James Petras: Defending the Cuban Revolution

By James Petras
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Revolutions and the Cuban is no exception, advance in a contradictory process: in the course of solving basic immediate problems they confront new challenges. There are revolutionary writers who recognize this dialectical process and the need to critically support the revolution. On the other hand there are publicists who arrogate to themselves the role of unconditional apologists for every shift in policy of the official spokesperson, parroting the argument of the day.

In their recent essay “Cuba: Continuing Revolution and Contemporary Contradictions” (Rebellion), James Petras and Robin Abaya describe the historic accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution in great detail — its socio-economic advances, successes in resisting US imperialist aggression, its capacity to sustain basic popular programs despite the collapse of its principle trading partners and its recent economic recovery and growth. In this context of outlining the world-historic accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution, Petras-Abaya highlight the emergence of contradictions which could erode the popular bases of the revolution: the massive housing deficit, low wages/salaries of workers, transport shortages, widespread theft of public property, low productivity and overdependence on tourism, raw material exports and food imports (particularly from the US). Most of those problems are acknowledged by some of the leaders of the revolution. The causes can be traced to the lack of popular control over investment policy, resulting in over-development of export-services and lack of investment in public housing, transportation and agriculture.

Petras and Abaya point to the need to reflect and re-think big capital intensive investments in hotels and bio-tech in light of rising popular demands and discontent with the chronic lack of basic items of private consumption. They conclude that fighting widespread corruption and securing greater transparency in public budgets and personal income of authorities engaged in joint ventures can be achieved through public televised hearings convoked by elected independent commissions of workers, farmers, professionals and certified independent accountants. Their article reflects several decades of support for the Cuban Revolution (even at times at a personal cost) and a deep affection for its revolutionary people. Their belief is that genuine defenders of the revolution offer constructive criticism in order to advance the process against its external and internal enemies.

Based on observations and careful studies of the erosion of socialism in the USSR and China, we find that when the workers and farmers are not consulted in the planning of investments and priorities, support for socialism declines and neo-liberalism grows. By pointing out Cuba’s contradictions, our desire is for the revolution to avoid the catastrophic consequences of similar contradictions in former socialist regimes.

The article has served one of its main purposes in that it has stimulated widespread debate inside and outside of Cuba, among intellectuals and political activists. In particular, in Cuba, Raul Castro has encouraged wide-ranging critical debate, the formation of commissions to examine basic policies and to encourage the formulation of new socio-economic strategies. Petras-Abayas’ paper was written in the spirit of joining in this fraternal debate.

Fidel Castro and Pablo Gonzales Casanova

Two well known writers of great fame and recognition however failed to capture the fraternal spirit and to recognize the abiding solidarity of the Petras-Abaya essay. Fidel Castro accused the writers of ‘poisoning’ the intellectual discussion, of supporting neo-liberalism and other such ‘thought crimes’. He accused the writers of “pretending to be friends of the revolution” while intending to slander it. According to this logic (parroted and amplified by Gonzales Casanova) the revolution is always advancing in a linear fashion, ever forward and without contradiction, backed by a people capable of endless sacrifice of their basic needs. According to this argument, to deny this linearity and to document contradictions and internal challenges is to play into the hands of counter-revolution.

There are several serious problems with Fidel’s harsh polemic. First and foremost his denunciation of Petras-Abaya as “super-revolutionaries”, “neo-liberals” and “venomous” can be taken as a threat to anyone engaged in the profound debate taking place in Cuba today. Tens of thousands of Cubans are taking advantage of Raul’s new opening to engage in constructive criticism, some of which goes much farther than Petras and Abaya. Secondly Fidel’s argument of infinite support for the revolution reflects a degree of voluntarism that does not correspond with the reality: The great mass of Cuban’s are tired of waiting, married couples on lists for decades for a decent apartment and salary increases, waiting till the end of the month for the next paycheck in order to buy decent quality food on the free market and for hours for crowded public transport. In real life there are limits in waiting for basic improvements, even among the most revolutionary of people.

The inadequacy of Fidel and Gonzales-Casanovas’ political polemics is most in evidence in their use of personal invective: The emptier the argument, the harsher the ad hominem attacks.

Pablo Gonzalez Casanova’s essay is a case in point. Instead of facing Petras-Abaya empirical documentation, he resorts to the most bizarre insults by calling Petras a ‘pervert’ and his writing a ‘perversion’. His omission of the name of the co-author, Robin Abaya, suggests blatant sexism. Instead of providing evidence to refute Petras-Abaya critical observations on the housing, income policy, productivity problems — he rambles on about our supposedly perverse behavior in daring to raise criticism of the all wise all knowing Cuban leaders. Gonzales Casanova has learned nothing from Cuban reality nor has he set aside his Brezhnev-era apologetics for existing socialist argumentation. It is not a coincidence that Gonzalez Casanova echoes Fidel’s polemics; he repeats his invective to caricature and displays virtually no independent thinking. He writes like a soldier of the Leader, right or wrong, but not of the revolution. For a politicologo with claims to being a ‘rigorous social scientist’, Gonzales Casanova has never gone into the Cuban streets, talked to couples waiting for 10 years for an apartment or waited with hundreds of commuters for a crowded late bus in 40 degrees centigrade three hundred days a year. That kind of data is difficult to obtain at VIP receptions in Havana honoring distinguished foreign academics.

To cover up his dogmatic and opportunistic defense of an uncritical vision and his servile disservice to the Cuban people’s demands for far-reaching reforms, Gonzales Casanova claims inspiration from the ‘social movements’ and new leftist currents in Latin America. While Gonzales Casanova praises ‘social movements’ from his academic tower, his declared ‘pervert’, Petras has been working on the ground with these movements for decades: In Brazil with the MST since 1991 and with CONLUTA since 2004, in Argentina with the unemployed workers since 2002, in Ecuador with the petroleum workers union since 2002 (and today with the social movements in the Polo Democratico), in Mexico with the electrical workers union since many years, with Chavez and the Chavistas since 2001. And Petras has defended the Cuban revolution since 1959, when Dr. Gonzales Casanova was still a supporter of the PRI.

There are many other movements and other regions and countries where Gonzales Casanova’s favorite ‘pervert’ has worked with movements in struggle: Spain, Catalunya-Basque-Andaluc

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