Is it possible to meld the best of capitalism and socialism?

Enrique Ubieta, editor of the journals Cuba Socialista and La Calle
del medio, talked with Cubadebate about political centrism,
neo-annexation, and the permanent clash between socialism and
capitalism, as conflicting systems – all important issues in the
ideological struggle underway around the world today

Author: José Raúl Concepción | nacionales@granma.cu

July 10, 2017 14:07:48

Cuba is a country trying to build a society different from one which
the people have never experienced. This is a period of change and new,
previously rejected elements are being introduced in the conception of
the socio-economic model. Photo: Dilbert Reyes Rodríguez

WHEN the world had two political poles, a statement that sounded
obvious was sometimes made: “Let’s unite the best of capitalism and
socialism in a single system.” If both have their defects and virtues,
why not just discard what doesn’t work? The idea is attractive, it
would be an idyllic society. But what prevents this? Why are we still
talking about socialism and capitalism? Behind the apparently
self-evident concept lies another: you can’t extract the best of
capitalism as if it were a damaged spot on a piece of fruit. The
virtues of this system are based on its defects.

The idea cannot deliver what it promises, and the same options remain
in place. We maintain a way of life that damages every corner of the
planet or we seek an alternative to solve the problem at its roots.

In politics, as in life, trying to find a middle ground is tricky. But
those who prefer to straddle the fence exist.

Cubadebate talked about political centrism with the Cuban
intellectual, Enrique Ubieta, who responds to simple questions with
dissertations on the history, relevance, and possible implementation
of a “third way” in Cuba.

Is it possible for centrism to represent the best of both capitalism
and socialism?

Capitalism is not the sum of its negative and positive components, of
elements that can be saved or discarded. It is a system, that at one
point was revolutionary and today is not. It engulfs and links
everything: advanced technology, the most sophisticated wealth, and
the most absolute poverty. The elements that contribute to greater
productivity are the same ones that alienate human labor. Those that
generate wealth for a few, produce poverty for the majority, on the
national and international level. Establishing such a goal seems
fallacious to me. The “best of capitalism” doesn’t exist, as if it
could be cleaned up, as if a good capitalism were feasible. There are
very bad versions, like fascism and neoliberalism, but I am not aware
of any good version. Capitalism is always savage.

On the other hand, socialism, as opposed to capitalism, is not an
organic total, a reality already constructed, but rather a path that
cannot, all at once, leave behind the system it is trying to replace.
We try this and that, we adopt new structures, advance and retreat,
eliminate what doesn’t work, correct errors over and over again – a
path to another world, in the middle of the jungle, because capitalism
is a hegemonic system. What characterizes it is its expressed,
conscious intention, to replace capitalism.

Enrique Ubieta explains the history and implications of centrist
politics in Cuba.

Does a center exist? On what principles is it founded? In the
capitalist electoral system, a left and a right supposedly exist, but
this left – with social democracy as its ideological framework, which
was Marxist in its origins, and sought to reform capitalism until it
gradually disappeared – functions today within the system and has
rejected Marxism. This left differentiates itself from conservative
parties with its social policies and its non-prejudiced understanding
of diversity. The centrist formula functions within the capitalist
system as an electoral option. The voter is managed like a customer
since elections function like a market, and are full of right wing
parties and left wing parties that alternate in office, but implement
similar policies, and thus the system constructs a false “third way.”

But real alternatives are not within a system, they are counterpoised.
They are capitalism or socialism. A center does not exist; there is no
neutral ground between the two systems. Social democracy places itself
within capitalism, but pretends to be a center, attempting what I have
described as impossible, taking the best from both systems. In
reality, it proposes an alternative method, not a fundamental change.
Beyond a few isolated cases, like what Olof Palme could have been in
Sweden, in a very rich country, which even without colonies, as part
of the capitalist system benefited from the colonial and neo-colonial
system.

Social democracy which appeared to triumph, made no sense when the
Soviet Union collapsed and the socialist camp disappeared. Not even in
Sweden could it be maintained. (Olof Palme was assassinated). Since
then, the system has no need for it, and it needs to remake itself.
The third way of Tony Blair is a center that has moved to the right,
accepting and implementing neoliberal policies, allying itself with
imperialism in its wars of conquest. The history of social democracy
is essentially European.

What role do centrist politics play in Cuba?

In reality, what is this center? It is a political orientation that
appropriates elements of revolutionary discourse, adopts a reformist
position, and in the end, brakes, detains, and creates obstacles to
the development of a true revolution.

In other cases, as in ours, centrists attempt to use the political
culture of the left that exists within Cuban society, because you
can’t get anywhere here with an ultra right wing discourse, trying to
win adherents. You need to use what the people interpret as fair, and
with this left wing discourse begin to introduce capitalism through
the back door. This is the role the center would have within a society
like the Cuban.

Using different terminology in different contexts, positions similar
to centrism have been present in Cuban history since the autonomy
tendency attempted to derail the independence revolution of 1895… Why
do you think there is a kind of resurgence of centrism in Cuba today?

In Cuban history, there is a very clear dividing line between
tendencies, between reformist and revolutionary forces. This is a
longstanding discussion in the history of Marxism, but today I will
just refer to the Cuban tradition.

Reformism is represented by autonomism and annexationism. There are
writers who insist on saying that annexationism aspired to a radical
solution to win independence from Spain. In this case, the term
“radical” is misused, because the roots of the problem were not
addressed. Being annexed by the United States was a radical solution
in appearances only, since advocates intended to protect the
privileges of a social class here, avoid the economic damage of a
longer independence war, and maintain the status quo via domination by
another power which would guarantee order.

The two tendencies, annexationism and reformism, had as a basic
premise an absolute lack of confidence in the people – the fear of
“the mulatto horde,” as the autonomists said.

Sell-out reformism has existed throughout the history of Cuba, into
our times; it has not disappeared. The Revolution of 1959 swept it
away as a real political option, but the class struggle has not
vanished. If the bourgeoisie, or those who aspire to be, attempt to
retake power in Cuba, that is the class that has been created outside
of the country or that which could be gestating within, it is going to
need an outside force to back it.

There will not be an autonomous capitalism in Cuba; it doesn’t exist
anyplace in the world, much less in a small, underdeveloped country.
Cuban capitalism, as in the past, can only be semi-colonial or
neo-colonial. The only way the bourgeoisie could retake and maintain
power in Cuba is by way of an external power. That is the only option
to multiply their capital, and we already know that the bourgeoisie’s
homeland is capital.

Today a situation exists that favors this kind of centrist tactics,
promoted in Cuba from the North. The generation that made the
Revolution is ending its historic-biological cycle. Some 80% of Cubans
never lived under capitalism. Just imagine. Cuba is a country trying
to build a society different from one which the people have never
experienced. This is a period of change and new, previously rejected
elements are being introduced in the conception of the socio-economic
model. It is within this context that pro-capitalist forces construct
their pseudo-revolutionary discourse, only for show, attempting to
link up with changes underway in the country.

Does the updating of Cuba’s economic, social model have any relation
to centrism?

It does not. I’ll appeal to concepts I found in the philosophy of
Argentine Arturo Andrés Roig. It is imperative to differentiate two
planes: discourse and discourse directionality, meaning and direction.
I recall that when I studied the decade of the 1920s, I noticed that
Juan Marinello and Jorge Mañach said almost the same things. They
addressed very similar concepts, because they were intellectuals and
part of the vanguard of Cuban thought and art. But if you follow the
course of their lives, you understand that those words with similar
meanings had very different intentions. Marinello joined the Communist
Party and Mañach founded a party with pseudo-fascist tendencies. One
fought for social justice and socialism, while the other longed, too
late, to become the ideologue of a national bourgeoisie which no
longer existed. I don’t believe that this rupture was only the result
of a later evolution; it was already implicit in the differing
historical directionality of their discourses.

It is absolutely imperative to differentiate directionality, today
more than ever, because we live in a very contaminated, promiscuous
linguistic environment, in a global society which has assimilated the
discourse and traditional gestures of the left, especially since WWII.
The class struggle is covered up, and we must unmask our
interlocutors.

What do the Guidelines propose? Seeking an alternative route of our
own to advance toward socialism, since no universal model exists, and
every country, every historical moment, is specific. Cuban socialism
means a Cuban path toward a society that is different from capitalism,
in a hostile world, facing poverty, an implacable blockade, and with
few natural resources, except for the knowledge of its citizens.

This is Cuba’s real situation. We propose to maintain and expand the
social justice we have achieved, and to do so, we must revitalize our
productive forces. We therefore establish limits on the accumulation
of wealth and property, and we are concerned about the mechanisms used
to enforce these limits. On the contrary, centrists, with language
similar to ours, suggest that we have abandoned the idea of social
justice, but demand more profound changes that would lead to the
dismantling of the minimum achieved in terms of justice. The
“deepening” demanded by centrists, from both the economic and
political point of view, is a return to capitalism. Divergent,
critical opinions can and must be heard, but they must all be directed
in the same direction, toward the same horizon.

When someone says that socialism has not been able to eradicate
corruption or prostitution, it saddens me, because it’s true. But at
the same time, one should ask: What would capitalism do about this?
Make it worse. When the accusation is not directed toward
strengthening the system we have in the country – the only one which
can correct its defects, deficiencies, and errors – but rather toward
its destruction, the criticism is counterrevolutionary.

Because everything we do will not be fine. We are going to make
mistakes, of this we can be sure. One who moves forward makes
mistakes. What’s important is to have the capacity to rectify and be
clear about the direction of what we are doing, why we are doing it.
If at some moment we lose our way, we will need to check the compass.
May everything we can do now, and what we discuss, be marked by the
clarification of what we want and where we are headed.

Is it possible to be both centrist and at the same time revolutionary?

Absolutely not. A reformist is not a revolutionary. Which doesn’t mean
that a revolutionary can’t make reforms. Revolutionaries made the land
reform, the urban reform… Being a reformist is something else.

Reformists believe in statistics, in the exhaustive descriptions of
their environment that ends up making it incomprehensible. A minimal
description of this room’s walls does not allow us to understand where
we are, because this room is located in a building, in a city, in a
country. That is, in order to be useful, the description presupposes a
broader perspective. To be a revolutionary one must take the flight of
a condor, which is what Martí demanded.

Reformists are descriptive; they believe that reality is limited to
what can be seen and touched – that is why they are confused and fail.
In politics, a reformist can only sum up the social environment’s four
visible elements. The revolutionary adds a fifth subjective element,
that cannot be detected in plain sight – an element reformists do not
take into account, because they have no confidence in the people. We
can summarize this fifth element recalling the historic reunion in
Cinco Palmas of the eight survivors of the Granma expedition. In
Raúl’s words, “He (Fidel) embraced me and the first thing he did was
ask how many rifles I had, after that the famous phrase: Now, yes, we
have won the war!” This is leaping over the abyss, as Martí said.

This is what differentiates a revolutionary from a reformist. And a
centrist is worse than a reformist, because in a certain way, he is a
fake.

In the European tradition, all this conceptual, theoretical, political
drama that has been concocted since the 19th century gives these
debates some weight. In Cuba the underlying foundations of these
debates are revealed much more clearly. And all of this talk of
melding capitalism with socialism, trying to stay on a revolutionary
plane of discourse, but in practice counterrevolutionary, in one way
or another, from my point of view, is also evidence of a certain level
of cowardice, of inability to fight for something you believe in.
These people believe in a project that is opposed to ours, but don’t
have enough political strength, or the courage, to say so openly.
(Cubadebate)