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Re: [Marxism] Re: Accounts of Cuban "Socialism"

To: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition <marxism@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Re: Accounts of Cuban "Socialism"
From: DCQ <deeseekyou@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005 01:00:48 -0400
Delivery-date: Wed, 24 Aug 2005 23:01:28 -0600
In-reply-to: <a0600200abf304c1d7660@[]>
References: <a0600200abf304c1d7660@[]>
Wow. I subscribe and the first message I get is an old favorite about
Cuba and "socialism." Welcome indeed.

Anyway, a few things that may hopefully provide a fresh perspective...
Over the years, I've come to a new understanding of this debate:
namely, it's pretty effing pointless. So here's my contribution.

1) People can convince themselves of anything. Probably a majority of
the population of the US believes that the Democratic Party is against
the war, despite the Herculean efforts to dispell this impression by
the Democratic Party bigwigs. Go figure. If someone is invested
personally, politically, intellectually, etc. in the essentially
socialist or non-socialist nature of the Cuban state, then there's not
a whole heck of a lot a little listserve is going to do to change this.

2) Far too many people caricature what the "state capitalist" theory
actually states, and what it does not state. And this includes people
in the IS tradition. Far too often, people have taken the basic message
and dumbed it down, reified it into something it is not. Cliff's "State
Capitalism in Russia" is not some abstract pronouncement that goes
something like "since Stalin was bad, and since socialism is good,
therefore Stalinism is not socialism, but something new called...oh,
let's see...umm...state capitalism...yeah, that sounds good..."

It seems that many critics of Cliff's "state capitalist" theory, have
looked at little more than the "executive summaries" (pamphlets, ISJ
articles, etc.) written by full-timers, assumed that was the totality,
and then gone on the offensive. Those few who have critiqued the whole
she-bang, have often deliberately misrepresented what Cliff wrote, set
up straw-man arguments, then quite easily toppled the straw-men, washed
their hands, and called it a good day's polemicizing.

A large problem is that these "executive summaries" leave out quite
important details, and end up misrepresenting or even abolishing the
subtlety and nuance of the original (I include many of Cliff's own
summaries in this grouping). To list a few commonly mis- or
partially-understood items: the fact that Cliff says state capitalism
is much closer in operation to a worker's state than it is to a
traditional capitalist economy; the fact that he insists that state
capitalism is a partial negation of capitalism; his explanation that
the modes of appropriation are quite different in a traditional
capitalist model and a state capitalist system; and the fact that
"state capitalism" is not a specific descriptor of the Stalinist
countries, but of the global economy--the capitalist era in which we
have lived for around a century.

Cliff's book is actually quite a complex Marxist study of the
historical and economic data on Russia available at the time. Its
arguments are very precise and careful. That said, it really is a
starting point, not the end-point it essentially became. Much more
study and refinement of Cliff's formulation can and should be made,
particularly with all the data now available that was not when the
first drafts were penned. Additionally, I believe the theory can and
should be refined in several ways: looking more closely at the rise of
state capitalism in Russia as a response to imperialism (rather than
the more neutral sounding "world capitalist pressures"); looking at how
state capitalism functioned in Eastern Europe, as well as countries
that arrived at "Stalinism" through their own revolutions/national
liberation struggles (Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea...); looking at
non-Stalinist state capitalist countries (Iran...); looking at "state
capitalist" countries allied with the West (South Korea, Zaire, fascist
Spain...); looking at monopoly state capitalist methods of economic
control in the US/imperialist countries (military spending
(specifically), government spending (generally) taxation, monetary
policy, labor, environmental, and financial regulations, zoning, etc.)

3) I agree with Louis that groups in the IS tradition have often
fetishized this one simplified, misunderstood term, and alienated a
good number of potential members who could add tremendously to the
cause of building a revolutionary party in the US. This is not what it
should be. And it seems that the ISO at one point tried to do this,
since Joel Geier is one of the leading ISO members, but does not agree
with the the "state capitalist" theory. But the practical work day to
day in the 80s (and to a large extent in the 90s as well) of having to
have an explanation for the horrors of Stalinism, meant in practice
that a single explanation won out. At this point, I am for removing the
mentioning of state capitalism in the "Where We Stand" section of SW.
(I would delete: " The experience of Russia demonstrates that a
socialist revolution cannot survive in one country. China and Cuba,
like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, have nothing to do with
socialism. They are state capitalist regimes which oppress and exploit
workers. We support the struggles of workers in these countries against
the bureaucratic ruling class." I would then expand the section on
imperialism to be more explicit...something like "imperialism cannot
bring democracy" ...and "we support the struggles of workers everywhere
against their own ruling classes." I would also like to change a few
other things, since it seems to be addressed to the sectarian left
laying out the differences between the ISO and other groups, rather
than to the newly class-conscious worker laying out basic principles)
But, as I am not able to be active at the moment, I really have no say
or influence on that.

4) What really matters in the debate about Cuba is not whether or not
you think it is a socialist paradise, socialism with some distortions,
or a capitalist country. What really matters is this: will you defend
the Cuban people against the aggressions and provocations of the US
without hesitation? Period.


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