Tuesday, December 7, 2010

122. And Just What Is Socialism?

Armando Hart Dávalos
Ecosocialism builds in part on the theory and history of socialist experiments around the world.  The Cuban revolution is a living part of this tradition.  However as Joseph Hansen noted, the Cuban revolutionary leadership emerged as "revolutionaries of action."  That is, they arrived at the head of a socialist revolution without having theoretically prepared for it.  Ernesto Che Guevara similarly remarked that the Cuban revolutionaries arrived at Marxism through their own struggle.   Thus, the Cuban revolution unfolded from the Cuban and Latin American revolutionary heritage; unlike the revolutionary struggle in Eastern Europe or Asia that was shackled by Stalinism.  

Given this context, Our Place in the World will post writings and speeches by Cuban leaders that deal with their conception of socialism.  The brief article below by Armando Hart Dávalos, the former minster of Cultural and historic leader of the Cuban revolution, appeared in the July issue of Cuba Socialista, the theoretical journal of the Cuban Communist Party.  If my memory serves me right, this article is based on a keynote closing speech Hart gave to the Third International Conference "The Work of Karl Marx and the Challenges of the 21st Century" in Havana in May 2006. 


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By Armando Hart Dávalos, Cuba Socialista, November, 1o, 2007

Speaking of today’s debate about the content of 21st century’s socialism, it becomes a theoretic as well as a practical necessity the articulation of both Caribbean’s and Latin American’s intellectual tradition, the ALBA, symbol of an alliance between Martí and Bolivar, with the socialist ideology as interpreted by Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro.

During the 20th century there was such a distortion of Marx’, Engels’ and Lenin’s ideas on what socialism should be about, that today we are strongly urged to go directly to their original writings. Let’s see what Marx and Engels had to say, and also the ideas of Martí and Juárez on this subject.

In the paper “Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlooks,” Marx and Engels state: “For us, communism is not a condition that must be imposed, an ideal that needs to abide by reality. We call communism the real movement that cancels and surpasses the actual status of things (…).”

Friedrich Engels in a letter to Otto Von Boenigk on August 21, 1890, suggests: “To my mind, the so-called ‘socialist society’ is not anything immutable. Like all other social systems, it should be conceived in a state of constant flux and change. Its crucial difference from the present order consists, naturally, in production being organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation of all means of production.”

In a letter sent by Friedrich Engels to Joseph Bloch in September 1890, Engels poses: “(…) history happens in such a way that the final result derives from conflict between many different individual wills, each of which is what it is by virtue of a number of special conditions in life; they are the innumerable forces that crisscross one another, an infinite group of force parallelograms that add up to one – the historic event – that in itself may be considered the product of a single force that, as a whole, acts without conscience and without will; since what one wants stumbles with the resistance placed by another, the end result becomes something nobody wanted.”

In another letter sent by Engels to Karl Kautsky in September 1892, Engels states: “But as to the social and [political] economic phases these countries – in reference to those we call today underdeveloped countries – will then have to pass through before they likewise arrive at socialist organization, we today can only advance rather idle hypotheses, I think. One thing alone is certain: the victorious proletariat can force no blessings of any kind upon any foreign nation without undermining its own victory by so doing.” 

In his letter to the editors of the Annals, Karl Marx states: “My historical understanding of the origins of capitalism in Western Europe is bent on converting it into a historic and philosophical theory of a general trajectory to which all peoples have been tragically subjected to, whatever the historical circumstances taking place, to be finally expressed in that economic formation that, (…) assures man’s development in each and every aspect. (This is allowing me too great an honor and, at the same time, too much mocking) […]

“Studying separately each of these historical processes and later comparing each to the others, we will easily find the key to explain these phenomena, results that we would never obtain by using the universal key of a general philosophic theory of history that has its major advantage in the fact of its being a supra-historic theory.”

Friedrich Engels writes to Joseph Bloch in September 1890, “…According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted anything else. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase.”

In the first point of the Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx states: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.”

In a letter to Werner Sombart dated March 11, 1895, Engels writes: “The entire conception of Marx is not a doctrine but a method. It does not offer made dogmas, only starting points for subsequent investigation and the method for such investigation.”

On the same grounds, I elicit from the reader that he/she studies this paragraph from José Martí: “A thing which I must celebrate a lot, it’s the love in which you treat others and your respect as a person, those Cubans that are sincerely searching for, with this or that name, a higher level of cordiality, and an indespensable balance to the administration of all worldy things. An aspiration must be judged by its nobility, and not for this or that wart brought about by human passion. The socialist ideas, like so many others, encounter two dangers: foreign writings – confusing and incomplete – and that of pride and concealed rage of ambitious people, that they use to elevate themselves in the world and which start with pretense, so that they may find shoulders to climb, from where they can show themselves to be frenetic defenders of the helpless.”

Later on Martí adds: “But with our people it isn’t so much the risk, as it is in societies more enraged, and of a lesser natural clarity; our task will be to explain, flat and deep, as you will do it – the idea is not to compromise sublime justice on the way or in the excesiveness in which we ask for it. And always with justice, you and I, because errors by which it is being carried give no authority to those of good upbringing from deserting when called for its defense.”

Also to be studied is the following paragraph from Karl Marx to be compared with one by Benito Juárez that is given afterwards. Marx says in the Critique of the Gotha Program written in late April, early May 1875: “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

Fourteen years before, on January 11, 1861, Benito Juárez wrote something which was later discovered by historians that stated:

”To each according to his ability and to each ability according to deeds and education. That way there will be neither privileged classes nor unjust preferences (…)”

“Socialism is the natural tendency to better the condition or the free development of both physical and moral competences.”

As underlined before, Engels expressed that Marxism is a method for investigation and study, and Lenin, in his own right, declared that it was a guide for action. Using both method and guide we can tackle the concrete problems of our time, while also heeding the warning that there is no general formula that can be applied to all situations and all nations. It is up to us, starting with the concrete development of our societies, and the intellectual tradition and politics of our region, to find creative ways and paths, and the optimal form to channel that true socialism of the 21st century, the one aspired by our nations.

Any analysis we carry out must start from our history and the links established during the centuries between the Latin American and Caribbean nations which make our region the one with the loftiest calling towards integration given our impressive spiritual [cultural] heritage.

In the 21st century we should find inspiration in the enlightened ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin as expressed in the original writings, and relate them to whatever is found to have validity with those ideas of Bolivar, Martí and other past illustrious leaders and thinkers of our America. 

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