Compiled by ARIEL DACAL DÍAZ
2015 | Rebel Lives Collection |
“The name of Leon Trotsky is among the most controversial and irreplaceable figures in the history of the revolutionary movement.” -Ariel Dacal Díaz
Leon Trotsky has not lost, after death, the ability to arouse conflicting passions. His life and work attest to the tireless fighting spirit that always encouraged him, as well as his dedication to the revolutionary cause, founded on a sentiment that would never be able to abandon him: hope in the triumph of the oppressed.
Little more than seventy years have elapsed since his assassination, and yet the thought of Trotsky and the example of tenacity that constitutes his life still have much to say.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ariel Dacal Díaz
REBEL LIVES COLLECTION
Vidas Rebeldes, a new series of books at affordable prices that rediscover relevant figures in the history of the world’s workers, socialist and feminist movements. It publishes essay selections about women and men whose thought and action acquire renewed validity in our days. Vidas Rebeldes does not pretend to ennoble its protagonists as perfect political models, but to make them known in their different ways to the new generations.
168 pages | ISBN 978-1-925019-72-8
Chapter 8 of Ernest Mandel, A Rebel’s Dream Deferred by Jan Willem Stutje, pp.147-164
“It is more pleasant and useful to go through the ‘experience of the revolution’ than to write about it.”
— V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution 1
The progressive revival of the 1960s, which in Belgium began with the general strike of 1960-61, brought with it a renewal of the connection between struggle and theoretical debate, a connection that had been lost during the interwar ‘darkness at noon’ of Stalinism.
Although Marxist critical thought had not been entirely silenced, as shown by the works of Cornelius Castoriadis and Paul Sweeny, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and Karl Korsch’s later work, in academia it had been marginalized, confined to the domains of aesthetics and philosophy.2 In the 1960s such publishers as Maspero in France and Feltrinelli in Italy rediscovered the heterodox political literature that had long been on Stalin’s index. Creative Marxist thought emerged from the shadow of the universities and stimulated — in addition to the debates about neo-capitalism and the role of the proletariat — thinking about decolonization, revolution and post-capitalist society, the Soviet Union and China, Algeria and Cuba.
In Marxist Economic Theory Mandel had examined the economics of transitional societies.3 The sociologist Pierre Naville encouraged him to pursue the subject further. Naville was preparing to republish New Economics (first published in 1923), an analysis of the Soviet economy by Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, who had been killed by Stalin in 1937.4 He asked Mandel to write a foreword. 5 Central to the book was the question of what dynamic would arise in an agricultural society in transition from capitalism to socialism and what sources of socialist accumulation would be available. Mandel wrote that Preobrazhensky had made possible an economic policy free of pragmatism and empiricism.6 This book’s publication contributed to the economic debate in Cuba.
In Cuba with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, who with Fidel Castro was the face of the Cuban revolution, took a leading role in this debate. In 1958-59 guerillas had ended the oppressive, US-backed Batista regime. In doing so they broke with the prevailing, understanding of revolution that had held sway since 1935. The dominant conception dated back to the stages theory held by Stalin’s Comintern, which had limited revolutionary ambitions to formation of a national democratic government with the task of achieving agricultural reform, industrialization and democratic renewal. The struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie would only take place in a more-or-less distant future phase of socialist revolution. The Cuban revolutionaries discovered that in practice such a revolution was impossible and looked for a model that would put a definitive end to capitalism in Cuba. In the process they risked an American invasion, a threat made clear during the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron) incident and the October 1961 missile crisis. They also earned anathemas from Moscow, which saw Cuba’s, support for revolutionary movements -in Latin America, Asia and Africa as undermining a foreign policy aimed at peaceful coexistence with the West.
From 1962 to 1964 Che Guevara headed the Cuban ministry of industry. He opposed the growing influence of Moscow-oriented Communists and the state’s increasing bureaucratic tendencies. His ideas about the economy were formed in the debates of 1963-4. which were not only about economic development but also about the essence of socialism: a central budget structure versus, financial independence of companies, moral versus material incentives, thee law of value versus planning, and the role of consciousness.
Che considered an economy without a humanistic perspective, without communist ethics, unthinkable.7 ‘We fight against poverty but also against alienation…If Communism were to bypass consciousness…then the spirit of the revolution would die.’8 In a famous 1965 essay, ‘Socialism and Man in Cuba’, Che warned against ‘the pipe dream that socialism can be achieved with the help of the dull instruments left to us by capitalism’, like making value and profitability the absolute economic’ measure or using, material incentives. Che held that fully realized communism would require changing not only the economic structure but also human beings. 9
Impressed by the wave of nationalizations there, Mandel concluded in the fall of 1960 that Cuba had developed into a post-capitalist state.10 ‘Reality has shown that to consolidate power the revolutionary leaders have unconsciously resorted to Trotskyism.’11 Shortly after the publication of Marxist Economic Theory Mandel had a copy sent to Che and Castro via their embassy in Brussels.12 He had informal contacts, with the Cuban regime through Nelson Zayas Pazos,13 a Cuban Trotskyist and French teacher working in the foreign ministry, and Hilde Gadea, Che’s ex-wife a Peruvian economist of Indian and Chinese descent who lived in Havana.14 Gadea was sympathetic to Trotskyist ideas, and through her and Zayas documents of the Fourth International were regularly forwarded to Che. 15
In October 1963 Zayas told Mandel about the debate raging between what he called the Stalino-Khrushchevists and the circle around Che.16 While the former were arguing for financial independence for companies and for material incentives to increase productivity,17 Che called for centralizing finances and strengthening moral incentives.18 Zayas encouraged Mandel to intervene in the debate: ‘It seems to me that the entire Castro leadership would welcome such a contribution … Fidel, Che, Aragonés. Hart, Faure Chomón and many others are favourably disposed to us.’19. A month later Zayas distributed a stencilled contribution from Mandel to those taking part in the debate. 20 Mandel supported Che’s resistance to financial autonomy, not because he was opposed to decentralization but because centralized financing for small-scale industry seemed at that time the optimal solution. He shared Che’s fears of the growth of bureaucracy, all the more so because Clue’s opponents wanted to make decentralized financial administration efficient by using material incentives. Mandel was not against material incentives as such, on two conditions: that they were not individual but collective incentives in order to ensure solidarity, and that their use was restrained in order to curb the selfishness that a system of enrichment produces.
To combat bureaucratization Mandel argued for democratic and centralized self-management, ‘a management by the workers at the workplace, subject to strict discipline on the part of a central authority that is directly chosen by workers’ councils’.21 Mandel and Che differed on this last point. Che did support management of the enterprises by the trade unions, but only if they were representative and not controlled by Communists, who, he said, were very unpopular. The results of decentralized self-management in Yugoslavia, where companies acted like slaves of the market, had also made Che cautious. Mandel warned him against throwing the baby out with the bath water. Self-management by workers was entirely compatible with a central plan democratically decided by the direct producers.22
In early 1964 Mandel was invited to visit Havana. There were prospects of meetings with Che and Castro.23 Che had read Marxist Economic Theory enthusiastically and had large parts of it translated.24 Mandel confided to Livio Maitan: ‘I think that I can raise many issues openly and frankly’,25 and wrote again a few days later, `And in any case I can resolve the question of banning our Bolivian friends.’26
Maitan had visited South America for the first time in 1962. He had made contact with insurrectionary movements in Bolivia, Chili, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay and Argentina and had urged them to work with the Cubans.27 In Buenos Aires he met such left-wing Peronistas as the poet Alicia Eguren and her partner John William Cooke, who had been in contact with Che since 1959.28 In Peru Maitan’s contacts were with the United Left and its present leader Hugo Blanco. In Bolivia he met with the mine workers in Huanuni, Catavi and Siglo XX. Trotskyists had strong influence there and hoped to be trained in Cuba for armed struggle.
Mandel stayed in Havana for almost seven weeks. It was a visit without official duties, an occasion for exchanging ideas, and these exchanges convinced him completely that Cuba ‘constitutes . . the most advanced bastion in the liberation of labour and of humanity’.29 The Marxist classics were widely studied in cadre schools, in ministries and beyond. Mandel wrote a friend, ‘The class I took part in had just finished volume one of Capital, with a minister and three deputy ministers present . . . And it was serious study, even Talmudic, studying page by page…’30 Mandel’s own works, including Marxist Economic Theory, were discussed; translated, stenciled excerpts circulated among the leadership.31 Mandel wrote to his French publisher, ‘The president of the Republic [Osvaldo Dorticos] himself is interested in the work and would like to publish it in Spanish in 2 Cuba.’ E. Mandel to C. Bourgois, 28 May 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 278.] He addressed hundreds of auditors at the University of Havana, speaking in Spanish — with a sprinkling of Italian when a words escaped him. There was even an announcement of his visit in Hoy, the paper, of the Communist Blas Roca. Revolutión, the largest and most influential daily paper, published an interview.
‘I was literally kidnapped by the finance ministry and the ministry of industry [Che’s ministry] to write a long article about the problem of the law of value in the economy of a transitional society.’32 Speaking French, Mandel met for four hours with Che, who received him dressed in olive green fatigues, his famous black beret with its red star within reach. Totally enchanted, Mandel wrote a friend, ‘Confidentially, he is extremely close to your friend Germain [the pseudonym Mandel used most], whom, you know well.’33
Mandel and Che worked together on a response to the French economist Charles Bettelheim. In April 1964 Bettelheim had published an article in the monthly Cuba Socialista34 that held that the central planning that Che advocated was unwise policy, considering the limited development of the forces of production. The Marxist Bettelheim had become Che’s most profound critic. Other opponents included Alberto Mora, the minister of foreign trade, and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, the minister of agriculture. Years later Bettelheim commented,
Cuba’s level of development meant that the various units of production needed a sufficient measure of autonomy, that they be integrated into the market so that they could buy and sell their products at prices reflecting the costs of production. I also found that the low level of productive forces required the principle: to each according to his work. The more one worked, the higher the pay. This was the core of our divergence, because Che found differences acceptable only when they arose from what each contributed to the best of his ability.35
The research director of the Paris Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales still did not agree with Che’s thinking.
Mandel thought that Bettelheim was making the mistake of looking for pure forms in historical reality. For example, according to the French economist, there could be no collective ownership of the means of production as long as legally there was no completely collective ownership. Mandel found Bettelheim’s insistence on such complete ownership- ‘to the last nail’ – a bit technocratic. Complete ownership was not necessary as long as their was possession sufficient to suspend capital’s laws of motion and initiate planned development.36 Mandel pointed out that the withering away of the commodity form was determined not only by the development of the forces of production but also by changes in human behaviour. It was a commonplace to say that the law of value also played a role in a post-capitalist economy without saying what part of the economy it would govern. The key question was whether or not the law of value determined investment in the socialist sector. If that was necessarily the case, Mandel said,then all underdeveloped countries – including all of the post-capitalist countries except Czechoslovakia and East Germany – were doomed to eternal underdevelopment. He pointed out that these counties agriculture was more profitable than industry, light and small-scale industry more profitable than heavy and large-scale industry, and above all obtaining industrial products on the world market more profitable than domestic manufacturing. ‘To permit investment to be governed by the law of value would actually be to preserve the imbalance of the economic structure handed down from capitalism.’37 With his criticism Mandel was not denying the law of value but opposing what he termed Bettelheim’s fatalism, which denied that a long and hard struggle was necessary ‘between the principle of conscious planning and the blind operation of the law of value’.38
Luis Alvarez Rom, Cuba’s finance minister, spent ten hours correcting the Spanish translation of Mandel’s article. It appeared in June 1964 under the title ‘Las categorías mercantiles en el periodo de transición’ (Mercantile Categories in the Period of Transition); 20,000 copies were published in periodicals of the ministries of industry and of finance.39 It included a flattering biography of the author.40 Mandel wondered if this was ‘to neutralize in advance certain ill-intentioned criticisms of my spiritual family [the Fourth Intemational]?’41 He treasured in his wallet a banknote personally signed by Che: more than a currency note, it was a proof of trust. Mandel admired Che’s courage in inviting him to Cuba for a debate that the Soviets and orthodox Communists had to accept, however grudgingly. He praised Che as a theoretician, a leader in the tradition of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.42
Looking back in 1977, Mandel considered Cuba’s open debate on the economy ‘the big turning point’ in the Cuban revolution.43 Behind that debate had raged another, not held in public. This debate concerned the revolution’s sociopolitical orientation, the role of the workers and the issue of power. That is, along with the question of the law of value came the issue of how much freedom the proletariat would have to make its own decisions. As Mandel saw it, though Che triumphed in the public debate, he was defeated in the hidden one. Guaranteeing freedom was a political problem: it required the creation of workers’ councils and popular assemblies. Such organs were never developed.
When Che left Cuba in 1965, he was the most popular leader on the island. If the voice of the people had been heard, Che would have won the political as well as the economic round. But, as Mandel said, ‘Che did not want to appeal to the people. He did not want to split the party openly. This is why he left after his defeat.44 In his 1964 correspondence Mandel had acknowledged that he did not dare put some of his impressions on paper.45 Did he already suspect that the debate would have a tragic outcome?
On Mandel’s departure Luis Alvarez Rom assured him that he was always welcome; a request would be sufficient to assure an invitation.46 There was a rumour that within a few months Castro would officially invite him `so I can deal a bit with his affairs’.47 He returned to Brussels in a hopeful mood:
The influence of the Stalinist ‘sectarians’ (that’s what they’re called there) continues to decline . .. Slowly a new vanguard is forming, one that is close to our ideas . . . The revolution is still bursting with life, and on that basis democracy [can] bloom.48
He had also been assured that ‘the group around Che was noticeably stronger’ and that ‘workers’ assemblies would soon be started’.49 Was this the beginning-of workers’ self-management, however modest? The promise did not amount to much, but Mandel dosed his eyes to its limits. He reacted negatively to Nelson Zayas’s advice to pressure Che and to convince him that he’ll lose the battle if it’s only fought in the government and bureaucratic arena’.50 The people’s support for the government must not be underestimated.51 The die was not yet cast: ‘Nothing was definitely decided yet in the economic discussion.’52 Mandel did not want to hamper Che and Fidel in their conflicts with the pro-Soviet currents. This would not have been appreciated, either, by the swelling multitude of radical youth in France and elsewhere for whom Che was nearing the status of hero. Mandel’s reaction disappointed Zayas and hastened his decision to turn his back on Cuba and complete his study of French in Paris. He asked Mandel to use his influence with Che to secure the necessary exit visa.53
Mandel’s thoughts about Cuba changed only slowly. The Latin American revolution came to a halt: Salvador Allende lost the Chilean election in September 1964, there were military coups in Brazil and Bolivia, and leftist guerrillas in Peru and Venezuela were defeated. Cuba paid for these failures with its growing dependence on the Soviet Union. This was an arid climate in which social democracy could not thrive. As Mandel frankly admitted to ex-Trotskyist Jesus Vazquez Mendez,
I subscribe to your opinion that participation by the people is essential … . I had heard that management of the enterprise would come into the hands of the trade unions after their leadership was replaced; but the latest news is that nothing has happened. I’m sorry about it, and like you I’m afraid that if things are left to take their course, the result will be an economic impasse. Maybe I’ll go to Cuba again in l965 and can give the debate new impetus.54
But he didn’t visit in 1965, and he never saw Che again, not even when Che was in Algiers to address an Afro-Asian conference at the end of a trip through Africa in February that year. Never before had Che come out so strongly against the Soviet Union. He declared that ‘the socialist countries are, in a way, accomplices of imperialist exploitation’. Before all else oppressed peoples had to be helped with weapons. ‘without any charge at all, and in quantities determined by the need’.55 Che’s words took root in the fertile soil of Latin American campuses and the radical milieu in Paris, where his speech was duplicated and distributed,56 and the Union of Communist Students (UEC) invited Che to Paris for a debate on Stalinism.57 The initiative came from the EUC left wing, in which Mandel’s fellow-thinkers played a prominent role. Six months earlier they had been received by a deputy minister of industry, a dose colleague of Che’s.58 One of the group’s spokespeople, twenty-seven-year-old Janette Pienkny (Janette Habel after 1966) traveled regularly between Paris and Havana. She contacted the Cuban ambassador, who relayed the invitation to Che by phone. Meanwhile Mandel was attempting to get a visa for Algeria. After Che’s speech, Mandel had phoned him his congratulations. Che had immediately agreed to a meeting but it had to he the following day, a Monday, because he was about to leave.59 But that Sunday Mandel sought vainly to make contact – at home and at the embassy- with the ambassador and the consul. Without a visa, ‘they wouldn’t have even let me telephone from the airport . . . I finally decided, heartbroken, to miss the meeting that had meant so much to me.’60
The debate in Paris never took place. The Communists Party put a stop to it.61 Che was now viewed as a heretic, not only in Moscow but also within the Communist parties. Algiers was his last public appearance. He went to the Congo and Bolivia to help break the isolation of their revolutions, a solidarity that he summed up in his testamentary message with the call -Make two, three, many Vietnams!’62 That slogan became the catchphrase for the generation of ’68.
The Death of Che Guevara
Though a trip to Cuba had proved impossible in 1965-6, Mandel’s thinking about the Latin American revolution continued to develop. He praised the young philosopher Régis Debray, a student of Althusser’s. In a January 1965 essay in Les Temps Modernes Debray had characterized Castroism as the Latin American version of Leninism. Mandel described it as “an excellent piece’, though he dismissed out of hand Debray’s idea about spontaneous party formation.102 Mandel expressed himself more cautiously About Cuba’s relationship with Moscow: ‘politically they continue to have their own line. . . What is bad, however, is that [Castro] made a series of moves to satisfy the Russians (like his attacks against the Chinese and against the “counter-revolutionary trotskyists”).’103 Ac the final sitting of the Tricontinental Conference in Havana’s Chaplin Theatre, Castro had spoken of ‘the stupidities, the discredit, and the repugnant thing which Trotskyism today is in the field of politics’.104
Mandel thought that must be a genuflection towards Moscow, .camouflage for the call to armed struggle that Moscow might interpret as a concession to Trotskyism. In it confidential meeting with Victor Rico Galan. Castro’s representative in Mexico, Mandel later learned that Castro regretted his statement. Galan had pointed out to Castro that the attack ou Trotskyism was unfounded. Admitting his mistake, Castro had asked Galan to give him `A month or two to make public corrections of this at the proper time’.105 At the end of May Mandel unexpectedly got an invitation to visit Havana. The Cuban ambassador spoke of a personal invitation from Castro and promised a meeting with President Osvaldo Dorticós.106
In June 1967 Ernest aud Gisela arrived at the former Havana Hilton, re‑christened the Free Havana but with its former splendor carefully preserved. At the hotel’s bar, replacing the Americans of earlier times, were Russians and few East German technicians. Politics was never far away, even at the hairdresser’s, as Gisela discovered: ‘The girl sitting beside me was reading Lenin, and on the other side a woman was reading Mills’s The Marxists.’107
A beautiful English-speaking guide took care of all the formalities, including credit cards and a shabby Cadillac with chauffeur. Gisela immediately fell in love with the impoverished country. She sent Meschkat enthusiastic reports about their wanderings and the encounters in tobacco and sugar factories, on plantations and in prisons and schools. ‘Everything is exquisite and for us so encouraging and hopeful.108
Their programme was overloaded. Ernest often returned only at l:00 or 2:00 in the morning from a debate or lecture at the university or a party school. The atmosphere was frank and candid. as were the meetings with the host of Latin Americans attending the first conference of the Organization in Solidarity with Latin America (OLAS), held in Havana at the beginning of August.109 Ernest and Gisela were furious when the Czechoslovakian paper Rudé Právo published three pages slandering Che on the day that Soviet premier Kosygin arrived. Gisela wrote, ‘You should just hear how they talk about the Russians in all circles here, from the highest to the lowest, I’ve never heard such talk, from socialists yet.’110 Typically, Castro charged the Venezuelan Communists with falling the guerrilla movement.111 Though Cuba was dependent on the Russians, Castro continued to provoke them.112
Mandel spoke with functionaries high and low, but Castro and Dorticós avoided him. Every time he announced his departure. he received overnight request to stay ‘because the President and the Prime Minister both wanted to see me’.113 Fed up with waiting, he finally left, three weeks later than planned and without meeting them. Perhaps a meeting would have seemed too clear a provocation to the Russians. Castro had nothing to gain, as he had demonstrated his independence sufficiently at the OLAS conference.
On 9 October 1967, the world learned of the murder of Ernesto Che Guevara. Convinced that guerrilla warfare was the only way to victory, he had gone to join the Bolivian struggle. His body was found mutilated in a remote village. This was the death of a revolutionary, a modern-day warrior chief. The left was in mourning; poets wrote elegies, laments that ended with calls to rebellion. In an interview with Gerhard Horst (pseudonym Andre’ Gorz), an editor of Les Temps Moderns, Mandel spoke of ‘a severe shock, all the more as I regarded him as a personal friend’.114 In La Gauche he mourned ‘a great friend, an exemplary comrade, a heroic militant’.115 On the Boulevard St-Michel in Paris and Berlin’s Kurfurstendamn, in London and Milan people shouted: `Che, Che, Gue-va-ra!’ The chopped syllables formed a battle cry against the established order. Neither Moscow nor Beijing had expressed even the most grudging sympathy.116 In openly showing their regret the Italian and French Communist parties proved they still possessed a little autonomy.
Mandel’s sympathizers in the French Revolurionmy Communist Youth (JCR), a radical group founded in 1966 in a split from the Union of Communist Students, refused to accept his death. ‘Che was our best antidote to the Maoist mystique’, Daniel Bensaid recalled.117 In the Latin Quarter of Paris, the Mutualité temple of the French workers’ movement, was full to overflowing. Mandel spoke alongside Maurice Nadeau, just back from Havana, and Janette ‘The Cuban’ Habel. He portrayed Che as he had come to know him in 1964.118 Emotion crested as those present softly hummed ‘The Song of the Martyrs’, the mourning march from the 1905 Russian Revolution, before launching into, ‘You have fallen for all those who hunger’ and belting out the chorus, ‘But the hour will sound, and the people conquer…’119
In Berlin too people were deeply moved. The SDS called for intensifying actions. Che had been Dutschke’s inspiration. With Gaston Salvatore, a Chilean comrade and friend in the SDS,120 Dutschke had translated Che’s last public statement, with it’s famous appeal for ‘two, three, many Vietnams’, from Spanish into German. Like Che, Dutschke lived the conviction that there “is no life outside the revolution’.121 He named his recently born son Hosea Chea. Latin America would not let Dutschke go. In 1968 he wrote a foreword to The Long March; The Course of the Revolution in Latin America, a collection of articles by such figures as Régis Debray, Castro and K.S. Karol.122. Meshkat was surprised to see letters from Gisela, which she had sent him from Havana in the summer of 1967, printed in the book. As far as he had known, Dutschke had asked only for permission to read them. 123.
1. Collected Works, vol. 25, Moscow, 1977, p. 497. 2. P. Anderson, In the Tracks of Historical Materialism, London, 1983. P. Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, London, 1977. 3. E. Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory, vol. 2, London 1968, pp. 605-53. 4.E. Mandel, ‘Introduction’ in E. Préobrazenskij, La Nouvelle économie (Novaia Ekonomika), Paris, 1966. P. Naville to E. Mandel, 20 May 1962, E. Mandel Archives, folder 278. A. Erlich analyzed Preobrazhensky’s work in The Soviet Industrialization Debate, 1924-1928, Cambridge, MA, 1960. C. Samary, Plan, Market, Democracy, Amsterdam, 1988. 5. P. Naville to E. Mandel, 17 September 1960, E. Mandel Archives, folder 318. 6.E. Mandel, ‘Introduction’, La Nouvelle économie , E. Préobrazenskij, p. 35. 7.M. LÖwy, The Marxism of Che Guevara: Philosophy, Economics, and Revolutionary Warfare, New York, 1973. 8. ‘Interview with Che Guevara’, L’Express, 25 July 1963, cited in: E. Guevera, Ecrits d’un révolutionaire, Paris, 1987, p. 9. 9. E. Guevara, Socialism and Man in Cuba, Sydney, 1988, p. 5. 10. Jack [E. Mandel] to ‘Chers amis’, 18 October 1960, E. Mandel Archives, folder 70. E. Germain [E. Mandel] to ‘Cher camarade’, 1 July 1961, E. Mandel Archives, folder 483. 11. Ibid. 12. G. Arcos Bergnes [Cuban ambassador] to E. Mandel, 12 Sepbember 1962, E. Mandel Archives, folder 16. 13. Using the pseudonym David Alexander, Zayas Pazos published a book about Cuba in 1967: Cuba: la via rivoluzionaria al socialismo, Rome. He also wrote letters signed with the pseudonym Emile. 14. H. Gadea, Che Guevara: Años decisivos, Mexico, 1972- P Kalfon, Che, Ernesto Guevara: Une légende du siècle, Paris, 1997. 15. N. Zayas to P. Frank, 20 October 1963, E. Mandel Archives, folder 23. 16. N. Zayas to ‘Cher camarade’, 25 October 1963, E. Mandel Archives, folder 21. 17. A. Mora, ‘En torno a Ja cuestión del funcionamiento de la ley del valor en la economia cubana en los actuales momentes’, Comercio Exterior, June 1963. Translated as: A. Mora, ‘Zur Frage des Funktionierens des Wertgesetzes in der cubanischen Wirtschaft zum gegenwärtigen Zeitpunkt’ in C. Bettelheim et al., Wertgesetz: Planung und Bewusstsein: die Planungsdebatte in Cuba, Frankfurt on Main, 1969. Alberto Mora was the Cuban minister of foreign trade. 18. E. Guevara, ‘On value’ (1963) in J. Gerassi, ed., Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara, London, 1969, pp. 280-5. 19. N. Zayas to ‘Cher camarade’, 25 October 1963 E. Mandel Archives, folder 21. 20. N. Zayas to E. Germain, 16 January 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 22. 21. E. Mandel, ‘Le grand débat économique à Cuba’, Partisans, no. 37, 1967. Reprinted in E. Guevara, Ecrits d’un révolutionnaire, Paris, 1987. 22. E. Mandel, letter fragment, n.d. , E. Mandel Archives, folder 26. 23. E. Mandel to R. Blackbum, 12 February 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 28. E. Mandel to N. Zayas, 12 February 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 21. 24. Nelson to Germain, 16 February 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 19. 25. E. Mandel to ‘cher ami’ [L. Maitan], 3 March 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 22. 26. E. Mandel to L. Maitan, 7 March 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 22. 27. L. Maitan, manuscript memoirs (unpublished), Paris, n.d., pp. 3, 19-20. 28. E. Mandel to L. Maitan, 10 June 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 24. “Che Guevara was Energetically Devoted to Anti-Imperialist Solidarity’, interview with M. Piñiero, The Militant, 24 November 1997. 29.La Gauche, 9 May 1964. 30. E. Mandel to Paul [Clerbaut], E. Mandel Archives, folder 23. 31. Mandel anticipated that he would soon see Marxist Economic Theory published in Cuba, ‘obviously’ without the chapter on the Soviet economy (‘There is no need for us to embarrass the Cubans.’). E. Mandel to Paul [Clerbaut], 7 May 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 23. Mandel wrote to his French publisher, ‘The president of the Republic [Osvaldo Dorticos] himself is interested in the work and would like to publish it in Spanish in 2 Cuba.’ E. Mandel to C. Bourgois, 28 May 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 278. 32. E. Mandel to Paul [Clerbaut], E. Mandel Archives, folder 23. 33. Ibid. 34. C. Bettelheim, ‘Forms and Methods of Socialist Planning and the Level of Development of the Productive Forces’, The Transition to a Socialist Economy, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1975, pp. 121-38. 35. J. Connier (in collaboration with H. Guevara Gadea and A. Granado Jimenez), Che Guevara, Monaco, 1995, pp. 291-2. 36. E. Mandel, ‘Mercantile Categories in the Transition Stage’, in B. Silverman ed., Man and Socialism in Cuba: The Great Debate, New York, 1971, pp. 63-6. S. de Santis, ‘Bewußtsein und Produktion: Eine Kontroverse zwischen Ernesto Che Guevara, Charles Bettelheim und Ernest Mandel über das ökonomische System in Kuba’, Kursbuch 18, October 1969. 37. E. Mandel, ‘Mercantile Categories in the Transition Stage’, in B. Silverman ed., Man and Socialism in Cuba, p. 82. R. Massari, Che Guevara: Pensiero e politica dell’utopia, Rome, 1987. 38. E. Mandel, ‘Mercantile Categories in the Transition Stage’, Man and Socialism in Cuba, p. 82 (italics in original). 39. E. Mandel, ‘Las categorias mercantiles en ei periodo de transición’, Nuestra Industria, June 1964. 40. J. Habel, ‘Le sens que nous donnons au combat du Che Guevara’ (1), Rouge, 13 October 1977. 41. E. Mandel to A. Eguren, 5 August 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 25. 42. F. Buyens, Een mens genaarnd Ernest Mandel, film, Brussels, 1972. 43. E. Mandel, ‘Il -y a dix ans, l’assassinat du Che, Les positions du Che Guevara dans le grand débat éconoimque de 1963-1965’, Rouge, 11 October 1977. 44.Ibid.v 45. E. Mandel to ‘Paul [Clerbaut]’, 7 May 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 23. 46. E. Mandel to ‘Emile’ [N. Zayas], 26 May 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder24. 47. E. Mandel to A. Eguren, 5 August 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 25. 48. E. Mandel to ‘Lieber Freund’ [G. Jungclas], 22 May 1964; E. Mandel to K. Coates, 10 May 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 23. 49. Emile to E. Mandel, 5 Juiy 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 25. 50. Emile to E. Mandel, 13 August 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 25. 51. E. Mandel to ‘Cher ami’ [N. Zayasl, 12 October 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 25. 52. E. Mandel to A. Eguren, 25 September 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 25. 53. Emile to E. Mandel, 27 September 1964; E. Mandel to Emile, 11 November 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 26. 54. E. Mandel to J. Vazquez Mendez, 2 November 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 26. 55. E. Guevara, ‘At the Afro-Asian Conference’, Che Guevara Speaks, New York, 1967, pp. 108, 114. 56. P. Kalfon, Che, Emesto Guevara: Une légende du siècle, p. 402. 57. Ibid. Also: P. Robrieux, Notre génération communiste 1953-1968, Paris, 1977, pp. 316-7. 58. E. Mandel to L. Maitan, 10 June 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 24. 59. E. Mandel to ‘Dear friend’ 1, 19 May 1965, E. Mandel Archives, folder 31. 60. E. Mandel to ‘Pierre’, 1 March 1965, E. Mandel Archives, folder 30. 61. P. Robrieux, Notre génération communiste 1953-1968, p. 317. 62. E. Guevara, ‘Vietnam and the World Struggle for Freedom’, Che Guevara Speaks, p. 159. 63. E. Mandel to A. Eguren, 5 August 1964, E. Mandel Archives, folder 25. 102. The idea that a revolutionary party would form ‘in die natural course of die liberation struggle’, as it had in Cuba, was an illusion. Mandel held that Cuba was an exception and that to hope for spontaneous party formation was to idealize empiricism and pragmatism. Perry Anderson, the editor of New Left Review, agreed with this criticism, though unlike Mandel he thought this difference of opinion with the twenty-four-year-old Debray was minor. E. Mandel to P. Anderson, 21 January 1966, E. Mandel Archives, folder 32. 103. Ibid. 104. University of Texas: Fidel Castro speech database. The conference took place 3-15 January 1966. Its official title was ‘First Afro-Äsian-.Latin American Peoples’ Solidarity Conference’, The Fourth International’s response appeared in Quatrième Internationale, February 1966. 105. Miguel to ‘Dear Friends’, 1 March 1966, E. Mandel Archives, folder 32. 106. E. Mandel to E. Federn, 1 July 1967, E. Mandel Archives, folder 37. 107. G. Mandel to K. Meschkat, 12 June 1967, cited in R. Debray, F. Castro, G. Mandel and K. Karol, Der lange Marsch: Wege der Revolution in Lateinamerika, Munich, 1968, pp. 257-61. 108. Ibid. 109. E. Mandel, ‘Cuba 1967 et la première conférence de l’OLAS’, La Gauche, 9 September 1967. 110. G. Scholtz to K. Meschkat, 29 June 1967, cited in R. Debray, F. Castro, G. Mandel and K. Karol, Der lange Marsch, pp. 261-9. 111. T. Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait, London, 1987, p. 497. 112. M. Kenner and J. Petras, eds, Fidel Castro Speaks, New York, 1969, pp. 14563. 113. E. Mandel to P. Refflinghaus, 17 July 1967, E. Mandel Archives, folder 38. 114. E. Mandel to G. Horst, 26 October 1967, E. Mandel Archives, folder 38. 115. ‘L’exemple de “Che” Guevara inspirera des millions de militants par le monde’, La Gauche, 21 October 1967. ‘ “Che” est mort’, La Gauche, 28 October 1967. 116.Le Monde, 27 October 1967. 117. D. Bensaid, Une Lente impatience, Paris, 2004, p. 75. 118 .Ibid., p. 76. Also: H. Hamon and P. Rotman, Génération, vol. 1: Les années de rêve, Paris, 1987, p. 384. 119. D. Bensaid, Une lente impatience, p. 76. 120. E. Guevara, ‘Vietnam and the World Struggle for Freedom’, op. cit., p. 159. 121. E. Guevara, ‘Notes on Man and Socialism in Cuba’, in Che Guevara Speaks, p. 136. J. Miermeister, Ernst Bloch, Rudi Dutschke, Hamburg, 1996, p. 144. 123. R. Debray, F. Castro, G. Mandel and K. Karol, Der lange Marsch. 124. Author’s interview with K. Meschkat, 10 September 2004.
By Kobo Abe
The Woman in the Sand
Loneliness is a Thirst that Illusion Cannot Satisfy
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Ely, the wife of the “Godfather of Havana” undertakes the odyssey of leaving Cuba with her family at the start of the 1980s. An almost complete spectrum of the psychology of Cubans who have decided to leave (or not) parades through her home: marriages to former political prisoners; the months during the Mariel boatlift; the discrimination and ignorance that accompanies her; the opportunism; the avarice; the betrayal; the selfishness; and, on top of all that, the implosive nature of familial love, offered friendship, solidarity, genuine apathy, spontaneity, and genuine human interaction. The best, the worst and the moderate aspects of Cuban idiosyncrasy overwhelm Ely’s life, and are reflected in her family, friends and acquaintances, who parade through a text that is constructed with every page. The story of the internal and external exile of these characters incites us to change the gestalt, to identify with the whole as well as its parts; it constitutes a swipe to those who emigrate, about the challenges and the price of existence regardless of circumstance, and how the fruits of that existence cannot calm the strange thirst that illusion is unable to quench, according to the preface written by Japanese author Kobo Abe at the beginning of this novel.
By Clifford D. Conner
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
When I learned that an edition of A People’s History of Science would be published in Cuba, it occurred to me that in no country in the world would readers be more likely to appreciate its central theme, which is that science is not and never has been the exclusive province of a few elite geniuses. President Castro himself made that point very succinctly in a National Science Day speech on January 15, 1992. In Cuba, he said, “there are hundreds of thousands of scientists. Even the individual that manufactures the small parts and looks for solutions is a scientist and an investigator of a sort.”
This book is a general survey of a very large subject, and does not pretend to be all-inclusive. One particular area to which it accorded insufficient attention was the science of the twentieth century, and especially the relationship of science to the great revolutionary events that occurred in Russia, China, and Cuba. I will try to at least partially remedy that deficiency now.
Throughout history, revolutions have tended to create positive conditions for the development of science by removing obstacles to innovative thought and practice. In the process of “turning the world upside down,” revolutions have typically eliminated censorship and broken the institutional power of entrenched intellectual elites that stifled science. Furthermore, by liberating subordinate social classes, revolutions have brought many more actors onto the stage of history. The resulting vast increase in the number of people able to play an active role in shaping their lives has enhanced all fields of human endeavor, including science.
Revolutions in the twentieth century have also encouraged the development of science in other ways. From Russia to Vietnam, science became a major governmental priority wherever revolutions guided by Marxist parties occurred. The socialist revolutions that replaced market-controlled economies with centrally planned economies have been able to marshal resources and focus attention on scientific goals to an unprecedented degree and with unprecedented results. “National liberation” revolutions in poorer countries have broken the chains of imperialist domination that had previously restricted them to the low-tech role of raw-materials suppliers. Being free to create their own modern industries naturally stimulated their interest in modern science and technology.
Science and the Russian Revolution
“The Bolsheviks who took over Russia in 1917,” Loren Graham writes in Science in Russia and the Soviet Union, “were enthusiastic about science and technology. Indeed, no group of governmental leaders in previous history ever placed science and technology in such a prominent place on their agenda.” The results proved to be momentous. “In a period of sixty years the Soviet Union made the transition from being a nation of minor significance in international science to being a great scientific center. By the 1960s Russian was a more important scientific language than French or German, a dramatic change from a half-century earlier.” The Soviet Union’s ascension to international scientific leadership was strikingly confirmed when it became the first country to launch an artificial satellite and to put an astronaut into orbit.
Lenin’s appreciation of the value of science-based technology is apparent in his famous definition of communism as “Soviet power plus the electrification of the entire country.” But despite Lenin’s desires and intentions, scientific development got off to a slow start in the early years of the Soviet Union. Efforts to promote research were severely hampered not only by the war-ravaged country’s shortage of material resources, but by a deficiency of scientific talent caused by the exodus of many scientists who were hostile to the revolution. Nor did it help that a large proportion of the scientifically and technically trained specialists who did not emigrate were unsympathetic to the Bolshevik regime. More than a decade after the 1917 revolution, fewer than two percent of the Soviet Union’s engineers—138 out of about 10,000—were Communist cadres.
Nonetheless, Lenin believed it would be counterproductive to try to forcibly impose the Bolshevik will on the recalcitrant scientists and engineers. Totalitarian control of scientific institutions was not his policy but Stalin’s. At the end of 1928 the Imperial Academy of Sciences, a Czarist institution, not only continued to exist but was still the most prestigious of scientific bodies, and not one of its academicians belonged to the Communist Party. It was not until the 1929–32 period, when Stalin was well on his way toward assuming complete command, that the Communist Party took over the Academy and reorganized it.
In the first years of the revolution, an ultra-radical current within the Communist movement demanded the “proletarianization” of science and the dismissal of the “bourgeois” experts. Lenin vigorously opposed this Proletkult movement, which he characterized as infantile and irresponsible. Lenin’s great authority was able to hold the Proletkult campaign at bay for a number of years, but after his death Stalin demagogically manipulated it for factional purposes. In the years 1928–31 he promoted a Cultural Revolution (later to be imitated by Mao Zedong in China) that once again counterposed “proletarian science” to “bourgeois science.” Purges of scientists and campaigns to ensure political conformity caused chaos and disruption within the scientific institutions. Scientific education was paralyzed as the works of Einstein, Mendel, Freud, and others were condemned as bourgeois science and banned from the universities.
Meanwhile, however, the relentless pressure of external threats to the Soviet Union allowed Stalin to rally support, consolidate his power, and impose a program of rapid industrialization and agricultural collectivization requiring significant input from the sciences. Compulsory centralized planning plus massive funding rapidly gave birth to “Big Science” in the Soviet Union. The result was the creation of a powerful, but distorted, science establishment.
The limitations Stalin’s policies imposed on free inquiry acted as a counterweight to the revolution’s great gift to Russian science, which was the ability of the centralized economy to marshal and organize resources. Although the Soviet Union rose close to the top of the science world—second only to the United States—in the final analysis, its record was disappointing. In spite of its success in accomplishing some very impressive large-scale technological feats—hydroelectric power plants, nuclear weapons, earth-orbiting satellites, and the like—the achievements of the Soviet science establishment, given its immense size, fell far short of what might have been expected of it.
The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused it to forfeit the strong position it had gained in international science. A 1998 assessment by the U.S. National Science Foundation reported that with regard to Russia and the other spinoffs of the former Soviet Union, science in those countries is on the edge of extinction, surviving only by means of charitable donations from abroad.
Science and the Chinese Revolution
Just as World War One gave rise to a Marxist-led revolution in Russia, so did World War Two facilitate the victory of a revolution in China under the aegis of a Communist Party. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed and the remnants of the Guomindang regime fled to Taiwan. The revolution brought to power a government that for the first time had the will and the ability to create institutions of Big Science, as had previously been done in the Soviet Union.
Soviet science provided more than simply a model for Mao Zedong’s regime. In the 1950s Soviet scientists and technicians participated heavily in the construction of science in the new China and they created it in their own image. However, there were strings attached—Stalin expected the Chinese to submit to Soviet control—and that led to problems.
Stalin had originally pledged full support to the effort to replicate Soviet Big Science in China, including the development of nuclear weapons. But there were sharp limits to the Kremlin’s spirit of proletarian solidarity. When the Mao regime began to show signs of resistance to Soviet control, Soviet leaders apparently had second thoughts about creating a nuclear power in a large country with which it had a long common border. They reneged on their promise to share nuclear technology, precipitating a deep and bitter Sino-Soviet split.
In June 1960, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev abruptly ordered the withdrawal of all aid from China. Thousands of Soviet scientists and engineers were called home immediately, taking their blueprints and expertise with them. It was a ruthless act of sabotage that dealt a crushing blow not only to Chinese science but to the country’s economic and industrial development as a whole.
Although set back several years, the goal of constructing a Soviet-style science establishment endured. The Soviet formula of heavily bureaucratized central planning plus massive funding produced similar mixed results in China. With very little foreign assistance, strategic nuclear weapons were developed and satellites were launched into space—both extremely impressive feats. Nonmilitary science and technology in Chinese industries and at the research institutes and universities, however, remained at a relatively primitive level.
In spite of the devastating blow caused by the Soviet Union’s withdrawal of support, China accomplished some remarkable achievements in nuclear and space technology—a testament to the power of the planned economy to mobilize and focus resources against all odds. The country tested its first atomic bomb in 1964 and its first hydrogen bomb in 1967, and launched its first satellite into Earth orbit in 1970—number one in a series of scores of space probes leading up to 2003, when China became only the third nation to independently send an astronaut into space. The science establishment, however, has remained highly bureaucratized and focused on military and big industrial projects at the expense of research aimed at improving the lives of the billion-plus people of China.
It is undeniable that the centralization and planning made possible by the 1949 revolution is at the root of China’s transformation from a negligible factor to a major player on the international science scene—perhaps even the primary future challenger to the United States’ dominance. Yet the mass of the Chinese population continues to endure a material standard of living far below that of the people of Europe, Japan and the United States. That an orientation more centered on human needs is possible has been demonstrated by a revolution that occurred in a much smaller country.
The people-oriented science of the Cuban Revolution
In the first week of 1959 revolutionary forces under the banner of the July 26th Movement entered Havana and established a new government. As events unfolded, the revolution’s leaders soon found themselves embroiled in conflict with the United States. They came to believe that economic sabotage by pro–United States industrialists operating within Cuba could only be prevented by nationalizing the Cuban economy and declaring a governmental monopoly of foreign trade. As United States–owned firms were nationalized, Cuba’s confrontation with its mighty neighbor deepened, and for protection the new regime entered into an alliance with the Soviet Union.
Once the revolution’s leaders were in command of a fully nationalized economy, they enjoyed the same advantages that had enabled their Soviet and Chinese counterparts to develop powerful science establishments. The situation in Cuba, however, was considerably different: The earlier revolutions had occurred in two of the world’s largest countries, but Cuba was a small island with a population of only about ten million people. Its scientific endeavors, therefore, were not channeled into a quixotic effort to compete directly with the United States in the field of military technology. Instead, Cuba would depend on diplomatic and political means for its national security—that is, on its alliance with the Soviet Union and on the moral authority its revolution had gained throughout Latin America and the rest of the world. That allowed its science establishment to direct its attention in other, less military-oriented, directions.
The USSR and China had both sought to build powerful, autonomous economies that could go head-to-head in competition with the world’s leading capitalist nations. With that in mind, they aimed their science efforts at facilitating the growth of basic heavy industry. The Cubans, by contrast, oriented their science program toward the solution of social problems. Scientific development, they decided, depended first of all on raising the educational level of the entire population. Before the revolution, almost 40 percent of the Cuban people were illiterate. In 1961 a major literacy campaign was launched that reportedly resulted in more than a million Cubans learning to read and write within a single year. Today the literacy rate is 97 percent and science education is a fundamental part of the national curriculum.
In addition to education, universal healthcare was assigned high priority, giving impetus to the development of the medical sciences. A harsh economic embargo imposed by the United States compelled the Cubans to find ways to produce their own medicines. They met the challenge and the upshot was that Cuba, despite its “developing world” economic status, now stands at the forefront of international biochemical and pharmacological research.
As evidence of the success of their medical programs, Cuban officials point to comparative statistics routinely used to quantify the well-being of nations, the most informative measures being average life expectancy and infant mortality. In both categories, Cuba has risen to rank among the wealthiest industrialized nations. Richard Levins, a professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, contends that “Cuba has the best healthcare in the developing world and is even ahead of the United States in some areas such as reducing infant mortality.” As for life expectancy, the CIA’s World Factbook statistics for 2006 report that the average lifespan in Cuba of 77.41 years earns it a rank of 55th out of 226 countries, while the United States’ average of 77.85 years puts it slightly higher, in 48th place.
Another key indicator of the quality of a nation’s healthcare system is the doctor-to-patient ratio. According to the World Health Organization’s statistics for 2006, out of 192 countries in the world, Cuba ranks first in that category: There is one doctor for every 170 people in Cuba, compared, for example, with one doctor per 390 in the United States, per 435 in the United Kingdom, per 238 in Italy, and per 297 in France. Most of the nations of the developing world have fewer than one doctor per 1,000 inhabitants.
The abundance of Cuban medical practitioners today is especially remarkable considering that in reaction to the nationalization of medical services in 1960 almost half of the island’s physicians emigrated to the United States, leaving only about 3,000 doctors and fewer than two dozen medical professors. In 1961 the revolutionary government addressed that problem by constructing medical teaching facilities. Today, according to the World Health Organization, thirteen medical schools are in operation in Cuba.
The doctor-to-patient ratio only tells part of the story, because Cuba’s medical schools in fact produce a large surplus of physicians—far more than can be put to productive use on the island itself. As a result, Cuba has actively exported its doctors to other parts of the world. The itinerant Cuban physicians do not “follow the money”—they go to parts of the developing world most in need of healthcare services. With the stated ambition of becoming a “world medical power,” Cuba offers more humanitarian medical aid to the rest of the world than does any other country, including the wealthy industrialized nations. The Cuban government has more doctors working throughout the world than does the World Health Organization.
A January 17, 2006, BBC News report stated: “Humanitarian missions in 68 countries are manned by 25,000 Cuban doctors, and medical teams have assisted victims of both the Tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake. In addition, last year 1,800 doctors from 47 developing countries graduated in Cuba. . . . Under a recent agreement, Cuba has sent 14,000 medics to provide free health care to people living in Venezuela’s barrios, or shantytowns, where many have never seen a doctor before.” In addition to the medical equipment, medicines, and the services of doctors it has provided throughout the developing world, Cuba has also helped to build and staff medical schools in Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, and Yemen.
Cuba’s healthcare successes have been closely linked to the pioneering advances its laboratories have produced in the medical sciences. In the 1980s a worldwide “biotechnological revolution” occurred, and Cuban research institutions took a leading role in it. Among the most noteworthy products of Cuban bioscience are vaccines for treating meningitis and hepatitis B, the popular cholesterol-reducer PPG (which is derived from sugarcane), monoclonal antibodies used to combat the rejection of transplanted organs, recombinant interferon products for use against viral infections, epidermal growth factor to promote tissue healing in burn victims, and recombinant streptokinase for treating heart attacks.
The Cuban biotech institutes focus their attention on deadly diseases that “Big Pharma” (the profit-motivated multinational drug corporations) tends to ignore because they mainly afflict poor people in the developing world. An important part of their mission is the creation of low-cost alternative drugs. In 2003 Cuban researchers announced the creation of the world’s first human vaccine containing a synthetic antigen (the “active ingredient” of a vaccine). It was a vaccine for treating Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b), a bacterial disease that causes meningitis and pneumonia in young children and kills more than 500,000 throughout the world every year. An effective vaccine against Hib already existed and had proven successful in industrialized nations, but its high cost sharply limited its availability in the less affluent parts of the world. The significantly cheaper synthetic vaccine has already been administered to more than a million children in Cuba and is currently being introduced into many other countries.
The Cuban example offers a particularly clear case study of how a revolution has contributed to the development of science. The Cuban revolution removed the greatest of all obstacles to scientific advance by freeing the island from economic subordination to the industrialized world. The wealthier countries’ ability to manufacture products at relatively low cost allows them to flood the markets of the nonindustrialized countries with cheaply produced machine-made goods, effectively preventing the latter from industrializing. The only way out of this dilemma for the poorer countries is to remove themselves from the worldwide economic system based on market exchange, where the rules are entirely stacked against them. The history of the twentieth century, however, suggests that any countries wanting to opt out of the system have had to fight their way out. The Cuban revolution was therefore a necessary precondition of the creation and flowering of Cuban science and its biotechnology industry.
The scientific achievements of the Cuban revolution testify that important, high-level scientific work can be performed without being driven by the profit motive. They also show that centralized planning does not necessarily have to follow the ultrabureaucratized model offered by the Soviet Union and China, wherein science primarily serves the interests of strengthening the state and only secondarily concerns itself with the needs of the people. Cuba’s accomplishments are all the more impressive for having been the product of a country with a relatively small economic base, and with the additional handicap of an economic embargo imposed by a powerful and hostile neighboring country.
The Cuban revolution has come closest to realizing the noble goal of a fully human-oriented science. Although Cuba’s small size limits its usefulness as a basis for universal conclusions, its accomplishments in the medical sciences certainly provide reason to believe that science on a world scale could be redirected from its present course as a facilitator of blind economic growth (which primarily serves the interests of small ruling groups that control their countries’ economies) and instead be devoted to improving the wellbeing of entire populations.
Conversations with Ignacio Ramonet, Third Edition (2006)
Below are a few selected excerpts from this 718 page book, published by the Cuban Council of State, of conversations between Cuba’s Commander-in-Chief, Fidel Castro, and Ignacio Ramonet, Editor of the French monthly, Le Monde Diplomatique. The conversations took place between 2003 and 2005. The book is dedicated to Alfredo Guevara and Ramonet’s sons, Tancrede and Axel. The book isn’t yet available in English. (July 2006)
These translations were prepared by CubaNews.
and edited by Walter Lippmann.
Chapter 10 (excerpts) and a few footnotes.
THE REVOLUTION’S FIRST STEPS AND FIRST PROBLEMS
A transition – Sectarianism – Public trials for torturers – The Revolution and the homosexuals – The Revolution and black people – The Revolution and women – The Revolution and machismo – The Revolution and the Catholic Church
In January, 1959 you did not change things overnight, but started a kind of transitional period instead, right?
We had already appointed a government. I had stated that I had no intentions to be President, a proof that I was not fighting for any personal interest. We looked for a candidate and chose a magistrate who had opposed Batista and had acquitted a number of revolutionaries.
Yes, it was Urrutia. He gained prestige. It was a pity that he was a little indecisive.
Didn’t you want to be President then?
No, I was not interested. What I wanted was the Revolution, the army, the struggle. Well, if elections had been held at a given time I could have applied as a candidate, but I was not into that. My interest was focused on the revolutionary laws and the implementation of the Moncada program.
So you led the whole war without any personal ambition to be President right afterward?
Absolutely, I can assure you that. Maybe there were other reasons in addition to my lack of interest, maybe there was a little bit of pride involved, something of that; but the truth is that I was not interested. Remember that I had been presumed dead long before then. I was fighting for a Revolution and had no interest in a high position. The satisfaction of fighting, success, victory, is a much bigger prize than any position, and I was fully conscious of my words when I said I didn’t want to be President. So we gave that task to Urrutia and really respected his attributions. Both he and the 26th of July Movement appointed the Cabinet, and some of that Movement’s leaders were middle class and rather right-wing, and some others were left-wing.
There are some around who have written their memoirs, and many of them stayed with the Revolution and have said wonderful things about how they thought, about their arguments with Che and Camilo.
Did Che mistrust some of those leaders?
Che was very mistrustful and wary of some people because he had seen what had happened with the strike in April, 1958 and believed some of the 26th of July Movement leaders had had a bourgeois education. Che was very much in favor of the agrarian reform and those people were talking about a quite moderate agrarian reform and about compensations and other things. We imposed the law on them. We had that kind of problems then.
Che was not really an accommodating person. There was also anti-communism, which was strong and had its own impact. In times of McCarthyism, there were poisonous campaigns here and prejudice was fostered in many ways. And some of our people of bourgeois origins were not only anti-communist but also sectarian.
Were they far left-wing?
No, they were communists from the PSP [Partido Socialista Popular, or People’s Socialist Party], because there had been a number of Stalin-like methods and doctrines, though not in the sense that there was any abuse, but there definitely was an urge to control more and more. In that Party there was this very capable man, Anibal Escalante, who all but took over the leadership position held by Blas Roca, its historical leader and a remarkable man of very humble extraction. He was from Manzanillo, had been a shoemaker, and fought very hard. The communists fought very hard.
Blas Roca had to travel abroad, and then Anibal Escalante took over as the top leader; I’m telling you, he was skilled, intelligent, and a good organizer, but when it came to controlling things, he was a Stalinist to the core. Control is the word we’ll use for everything. He came out with a policy: “let the petit bourgeois die and let’s take care of the communists”, for he wanted to put as few communists as possible at risk. And he was obsessed about screening. He had all the old habits of a stage in the history of communism when its members had been excluded, as in a ghetto, that’s the kind of mindset he had, and he screened everyone all the time. Those methods were applied to people who were otherwise very honest and self-sacrificing.
This Anibal Escalante created a very serious problem of sectarianism. Ah, but unity prevailed! There’s a reason: I think very few political leaders would turn a cold shoulder to those horrible things. Serious mistakes of sectarianism were made. But there was no vanity, only the Revolution, the need for unity and trust. I stood up for unity under very difficult circumstances, and I still do. Anibal was not a traitor.
The Communist International and its slogans led the communists to defend unpopular issues of the Soviet Union’s policies, like the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, the occupation of a part of Poland and the war against Finland. We already talked about that. The USSR applied a policy that set up the bases for all kinds of abuse and crime… They almost destroyed the Party. Mistakes were made in Cuba due to those slogans, or rather than mistakes they led to political lines for which the Party, with its doctrine and its militants who fought and still fight for the workers’ interests, had to pay a high price. But the time came when by virtue of those pacts the Soviet communists seemed to be linked with the Nazi regime… A high price was paid for all those things which were used as an excuse for anti-communism, but as I said they were the most trustable and dedicated people.
Besides, some governments today, like those of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and others, are introducing progressive measures. What do you think about what Lula is doing in Brazil, for instance?
I obviously sympathize very much with the things he’s doing. He doesn’t count on the majority in the Parliament and has been forced to lean on other forces, even conservative ones, to put forward some reforms. The media have given widespread coverage to a scandal of corruption in the Parliament, but have been unable to implicate Lula, who is a popular leader. I’ve known him for many years, we have followed his itinerary, and we have talked many times. He’s a man of convictions, an intelligent, patriotic and progressive person of humble extraction who never forgets his origins nor his people, who always supported him. And I think that’s how everyone sees Lula. Because it’s not about organizing a revolution but winning a battle: eliminating hunger. He can do it. It’s about eliminating illiteracy. He can do that too. And I think we must support him.
Commander, do you think the age of revolutions and armed struggle is over in Latin America?
Look, nobody can say for sure that revolutionary changes will take place in Latin America today. But nobody can say for sure either that such changes will happen in one or several countries. It seems to me that if you make an objective analysis of the economic and social situation in some countries, you can rest assured that there’s an explosive situation. See, the infant mortality rate in the region is 65 per every thousand births, while ours is less than 6.5; that is, ten times more children die in Latin America than in Cuba, as an average. Malnutrition reaches 49% of the Latin American population; illiteracy is still rampant; tens of millions are unemployed, and there’s also the problem of the abandoned children: 30 million of them. As the President of UNICEF told me one day, if Latin America had the medical care and health levels Cuba has, the lives of 700.000 children would be spared every year… The overall situation is terrible.
If an urgent solution to those problems is not found –and neither the FTAA nor neoliberal globalization are a solution– there could be more than one revolution in some Latin American country when the U.S. least expects it. And they won’t be able to accuse anyone of promoting those revolutions.
Do you regret, for instance, having approved the entrance of the Warsaw Pact’s tanks in Prague in August, 1968 that so much surprised those who admired the Cuban Revolution?
Look, I can tell you that in our opinion –and history has proved us right– Czechoslovakia was moving toward a situation of counterrevolution, toward capitalism and the arms of imperialism. And we were against all the liberal economic reforms taking place there and in other socialist countries. Those reforms tended to increasingly strengthen market relations within the socialist society: profits, benefits, lucrative deals, material motivation, all the things that encouraged individualism and selfishness. So we understood the unpleasant need of sending troops to Czechoslovakia and never condemned the socialist countries where that decision was made.
Now, at the same time we were saying that those socialist countries had to be consistent and commit themselves to adopt the same attitude if a socialist country was threatened elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, we thought the first thing they said in Czechoslovakia was undisputable: to improve socialism. The protests about ruling methods, bureaucratic policies, and divorcing the masses were unquestionably correct. But from just slogans they moved to a truly reactionary policy. And in bitterness and pain we had to approve that military intervention.
You never knew President Kennedy personally.
No. And I think Kennedy was a very enthusiastic, clever and charismatic man who tried to do positive things. After Franklin Roosevelt, his was perhaps one of the most brilliant personalities in the U.S. He made mistakes, as when he gave green light to the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, though it was not his operation, but Eisenhower’s and Nixon’s. He couldn’t prevent it on time. He also put up with the CIA’s activity; during his administration they designed the first plans to kill me and other international leaders. There’s no iron-clad evidence of his personal involvement, but it’s really hard to believe that someone from the CIA took the decision on his/her own of undertaking such actions without a prior acceptance by the President. Maybe he was tolerant or allowed some ambiguous words of his to be freely interpreted by the CIA.
However, despite the fact that it’s clear to me that Kennedy made mistakes –including some ethical ones– I think he was capable of rectifying and brave enough to make changes in U.S. policies. One of his mistakes was the Vietnam War. Thanks to his enthusiasm and obsessive sympathy for the “green berets” and his tendency to overestimate the power of the United States, he took the first steps to engage his country in the Vietnam War.
He made mistakes, I repeat, but he was an intelligent man, at times brilliant and brave, and I think –I have said this before– that if Kennedy had survived perhaps the relations between Cuba and the United States would have improved, since Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis had an impact on him. I don’t think he underestimate the Cuban people; maybe he even admired our people’s steadiness and courage.
Right on the day he was killed I was talking with a French journalist, Jean Daniel [director of Le Nouvel Observateur] who brought me a message from him saying he wanted to talk with me. So a communication was in the offing which could have perhaps helped improve our relations.
His death hurt me. He was an adversary, true, but I was very sorry that he died. It was as if I lacked something. I was hurt as well by the way they killed him, the attack, the political crime… I felt outrage, repudiation, pain, in this case for an adversary who seemed to deserve a different kind of fate.
His murder worried me too because he had enough authority in this country to impose an improvement of their relations with Cuba, as clearly demonstrated by the conversation I had with this French journalist, Jean Daniel, who was with me in the very moment when I heard the news about Kennedy’s death. pp.593-594
Do you think that under the Bush administration the United States could become an authoritarian regime?
Hardly two thirds of a century ago mankind knew the tragic experience of Nazism. Hitler had an inseparable ally –you know that– in the fear he could instill in his adversaries. By then the owner of an impressive military force, he started a war that set the world on fire. The lack of vision on the part of statesmen from the strongest European powers at the time, as well as their cowardice, gave rise to a big tragedy.
I don’t think a fascist-like regime could rise in the United States. Serious mistakes and injustices have been committed –and still exist– within its political system, but the American people count on certain institutions, traditions and educational, cultural and political values that it would be near to impossible. The risk exists at international level. The authorities and prerogatives granted to a U.S. president are such and the military, economic and technological power network of that state is so huge that, in fact, and for reasons totally beyond the American people’s control, the world is currently threatened.
One of the things the Revolution was criticized about in its first years is that it was said to display an aggressive, repressive attitude towards homosexuals, that there were camps where the homosexuals were locked away and repressed. What can you say about that?
In two words, you’re talking about a supposed persecution of homosexuals.
I have to tell you about the origins of that and where that criticism came from. I do assure you that homosexuals were neither persecuted nor sent to internment camps. But there are so many testimonies of that…
Let me tell you about the problems we had. In those first years we were forced to mobilize almost the whole nation because of the risks we were facing, which included that of an attack by the United States: the dirty war, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Missile Crisis… Many people were sent to prison then. And we established the Mandatory Military Service. We had three problems at that time: we needed people of a certain school level to serve in the Armed Forces, people capable of handling sophisticated technology, because you could not do it if you had only reached second, third or sixth grade; you needed at least seventh, eighth or ninth grade, and a higher level later on. We had some graduates, but also had to take some men out of the universities before graduation. You can’t deal with a surface-to-air rocket battery if you don’t have a University degree.
A degree in Sciences, I assume.
You know that very well. There were hundreds of thousands of men who had an impact on many branches, not only on the preparation programs, but economic branches as well. Yet some were unskilled, and the country needed them as a result of the brain-drain we enforced in production centers. That’s a problem we had then.
Second, there were some religious groups which, out of principles or doctrines, refused to honor the flag or accept using weapons of any kind, something some people eventually used as an excuse to criticize or be hostile.
Third, there was the issue of the homosexuals. At the time, the mere idea of having women in Military Service was unthinkable… Well, I found out there was a strong rejection of homosexuals, and at the triumph of the Revolution, the stage we are speaking of, the machista element was very much present, together with widespread opposition to having homosexuals in military units.
Because of those three factors, homosexuals were not drafted at first, but then all that became a sort of irritation factor, an argument some people used to lash out at homosexuals even more.
Taking those three categories into account we founded the so-called Military Units to Support Production (UMAP) where we sent people from the said three categories: those whose educational level was insufficient; those who refused to serve out of religious convictions; or homosexual males who were physically fit. Those were the facts; that’s what happened.
So they were not internment camps?
Those units were set up all throughout the country for purposes of work, mainly to assist agriculture. That is, the homosexuals were not the only ones affected, though many of them certainly were, not all of them, just those who were called to do mandatory service in the ranks, since it was an obligation and everyone was participating.
That’s why we had that situation, and it’s true they were not internment units, nor were they punishment units; on the contrary, it was about morale, to give them a chance to work and help the country in those difficult circumstances. Besides, there were many who for religious reasons had the chance to help their homeland in another way by serving not in combat units but in work units.
Of course, as time passed by those units were eliminated. I can’t tell you now how many years they lasted, maybe six or seven years, but I can tell you for sure that there was prejudice against homosexuals.
Do you think that prejudice stemmed from machismo?
It was a cultural thing, just as it happened with women. I can tell you that the Revolution never promoted that, quite the opposite; we had to work very hard to do away with racial prejudice here. Concerning women, there was strong prejudice, as strong as in the case of homosexuals. I’m not going to come up with excuses now, for I assume my share of the responsibility. I truly had other concepts regarding that issue. I had my own opinions, and I was rather opposed and would always be opposed to any kind of abuse or discrimination, because there was a great deal of prejudice in that society. Whole families suffered for it. The homosexuals were certainly discriminated against, more so in other countries, but it happened here too, and fortunately our people, who are far more cultured and learned now, have gradually left that prejudice behind.
I must also tell you that there were –and there are– extremely outstanding personalities in the fields of culture and literature, famous names this country takes pride in, who were and still are homosexual, however they have always enjoyed a great deal of consideration and respect in Cuba. So there’s no need to look at it as if it were a general feeling. There was less prejudice against homosexuals in the most cultured and educated sectors, but that prejudice was very strong in sectors of low educational level –the illiteracy rate was around 30% those years– and among the nearly-illiterate, and even among many professionals. That was a real fact in our society.
Do you think that prejudice against homosexuals has been effectively fought?
Discrimination against homosexuals has been largely overcome. Today the people have acquired a general, rounded culture. I’m not going to say there is no machismo, but now it’s not anywhere near the way it was back then, when that culture was so strong. With the passage of years and the growth of consciousness about all of this, we have gradually overcome problems and such prejudices have declined. But believe me, it was not easy. pp.222-225
4. In 1921, when the civil war ended, the Soviet Union was in ruins and its population in the grip of starvation. Lenin then decided to give up war communism and launched the New Economic Policy (NEP), a partial return to capitalism and a mixed economy, and gave priority to agriculture. The outcome was a positive one. Lenin died in 1924 and in 1928 Stalin suddenly abandoned the NEP and moved on to an entirely socialist economy, giving priority to industry in order to “construct socialism in only one country”.
5. An important theoretical discussion took place in 1963-1964 about the Cuban Revolution’s economic organization where the advocates of Economic Calculation (EC) and those of the Funding Budgetary System (FBS) opposed each other. The former, headed by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, Alberto Mora, Marcelo Fernandez Font and the French Marxist economist Charles Bettelheim supported and defended a political project of mercantile socialism based on enterprises managed in a decentralized manner and financially independent which would compete with their respective goods and exchange money for them in the market. Material incentives would prevail in each enterprise. Planning, according to EC supporters, operates through values and markets. Such was the main road chosen and promoted by the Soviets in those years.
The latter were headed by Che Guevara and included, among others, Luis Alvarez Rom and Belgian economist Ernest Mandel, leader of the Fourth International, all of whom questioned the socialism-market matrimony. They stood for a political project where planning and market are opposing terms. Che thought that planning was much more than a mere technical asset to manage the economy. It was a way to extend the scope of human rationality while gradually decreasing the quotas of fetishism upon which faith on “economic law independence” found support.
Those who like Che preferred the Budgetary System favored the bank-based unification of all production units with a single, centralized budget, all seen as part of a great socialist enterprise (made up of each individual production unit). No purchasing-and-selling activity based upon money and marketing would take place between any two factories of a same consolidated enterprise, only exchange through a bank account registration. The goods would go from one production unit to another without ever being merchandise. Che and his followers pushed for and fostered voluntary work and moral incentive as the privileged –albeit not the only– tools to raise the workers’ socialist conscience. pp.648-649
THE SOCIALIST IMPERATIVE; FROM GOTHA TO NOW (2015)
by Michael A. Lebowitz [excerpts] Monthly Review Press (2015)
Socialism: The Goal, the Paths, and the Compass
At the February 2010 Havana Book Fair, I presented my short book, El Socialismo no Cae del Cielo: Un Neuvo Comienzo, which had been published in 2009 by Ciencias Sociales (Cuba) and earlier in 2007 by Monte Avila (Venezuela). The book contained sections from Build It Now; Socialism for the 21st Century (in particular, “Socialism doesn’t fall from the sky,” well-known in Venezuela because of Chcivez’s many references to it on television and available in several free editions), and this was supplemented for Monte Avila with a new beginning, “New Wings for Socialism” from Monthly Review (April 2007). The talk provided an opportunity to introduce Cubans explicitly to the concept of “the elementary triangle of socialism,” the goal developed in “New Wings” but not named in the new book. It also was an occasion to talk about difficulties and obstacles along the path to the goal—obstacles such as those faced by Cuba then and now. Without mentioning Cuba at all, I spoke about what I had observed in Vietnam a few months earlier, and I am certain that the Cubans present understood my cautionary tale. Discovering a new path without getting lost is always challenging, and I hope that the publication by Ciencias Sociales in 2015 of the Socialists Alternative. Real Human Development, in which the argument of the socialists triangle is fully developed, will be useful.
A more recent example of the concept of democracy as consultative participation was cthe extensive discussion in Cuba over the “lineamientos,” the guidelines for the party that were circulated by the party. These were the guidelines that have set Cuba on its current path to “update” the model. Everyone was mobilized for discussions—in workplaces, neighborhoods, everywhere. The party coordinated these discussions in each separate location, and, on the basis of reports, made adjustments. For example, the great concern expressed in many meetings about the phasing out of the libreta (the set of subsidized necessities) and the release of large numbers of people from state employment led to a slowing down (although, it must be noted, not the reversal) of these decisions.
Subsequently in Cuba there were discussions of a new labor code. Here again there was extensive discussion of the document initiated by the party. As in the case of the discussions of the guidelines, this participation plays an important role in transmitting concerns from below, while at the same time educating those below as to the proposal. However, these discussions are constrained. For example, in the case of the labor code, there was no place for a general discussion of worker management. Further, there was no means for communicating from one workplace to another; rather, collective atomization characterized the process.
All of this is logical from the perspective of the conductor: he is the one who knows the score. He alone knows the whole and, therefore, activity outside this framework is to be discouraged. Further, the logic of the conductor is such that there can be only one conductor; it is, after all, essential that there be unity at the top because in its absence this would confuse the players.
There is absolutely no doubt that extensive discussions, for example, in Cuba, distinguish that society from many others. However, participation in this case is not the same as the opportunity to develop capacities through protagonistic democracy. What kinds of people are produced in this relation? Not what Marx called rich human beings. Not people who have transformed themselves through their activity and are confident in their own powers. As the Soviet Union, China, and other countries characteristic of the “real socialism” of the twentieth century demonstrated, such relations do not build the protagonistic subjects who have the strength to prevent the restoration of capitalism. The people produced within this relation are people without power.
Monthly Review Press