Wednesday, June 17, 2015

1887. Interview With Cuban Socialist Dissident Pedro Campos

By Dmitri Prieto, Havana Times, June 25 and June 28, 2011
Pedro Campos in May Day celebration in Havana. The banner says "Socialism Is Democracy"
HAVANA TIMES, June 25 — For some people in Cuba, Pedro Campos Santos needs no introduction.  However for the majority of Cubans he’s still probably a stranger.  What a shame, a consequence of the lack of horizontal flows of information and ideas here on the island.
“Perucho” belongs to an informal group called SPD (Participative and Democratic Socialism), which for the last several years has been devoted to promoting the socialist path for Cuba’s present and future.  This is a socialist road based on a self-management model with freedom for all people who form a part of it; it is socialism “with all and for the well-being of all,” as Jose Marti wanted.
We conducted this exclusive interview with “Perucho,” in which he gives us the details of his fascinating biography and the reasons for his political commitment, as well as some background on his comrades in SPD.
HT:  Perucho, you belong to a generation that participated directly in the radical changes that occurred in Cuba after 1959.  What does it mean to you to be revolutionary? 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  Each historical moment demands a specific attitude of its revolutionaries.  In Cuba in the period 1953-58, it was to struggle against the Batista dictatorship for democratic restoration.  In the early years after the revolution of 1959, the struggle was for the consolidation of what had been achieved, the cultural revolution, the real transfer of power (economic power), the political/decision-making ability of the workers and the people, and for basic socioeconomic transformations that would make possible the advance toward socialism.  However, this was an epoch in which statist deviations and centralization had already begun.
Today the basic goals of that stage remain incomplete, and these are — in my opinion — to promote in all possible ways the process of the democratization and socialization of the political and economic life of the Cuban people.
The revolution of 1959 did in fact free us from the tyranny of Batista.  However it also centered property ownership in the hands of the state.  Cuban and foreign capital; big, middle-sized and small capital, was concentrated and centralized even more by the state.  Political decision-making was also centralized.  It was believed that this was socialism.  This was the typical centralization of Stalinist “socialism” and its variants. People thought that this would facilitate the socialization of property and the results of production as well as contribute to the necessary democratization of political life.  However, in the long run this form of centralization became an insurmountable obstacle.  That’s why it failed both in Eastern Europe and here.
To consolidate itself, for some time the Cuban revolutionary process has had the goals of advancing from statism to socialization [of economic power] and from concentration of political power to its democratization.  What changes to make, how to implement those changes while avoiding undemocratic “decentralization” (leading to major privatizations and greater disillusion on the part of the workers and people generally), are the tactics we are now discussing in Cuba.  The capitalists’ mouths are watering hoping that the “updating” of the model favors the development of national and foreign large-scale private capital.
The history of the “socialist camp” left very clear lessons as to what should not be done when the time comes to change the neo-Stalinist system.  Proceeding slowly and tortuously in the process of the renovation of state socialism (especially in the USSR and China, which are today aiming at capitalist development), we witnessed the principal errors: These included the inability to carry out transformations that facilitated direct control by the workers over companies or the empowerment of the people to make important decisions of all types, the deep penetration of big foreign and national capital in combination with the transmutation of the bureaucracy into the bureau-bourgeoisie, the absence of a clear program of socializing transformations, the continuation of excessive centralization in all types of decision-making, the permanency of top-down “verticalism” and the anchoring of neo-Stalinist dinosaurs in important positions of leadership in the party and the government.
By definition, Gorbachev’s perestroika sought to “renovate” the model, to reform it, when what was needed was a change in its base.  As we don’t want that same experience to take place here.  We have presented a program that, while it certainly might be incomplete, doesn’t stop at “renovating” the model of state monopoly capitalism — believed here to be socialism — but proposes changing it for democratic socialism with the real participation of workers and people.  In this, they are the ones who directly and democratically make all the decisions that affect them.  To advance in those two main directions (the socialization and democratization of the economy and politics, with resolute steps and clear initiatives) is what I believe is revolutionary in Cuba today.  To oppose that course is contributing to counter-revolution.
HT:  In your writings, especially in the latest ones, you’re very critical of the political leadership of our country, including the new leadership that emerged out of the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).  In your opinion, doesn’t being revolutionary include loyalty to the historical leaders of the revolutionary process? 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  I didn’t note the specific difference that you’re pointing out between my current and previous texts.  I’ve never criticized people; I criticize the methods, enthroned sectarianism; the democratic, socializing and libertarian deficits of the statist system that are presented as socialist.  I involve myself in the world of ideas.  Most of my generation, me included, we’ve been loyal to the revolutionaries who have headed the Cuban process.  We’ve put up with a lot and have remained quiet so as not to negatively affect the cohesion within the revolutionary ranks.
As for the leaders, we’ve always respected them and we would like to see them go down in history as people who have contributed to Marxist socialism.  But that will depend on them.  Our criticisms and our private and public proposals are examples of our loyalty – not the reverse.  Those who are disloyal are the ones who prefer to opportunistically hide or justify their misdeeds in order to preserve their positions in the bureaucracy.
I don’t consider myself an independent actor outside the revolutionary process.  I’ve been an active participant in the revolutionary effort and I feel committed to it, even though I differ on more than a few actions and policies.  As a historian I don’t confuse loyalty with ignorance or unconditional positions, and much less with fear.  Nor do I believe that being revolutionary is measured by loyalty to specific individuals; rather, we should look at one’s adherence to principles, to methods, to the objectives and contents of the revolutionary process.
Often shortsighted, political leaders make mistakes; even more so when they don’t take others into account and they naturally disappear over time.  If the revolution gets confused with its leaders, it could disappear with them.  Leaders play important roles in certain historical moments to the degree they’re consistent with the character of the revolutionary processes.  When, for whatever reasons, they cease serving that process, they lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people, in the eyes of history.  Leaders, in the old sense of the word, gradually lose their validity as social movements increasingly are the principal players in revolutionary processes.
HT:  What thinkers, heroes, leaders and martyrs of our revolution have most inspired your work? 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  Fidel and the Che, among the most recent, despite the fact that I don’t agree with some of their actions and positions taken in the face of certain events or conjunctures.  From them I learned how to be consistent with my principles, without caring about the personal consequences, to never trust imperialism, to always look for the truth and to defend it.  Like all Cubans I was first a follower of Jose Marti, since I was a little boy.  My parents, both elementary school teachers, instilled in me the knowledge and the respect for the work of Marti as well as his life of sacrifice and love of freedom.
That’s why I believe that, on the whole, the figure that has always had the most impact on me was Jose Marti, who I consider the most integral and brilliant of all Cubans.  What’s more, his work remains relevant today because some of his revolutionary objectives are yet to be achieved.  Marti didn’t seek only our independence from Spain, he was seeking a society of equals, “with all and for the well-being of all.”  He was ultra-democratic, seeing the distribution of property as the basis of freedom.  He criticized “socialism” early on for what he saw as the bureaucratic state, in “La futura Esclavitud” (Future Slavery).  Although he was a figure who lived in the 19th century, his intellectual role in the Cuban revolutionary process transcended the 20th century and has now entered the 21st.
HT:  What did Pedro Campos Santos do before becoming involved with the socialist self-management movement in Cuba? 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  I have always dedicated much of my free time to studying the history of Cuba, philosophy and Marxist political economy.  After leaving the Foreign Service, during the most difficult years of the “Special Period” crisis I worked in tourism, then in a pizzeria. I also drove a taxi, sold books and worked as a street photographer.  But over all that time I kept returning to studying Marx.  I researched the causes of the collapse of the socialist camp. I tried to better explain to myself the phenomenon of revolutionary Cuba as I was forming a collection of ideas on how to face the complex internal situation in my country without forgetting that we are confronted by that same imperial threat.  All this was aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the revolutionary process and our advance toward socialism.
By the time of the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 1991, I had presented to my party chapter an analysis of the country’s problems and a group of proposals bearing more or less in the same direction as now.   But these didn’t come only from me; there were many people involved.  However in 2005, when Fidel said that revolutionaries themselves could destroy the revolution if they didn’t face the serious problems of corruption and bureaucracy, and he called on people to fight against these, I believed we were moving along the same path and I prepared to make my analyses and proposals public.
I wrote a book about enterprise and social self-management and I sent digital copies to several comrades in the leadership of the party and the government.  I tried to publish in Cuba what I had researched and when denied space for my articles in the official press I began to distribute them to international left websites (Rebelion, Kaosenlared, Insurgente and others).  Each of my articles was sent to Granma, Trabajadores and Juventude Rebelde.  In short, before issuing our Programmatic Proposals in 2008, I carried out extensive theoretical and practical work to clarify and popularize the ideas of socialist self-management.
HT:  Why did you issue that proposal?  Can you define its meaning in a couple words? 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  My comrades and I have issued several proposals.  And not only that, at the time of the Fourth Congress, in my party chapter I had already presented a group of proposals pointing in the direction of the democratization and socialization of the country’s political and economic life.  In 2006 I presented a general plan of self-management socialism to the Congress of the Cuban Federation of Workers (CTC), which was published in Kaosenlared and other sites.  Then in 2007 I published “15 Concrete Proposals for the Reactivation of Socialism in Cuba.” In 2008, anticipating the Sixth Congress of the PCC, we presented “Cuba Needs a Participative and Democratic Socialism: Programmatic Proposals.”  In 2011, a new edition of those Programmatic Proposals, which contained many of the suggestions that we received, was published under the title: “Proposals for the Advance to Socialism in Cuba.”
Our objective has always been to try to contribute to the national discussion on the problems of the Cuban Revolution in the current stage and to spread such ideas to all strata possible, and certainly to the discussions in the Sixth Party Congress, where I spoke about the issue when it was not being raised there.  How to define this in a couple words?: Socialization and democratization, which would be incomplete without full freedom.
HT:  Can you tell us more about the SPD collective of “Pedro Campos and other comrades?” 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  We are revolutionary fighters, workers and professionals of different ages, with the majority having completed university studies and lived active revolutionary lives.  We’ve all worked directly at the grassroots, in the rank-and-file, as wage workers or independent laborers.  We have written works.
Some had mid-level responsibilities in the government and some have been grassroots leaders of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League.  Some comrades ended up having responsibilities at the regional, provincial and national levels as directors or sub-directors of press organizations.
With absolutely no organizational obligations, among us are people who were in the old underground, members of the former Socialist Youth organization, ex-employees of security agencies and the armed forces, internationalists, diplomats, jurists, journalists, economists, theologians, historians, philosophers, psychologists, poets, university professors, writers, other artists, manual workers and people in other professions and occupations.
We are promoters of ideas and we have been gaining ground and expanding our influence.  We don’t classify ourselves in any type of political sect, nor do we seek unanimity or impose our points of view on anyone.  We are anti-capitalists and support a type of socialism very distinct from what’s known as “real socialism” or “state socialism”; we advocate a form of socialism that has free and full human beings as its aim.
HT:  Do you think that what you are doing has repercussions among Cuban decision-makers and the academics who advise them? 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  I don’t know to what extent the work that several of us comrades have been carrying out in this direction has influenced those decision-makers or their advisors.  We’ve noted that they read what we write and some of our proposals are being implemented, though I don’t believe that’s because those came from us; rather, it was because reality itself imposed it on them.
HT:  And among the people? 
PEDRO CAMPOS:  Equally, my comrades and I don’t have a concrete means of measuring our impact on people, but we have received e-mails commenting on our articles and thousands of opinions from Cubans here and abroad, with them discussing, supporting or criticizing parts or all of our writings.
We’re certain that our writings circulate widely over the Cuban intranet and outside through cyberspace and other means.  We’ve noted that if at the beginning we were a few voices speaking openly about the issue in the international left press (in private, in academic and narrow political circles, there were always those who dealt with self-management initiatives and proposals) all that changed some time ago.  Now there are many of us.
Today to speak of cooperativism and workers’ self-management as socialism is becoming more common in our country.  The Sixth Congress has just approved the extension of cooperativism and self-employment, although still with many limitations.  These limits are because of their state-centrist perspective and the failure to understand that cooperativism and workers self-management are the generic forms of production under socialism.
They do not grasp that for socialism to triumph, these forms of production would have to prevail and be integrated into a system of economic solidarity that tends toward equivalent exchange with democratic planning.  (Moreover, this would have to be built on a communal base to overcome the isolation that those productive forms are subjected to by the market, governments and capitalist financial systems.)
Now I know that in practically all of the provinces there are comrades who think similarly.  Certainly our work has served to bring them together, to bring ideas closer, to clarify positions among others and within ourselves.  In this process we’ve learned a great deal.
HT:  What can you tell us about the opportunities for debate in our society today?  By this I’m referring to settings that are academic, political, online, in life daily, in meetings of mass organizations, etc. 
PC:  Very few opportunities exist.  We’ve been invited to some official settings (such as the forum sponsored by the magazine Temas, the Juan Marinelo Cultural Center and the magazine Criterios), but official academic centers try to exclude us.  Still, they can’t prevent comrades from emerging and developing the same or similar thoughts within their own ranks.
We have participated in debates convened by the leadership of the party.  Many people who share our ideas are members of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League (UJC), and in their individual clubs and local committees they present these ideas.  Also, the meetings of Popular Power [city council] and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution are settings we’ve often used.  In addition we participate in the Critical Observatory Network.  Certainly where we’ve been able to play the most active role is in cyberspace — still with many limitations — by writing for international left websites and posting articles through the Intranet.
Together with Miguel Arencibia, Felix Sautie, Felix Guerra and others, we founded the Cuba Section of the website Kaosenlared in 2007.  On my request we also opened the section of that website called “Debate Socialista” to discuss the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party.  We collaborate actively with other Latin American websites in Central and South America, and our articles have been published in practically all sites of the diverse international Spanish-speaking left.  Plus, we’re aware of several websites in English that publish us, some regularly – like Havana Times.
Many of our articles have been published in the left press.  For a while we were publishing the bulletin SPD, but difficulties in accessing the Internet due to government actions have been limiting our work.  At the same time, however, the appearance of other bulletins like Compendio del Critical ObservatoryDesde la Ceiba and IDS(Democratic and Socialist Left) — who understand our concerns — have been publishing our writings and therefore compensating for our limited online access.
Those factors led us to suspend work on SPD.  Other basic reasons are explained in an article in edition 71 of SPD [the note announced the suspension of the publication of that online bulletin].  But we did not want to cram the limited email capacity of Cuban intranet accounts with unnecessary repetitions.  We’re not interested in playing any particular leadership role.  If demanded it will lead to SPD being published again.
HT:  What importance do you give “alternative world” spaces, those global debates on the future of the planet; and solidarity with causes that, while seemingly not affecting people’s pockets, do indeed touch our hearts?  How does the thought and work of people like you impact those actions and how does it contribute to those movements?  Can you mention some activists or collectives that have helped in your work or have received your solidarity? 
PC:  Certainly we [SPD] involve ourselves and are a part of that storm of contemporary ideas undergirding the social and alternative world movements tied to the search for solutions to the serious problems facing humanity.  These especially include problems of the environment, exclusion and discrimination for different reasons, the promotion of ways of life and exchange (beyond “proletarian internationalism”), addressing poverty and all those derivative problems of a world burdened by wage-labor production and its consequent classist and hierarchized divisions, which naturally engenders contempt and discrimination by the powerful towards others.
Despite the limitations and prohibitions, we contribute as best we can with ideas and concrete actions.  We participate in forums for debate and with not always successful attempts at building an economy based on solidarity and cooperation.  We support cooperativism (not only in Cuba) while offering and practicing our humble solidarity with groups in Cuba and everywhere else in the world where people suffer discrimination for various reasons – be they racial, gender-related, sectorial, political, residential, etc.
Internationally we have worked in solidarity from the broad left consisting of groups, associations, institutions, political movements, online left publications, cooperatives and those in favor of cooperativism and workers self-management, with these being basically from Latin American, US and European political organizations.
We’ve been invited to many international events, which is also a form of solidarity, and our articles have been translated and published in America and Europe in an infinite number of online magazines and websites; they’ve also appeared in the printed press.  We’ve generally seen wide repercussions in both what we write and publish on the Internet.
Some periodicals described as center and right have quoted us and some have even published our articles in full.  Though of course they don’t share our strategies, they do agree with some of our critiques.  Our writings are free to be reproduced entirely or in part without charge.  We’d be happy to see everyone publishing us, even if they’re on the right.  The use of the bourgeois press by revolutionaries has always been part of the left’s political arsenal.  The history of the Cuban Revolution itself bears this out.
We cooperate with a broad national network known as the Critical Observatory Cuban Social Forum.  We can say the same of the “Cofradia de la Negritud” (the Negritude Brotherhood).  We have openly criticized the repression and imprisonment of Cubans whose political ideas we don’t completely share, but whose rights to freedom of thought, expression and association we do in fact defend, as we do for all other Cubans.
We oppose violent actions from any angle.  We have signed international documents in support of just and popular causes around the entire world.  We have condemned repressive actions against revolutionary Latin American sisters and brothers, and we have dedicated special attention to the solidarity with the Cuban Five imprisoned in the US for fighting terrorism.  An aspect highlighted in our theoretical and practical action has been our opposition to actions by our imperialistic enemy directed against the Cuban Revolution and against the international revolutionary movement.
We are very concerned about and attentively observe the events in the Americas, in the South, the Middle East and in Europe.  We reject all types of foreign intervention directed at internal problems of any country, especially the US and NATO playing the self-proclaimed role of international gendarme.  In no way do we overlook the cost of imperialistic aggression and the blockade, or the restrictions imposed on any socialist model; moreover, we emphasize the need to counter things that can be used to justify such plans directed against our country.
As for the list of people, groups or institutions with whom we’ve worked in solidarity, that would be too long.
HT:  How do you see the revolution of the future?  In your opinion, how have the Cuban managed all these years, and how can we continue confronting a country as powerful as the United States? 
PC:  Social revolution, in the Marxist sense, is not an act but a succession of economic, political and social movements.  A political revolution that brings about only a change in government may or may not lead to a social revolution; this depends on whether decisive changes in the production relations occur.
The new world social revolution underway, which has “freely associated workers” as its main actors, has been evolving since the 19th century and has been marked by thinkers who systematized the ideas of the socialization of the means of production and the democratization of political life.  I’m not referring solely to Marx but to numbers of ideologists from diverse perspectives — albeit all anti-capitalists — who have contributed to the modern revolutionary heritage.
I would identify this new revolution’s beginning with the Paris Commune of 1871, because since that moment the world revolutionary process has been developing — though perhaps some people don’t perceive it this way — based on the search for decisive participation of workers in the production processes and in the reproduction of their material and spiritual life.
This is demonstrated within economic transformations produced within capitalist countries evolving towards forms of production with greater participation of workers in ownership, decision making and in the profits of companies; it’s seen in communities where workers and the people make decisions about participative budgets; it is experienced in processes of the democratization of bourgeois society, where protest movements in the general interests of the workers and people achieve control or representation in government; and these changes are reflected in political revolutions in countries dominated by bureaucratized tyrannies or corrupt governments but where mass popular movements impose processes of democratization on political life.
One aspect of tremendous importance in the contemporary revolution is the socialization of information and knowledge.  This is taking place thanks to modern computer and communications technology, which is increasingly extending everywhere.   That’s why we consider the Internet a revolutionary medium of the greatest importance, despite its limitations.
This whole group of arenas as well as other forms of social, economic and political movement (which would take a long time to describe) are what is spread to the new society that in each country, with their particularities, gradually develops in a winding and spiraling manner against the grain of the forces that seek to maintain the status quo, including the concentration and centralization of economic and political power.
The process is realized in the heart of capitalist society, primarily in peaceful ways.  When there has been violence, not only armed conflict, it’s because the reactionary forces have been the first to turn to it.  All those who promote changes in the direction of the democratization and socialization of economic, social and political life are, in my opinion, the subjects of the modern revolutionary change.  All those who oppose it make up the forces of counterrevolution on a universal scale.
Cuba is not alien to that world revolutionary movement.  Here, there exists a process of democratization and socialization that clearly began with the political revolution of 1959.  Has it suffered periods of lingering stagnation?  Clearly.  But the revolutionary forces have not ceased being present.  They’ve not been defeated, nor have they stopped struggling to advance conditions.  Those forces have been in the government, though they haven’t always prevailed, just as outside of it.
In Cuba an authentic, nationally-generated and anti-imperialist revolution has been developing with support of the majority of the people, despite its having major democratic and socializing deficiencies.  That support has varied over time because the revolutionary process doesn’t always move in the same direction.  Some confuse “the Revolution” — out of self-interests or ignorance — with the government, the party or the leaders, which is why sometimes it seems the Cuban Revolution has died or is about to perish.
Yet the process continues to advance below the surface, in the hearts and minds of many Cubans and in the development of new forms of association that people forge on their own so as to produce and coexist.  The Sixth Congress has just approved the expansion of cooperativism.  This is a step forward.  Its real importance depends on a cooperative law that has yet to be approved and on the abilities and freedoms that will be allowed.  But it represents an achievement, though modest, made by all the supporters in favor of new forms of socialist production.
Let’s hope that cooperativism extends, integrates itself and leads to socialist self-management.  It is now a task that we must continue pursuing.  We support the positive changes.  Let’s hope that the revolutionary process can confront imperialistic plans, whether countering a siege or a gradual coming together or penetration.  In that same vein, let’s hope the revolutionary process can defeat the retrograde and anti-democratic forces within its interior, forces that are more dangerous than the neighbor to the north.  All this depends on our advances in the socialization and democratization of economic and political life, as I’ve been explaining.  Inertia or real or concealed large-scale privatizations would lead to Cuba being hogtied by international capital and would halt and reverse the revolutionary process.
HT:  Many people from around the world read Havana Times.  What would you like to say to them?  Especially, what do you want to tell those who have placed their hopes in Cuba for another better world? 
PC:  Let’s hope that other better world is possible and that Cuba will be part of it.  What it turns out to be, what we achieve, or what the backward and reactionary forces impose on us will depend on the struggle that’s waged, on the intelligence that guides us, on the support we have internally and externally.  The return to private capitalism is not inevitable.
International solidarity against the US blockade is important, but the international left now knows that solidarity with the Cuban people is broader and more complex and that they must in fact support us.  There are also things that should be criticized, and such criticism doesn’t harm the revolutionary process – it strengthens it.
Cuba is a whole with many parts.  In Cuba, the disaster of cloning “real” neo-Stalinist socialism has resulted in the distancing of a good part of the people from the original ideas of revolutionary Marxist socialism.  Here, like almost everywhere, “anti-communism” has been fed by the neo-Stalinist politics of “state socialism.”
Essentially people here are anti-Stalinist.  They rejected and continue to reject that distorted form of socialism, the state-totalitarian brand, what was experienced as the curtailer of all rights, marked by the authoritarian ravings, since Stalin.  Those were the arguments conceded to the right and that made for the most difficult battle.
The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union criticized Stalin’s excesses, but it was not able to defeat Stalinism ideological and politically.
When it’s presented, Marxist and revolutionary socialism (whose essence is democratic and self-managerial) is easily accepted, even by people who the government/party consider dissidents or opponents.
I’ve confirmed this personally through discussions with workers, intellectuals and professionals who are opposed to “state socialism.”  To win back those who lost their faith in socialism is one of the most complex and important tasks for preventing the disaster that the status quo is leading us towards.
I tell people that in Cuba there are revolutionary reserves that can help prevent a collapse and that these forces haven’t conceded the possibility of an advance toward socialism in Cuba.  If that were the case, such a blow to the current international revolutionary movement would be devastating.  And those principally responsible wouldn’t be the US imperialism and their “sidekicks” but the inability of revolutionaries to do what is required of us.
That was what Fidel expressed in November 2005, in his very own words, and what was repeated more recently by Raul.  The only battle one can lose is the one that’s never fought.
HT:  And Cuban youth? 
PC:  When I was young it bothered me a lot that they were trying to manipulate me; today I just laugh.  I’m not proposing anything concrete to the youth.  I hope they do what they understand needs to be done.  They have to lead their own lives their own way, like we led ours.  I hope they listen to all and do what they think is right.  It’s life itself — the struggle — that will teach them and show them the way.

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