably be out of place to debate here so-called guevarismo or the precise relationship, useful and just, between material and moral incentives in a country without [abundant] resources. We live in a qualitatively different period, and revolutionaries would cease being revolutionaries if we did not overcome old stereotypes. In this real world, which must be changed, every revolutionary tactic and strategy must be such that it leads to the fundamental objective of changing this real world. No strategy or tactic that leads to disunity could be considered good", Fidel has reiterated recently. The capitalist economic and social model has failed, and Cuba rejects the consumerism inherent in the capitalist mode of production.
Cuba is demonised for not having been able to prevent the resurgence of prostitution, although the solution implied, [of a return to] capitalism, would lead to its massive growth. Cuba is accused of not being able to contain certain unjust social differences, and the capitalist solution would widen these differences, make them deeper, more unjust and irreversible. Every doctor or sports trainer who deserts is the victory of "normality" in the face of the dream of a solidaristic society. But the desertion (someone's renunciation of their presumed "abnormality") is presented as an abnormal, extraordinary deed. The Cuban that deserts is not defined according to their personal interests — as is normal in this world — but as an expression of a political position. The images transmitted from Cuba [by the pro-imperialist corporate media] brag about the dirty and emaciated corners of the city, in the poorest fringes of a society strangled by a blockade. The beautiful spaces are considered false or manipulated. It does not matter that the "dirty" spaces would be normal — and because of this, hardly of interest — in other Latin American cities. The Cuban normality must be destroyed, so that Cuba is as normal as other countries of the Third World. Above all because Cuba does not allow, nor will it, the most important definition of "normality": that of the "free market" (a concept with which the [capitalist] media manipulate the meaning of democracy and freedom).
I think that in conclusion, it is not possible to achieved the desired [social] justice on the basis of poverty, and that somehow the countries of the Third World must raise themselves up together. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), founded on the experience of Cuban internationalism, offers an incipient answer [to this challenge]. There are no socialist models, but there are principles and a unique horizon: that of anti-capitalism. I believe that Cuban socialism, far from being a 20th century project, is one of the 21st century; and that humanity will resume its "craziness", most beautiful and therefore most necessary, when the conditions exist for its universalisation. Meanwhile this small island of Utopia will not flinch in its commitment to develop and share its achievements. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Translation: Revolution or reform (1)

Cuba exemplifies the interdependence of the struggles for national liberation and socialism in the imperialist epoch. The Spanish-American war for control over Spain's colonial possessions at the close of the 19th century, including Cuba and the Philippines, was the first imperialist war, and Cuba's socialist revolution was the first in the Western hemisphere. To understand the debates and changes underway in Cuba today it's helpful to go back to the roots of the Cuban revolutionary tradition, which combines the radical humanism and anti-imperialism of Jose Marti with the scientific socialism of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Many others, of course, have also contributed to this rich and enduring tradition, among them Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Enrique Ubieta is a well-known Cuban journalist and writer. Recipient of Cuba's Distinction for National Culture in 2002, he is the author of numerous books on Cuban history and politics. He founded and edited the magazine Contracorriente from 1995 to 2004, and now edits the new Cuban magazine La Calle del Medio, a "publication of opinion and debate". I hope to post translations from its pages soon. Meanwhile, here is the first instalment of a fine essay by Ubieta that views the present changes in light of the historical tension between annexation to the US and independence and socialism, among other themes.

Revolution or reform in Cuba (Part 1)

By Enrique Ubieta

Cubadebate, November 23, 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron

In a few month's time the Cuban Revolution will celebrate its first half-century of having declared itself socialist. There was a revolutionary tradition in the country that went back to the origins of the nation: the vital necessities (economic) of the population born in the colony — of the slaves, of course, of African or Asian descent, at times the majority, but also the Creole, daughter of the Spanish islands and peninsulas — could only be satisfied on the basis of ethical suppositions. For as long as these necessities did not set in righteous moulds, the sentiment for independence was not yet forged. The first act in the wake of independence was inevitably one of justice: the liberation of the slaves.

The homeland engendered a rare identity of the ethical and the useful. Jose Marti would speak two decades later of "the utility of virtue". When it fell to him to organise the new war, he spoke not of the nation — a concept tainted by its metropolitan usage, and by its racial overtones — but of the homeland, which was, he said, humanity. And, paradoxically, he did not create an Independence Party but one that was called, simply, Revolutionary.             

An important quality, profoundly revolutionary, animated the thinking of Marti: a cultured man of refined sensitivity and an extraordinary scientific understanding, Marti rejected the vulgar materialism, ultimately idealist, of positivism to which many of his peers adhered. There was in Marti something of a "crazy", indomitable man who rejected almost instinctively the passive compliance with social "deeds": if the phrase turned into graffiti by an anonymous hand in a Paris street in the 68th year of the following century had an antecedent — the one that asked us if we were realists, and if we would do the impossible — it was perhaps the political realism of the 19th century Marti.     
In one of my essays I have proposed a conceptual differentiation between the "must be" and "can be" of Marti; the first concept ignores reality in all of its facets — the visible, the factual, and the possible, the latent — to hang onto an ideal that is not ratified in practice, and to artificially adjust reality to the model; the second starts from the existence of different possibilities latent in society, all of them real though not completely manifest, and from the certainty that the realisation of any of them can and must be impelled in a conscious way. The positivists gathered data in the name of science and in the words of Marti, with a verb of his own invention, they "insected for the concrete"; in contrast, he asked us to think of the flight of the condor, in which intuition participates as a way of knowing. The positivists were essentially reformists; Jose Marti was a revolutionary.

What does this have to do with Cuban socialism? Ariadne's thread can only be used to trace the past, never the future; the present can still lead to different futures. To say, as its enemies allege, that the Revolution has invented a teleological history is a bad trick. Leaping over simplifications and textbook schemas, always present, the Cuban Revolution has a solid historical tradition. So much so that some counterrevolutionary ideologues proposed in the 1990s the existence of two main lines [of national development]. On the one hand, annexation or autonomy in 19th century Cuba and in the 20th, dependent capitalism that would end up adhering to neo-annexationist or neo-autonomist postures, beginning with the first white aristocrats in whom justice and class interests had not yet melted, and ending with the present Cuban-American bourgeoisie in which justice and class interests will never find common ground. On the other hand, what they called anti-modern, utopian — in the derogatory sense — anti-capitalism, in which Marti and Fidel are unreservedly and justly united.   

In Cuban history these two conceptions acquired an oppositional sense, exclusionary: the founding Revolution [i.e. the war of independence from Spanish colonial rule], which gave birth to the homeland, and the conservative Reform, tool of a submissive, anti-national elite. The revolutionary spirit required national independence; the reformist, dependence. The late 19th century autonomists that clamoured for the imperishable hispanidad of Cuba, when the only alternatives were annexation by the US or complete independence, opted for the former.     

In an unpublished letter dated September 3, 1899, addressed to the annexationist Cuban-American Jose Ignacio Rodriguez — preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington — the president of the Cuban Liberal Autonomist Party, Jose Maria Galvez, wrote in a conspiratorial tone: "Complete independence is the illusion of the day, fomented by the "patriots" and cherished by the mulatto mob. It should dispelled before demonstrating that annexation must be achieved in any case, in the same way that for all Catholics every road leads to Rome. I believe I've said this to you before, and I repeat it now: all those with something to lose, those who aspire to acquire and the Spanish masses in general, hope for annexation". In any event, if you want to look through the keyhole at the historical reconstruction that would accompany a victorious Cuban counterrevolution, take a peek at present-day [ex-Soviet bloc] Eastern European societies.

But the revolutionary tradition in Cuba had also taken the path of Marxism in the first half of the 20th century. Important Cuban intellectuals such as Mella, Martinez Villena and Marinello, to cite just three, were party leaders; others were collaborators or sympathisers of the Party. From the Cuban workers and students came an impressive group of brilliant martyrs and leaders, more or less close ideologically to the socialist ideal. The revolutionary upsurge of 1959 — preceded by the upsurge of 1933, which lacked a centrifugal force that could pull together its diverse components — united everyone this time: the differences and sectarianisms were swept aside by the course of events, and the few who were incapable of overcoming old rancour or the yearning for leadership [rather than recognising the actual leaders of the movement] disappeared from the historical tapestry.