Socialism and man in Cuba
Invisible laws of capitalism
In capitalist society individuals are controlled by a pitiless law usually beyond their comprehension. The alienated human specimen is tied to society as a whole by an invisible umbilical cord: the law of value.
This law acts upon all aspects of one's life, shaping its course and destiny. The laws of capitalism, which are blind and are invisible to ordinary people, act upon the individual without he or she being aware of it. One sees only the vastness of a seemingly infinite horizon ahead. That is how it is painted by capitalist propagandists who purport to draw a lesson from the example of Rockefeller
— whether or not it is true — about the possibilities of individual success. The amount of poverty and suffering required for a Rockefeller to emerge, and the amount of depravity entailed in the accumulation of a fortune of such magnitude, are left out of the picture, and it is not always possible for the popular forces to expose this clearly. (A discussion of how the workers in the imperialist countries gradually lose the spirit of working-class internationalism due to a certain degree of complicity in the exploitation of the dependent countries, and how this at the same time weakens the combativity of the masses in the imperialist countries, would be appropriate here, but that is a theme that goes beyond the scope of these notes.)
In any case, the road to success is portrayed as beset with perils — perils that, it would seem, an individual with the proper qualities can overcome to attain the goal. The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely. Furthermore, it is a contest among wolves. One can win only at the cost of the failure of others.
The individual and socialism
I would now like to try to define the individual, the actor in this strange and moving drama of the building of socialism, in a dual existence as a unique being and as a member of society.
I think the place to start is to recognize the individual's quality of incompleteness, of being an unfinished product. The vestiges of the past are brought into the present in one's consciousness, and a continual labor is necessary to eradicate them.
The process is two-sided. On the one hand, society acts through direct and indirect education; on the other, the individual submits to a conscious process of self-education. The new society in formation has to compete fiercely with the past. This past makes itself felt not only in one's consciousness — in which the residue of an education systematically oriented toward isolating the individual still weighs heavily — but also through the very character of this transition period in which commodity relations still persist. The commodity is the economic cell of capitalist society. So long as it exists its effects will make themselves felt in the organization of production and, consequently, in consciousness.
Marx outlined the transition period as resulting from the explosive transformation of the capitalist system destroyed by its own contradictions. In historical reality, however, we have seen that some countries that were weak limbs on the tree of imperialism were torn off first — a phenomenon foreseen by Lenin.
In these countries, capitalism had developed sufficiently to make its effects felt by the people in one way or another. But it was not capitalism's internal contradictions that, having exhausted all possibilities, caused the system to explode. The struggle for liberation from a foreign oppressor; the misery caused by external events such as war, whose consequences privileged classes place on the backs of the exploited; liberation movements aimed at overthrowing neo-colonial regimes — these are the usual factors in unleashing this kind of explosion. Conscious action does the rest. A complete education for social labor has not yet taken place in these countries, and wealth is far from being within the reach of the masses through the simple process of appropriation. Underdevelopment, on the one hand, and the usual flight of capital, on the other, make a rapid transition without sacrifices impossible.
There remains a long way to go in constructing the economic base, and the temptation is very great to follow the beaten track of material interest as the lever with which to accelerate development.
There is the danger that the forest will not be seen for the trees. The pipe dream that socialism can be achieved with the help of the dull instruments left to us by capitalism (the commodity as the economic cell, profitability, individual material interest as a lever, etc.) can lead into a blind alley. When you wind up there after having traveled a long distance with many crossroads, it is hard to figure out just where you took the wrong turn. Meanwhile, the economic foundation that has been laid has done its work of undermining the development of consciousness. To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man and woman.
That is why it is very important to choose the right instrument for mobilizing the masses. Basically, this instrument must be moral in character, without neglecting, however, a correct use of the material incentive — especially of a social character.
As I have already said, in moments of great peril it is easy to muster a powerful response with moral incentives. Retaining their effectiveness, however, requires the development of a consciousness in which there is a new scale of values. Society as a whole must be converted into a gigantic school.
In rough outline this phenomenon is similar to the process by which capitalist consciousness was formed in its initial period. Capitalism uses force, but it also educates people in the system. Direct propaganda is carried out by those entrusted with explaining the inevitability of class society, either through some theory of divine origin or a mechanical theory of natural law. This lulls the masses, since they see themselves as being oppressed by an evil against which it is impossible to struggle.
Next comes hope of improvement — and in this, capitalism differed from the earlier caste systems, which offered no way out. For some people, the principle of the caste system will remain in effect: The reward for the obedient is to be transported after death to some fabulous other world where, according to the old beliefs, good people are rewarded. For other people there is this innovation: class divisions are determined by fate, but individuals can rise out of their class through work, initiative, etc. This process, and the myth of the self-made man, has to be profoundly hypocritical: it is the self-serving demonstration that a lie is the truth.
In our case, direct education acquires a much greater importance.
The explanation is convincing because it is true; no subterfuge is needed. It is carried on by the state's educational apparatus as a function of general, technical and ideological education through such agencies as the Ministry of Education and the party's informational apparatus. Education takes hold among the masses and the foreseen new attitude tends to become a habit. The masses continue to make it their own and to influence those who have not yet educated themselves. This is the indirect form of educating the masses, as powerful as the other, structured, one.
Conscious process of self-education
But the process is a conscious one. Individuals continually feel the impact of the new social power and perceive that they do not entirely measure up to its standards. Under the pressure of indirect education, they try to adjust themselves to a situation that they feel is right and that their own lack of development had prevented them from reaching previously. They educate themselves.
In this period of the building of socialism we can see the new man and woman being born. The image is not yet completely finished — it never will be, since the process goes forward hand in hand with the development of new economic forms.
Aside from those whose lack of education makes them take the solitary road toward satisfying their own personal ambitions, there are those — even within this new panorama of a unified march forward — who have a tendency to walk separately from the masses accompanying them. What is important, however, is that each day individuals are acquiring ever more consciousness of the need for their incorporation into society and, at the same time, of their importance as the motor of that society.
They no longer travel completely alone over lost roads toward distant aspirations. They follow their vanguard, consisting of the party, the advanced workers, the advanced individuals who walk in unity with the masses and in close communion with them.
The vanguard has its eyes fixed on the future and its reward, but this is not a vision of reward for the individual. The prize is the new society in which individuals will have different characteristics: the society of communist human beings.
The road is long and full of difficulties. At times we lose our way and must turn back. At other times we go too fast and separate ourselves from the masses. Sometimes we go too slow and feel the hot breath of those treading at our heels. In our zeal as revolutionaries we try to move ahead as fast as possible, clearing the way. But we know we must draw our nourishment from the mass and that it can advance more rapidly only if we inspire it by our example.
Despite the importance given to moral incentives, the fact that there remains a division into two main groups (excluding, of course, the minority that for one reason or another does not participate in the building of socialism) indicates the relative lack of development of social consciousness. The vanguard group is ideologically more advanced than the mass; the latter understands the new values, but not sufficiently. While among the former there has been a qualitative change that enables them to make sacrifices in their capacity as an advance guard, the latter see only part of the picture and must be subject to incentives and pressures of a certain intensity. This is the dictatorship of the proletariat operating not only on the defeated class but also on individuals of the victorious class.
All of this means that for total success a series of mechanisms, of revolutionary institutions, is needed.
Along with the image of the multitudes marching toward the future comes the concept of institutionalization as a harmonious set of channels, steps, restraints and well-oiled mechanisms which facilitate the advance, which facilitate the natural selection of those destined to march in the vanguard, and which bestow rewards on those who fulfill their duties and punishments on those who commit a crime against the society that is being built.
Regarding the Cuba sanctions program, the following are the legal parameters through which Americans or American entities may engage in Cuba travel-related transactions through the use of a general license:
- American residents/citizens visiting close relatives who are Cuban nationals. See Sections 31 C.F.R. 515.561; 515.339.
- American residents/citizens visiting close relatives that have been assigned as U.S. government employees to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. See Section 515.561.
- U.S. and foreign government officials and/or officials of intergovernmental organizations who are traveling on official business. See Section 515.562.
- Members of the media and their staff. See Section 515.563.
- Professionals conducting professional research or attending meetings. See Section 515.564.
- Faculty, staff, and students of U.S. accredited universities. See Section 515.565.
- Members and staff of American religious organizations. See Section 515.566.
- Representatives or employees of a U.S. telecommunications service provider. See Sections 515.564; 515.533.
- A representative, employee of, or distributor of certain agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical technology. See Section 515.533.
The U.S. trade embargo of Cuba was initiated
“in response to a 1960 memo by a senior State Department official. The memo proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Castro] government.”
Since the 1959 revolution, all Cubans received less than $20 a month
, barely enough to survive. (After talking with two university professors about socialism in Cuba, they asked if we could help them get food for their children.) However, with the expansion of tourism, some Cubans were able to increase their income through government-permitted small businesses. They rent rooms in their home (casa particulares), convert their kitchen into small restaurants, sell embroidery table cloths in stalls along the street and even doctors drive the family car, classic 1950s Chevys, as taxi cabs after they go home from work. Amiable and attractive Cubans have learned they can leave their poverty behind by flirting with, dancing with, and talking with visitors who become their companions and lovers. This has resulted in Cuba’s two economies, one for the people who earn $20 a month and the other for companions of tourists who spend more on a single meal or bed than those who are not connected to the tourist economy spend in a month.
For non-Americans, Cuba is a living dream, the weather, the beaches, the friendly people, the lack of crime, the lack of traffic, inexpensive rooms the food, and the music heard nearly 24-hours a day. Because the goal of the United States embargo was to cause the Cuban people to go hungry through elimination of the primary sources of income in the country, the equality Castro sought resulted in the sharing of very little, $20 a month and government provided education and health care. The increase in European and Canadian tourism has reduced poverty; through fiscal prudence and ambition Cubans convert their home of eight rooms into several rooms for the family and five rentals for tourists. In many ways this part of Cuba’s economy mirrors the American Dream through the spread and growth of small businesses. As long as the businesses remain small, energetic efforts can lead to comfortable lives; property does not have to be amassed.
While the U.S. embargo of Cuba has caused hunger in the Cuban people, elimination of the otherwise fruitless embargo will be the first step in showing that United States foreign policy can reflect our humanity and that we are not too arrogant to admit our mistakes.
Four Decades of Failure: The U.S. Embargo against Cuba
A Half-Century of Failure
The real dividing line in U.S. policy toward Cuba is how best to undermine the Castro regime and hasten the island’s day of liberation. For almost half a century, the U.S. government has tried to isolate Cuba economically in an effort to undermine the regime and deprive it of resources. Since 1960, Americans have been barred from trading with, investing in, or traveling to Cuba. The embargo had a national security rationale before 1991, when Castro served as the Soviet Union’s proxy in the Western Hemisphere. But all that changed with the fall of Soviet communism. Today, more than a decade after losing billions in annual economic aid from its former sponsor, Cuba is only a poor and dysfunctional nation of 11 million that poses no threat to American or regional security.
A 1998 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that, “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region.” The report declared Cuba’s military forces “residual” and “defensive.” Some officials in the Bush administration have charged that Castro’s government may be supporting terrorists abroad, but the evidence is pretty shaky. And even if true, maintaining a comprehensive trade embargo would be a blunt and ineffective lever for change.
As a foreign policy tool, the embargo actually enhances Castro”s standing by giving him a handy excuse for the failures of his homegrown Caribbean socialism. He can rail for hours about the suffering the embargo inflicts on Cubans, even though the damage done by his domestic policies is far worse. If the embargo were lifted, the Cuban people would be a bit less deprived and Castro would have no one else to blame for the shortages and stagnation that will persist without real market reforms.
If the goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba is to help its people achieve freedom and a better life, the economic embargo has completely failed. Its economic effect is to make the people of Cuba worse off by depriving them of lower-cost food and other goods that could be bought from the United States. It means less independence for Cuban workers and entrepreneurs, who could be earning dollars from American tourists and fueling private-sector growth. Meanwhile, Castro and his ruling elite enjoy a comfortable, insulated lifestyle by extracting any meager surplus produced by their captive subjects.