Self-Determination and Cuba

Capitalism is a system founded on repression. The enclosure movement in 17th-century England, even the mercantilist pre-capitalist foundations paving the way, both transitional to capitalism in its modern form, necessitated force, the State as accomplice in achieving wealth accumulation and further class-differentiation, a new epoch therefore in defining relationships of power that assumed and facilitated the exploitation of what would become, in one case, colonial dependencies, and in the other, a working class dependent on those in possession of property. That much is or should be familiar to all: hierarchy, surplus value, the institutional (and ideological) preservation of order. Subordination, whether directed to other nations or industrial laborers in domestic society, becomes integral to capitalist development, a non-negotiable condition for achieving maximum capital accumulation and the uncontested structure of authority. To this extent the political-moral equation of capitalism=democracy=freedom is baloney pure and simple.

The point is relevant to the wider historical performance and status of capitalism in relation to socialism. And therefore, relevant to the discussion of Cuba as a nation and political economy. Unlike capitalism, socialism has never had the historical opportunity to experience autonomous development freed from intervention, outside pressures to capitulate, support of indigenous forces of subversion. With socialism historically came capitalist counterrevolution, as in the case of the Siberian Intervention following World War I, establishing a pattern in which capitalism, chiefly the US, has been unrelenting in anticipating then destroying not only alternative patterns of modernization and political economy, but also their hint of germination and/or success, even as social-democratic versions of capitalism itself. Our way or the highway, buttressed now by international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank, is the reigning formula, the proviso of force always present in reserve.

Capitalism posits no compromise, no spirit of structural-ideological reconciliation, no comity of political economies (to paraphrase the idea of a comity of nations: courtesy, friendship, mutual recognition), and instead, a systemic SOLIPSISM, one grounded ultimately in fear of social change, of democratization, of the very concept of alternative formations per se. Market fundamentalism, the Washington Consensus, deregulation, monopoly, cartels, international financial controls, all (and more) define a US-sponsored and –implemented context of operations which greets any departures as a grievous affront to national honor and possible grounds for war. Cuba has been in the American cross-hairs for 56 years, 7 days, 15 hours (at time of writing), a bipartisan obsession which confirms the psychopathology of insecurity and ideological rigidity of capitalism in America as the frivolous combination of militarism and consumerism, as prone to collapse in case intervention, humongous military appropriations, neocolonialism in trade-and-investment activities and penetration, and more subtly, the false consciousness of working people, racial minorities, the poor in general, should abate, no longer operate, in confirming American power and the pursuit of global hegemony.

If, as I suggest, the secret of capitalism is its FEAR, of others, internal collapse, overcompensation for producing alienation, class antipathies, emptiness in the labor process, a fear therefore of being found out as inhumane, it follows that Cuba becomes a special case of its (again specifically here, American) posture of world Reaction, the tenacious holding on, with the West as a whole, to a hereinbefore status quo of global domination. Now America, in spite of capitalistic fragments/trends in Russia, China, and even Cuba, believes itself besieged and seeks undisputed leadership of international capitalism, the role of custodian of the system, which works to strengthen an already ingrained ethnocentrism (the Other as stranger, adversary, socialist) placing fear-of-difference foremost on the historical agenda. What, Cuba? We eat countries like that for breakfast, and crush them if they resist.


I have suspected America’s response to the Cuban Revolution from Day One because it was already clear that the Cold War in large and the specific interventions beginning with the containment purpose of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan was to destroy world possibilities of alternative social-economic formations posing an ideological challenge to capitalism, American and worldwide. Contempt for the aspirations of subjugated peoples (initially here, the reaffirmation of colonialism, which then broadened out to postcolonial military intervention and domination) inspired anticommunism, rationalized the use of power, and became entrenched in the American mindset. Cuba never stood a chance. The Bay of Pigs was inscribed in Kennedy’s very demeanor and deepest convictions. West Berlin and Havana were alike “Ich bin”-landscape for displaying the might and moral values of American freedom, the imposition of US capitalism on the rest of the world. For some, Batista was and still is Cuba’s George Washington.

I have written on the seeming US-Cuban rapprochement, but return here because angered by the NYT article by William Neuman, “On the Open Road, Signs of a Changing Cuba,” (Jan. 7), in which he implies that the rotten apple of socialism is falling from the Cuban tree being nourished by the root system of capitalism and entrepreneurial waters of freedom. Cuba is an open-air museum of 1950s cars. Period. His interviews are with those who declare with pride their desire for making money, not a single voice on behalf of the revolution—a not unexpected slant given The Times’s coverage of Cuba over the years in perfect synchronization with US efforts at destabilization and regime change. Perhaps because of proximity, but also because of determined leadership, the willingness of the nation to hold its ground vis-à-vis America, and not least, its actual achievements in the face of great odds, Cuba is more than an easily caricatured Third World country to US policy makers—a living refutation of US counterrevolution and unrestrained wealth accumulation, imperatively to be made over in America’s image or destroyed in the process. Rampaging ethnocentrism is hardly irrational—reminders of America’s own shortcomings are not wanted. The system cannot face itself in the mirror, the ugliness of war, intervention, a wholly inadequate safety net, social regimentation of an underclass, massive surveillance of one and all, what looks back in the reflection is absolute denial, celebration of strength and power, and moral obtuseness.

Neuman gets in his digs. E.g.,: “’This house for sale.’ That concept did not exist, legally, before 2011, when home sales were first allowed under changes designed to inject some capitalist life into the country’s creaky socialist economy.” Again, “There were also discouraging signs: One was the lack of little bars on my phone, showing that there was no cellular coverage in the areas between cities, an indication of Cuba’s backward telecommunications network.” Also, “While there was little car and truck traffic, there was a lot of everything else. Sharing the highway with us were bicycles, oxcarts, tractors, motorcycles (some with sidecars) and horsecarts of every type”—oh what poor benighted slobs. And the car Neuman toured in: “The odometer was stuck at 26948.0. How many times had it turned over before freezing? Cuba, too, is frozen in the past.” I am tempted to say, America is frozen in the future, one of endemic, permanent war; societal divisiveness; the perishing of, to use a New Deal phrase, the national estate. With this in mind, I wonder what socialism would be like, in Cuba or anywhere else, if it were allowed to develop unvarnished and undisturbed? Precisely that question cannot be asked, lest it reveal capitalism as the imposter, the counterfeit, of human freedom.

My New York Times Comment on the Neuman article, same date, follows:

Neuman’s article reeks of condescension. Older Times readers will recall Ruby Phillips sitting in her Nacional hotel room 1959-60 spewing propaganda. Why this hostility, demonization (Fidel), denunciation (socialism), while discounting a half-century of USG embargo, blockade, CIA paramilitary operations, international financial squeeze? Cuba’s capitalist signs might well have organically developed–yet NGOs interference, constant pressures, make this distorted, contrived, imposed from without. Is capitalism that shaky that it requires assistance to be acceptable?

Yes, I’ve been to Cuba (2002) and Cubans indeed lived close, but they had DIGNITY, befitting a beautiful people and land, art and music in the air, a vibrant education system, medical care, medical research. Your contempt reveals the shallowness of corporatism-militarism defining US society and political culture. I visited a synagogue–the shamas saying, no discrimination; a oneroom schoolhouse in the Mountains, students in blue-and-white eagerly responding, a curtain behind, one-on-one instruction in computers.

Obamian rapprochement is intended as a kiss of death. It will not work. Nor will simultaneous upgrading of sanctions on Venezuela, part of the same policy. If Cuba grows more capitalistic, while NOT sacrificing its achievements in health and education, its spirit of caring for one another, that must be their decision. Ridicule, further subversion, turning loose Miami-Cuban hatemongers won’t work.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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