Celia Hart Reports on World Congress of Intellectuals
Socialism: The Only “Better World”
[This translation by W.T. Whitney, Jr., is an edited version of a draft translation by Maria Montelibre. Another edited version may be found on Walter Lippmann’s web site.
[W.T. Whitney, Jr., whose articles have appeared frequently in Labor Standard, has been active for many years in the Maine group called Let Cuba Live and has often visited Cuba, especially as part of annual Friendshipments bringing medical aid to the people of Cuba in defiance of the blockade by U.S. corporate power.
[Some editorial notes have been added to Celia Hart’s text by Labor Standard. See the section of notes following the body of Celia Hart’s article.
[The original Spanish text of Celia Hart’s article, dated December 12, 2004, may be found on the Internet by clicking here.]
The summits, congresses, and world assemblies with all of their rhetoric have put a damper on my expectations of their usefulness. Perhaps this time we will not be locked into the song and dance of denouncing the world’s calamities, the violations of human and divine laws, and the contrariness of our enemies. It’s a question now of looking for ways to carry out our struggle and determining the resources we have available to bring about a definitive end to imperialism. If we don’t succeed in finding specific answers, if we don’t come once and for all out of the shelter of academe, then our descendants will judge this generation of thinkers to be no more than a useless conglomeration of voyeurs.
At the Third International Seminar of Pedagogy
recently held in
I agree. And as is often the case, there’s a flag that appears to be missing at world conferences of the left, which is not much talked about because of fear and, what with restrictions imposed by political parties, it’s locked out. I mean Socialism. Many sincere comrades are claiming the end of the “isms.” It’s pathetic, especially because fascism, militarism, and imperialism fill up our lives from dawn to dusk. These tendencies—they are like a “leftist Fukuyama-ism”—quite openly refer to the tragedy of the current left. They oppose political parties and anyone with “isms.” We’ll have to confine ourselves to prayers, descriptions, and proclamations. I confess that for me the slogan “A better world is possible” seems like resignation. A better world is of course possible, but a worse one is too! The slogan limits our possibilities. I dream about some extraterrestrial on the way to construct it, or even worse—as if there were any chance that those tender words might move our enemies on a summer morning, while they sip their orange juice.
Chávez said it, “It is possible to have a better world…if we ourselves make it possible!” In fact, it seems ironical that up against a Dantesque scenario of wars, lies, and poverty, we could even talk about a better world.
The Berlin Wall fell over a
decade ago, and we haven’t been able to get over the psychological trauma
caused by “actually existing socialism.” We’ll have to bring in all the world’s
psychoanalysts to see if we can free ourselves from this curse. I hope we don’t
waste another seventy years doing it. While we were going to the analyst, the
enemy would be building wall after twisted wall, all the while smothering us
with apocalyptic phrases like “preemptive war,” “axis of evil,” and other
idiocies. And as if that weren’t enough, that same enemy wins the
I ask myself, what flag could ever mean more than that of socialism? Now that globalization has descended upon us all over the world, what could be better than to take up socialist ideas again, squeeze them, fiddle with them, mix them up, and then present the enemy with true international solidarity as an alternative to capitalist globalization. [As José Martí said:] “With all and for the good of all,” but José Martí of course would have said more. Only with “all” joined together will it be possible to shove wood under the kettle. And “all” ought to be yearning not only for a better world but also for one that is qualitatively different.
There is only one alternative to barbarism. Frederick Engels said it: socialism, that very socialism that in Rosa Luxemburg’s words “is not just a problem of ways and means, but is a cultural movement, and an all-encompassing, powerful world view.”
Any flag is welcome, as long as it is a real one: Bolívar’s, Hidalgo’s, those of San Martín and José Martí, and all of the rest, anywhere, flags that fill places of honor in our history. We have to follow, if only out of respect for them.
Julio Antonio Mella brought Martí back to life,
because he courageously absorbed him and assimilated the new scientific findings
of Karl Marx. And somehow he converted Martí into [himself,] the founder of the
first Communist Party in
Fidel Castro and his comrades [also] came back and
saved José Martí from the enemy, because they actually converted him into the
intellectual author of a socialist revolution. Enough romanticism! That’s why Martí
is still alive, because had he talked with Karl Marx—they would have been of
one mind from their first cup of coffee—he would have passed on some insights
[Note by “Labor Standard”: For more on José Martí and the “events in
[The Peruvian] José Carlos Mariategui [1894–1930] sought for a vision of socialism and class struggle adapted creatively and heroically to the present situation. Such a vision will enable us to see to it that Bolívar and so many of our predecessors did not work in vain. Our responsibility is enormous. No longer will we be able to blame Stalin and “actually existing socialism” for our failures and prejudices. It’s time to take out the sword and pen, conquer and win people’s hearts, taking up the only flags that will improve our world and that of our children.
The enemy is certainly in crisis. But if we don’t become conscious of that reality, and quickly, then we will be swept away irrevocably.
And really how healthy is socialism? I am bold enough to propose a quite simplified “measuring” stick. The revolution is a process. Natural processes are measured in terms of variations in magnitude over time. Let’s try to measure a social process like that.
Let’s do it like this: we’ll call SOC a magnitude that measures the extent to which a revolution is socialist at any given point in time. Let’s take three examples.
Without a doubt, legalization of the dollar for
trade and commerce and a rapid growth of tourism and joint ventures—functioning
under capitalist rules—have become bitter pills for the revolution to swallow,
more so even than the special period. Some Cubans are adopting a capitalist
mentality. The goals seemed similar to Lenin’s as he imposed the New Economic
Policy on the young Soviet state, although the Cuban experience was quite
dissimilar to the
Next we look at the so-called battle of ideas that began with the campaign to return Elián González to his homeland. This was the point at which Fidel began to build one impressive revolution inside the other. The education of social workers, young teachers, and paramedic personnel moved forward together with a little known educational revolution by which the student–teacher ratio fell to 20:1 in a two-year period. Not only did the quality of education improve but, more importantly, the revolutionary process took in tens of thousands of students. Most of them had been idle until then, thinking mainly about dollars—legalized for a while—or about emigrating. I understand that a revolution is a tumultuous process, and not everyone will be with the revolution. The ideological battle is part of the process too.
There are now two educational channels that are quite different from the usual channels. Cultural rather than commercial criteria determine the programming, which includes daily roundtables, weekly open forums, and university teaching, open to anybody, on subjects such as the history of philosophy, ballet, or the sciences. Fidel speaks frequently to the people on television, and those appearances have raised the political level of public discourse and contributed to the culture of debate, despite tendencies toward repetition and sloganeering. Overall, these changes do represent a decisive step-up in the SOC factor.
It’s not Fidel’s job or that of revolutionary Cubans to build socialism, simply because socialism in one country is not in the cards. It is possible, however, to augment the SOC aspect of the socialist revolution, and toward that end forces must be in place to counteract tendencies toward capitalist restoration. We knowingly took on problematic cures in order to survive the 1994 legalization of the dollar. Two forces are at war with each other inside the same revolution. Fidel devotes most of his time and all of his efforts to these struggles, the battle of ideas. This new revolution originated out of specific projects that involve the most revolutionary social strata. The campaign against the mosquito that carries the yellow fever virus, for example, became a political campaign, because high school students took charge.
Despite the relative worthlessness of our national
currency, we avoid layoffs. Sugar workers left without work receive salaries
for studying. Despite economic “poverty”
One has to see the expression on Fidel Castro’s face on days when a small battle against pro-capitalist forces is won, when, for example, the dollar was replaced by the convertible peso. More than just changing from one paper to another, a symbolism was working that put a smile on Fidel’s face that would not leave, even with his accident and everything else. No longer would green money graze the hands of young Cubans.
What about internationalism? Tens of thousands of
our compatriots are working as doctors, teachers, or technicians in
Internationalism has a price. We aren’t giving away surpluses. We provide what is near and dear.
In the same vein, while the Conference of
Intellectuals and Artists was going on in
Fidel was finishing up, and as always he invited us into the struggle. Anyone criticizing the Cuban government as bureaucratic, I ask if they know any president anywhere who talks about electricity consumed by the million or so television sets in Cuban homes, or about school lunches, or about mothers of handicapped children receiving a salary just for taking care of their children. No, nobody speaks about changing everything [as Fidel does]—with the happy exception of compañero Hugo Chávez.
This shows even more that we are in a revolution.
And we will not give it up, no matter how imperiled the world may be. They have
taken prisoners of war, our five comrades—internationalist fighters imprisoned
The second example is legendary
If the economy is so powerful, why do 58,000 workers
go out on strike, only to be designated criminals? Why is
23% of the Chinese workforce unemployed, why does privatization rule the lives
of 170 million people, and why do low productivity and population growth lead
to downsizing of state-owned corporations? Why does the World Health
Organization say that seven out of ten of the world’s most polluted cities are
found in the People’s Republic of
My third example is
There are compensating factors, of course. It’s the
Cuban socialist revolution that emerges as a model, not the Stalinist USSR. And
Bolívar serves as precedent. Bolívar was up against emerging national
bourgeoisies, classes now openly allied with the Empire. It’s enough for Hugo Chávez
to aspire to cover ground worked by the Liberator, for that process to become
radicalized. That’s what happened in
If this man is truly embarked upon Christian endeavor, he’ll have no alternative, but to build up the level of SOC in the Bolivarian Revolution. In that way, we may some day be seeing an authentic socialist revolution with pronounced internationalist characteristics, “without realizing it,” as Che might say.
On the other hand, [
So there is good news too. We are reckoning with two
revolutions taking root and opening new hopes in
Chávez in his remarks at the
What is Commandante Chávez referring to? What is the
only force in the world that can be held up as a common denominator among the
poor? The Communist Manifesto, the specter that haunted
President Chávez has declared that, in the face of these realities, “It is the duty of all the revolutionaries of the world to create a network of social and political organizations and shape an international movement that moves onto the offensive.”
He goes on: “There are no national solutions. They are trying to inflict upon us that most savage form of globalization, which is neo-liberalism. It is a world problem, and the solution transcends the borders of one country.”
And calling for an offensive to save humanity, he proposes, “to organize a network of theorists whose thinking rises to the level of a creative, transforming, and critical force to light the way toward a new world view for humanity.”
We have then three items: the struggle understood as an end to national borders, left forces (political parties and social movements) endowed with cohesiveness and maturity, and radical thought on the offensive. We move beyond the enemy’s archaic terminology—terrorism, human rights, and democracy—to speak of revolution, socialism, and class struggle. And for the sake of consistency, I dream now about the word “international.” Up against global imperialism, that strong word is essential.
Hugo Chávez has just launched a historic undertaking
with this meeting of intellectuals. He is inviting us into the American dream,
in fact the real one. In contrast to Bush, who envisions the
Chávez said, “Out
of this century comes our truth. We will have a
fatherland, and the fatherland is our
This commitment asks more of us than reading the history
Now, just for today, having come across a recent article by Carlos Alberto Montaner, I am taking the liberty of reminding this tribunal of revolutionary thinkers about Leon Trotsky.
Trotsky takes the prize in the Guinness book of records as the most defamed revolutionary in history. As far as that personage is concerned, many, even communists, inadvertently go along with the enemy. Trotsky has been accused of absolutely everything: being a fascist, an imperialist, an assassin, a sectarian, and putting the brakes on the revolution. The charitable ones maintain that Trotsky’s ideas are unnecessary, because they are obsolete. And now Carlos Alberto Montaner comes along, a well-known enemy of the Cuban revolution. He alleges that in Trotsky’s final days he gave up on socialism and the revolution and embraced the market economy and representative democracy. It’s too much! But the blame is ours for allowing what Trotsky represents to be restricted just to the so-called “Trotskyist parties,” as if he were off the roster of revolutionaries, as if he were not the leading thinker who alerted us to the end of the USSR from a Marxist point of view. More than anyone else, Trotsky analyzed the means by which a revolution and a Communist Party in power can be liquidated.
The fall of “actually existing socialism” can neither be analyzed nor understood without reading Leon Trotsky. And that analysis is by no means old hat; it’s right up to date. With his own flesh he experienced the excesses of a bureaucracy in power in a “socialist” state. He also developed one of the most essential concepts of revolutionary thought, the permanent revolution. Not only is it wrong not to keep him at our side as one of the foremost revolutionaries, but the neglect of Trotsky has led to obvious deficiencies in our revolutionary practice.
Internationalism, permanent revolution, and the
impossibility of socialism in one country: these are key revolutionary
considerations. As a Marxist, Trotsky has been accused of many things, but
never of being a revisionist. If anything, he went the other way. Che and Fidel
followed in his path, although they may not have known it. The slogan “create two, three, many
All communists, not just Trotskyists, must give Trotsky his due as a contributor to revolutionary thought. A mention of communism should, with the next breath, evoke the name Leon Trotsky. And Trotskyism is more than just one ramification within Marxism.
James Cannon, one of the founding leaders [in 1919] of the Communist movement in the United States, said [later] in 1942, “Trotskyism is not a new movement, a new doctrine, but the restoration, the revival, of genuine Marxism as it was expounded and practiced in the Russian revolution and in the early days of the Communist International.”
[Note by “Labor Standard”: The quotation is from page one of James P. Cannon’s History of American Trotskyism (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1944). For more on James P. Cannon, see “Labor Standard Notes” below.]
According to Montaner, “In his last days in Mexico, before he was murdered by Ramón Mercader, that son of a crazy Cuban, Trotsky was beginning to reject the idea of tyranny and discovering the value of economic and political freedom and the importance of formal democracy.”
But in 1932 Trotsky stated: “Only a powerful increase in productive forces and a sound, planned, that is, socialist, organization of production and distribution can assure humanity—all humanity—a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy” [emphasis added—Labor Standard].
[Note by “Labor
Standard”: This quotation is from “In Defense of the Russian Revolution,” a
speech Trotsky gave in
So Montaner is referring to a freedom Trotsky had extolled many years before. For the sake of that freedom he had organized the Red Army, worked at Lenin’s side, and ultimately gave his best years and life itself.
But we know that Montaner is referring to “freedom” in the sense of the impunity exercised by exploiters. What sort of injustice have we dealt Leon Trotsky when one of socialism’s worst enemies can go on like this unchallenged? If we allow a thing like this to continue, we are complicit in a deathblow to a revolutionary thinker, one worse than Mercader’s in 1940. And this kind of attack on Trotsky does irreparable harm to the ideas of socialism.
Luckily, Hugo Chávez cheered us up by looking at the
other side of the coin. In the closing session of the
They say that a lie runs on for
100 years, but the truth can catch up in a day. That’s what happens when there
is an honest search for the correct road. In fact, all those roads lead to
socialism. They have set up a permanent office in
I have to go back once more to the article by Carlos
Alberto Montaner, because I believe that again he is barking up the wrong tree.
The man also complains because I called him a terrorist. And he may be right.
If imperialists say my Palestinian brothers are terrorists, as they struggle
for their people’s self-determination, then Montaner is no terrorist. If Iraqi
fighters in Fallujah are terrorists, for courageously confronting the strongest
and most cowardly army in the world, then Montaner is no terrorist. Nor is he a
terrorist, if the Cuban revolutionaries are called terrorists, those who fought
against a criminal, pro-U.S. dictatorship and who in less than seven years
achieved power and established an authentic socialist revolution. But this
gentleman [Montaner] is an enemy of the Cuban people. He supposes that after
four decades of knowing what dignity is all about, we’ll go backwards. We have learned
how to behave as free people, and now for the Cuban people to “peacefully” go back to a corrupt
so-called republic and to accept imperialism is impossible. His fantasies about
my country going back half a century to the days when it was the casino of the
As for myself and my “revisionism,” I say this: I
don’t expect the corrupt, vicious formal
democracy proposed by Montaner ever to be reinstalled in
With great pride I take my place in the ranks of Montaner’s “terrorists.”
“Labor Standard” Notes
[José Martí wrote a stirring tribute to the Haymarket martyrs of
at the time when they were “legally” lynched by Corporate America in 1886. See the article about this by W.T. Whitney, Jr., in Labor Standard, Vol. 1, No. 3, July-August 1999, page 57.] Chicago
[James P. Cannon’s History of American Trotskyism was originally delivered in the
spring of 1942 as a series of lectures in
[Note on 1932 quotation from Trotsky: The full paragraph in which the quoted sentences appear makes the full meaning of Trotsky’s remarks more clear:
[“Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfill its essential mission, the increase of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot stand still at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive forces and a sound, planned, that is, socialist, organization of production and distribution can assure humanity—all humanity—of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. Freedom in two senses—first of all, man [that is, human beings collectively] will no longer be compelled to devote the greater part of his life to physical labor. Second, he will no longer be dependent on the laws of the market, that is, on the blind and dark forces which have grown up behind his back. He will build up his economy freely, that is, according to a plan, with compass in hand. This time it is a question of subjecting the anatomy of society to the X-ray through and through, of disclosing all its secrets and subjecting all its functions to the reason and the will of a collective humanity. In this sense, socialism must become a new step in the historical advance of mankind.”
is of interest to note that this 1932 speech, expressing views which Trotsky
stood by the rest of his life—including his views on human freedom—was given
under quite difficult circumstances. Trotsky had been living on the