[Marxism] Re: Accounts of Cuban "Socialism"

DCQ deeseekyou at comcast.net
Wed Aug 24 23:00:48 MDT 2005

Wow. I subscribe and the first message I get is an old favorite about 
Cuba and "socialism." Welcome indeed.

Anyway, a few things that may hopefully provide a fresh perspective... 
Over the years, I've come to a new understanding of this debate: 
namely, it's pretty effing pointless. So here's my contribution.

1) People can convince themselves of anything. Probably a majority of 
the population of the US believes that the Democratic Party is against 
the war, despite the Herculean efforts to dispell this impression by 
the Democratic Party bigwigs. Go figure. If someone is invested 
personally, politically, intellectually, etc. in the essentially 
socialist or non-socialist nature of the Cuban state, then there's not 
a whole heck of a lot a little listserve is going to do to change this.

2) Far too many people caricature what the "state capitalist" theory 
actually states, and what it does not state. And this includes people 
in the IS tradition. Far too often, people have taken the basic message 
and dumbed it down, reified it into something it is not. Cliff's "State 
Capitalism in Russia" is not some abstract pronouncement that goes 
something like "since Stalin was bad, and since socialism is good, 
therefore Stalinism is not socialism, but something new called...oh, 
let's see...umm...state capitalism...yeah, that sounds good..."

It seems that many critics of Cliff's "state capitalist" theory, have 
looked at little more than the "executive summaries" (pamphlets, ISJ 
articles, etc.) written by full-timers, assumed that was the totality, 
and then gone on the offensive. Those few who have critiqued the whole 
she-bang, have often deliberately misrepresented what Cliff wrote, set 
up straw-man arguments, then quite easily toppled the straw-men, washed 
their hands, and called it a good day's polemicizing.

A large problem is that these "executive summaries" leave out quite 
important details, and end up misrepresenting or even abolishing the 
subtlety and nuance of the original (I include many of Cliff's own 
summaries in this grouping). To list a few commonly mis- or 
partially-understood items: the fact that Cliff says state capitalism 
is much closer in operation to a worker's state than it is to a 
traditional capitalist economy; the fact that he insists that state 
capitalism is a partial negation of capitalism; his explanation that 
the modes of appropriation are quite different in a traditional 
capitalist model and a state capitalist system; and the fact that 
"state capitalism" is not a specific descriptor of the Stalinist 
countries, but of the global economy--the capitalist era in which we 
have lived for around a century.

Cliff's book is actually quite a complex Marxist study of the 
historical and economic data on Russia available at the time. Its 
arguments are very precise and careful. That said, it really is a 
starting point, not the end-point it essentially became. Much more 
study and refinement of Cliff's formulation can and should be made, 
particularly with all the data now available that was not when the 
first drafts were penned. Additionally, I believe the theory can and 
should be refined in several ways: looking more closely at the rise of 
state capitalism in Russia as a response to imperialism (rather than 
the more neutral sounding "world capitalist pressures"); looking at how 
state capitalism functioned in Eastern Europe, as well as countries 
that arrived at "Stalinism" through their own revolutions/national 
liberation struggles (Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea...); looking at 
non-Stalinist state capitalist countries (Iran...); looking at "state 
capitalist" countries allied with the West (South Korea, Zaire, fascist 
Spain...); looking at monopoly state capitalist methods of economic 
control in the US/imperialist countries (military spending 
(specifically), government spending (generally) taxation, monetary 
policy, labor, environmental, and financial regulations, zoning, etc.)

3) I agree with Louis that groups in the IS tradition have often 
fetishized this one simplified, misunderstood term, and alienated a 
good number of potential members who could add tremendously to the 
cause of building a revolutionary party in the US. This is not what it 
should be. And it seems that the ISO at one point tried to do this, 
since Joel Geier is one of the leading ISO members, but does not agree 
with the the "state capitalist" theory. But the practical work day to 
day in the 80s (and to a large extent in the 90s as well) of having to 
have an explanation for the horrors of Stalinism, meant in practice 
that a single explanation won out. At this point, I am for removing the 
mentioning of state capitalism in the "Where We Stand" section of SW. 
(I would delete: " The experience of Russia demonstrates that a 
socialist revolution cannot survive in one country. China and Cuba, 
like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, have nothing to do with 
socialism. They are state capitalist regimes which oppress and exploit 
workers. We support the struggles of workers in these countries against 
the bureaucratic ruling class." I would then expand the section on 
imperialism to be more explicit...something like "imperialism cannot 
bring democracy" ...and "we support the struggles of workers everywhere 
against their own ruling classes." I would also like to change a few 
other things, since it seems to be addressed to the sectarian left 
laying out the differences between the ISO and other groups, rather 
than to the newly class-conscious worker laying out basic principles) 
But, as I am not able to be active at the moment, I really have no say 
or influence on that.

4) What really matters in the debate about Cuba is not whether or not 
you think it is a socialist paradise, socialism with some distortions, 
or a capitalist country. What really matters is this: will you defend 
the Cuban people against the aggressions and provocations of the US 
without hesitation? Period.


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