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(en) An anarchist commentary about Cuba

Date Sat, 25 Mar 2006 13:50:41 +0200

James Petras’ Photographs of Cuba Before and After Developing:
An anarchist commentary on his declarations about Cuba
* The Cuban Libertarian Movement (MLC – Movimiento Libertario Cubano)
makes some pertinent observations about certain declarations by somebody
who was until recently an unconditional defender of the Cuban revolution.
It’s long been known that James Petras is one of the most devoted in the
choir that sings the praises of the Cuban government. Even in that rare
moment when the doors of critical reflection opened up for a left long
used to look askance – March and April 2003, notwithstanding death
penalties and massive imprisonment – Petras shot at those followers who
dared hesitate and doubt more than the usual, an article that soon
mutated into a command: “The intellectuals’ responsibility: Cuba, the
United States and human rights” (www.rebelion.org
<http://www.rebelion.org>; May 6 2003). There, among other genial
blunders he brands morality as “lack of honesty”. He also recklessly
attacks those who, when talking about Cuba, «make a gamut of unjustified
accusations and falsifications out of any context that could help
clarify the questions and provide a well reasoned base for …’the moral
imperatives’». According to Petras, the critics of that time were
victims of a sudden attack of irresponsibility: «The total lack of
seriousness in Chomsky, Zinn, Sontag and Wallerstein’s moral diktats is
due to their failure to recognize the imminent threat of war by the
United States with weapons of mass destruction, advertised beforehand».
Having lost all sense of moderation, he pronounces the more or less
definitive sentence: «What’s truly shameful is that they ignore the big
accomplishments of the Cuban revolution in labor, education, health and
equality, ignore her heroic and principled opposition to the imperial
wars – Cuba is the only nation that says it clearly – and ignore her
steadfastness resisting almost fifty years of invasions» (sic). Back
then, in spite of gross violations of human rights, the Cuban government
enjoyed total immunity and whoever dared minimally transgress the
inviolable precept would see falling upon their heads James Petras’
imprecations; the very same exalted thinker who systematically assumes
radical and socializing positions everywhere in the world except in
Cuba, shamelessly vying for the top spot among the temple’s guardians.

As time went on, and while the threats from the United States continue
in a state of cataleptic and repetitious routine and the invasions never
happen; Petras seems to have mellowed some, putting aside for the moment
his avenging sword and his fiery condemnations. For starters, on Monday
February 20 of this year, in an interview by CX36 Radio Centenario of
Montevideo (Uruguay) and reprinted [in Spanish] a day later in La Haine
<http://www.lahaine.org/index.php?blog=3&p=12739&more=1&c=1>) he
critically examines the Cuban situation, doing so, surprise surprise,
not against the most egregious abuses of power by the centralized and
excluding government, but against the supposedly unassailable social
achievements of the “revolution”. Keep in mind his statements, and to
avoid any misunderstanding we repeat them verbatim below:

«-There are things I believe are part of a process of development, these
are the contradictions Cuba has shown in regard to the challenges,
belatedly the government starts to take measures which I believe
necessary, as with the housing problem with a deficit of approximately
one million houses. The government’s plan is to build 100 thousand
houses per year as the housing situation is dire and there’s great need.
- The people demand the start of this program given the positive
international policies Cuba maintains with respect to health assistance,
but I believe that conditions at clinics and hospitals in Cuba have
gotten worse, in my personal opinion. I believe they have to concentrate
more on development and restoration, on the improvement of the medical
infrastructure that I think is badly deteriorated in Cuba, in spite of
some efforts at mending them currently underway. In contrast, I think
there are some clinics in Africa and Venezuela that are better than what
the Cuban people has. This internationalism is very positive but I
believe people demand more internal development; this is something that
has to be balanced.
- The government has begun an exploratory program on health and
education and it is to be seen whether this internal development program
succeeds, which is necessary as they now have more resources, and the
political decisions on how this surplus is utilized are very important.
This surplus comes from an electricity savings plan that according to
Castro could climb to one billion dollars.
- There’s also the problem of wastefulness, even the theft of state’s
resources, particularly gasoline; this has been acknowledged and thrown
at the new generations as a challenge to rectify the situation and
replace the gas vendors who are committing these crimes. But I’ll tell
you (…) what worries me, more than the petty theft of individual
functionaries or employees is the problem of ministers tolerating the
theft of hundreds of millions. What were they doing? I asked, were they
asleep or were they involved in the theft and didn’t fire anybody? I
asked why, if this were to happen in any public or private enterprise,
they didn’t own up. This is very serious. They should get a kick in the
ass at the minimum, take them to trial.
- They have launched a program to rectify, mobilizing people and setting
some urgent matters straight. I believe the current team is politically
responsible and begins to acknowledge these problems, and also the
problem of balancing black people’s participation in society. One
notices in many places a disproportionately white presence and I believe
there’s a lot of work to do here.
- I believe these points are real; it’s a shame people have to wait for
Fidel to throw the ball for things to start to take shape. I believe the
intellectuals and the politicians have to take initiatives and not
always wait for Fidel to give the speech in order for the problem to
suddenly come to the surface.»

Thus, Petras regales us with a series of six photographs of Cuban
society that, even if he doesn’t say it with the requisite drama and the
essential punch, touch upon main features of the “socialist” construct.
They’re still negatives of photos, blurry with undefined contours,
without obvious articulation; but, even in this confused state, are more
than enough to embark on some exemplary reading. Most curious in this
affair is that if these photos had been taken by a militant of the MLC,
we wouldn’t have long to wait before hearing the usual list of
accusations: “imperialism useful idiots”, “worms in the service of a
foreign power”, “incorrigible dividers”, “hopeless liberals” when not
actually “CIA agents”. Like it or not, these photos don’t belong to us,
they’re James Petras’ who, as we insinuated, is a loyal and
incorruptible “friend of the process of building socialism”; that is, in
plain language, friend of the Cuban government, definitively,
irrevocably and “revolutionarily” constituted as such.

º Developing shows the inconsistancies

Let’s add the first drops of development solution and let’s try to
decipher with a bit more light, one by one and in order, the skimpy
proposals of Petras’. What do they tell us?

1) Cuban “socialism” suffers from a huge housing crisis since we face
not only a very large deficit but you would also have to consider the
decrepit state of the existing housing stock and the many situations of
overcrowding. In the short term we see social struggles for access to
urban space and even a budding squatter movement that has yet to be
granted that noble condition by part of the revolutionary left.
2) Cuba’s health organization, a showpiece of the “process of building
socialism” doesn’t have the remotest resemblance to the official
version. This begs acknowledging and this is a feather on Petras’ cap,
but he could also have remarked the not so socialist distance that
exists between Maradona’s medical treatment or the ophthalmologic
“miracles” and the medical treatment the common people get; which
according to him can be worse than in Africa.
3) The “electricity savings plan” rather than a proactive governmental
policy must be seen as an energy catastrophe –even with the generous oil
subsidy from Venezuela – which the Cuban people suffer, mostly under the
guise of continuous and unbearable blackouts. But sometimes light comes
from the shadows and the people have started to make use of the darkness
to paint graffiti and put up posters against the government.
4) Cuban “socialism” in its current stage of development has also
created corruption and according to Petras’ well founded suspicions, it
would be not just a bunch of anonymous bureaucrats at the bottom of the
pyramid, but that corruption had found a home in the very Council of
Ministers; that is, nothing less than the headquarters of the
“revolution”, presided over, in public and with great notoriety, by the
“commander in chief” in state.
5) After 47 years, 1 month and 20 days have passed since January 1 1959
and the date Petras wrote his opinions, it is finally acknowledged that
the “revolution” has been incapable of solving the problem of racial
discrimination, the latest confirmation that the state’s discourse on
the matter lacks the ability to modify the real social dynamic. It’s
obvious that Cuba’s black population noticed the problem long ago and
there we also see stirring tremors of opposition.
6) The much touted critical culture alive in Cuba is a myth or a
carefully planned clandestine exercise. It’s incredible that Petras
shows surprise and complains that the “enlightened” discoveries and
initiatives always come from Fidel Castro, more so when he himself
should know well that the in depth critics that historically anticipated
him had no choice but to pay the price by death, jail or exile.

In any case these observations are only a preview and now we must do the
development proper, having already established a sketch as yet imprecise
but very real of a popular mobilization in embryo rejecting the
government’s performance. Now, whether James Petras likes it or not, the
conclusion that follows from his naively sincere but also measured and
partial photographic impressions is just this: the total failure on
every count of a model of socialism militarized and under the spell of
the caudillo. How can one think otherwise after confirming problems in
housing, health, education and electrical supply; more so when they only
affect the popular sectors but never even brush past the ruling elite?
How is it that situations of social inequality go deeper than class
position and affect the very large black population in the country? How
come when it’s a proven fact that corruption affords the dominant class
extra income above and beyond the institutionalized privileges they
enjoy? When all the state traditions, customs, habits have established
for all eternity that only Fidel Castro – the one and only, unequalled,
indispensable shepherd of the Cuban people – can talk about the
thorniest problems with no hanging noose of state’s repression tied
around his neck nor “moral” and “revolutionary” condemnations falling
upon his head? How can one think otherwise when it looks like neither
the blockade nor the threats of invasion nor the clownish pronouncements
of Condoleeza Rice nor the 90 miles that separate Cuba from Florida have
anything to do with this situation? How come, James?

James Petras’ analytical limitation is because his camera is only
capable of capturing the most glaring manifestations of the situation
but misses the inner substance. In other words: the chronic problem with
Petras is that he blindly believes in the misnomer of “rectification of
errors” but can’t see that almost all of them could be reduced to a set
of congenital, basic and fundamental errors-horrors that few in power or
their clique of bored bureaucrats seem disposed to seriously discuss in
depth. What we’re talking about is not confronting once again the dull
succession of marches and countermarches or arguing whether the people
will be allowed or not to have dollars in their hands; or if the
peasants may or may not sell their produce in the towns, if the
“paladares” [privately owned home restaurants –tn] will create a new
class of “nouveau riche”, or whether the 60 watt light bulbs have to be
replaced by 15 watt units in a new cycle of austerity, if gas station
attendants will have to be replaced by social workers or if the
construction of “socialism” depends on the recipe for Coppelia ice
cream. No: the subject is much bigger and demands to put aside the
eternal and erratic “talents” of Fidel Castro and deserves to be treated
once and for all with due seriousness.

º The hidden image

What would therefore be the in-depth discussion the dominant elite are
not willing to tolerate in any way? In Cuba, today as always, the only
dilemma worth considering is the autonomous action of the people vs. the
never ending and unbearable tutelage of the “Communist” Party and its
maximum pontiff; a self-awarded tutelage forever that has nothing left
to rectify but its own existence. If James Petras is incapable of
understanding the reasons why “intellectuals and politicians” don’t take
the initiative that is precisely because his superficial perception of
the problem doesn’t let him develop the photos he himself has willingly
taken of Cuban reality. Because in that reality problems officially and
legitimately acquire such status only when the infallible helmsman
decides to make a turn more or less ingenuous that “rectifies” his own
past decisions. Can anybody think that nobody but the “commander in
chief” is the maker of all the “wonders” but always keeps himself behind
the scene and completely away from whatever disaster has happened,
happens and will happen in the process of “building socialism”? The
answer to this is obvious and it’s long overdue that James Petras and so
many like him dare take the necessary bad step and loose their
virginity. We now add some additional details.

The failure of Cuban “socialism” is the failure of Leninist centralized
planning in its impure Caribbean version. It is the failure of a
strategy for “building socialism” based on the scientific hegemony of
the techno-bureaucratic elite supposedly “enlightened” whose opinions
and “vanguard” wisdom lie forever above self-management praxis. It is
therefore the failure of an idea that infuses hierarchy in all state
decisions – it doesn’t matter if it is planning the budget in the
Guevara style or based upon the surplus value theory according to the
old soviet vision; as they have alternated in Cuba - rather than of
people’s autonomous decisions articulated in grass roots organizations.
Besides it is the failure of a style upon which a militaristic
leadership has been superimposed that dismantles the minimal
“rationality” the soviet model could boast of; and not precisely because
we think the latter worthy of admiration but because the Cuban version
falls squarely in the terrain of the nonsensical. How else can we
consider the centralized planning of a small peripheral country that
gives such importance to a very expensive and wasteful police-military
establishment whose only use is the control of the people and its daily
operations for the greater glory of Castro? How else can we consider the
inclusion in the centralized plan of all the occurrences and whims of
the caudillo that go –in its most sublime expression and taking the
productive achievements of “socialism” as if it were an Olympic event –
from that failed sugar harvest of the 10 million tons to the building of
freeways totally out of proportion with the number of vehicles, to such
“brilliant” ideas such as raising crocodiles, or transforming every
square meter of land into a coffee plantation or the exporting of
toothpicks? James, could it be true that this may have something to do
with the systemic lack of initiative on the part of the “intellectuals
and politicians”?

The key to the Cuban problem has long ceased to be a problem to decipher
and consists in basing the only possible form of socialist construction
in the conscience and the will of the people. Today those single note
echoes dare recognize that Cuban “socialism” can be reversible as a
consequence of all its own errors and not because outside aggression:
even Fidel Castro, in its speech of November 17 last year, took care of
extending to his minions the corresponding “permission” to make such
opinions. However, the latest check yields a very different result. The
“socialism” built by the “Communist” party and its leader is not
reversible for the simple reason that it never was and the only chance
in sight is nothing less than the development of a vast autonomous
project that returns to the people everything the state and its
“vanguard” perversely took from them. And this is inseparable from an
ample and lasting and unrestricted regime of liberties: liberty to think
and opine, liberty to organize, liberty to mobilize and liberty for
people to take charge of their own lives without mediation or
interference. Because in the end, socialism will be libertarian or it
will not be: a historical confirmation that James Petras’ timid,
hesitant and belated step forward doesn’t quite acknowledge.

Movimiento Libertario Cubano

Nelson Méndez <mendezn-A-camelot.rect.ucv.ve>
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