Sunday, July 31, 2011

Translation: Alfredo Guevara & students 4

Here is the final instalment of my translation, slightly abridged, of Alfredo Guevara’s candid dialogue with students and staff hosted by the Faculty of Chemistry of Havana University. Guevara comments at some length on the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR and how this contributed to the miseducation of communist cadres in Cuba.

It’s worth noting that he does this without once mentioning Leon Trotsky, the key leader in the struggle against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state and Communist Party. This may be because Guevara is unfamiliar with the role of Trotsky in this struggle. Trotsky’s works have not been widely available in revolutionary Cuba and only recently have a few of them been published on the island. Or, it could be that Guevara felt that given decades of Stalinist demonisation of Trotsky, this is a controversy best left for another occasion. It may, of course, have been purely incidental and one should not read too much into it. What’s important is that Guevara’s analysis of Stalinism converges with that of Trotsky on key points, and Guevara makes these arguments explicitly and publicly.

If Cuba were really ruled by a Stalinist bureaucracy, as some leftists imagine, it would hardly allow a prominent public figure such as Guevara to say what he says here. Nor would such a ruling bureaucracy allow Cubadebate, a semi-official website hosted by distinguished Cuban journalists based on the island, to transcribe and publish such an exchange. In other words, Cuba’s working people have an ally against bureaucracy in the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership.

Guevara also touches here on an important debate that took place in the 1960s between Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Che Guevara on economic management in socialist-oriented Cuba, and praises the PCC secretary for Granma province, Lazaro Exposito, for his energetic efforts to clean up the city of Santiago de Cuba and provide decent dining out options at affordable prices. Rather than cloning Exposito, as his admirers suggest on a blog, what really needs to be cloned is Exposito’s work methods, says Guevara.

He begins here by answering a question put to him by Alejandro Fernandez, a professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at Havana University. Unfortunately the transcript of Fernandez’s question is incomplete because, as the transcriber notes, the recording equipment malfunctioned momentarily. This makes it difficult to follow what Fernandez was saying. His question had something to do with the distinction between the Marxism of Marx and Lenin, and Soviet “Marxism-Leninism”.

Debate Forum dialogue with Alfredo Guevara in the Faculty of Chemistry, Havana University

Part 4

(Part 3, Part 2Part 1)

Cubadebate website, June 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Alfredo Guevara: This is a big topic. I assure you that dogmatic ideas do not prevail at the highest levels of leadership today, but for years we had a formal school of Marxism-Leninism in which Marxism was officially studied as Marxism-Leninism, that is, as a Stalinist catechism.

Many cadres have been schooled in this. Some cadres, among them some who still hold important positions, studied in the Soviet Union in schools where the curriculum was based on the Soviet manuals on Marxism-Leninism. This greatly discredited a book that had not circulated widely enough, Che’s “Critical Notes on Political Economy” – I don’t know if you’ve made a study of it – in which there’s an in-depth analysis of the Manual of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In reality, the content of the Soviet manual was a new, falsely Marxist theory of “Marxism-Leninism”. Not because Leninist thought – which in some cases is an important aid to political thought and to the analysis of the evolution of capitalism and of imperialist power – is false, but because there are some political positions that applied to very concrete situations faced by the first country that tried to build socialism.

Certainly while Lenin was alive there was an open debate in the Soviet party and only when Lenin became ill did this debate subside. It should be recalled that Lenin died in 1923, didn’t he? OK, at the beginning of 1924. So Lenin’s last instructions to the party leadership were written in 1923. Lenin died, and the line of succession he proposed, more or less as an anxious reflection on the dangers of ... etc. etc., was not implemented. But despite appearances it wasn’t Stalin who replaced Lenin, due to Stalin’s ignorance it could be said. Lenin was replaced by a triumvirate. This happened gradually because these were struggles for power. Stalin goes about destroying those who could have been an obstacle to his absolute power until this was achieved, that’s to say, there was a transition period. But in the end, once he’d attained absolute power, he elaborated a philosophy, a philosophy that overlaps here and there with Marxism, here and there with Leninism, but it’s a Stalinist philosophy aimed at consolidating absolute power, because it may be that Stalin wasn’t as monstrous as history will portray him, but perhaps there’s a mixture of nationalism and power, because if you compare two episodes in Russian history you’ll find a close similarity between Stalin and Ivan the Terrible.

Sergei Eisenstein, the great film director who was almost the originator of cinematographic technique given his contributions to editing and form, made a film titled “Ivan the Terrible” that was censored because Stalin was portrayed in “Ivan the Terrible”, in other words Stalin ended up becoming – excuse me for going on about this a little because I’m going to relate it back to Cuba, I’m just beginning but I won’t go on too long – Stalin ended up being the great defender of Russian nationalism, that of Russia prior to the Soviet Union, and don’t forget that at the Yalta meeting [of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in February 1945 – translator’s note], Stalin decided to annexe all of the countries under the influence of the Soviet Union [i.e. of the Soviet Red Army], except for the Slavic countries.

At one point Lenin had said that the worst Russian chauvinists, that’s to say nationalists, were non-Russians, because Stalin was Georgian. Lenin said this and he also said something else. I’m not saying that what he said was valid, but he was a participant, a protagonist, and he clarified many things. Lenin said that the triumph of socialism – he said this before the October Revolution – that the triumph of socialism in Russia would be a barrier to the spread of oriental barbarism. Stalin was the oriental barbarian.

Unless you study and grasp the history of the Communist International you can’t understanding the early period of the Cuban Revolution, you can’t even begin to shed light on certain mistakes, among them the education that was given in the Schools of Revolutionary Instruction for a long while. These schools have a new leadership now, I’m sure they’ll change some things, though I still don’t know if they've done so.

The old Popular Socialist Party (PSP) was under the influence of the Communist International, and the International became – secretly, silently, stealthily, by means of assassinations – dominated by Stalin. This old PSP was full of good people, marvellous people of very high calibre. Some were Stalinists in good faith, and the PSP trained Stalinist cadres who formed a part of our [post-1959 revolutionary] leadership and occupied high positions in our political life.

I don’t think this is the time – maybe someone will tell me this, who knows – this isn’t the appropriate time to be dedicating ourselves to digging up this history, but the researchers have to delve into it, since history cannot remain in obscurity either. And those of us – I still feel like a professor, I’ve been a professor at this university – those of us that have an interest in these things have to make sure that the youth understand them, given that we’ve studied these problems and we’ve searched for the documentation that backs up what we’re saying.

We must convey it to you as I’ve done many times, or on certain occasions. We have to transmit this and the researchers must take it up: you won’t understand anything unless you study the International, because the International was the Communist Party International, that is, it condemned nationalism. There were many mistakes that have to be corrected, aren’t there, and because of this many things remain in the dark.

We’ve contributed two outstanding Latin American thinkers. One, Julio Antonio Mella [1903-29, a founder of the original Cuban Communist Party in the early 1920s – translator’s note], didn’t live long but he lived intensely the whole of those five short years in which he accomplished everything. He was a founding member of the Cuban Communist Party; he went to Mexico, the Latin American headquarters of the International; he was a member of the Mexican Communist Party, he worked for the International, he established the organisation in solidarity with [Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto] Sandino, etc., etc., the Anti-Imperialist League of the Americas. He attempted, like Fidel, an expedition to invade Cuba and topple the Machado dictatorship, against the wishes of the International and the Mexican Communist Party. Where can one find out about all this? Where can one find the information about Paul Lafargue whom I spoke about earlier? Why isn't it more readily available?

Right now I’m trying to fathom, I’m coming to understand it more and more, why Paul Lafargue, who married one of Karl Marx’s daughters, the first deputy elected to the French parliament, a Cuban [by birth], why is it that we know nothing about Paul Lafargue? Ah, because the old PSP imposed ideological lines to ensure silence. We must study these things.

Raul [Castro] said that we’ve made mistakes. Why have we made these mistakes, what are they and who was responsible for them? Do any of you know – you knew there were debates, perhaps – about the profound debates on economic management between Che and [former PSP leader] Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the two lines? Would I say now that Che was entirely correct? I don’t think so. Would I say that Carlos Rafael was entirely correct? No, but boy, was there was a debate about the economy. Che ran a cadre school for the training of managerial cadres. What manager from any enterprise, from any entity, from any ministry, has had managerial training? This is why I say that we’ve no right to be ignorant of others’ experiences.

Why are there scarcities, is everything a result of what we know? No, it’s also because of what we don't know. Because I’ve just returned, three weeks ago I was in Santiago de Cuba. My secretary pointed out to me a blog on the internet called, “Let’s Clone Exposito” [Lazaro Exposito is the Cuban Communist Party secretary in Granma province – translator’s note]. Lazaro is the new leader over there, he was also in Bayamo and he sorted everything out in Bayamo, and Santiago de Cuba is a marvel, except for transport which has not been fixed, everything is clean, everything is … you were there, weren’t you? … everything’s clean, no [old] buildings are collapsing, the footpaths are free of cigarette butts and waste paper. Let me tell you, the last time I was in Santiago de Cuba it was filthy. How did they get everyone to stop tossing cigarette butts and bits of paper on the pavement? This is an example of dignity, the recovery of dignity. It’s going to be hard given everything we've been through, but that’s how it is in Santiago de Cuba.

But I haven’t told you everything. Walk down the street in Santiago de Cuba and you can buy bread with beef steak in regular [rather than convertible] Cuban pesos. Walk two blocks further and you can eat bread with suckling pork, also sold in regular pesos. In the next block you can eat a plate of prawns, sold in regular pesos, and a lobster, in regular pesos. All this in regular pesos, and I say OK, why? Ah, let’s clone Exposito, as the blog suggests, but I’d say we should do something even better, or more critical, to complement what you’re doing, Exposito. And why Exposito? Why the devil does it have to be just one person whom we can trust in to set things right? No, let’s clone a work method, and this work method is a shipment of truth, honest and clean truth, because this is how he works. It may shorten his life, he’s still a young man.

Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, who is naturally very alert to everything that happens in Bayamo, when Exposito was in Bayamo the Monsignor told me: “Alfredo, it’s as if we were in another country”. He talked about things there the way I’m describing Santiago de Cuba. […]

I was worried they might be teasing me, so I had to go and take a look with my doctor and my son, because as you can see I’m somewhat frail, and they told me: “Go and have a look and tell me if everything I see there is real when I’m not there.” It was real, it’s magic. And why? I know Havana has 2.2 million inhabitants and is invaded by internal migrants, but OK, it’ll be more difficult but we must clone a method. First comes the method, the plan, rigour in the planning, in the method. (Applause).

Chair: Well Professor, thank you very much, I never thought we’d be able to have you come and speak to us here. I hope it won’t be the last time given what I said in the introduction about what we’re trying to do with this debate space, which is not to create it for one occasion but to maintain it, which is the most difficult thing to achieve. And another time, when you have a bit more of an audience, when we have electricity, when all this is OK, then we’d like to invite you to come again because it’s very enriching to converse with you. We’ve brought you a little present, a very humble one, in the name of the organisers of this forum.

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