The Evolution of Cuban Communism or Cuban Socialism?

Louis R Godena louisgodena at
Wed Aug 14 06:30:13 MDT 1996

Kevin asks:

>... Who do you believe rules in Cuba? What rights does the worker
>have in Cuba to speak, organize, elect new leaders? That seems to be the
>argument Tim is making. It seems fairly straight forward to say that Cuba
>is not democratic. What are you trying to say Cuba is?

Kevin's implicit point deserves lengthy consideration from everyone on the
list.    It contains,  ultimately,  more pressing questions for Marxists
than,  say,  a thread on the CPUSA or the British Labour Party--given our
present political realities,  ever could.

No single issue has come in handier to reactionaries of every stripe than
the one of Marxism or communism vs "democracy".

The problem of political organization in any viable communist society is to
adapt to the mass civilization of our age conceptions of "democracy" formed
in earlier and highly individualistic periods of history.     Our conception
of "democracy" developed from societies and institutions that had themselves
grown up under quite different auspices and influences.     Athenian
"democracy",  commonly regarded as the source and exemplar of democratic
institutions,  was both the creation and prerogative of a limited and
privileged group of the population.  Locke himself,  the founder of the
modern democratic tradition,  was the chosen philosopher and prophet of the
18th Century English Whig oligarchy.    The magnificent structure of British
nineteenth-century liberal democracy was built up on a highly restrictive
property franchise.     American democracy,  of course,  itself following
closely in this tradition,  began and flourished with the mute acquiescence
of fully 75 per cent of the population,  innocent of any real right to
participate in the fledgling democracy--women,  Indians,  blacks (free and
enslaved),  landless whites,   immigrants.     "Democracy",  as the word is
most commonly used by the Right,  clearly works best where some of the
people,  but not all of the people,  are free and equal.    This conclusion
is incompatible with the premises of Marxist visions of society.

Hitherto existing socialism,  as I understand it,  that is,  the beginnings
of mass democracy itself,  owes much more to the tradition of the doctrines
of Rousseau (the "general will") and the practice of the French Revolution,
than to what we,  as Americans,  would recognize as traditionally
"democratic."   Our is an individualist tradition.   Soviet,  or "socialist"
democracy--the type we see in, say,  Cuba--claims,  not without some
historical justification, to stem from the Jacobins (who stemmed from
Rousseau) and the doctrine of the general will.    The general will is an
orthodoxy which purports to express the common opinion;  the minority which
dissents can legitimately be suppressed.    Earlier postulates of bourgeois
democracy (e.g., Locke's belief in a fundamental harmony of interests
between individuals,  which coincided with the interests of society as a
whole) failed to stand the test of time, and joined its antecedents (like
the eighteenth century canard of "reason"--itself a doctrine of a ruling
oligarchy) on the trash heap of history.

The concept of "democracy" itself--with its individualist and perhaps
archaic notion of "one man,  one vote,"  freedom to dissent from the general
will,  etc. is proving unsuitable in the real world.     It has worked well
only in certain conditions in the west,   or in societies imbued with
western values, and where political culture has replaced de jure limits on
dissent and disobedience.    The conditions for the mass societies of the
21st Century do not auger well for our often quaint notions of democracy,
as we have heretofore understood it.

My question to the list is:  How far,  in moving from the individualism of
restrictive liberal democracy to the mass civilization of today,  have we
ourselves become involved in a conception of democracy which postulates a
general will?    And what ramifications does this have on democratic
concepts of the type of which Kevin so passionately evokes?

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