The Cuban Revolution:
With Love Or Venom?
By James Petras
29 September, 2007
Revolutions and the Cuban is no exception, advance in a contradictory
process: in the course of solving basic immediate problems they confront
new challenges. There are revolutionary writers who recognize this dialectical
process and the need to critically support the revolution. On the other
hand there are publicists who arrogate to themselves the role of unconditional
apologists for every shift in policy of the official spokesperson, parroting
the argument of the day.
their recent essay “Cuba: Permanent Revolution and its Contradictions”
(Rebellion), James Petras and Robin Abaya describe the historic accomplishments
of the Cuban Revolution in great detail – its socio-economic advances,
successes in resisting US imperialist aggression, its capacity to sustain
basic popular programs despite the collapse of its principle trading
partners and its recent economic recovery and growth. In this context
of outlining the world-historic accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution,
Petras-Abaya highlight the emergence of contradictions which could erode
the popular bases of the revolution: the massive housing deficit, low
wages/salaries of workers, transport shortages, widespread theft of
public property, low productivity and overdependence on tourism, raw
material exports and food imports (particularly from the US). Most of
those problems are acknowledged by some of the leaders of the revolution.
The causes can be traced to the lack of popular control over investment
policy, resulting in over-development of export-services and lack of
investment in public housing, transportation and agriculture.
Petras and Abaya point to
the need to reflect and re-think big capital intensive investments in
hotels and bio-tech in light of rising popular demands and discontent
with the chronic lack of basic items of private consumption. They conclude
that fighting widespread corruption and securing greater transparency
in public budgets and personal income of authorities engaged in joint
ventures can be achieved through public televised hearings convoked
by elected independent commissions of workers, farmers, professionals
and certified independent accountants. Their article reflects several
decades of support for the Cuban Revolution (even at times at a personal
cost) and a deep affection for its revolutionary people. Their belief
is that genuine defenders of the revolution offer constructive criticism
in order to advance the process against its external and internal enemies.
Based on observations and
careful studies of the erosion of socialism in the USSR and China ,
we find that when the workers and farmers are not consulted in the planning
of investments and priorities, support for socialism declines and neo-liberalism
grows. By pointing out Cuba ’s contradictions, our desire is for
the revolution to avoid the catastrophic consequences of similar contradictions
in former socialist regimes.
The article has served one
of its main purposes in that it has stimulated widespread debate inside
and outside of Cuba , among intellectuals and political activists. In
particular, in Cuba, Raul Castro has encouraged wide-ranging critical
debate, the formation of commissions to examine basic policies and to
encourage the formulation of new socio-economic strategies. Petras-Abayas’
paper was written in the spirit of joining in this fraternal debate.
Fidel Castro and Pablo Gonzales
Two well known writers of
great fame and recognition however failed to capture the fraternal spirit
and to recognize the abiding solidarity of the Petras-Abaya essay. Fidel
Castro accused the writers of ‘poisoning’ the intellectual
discussion, of supporting neo-liberalism and other such ‘thought
crimes’. He accused the writers of “pretending to be friends
of the revolution” while intending to slander it. According to
this logic (parroted and amplified by Gonzales Casanova) the revolution
is always advancing in a linear fashion, ever forward and without contradiction,
backed by a people capable of endless sacrifice of their basic needs.
According to this argument, to deny this linearity and to document contradictions
and internal challenges is to play into the hands of counter-revolution.
There are several serious
problems with Fidel’s harsh polemic. First and foremost his denunciation
of Petras-Abaya as “super-revolutionaries”, “neo-liberals”
and “venomous” can be taken as a threat to anyone engaged
in the profound debate taking place in Cuba today. Tens of thousands
of Cubans are taking advantage of Raul’s new opening to engage
in constructive criticism, some of which goes much farther than Petras
and Abaya. Secondly Fidel’s argument of infinite support for the
revolution reflects a degree of voluntarism that does not correspond
with the reality: The great mass of Cuban’s are tired of waiting,
married couples on lists for decades for a decent apartment and salary
increases, waiting till the end of the month for the next paycheck in
order to buy decent quality food on the free market and for hours for
crowded public transport. In real life there are limits in waiting for
basic improvements, even among the most revolutionary of people.
The inadequacy of Fidel and
Gonzales-Casanovas’ political polemics is most in evidence in
their use of personal invective: The emptier the argument, the harsher
the ad hominem attacks.
Pablo Gonzalez Casanova’s
essay is a case in point. Instead of facing Petras-Abaya empirical documentation,
he resorts to the most bizarre insults by calling Petras a ‘pervert’
and his writing a ‘perversion’. His omission of the name
of the co-author, Robin Abaya, suggests blatant sexism. Instead of providing
evidence to refute Petras-Abaya critical observations on the housing,
income policy, productivity problems – he rambles on about our
supposedly perverse behavior in daring to raise criticism of the all
wise all knowing Cuban leaders. Gonzales Casanova has learned nothing
from Cuban reality nor has he set aside his Brezhnev-era apologetics
for existing socialist argumentation. It is not a coincidence that Gonzalez
Casanova echoes Fidel’s polemics; he repeats his invective to
caricature and displays virtually no independent thinking. He writes
like a soldier of the Leader, right or wrong, but not of the revolution.
For a politicologo with claims to being a ‘rigorous social scientist’,
Gonzales Casanova has never gone into the Cuban streets, talked to couples
waiting for 10 years for an apartment or waited with hundreds of commuters
for a crowded late bus in 40 degrees centigrade three hundred days a
year. That kind of data is difficult to obtain at VIP receptions in
Havana honoring distinguished foreign academics.
To cover up his dogmatic
and opportunistic defense of an uncritical vision and his servile disservice
to the Cuban people’s demands for far-reaching reforms, Gonzales
Casanova claims inspiration from the ‘social movements’
and new leftist currents in Latin America. While Gonzales Casanova praises
‘social movements’ from his academic tower, his declared
‘pervert’, Petras has been working on the ground with these
movements for decades: In Brazil with the MST since 1991 and with CONLUTA
since 2004, in Argentina with the unemployed workers since 2002, in
Ecuador with the petroleum workers union since 2002 (and today with
the social movements in the Polo Democratico), in Mexico with the electrical
workers union since many years, with Chavez and the Chavistas since
2001. And Petras has defended the Cuban revolution since 1959, when
Dr. Gonzales Casanova was still a supporter of the PRI.
There are many other movements
and other regions and countries where Gonzales Casanova’s favorite
‘pervert’ has worked with movements in struggle: Spain ,
Catalunya-Basque-Andalucía , Greece , Italy , Turkey , Philippines
- but I think that the readers of Rebelión get the point. Casanova,
the armchair apologist of Cuba , lacks the elementary facts about who
he criticizes and what he defends. The social movements in Latin American
have a political life. They do not engage in worship of a leadership
cult. They debate, criticize their leaders, their mistakes and even
the Cuban revolution…when it is necessary. The social movements’
irreverence to authority, even of respected leaders like Fidel, makes
them, according to Doctor Gonzalez Casanova, ‘perverts’
or according to Fidel ‘super-revolutionaries’.
Defending the Cuban revolution
demands unconditional defense against imperialism and proposals to rectify
its problems. These are acts of love. Polemical invective and personal
attacks against life-long defenders of the revolution and revolutionary
movements will further isolate Cuba and opportunists like Gonzalez Casanova
from reality and the coming social transformations in Latin America
and social changes in Cuba .
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