Cuban Socialism Must Adapt to Era

By Mark Fried. Mark Fried is editor of Report on the Americas, published since 1967 the North American Congress on Latin America. | The Christian Science Monitor, October 4, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Cuban Socialism Must Adapt to Era


Mark Fried. Mark Fried is editor of Report on the Americas, published since 1967 the North American Congress on Latin America., The Christian Science Monitor


THE cutoff of Soviet assistance to Cuba marks the end of an era. The Cuban revolution may find a way to carry forth, but more privation is inevitable, and Cuba's people are unlikely to suffer stoically for a goal that seems ever more elusive. It is a sobering moment for the Left, both here and in Latin America, which has looked steadily to Cuba for inspiration and found it, but has rarely evaluated the experience in all its complexity.

Cuba's many successes and failures in building a just society reflect the limits and opportunities of the cold war: on one side the unrelenting hostility of the United States toward the Castro regime, and, on the other, the ability to play one superpower off against the other. But they also reflect the conceptions that have guided the Latin American Left since it emerged as an organized force in the 1920s. These notions, epitomized by official Cuban rhetoric and still dominant in Left thinking, may once have fit the world; they no longer do.

It now seems evident that socialism cannot be built without democracy. State power provides an important means for transforming society, but without increasing grass-roots participation, over the long term defending state power becomes an end in itself, the primary end, and building socialism the means to achieve it. This "socialism" then becomes more form than content, less able to transform the values by which people live. The Cuban government is not as distanced from its people as was the Soviet regime. But to the degree that political and economic decisionmaking is removed from the people - and it clearly is - socialist forms fail to change capitalist values and only reinforce the state's vain urge to repress them.

Revolution can't make a clean break with capitalism by nationalizing property and decreeing that the economy function by a socialist law of value. The dominance of the world economy has not allowed Cuba (or the USSR) to escape the tyranny of the bottom line. Profit, even though it be public, continues to make or break the economy. And the logic of capitalism can't be kept from permeating society.

When socialists are in the government, they have to govern the economy by the rules of capitalism. To change these, the Left has to be an independent democratic grass-roots movement at the same time. If not, to one degree or another, it becomes the administrator of an order that it cannot change and in the end accepts.

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