Sunday, February 5, 2012

Translation: The hypothetical country

The first National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) has concluded. The final version of the resolution on the PCC's work, adopted by conference delegates, has been published in Spanish on the PCC website.

There are amendments to most of the draft paragraphs and five new paragraphs have been added. I've translated the draft document and will now compare the draft with the final version word for word. When I've finished I'll post a translation of the final document to this blog. Meanwhile I'll continue to post other translations now that I've settled into my new home.

I'll start by translating a few excellent commentaries by Luis Sexto that have appeared in Juventud Rebelde in recent weeks (Sexto also wrote a commentary on the PCC Conference for the Progreso Weekly website for a mainly Cuban-American audience. You can read it here). Below, Sexto takes issue with leftist critics of the PCC leadership's political line.

Some Cuban revolutionaries both within and outside the PCC think the PCC leadership is conceding too much to market mechanisms when it should be looking to radical alternatives to hyper-centralised, top-down economic management, such as a far more sweeping "cooperativisation" of the state enterprise sector than that foreshadowed in the Guidelines adopted by the Sixth PCC Congress (though it should be noted that the Guidelines, sensibly, leave much room for interpretation — and experimentation — in this regard).

The mood of the majority of Cuban revolutionaries seems to be much closer, as far as can be judged from Australia, to Sexto's opinions here than, for example, those of Pedro Campos, a Havana-based former member of the PCC who left the party on his own initiative. After decades of idealistic experimentation, many are wary of placing hopes on somewhat speculative, if not utopian, visions of the transitional society in Cuba's conditions. "Principled pragmatism" is probably the best way of describing the centre of gravity of revolutionary opinion in Cuba today.

Yet the Guidelines cannot be implemented without a big dose of experimentation. Unlike in the 1970s, when Cuba turned to the Soviet bloc for assistance, there are no manuals to turn to. Cuba has only its own experiences and what can be gleaned from others without falling into the error of mechanical copying. Within this necessary experimentation there will be room, though not as much as some would like, for local initiatives that combine dreams with practicalities in an alchemy of socialist construction out of which a chemistry may emerge.

The hypothetical country

By Luis Sexto, Juventud Rebelde, January 12, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

On the first of January[1] some friends and I raised our glasses and one of them, stepping forward, proposed a toast to the country we’d like Cuba to be. Another, however, outstretched his arm as if to restrain the collective gesture and issued a correction: “Let’s toast the country we need.” We obliged. It was a most apt suggestion. Because “the country that we want” is as numerous and contradictory as the desire that it expresses. As diverse as the ideas and the proposals of each and every one of us.

This is readily apparent. As one can read on certain web pages, Cuba has taken refuge in the land of the hypothetical, of conflicting hypotheses. That’s to say – and here I’m just repeating what nearly all of us are aware of – some wish Cuba to be ruled by capitalism and others imagine it as in the lullabies of petty-bourgeois nationalism. On the other hand, an extreme left – an extreme that implicitly defines itself as intransigent and discontented – wants Cuba to be a laboratory of a socialism as theoretical and it is hectic, ignoring the material and political conditions in which Cuba strives for the updating of its economy and society and disregarding, above all, the fact that this “deep socialism”, “ultra-socialism”, has never been put into practice, or at least it does not seem to have survived the experiment.

In contrast, “the country that we need” is a category that, despite its imprecision, corresponds more unanimously to the objective urgencies, to the general internal deficiencies and the global geopolitical situation. Let’s ask ourselves if it’s not pertinent, then, to promote a social order that, as well as sustaining the basic principles of social justice and independence, sets out, at the cost of risks and audacity, to provide the means and the spaces for society as a whole to overcome its economic urgencies.

Without any pretense to being an expert in complexities, I suggested some months back that our society, faced with the wear and tear of the Special Period and the survival of methods that had proved ineffective or erroneous even before this period, needed a “period of transition” towards socialism[2]. A socialism that, what’s more, nobody has managed to define nor definitively achieve in practice. Because of this, it will have to continually adjust itself to the demands of reality. Or does anyone think it possible to perpetuate the model, the interpretation of socialism that fell apart with the collapse of the Soviet Union? Let’s take into account that Cuba is not only surrounded by water along its coastline, it is also encircled by the hostility of voracious powers for which war is second nature.

This is a necessary period of transition during which, without renouncing social justice and independence – for me, two non-negotiable conquests – the country can develop its productive forces, even adopting market mechanisms while being conscious of their limits. This shocks both bureaucratic ideology and that of leftist intransigence. And, in parallel, the decentralisation of society, in such a way that the state continues to be the guarantor of an equilibrium between individual and collective interests.

The above is understood. I acknowledge that each has their own point of view and expresses it. I don’t think it wise, however, to disregard truths that have been verified theoretically and practically. Poverty, shortages, deficiencies, immobility, improvisation and voluntarism are not the premises upon which to construct socialism at one blow. Pure socialism, adhering to the most revolutionary ideals without developing the productive forces, without economic growth? We’d have to speak about the ideas and affirmations of Marx, who refrained from subscribing to extremes and the absolute.

The country that we need, then, is the country that we need in order to – without falling into a vicious cycle – resolve necessities and ingrain in every citizen the idea that socialism does not mean giving away everything, nor equalising everything. It is a permanent and gradual conquest from “the realm of necessity[3]” towards the “realm of freedom”. And for this, every one of us will have to have the space to contribute to the satisfaction of our own needs and, in a solidaristic and creative conjunction, collaborate to resolve those of others. Perhaps in this way we might be able to move toward what amounts to a superior society, and achieve the economic legitimacy that would make it easier to keep in check those who want the country to fragment into classes, divided between a few rich people and those who are left with nothing. 

Footnotes to the translation

[1] New Year’s Day in the Christian calendar, but also the anniversary of dictator Fulgencio Batista’s flight from Cuba in 1959 as the people rose up in revolution.

[2] In Cuba, “socialism” refers not to a fully communist society but to either the post-capitalist, socialist-oriented society in general (such as Cuba today) or a relatively developed and consolidated form of such a transitional society. It seems Sexto is using the word in the latter sense. Such a society has been anticipated by Marxist theory but, as Sexto points out, has yet to be achieved in practice. Cuba is still a long way from socialism in this sense.

[3] This is an allusion to a passage in Marx’s Capital (Vol. 3, Ch. 48) in which he contrasts the “realm of necessity” of class society with the “realm of freedom” he envisaged in a fully communist society: “[T]he realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite.”

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