Thursday, January 22, 2015

BECOMING A LEFTIST: LEARNING FROM THE LIFE AND WORK OF MIKE GOLD



Harry R. Targ

Mike Gold, was a literary critic, novelist, playwright, journalist, who learned his politics in the era of the construction of various radical movements-anarchist, socialist, syndicalist, and communist. His lifelong activism was shaped growing up in impoverished tenements in the Jewish sector of the Lower East Side in New York City. In his twenties he became a member of the Communist Party USA and served as editor of the New Masses and a columnist in the Daily Worker. During this period he developed and articulated a critical stance and an analysis of the relationship between politics and art. He is credited with initiating an artistic genre he called "proletarian literature."

Gold was born as Itzok Granich in 1893 in New York City. He attended school until the eighth grade, took one year of journalism courses at New York University and spent one year as a special student at Harvard University in 1914. He published in the political magazine edited by Floyd Dell and Max Eastman, The Masses, and in the newspaper, The New York Call between 1914 and 1920. Also he wrote three one-act plays that were performed by the Provincetown Players in 1916, 1917, and 1920.

He spent time in Mexico during World War One to avoid the draft and upon return and in the atmosphere of the Red Scare of the early 1920s changed his name to Mike Gold. In 1920 he became the editor of The Liberator after The Masses was closed down by the government. In 1926 he became editor of the successor of The Liberator, The New Masses (in the literary orbit of the Communist Party) which he edited for twenty years. In 1933 be began writing a column for the Daily Worker, the Communist Party newspaper, and continued to contribute to it until his death in 1967. Perhaps, most significant in Mike Gold's left literary career was the publication of his partially fictionalized account of growing up in the poverty of the Jewish tenements at the dawn of the twentieth century, Jews Without Money.

Michael Folsom, editor of one of three anthologies of Gold’s essays and columns, wrote that Gold was a man who

"....spent his literary life, as a Communist and a revolutionary, working to build socialism in America. There were lots of people who did that, once upon a time. But Gold stuck it out. He died a little tired after the ravages of the McCarthy period, and a little cynical after many a disappointment, like the truth about Stalin, the ‘Moscow trials,’ the defection of so many old comrades. But he died still holding to the dream of his youth."[1]

On Proletarian Literature

When political partisans and analysts alike reflect on the Marxian idea of "class struggle," they work from mental images of militant contestation on the factory floor, or at the factory gates, or they construct images of armed workers storming the seats of political power. Most anti-Marxists read Marx in a reductionist way claiming that he and his followers were "economic determinists." They claim that Marx believed that ideas did not matter.  However, a careful reading of Marx clearly demonstrates that ideas were terribly important for understanding and changing the world. Marxists have argued that oppressed people have to reflect self-critically about their economic and political circumstance; they must know their history as a people, and they must develop the capacity to create images of their future, as well as their past, and present.
           
But as fashioning a commodity takes the right tools, fashioning consciousness takes the right intellectual tools. Gold believed that the great political battles in the United States before World War One and World War Two had to be fought over culture as well as who controls the factories and the state. While the products of culture flowed from the apex of economic, political, and theological institutions, they also were generated by people at the base of economic and political structures as well. Class struggle for Communists like Mike Gold involved the development and dissemination of a workers’ culture. Class struggle was just as much about what constitutes good art as good economic practice.

So Mike Gold spent a career in class struggle and in contestation about what was "good art." In 1921 Mike Gold published an essay in The Liberator called "Towards Proletarian Art." In 1930, Gold published a series of remarks in The New Masses elaborating on the themes of the earlier article. Folsom complied them as an article entitled "Proletarian Realism."

In the 1921 essay, Gold presents a world in turmoil, one in which the demise of capitalism seemed imminent. While this prediction in retrospect was wrong, Gold identified how pervasive the resistance to change was. "We have been bred in the old capitalist planet, and its stuff is in our very bones. Its ideals, mutilated and poor, were yet the precious stays of our lives. Its art, its science, its philosophy and metaphysics are deeper in us than logic or will....We cling to the old culture, and fight for it against ourselves." [2] Then, Gold offered a project for the artist, to produce works that help people see the possibilities of the new in the bedrock of the old. And he said that the old includes vivid renditions of the reality of human existence not some abstractions about "human nature," "good and evil," "the nature of beauty and love" or other images so common to artistic creation.

For Gold, himself, it was most significant that "I was born in a tenement....It was in a tenement that I first heard the sad music of humanity rise to the stars...There, in suffering youth, I feverishly sought God and found Man....I saw him, not as he has been pictured by the elder poets, groveling or sinful or romantic or falsely god-like, but one sunk in a welter of humble, realistic cares; responsible, instinctive, long-suffering and loyal; sad and beaten yet reaching out beautifully and irresistibly like a natural force for the mystic food and freedom that are Man's."

Gold claimed that all he knew came from the tenements. He saw the compassion of mothers and fathers for their young, the courage of the sick factory worker, the children finding pleasure in the playing of fanciful games in the dark tenement hallways. Gold wrote: "The tenement is in my blood. When I think it is the tenement thinking. When I hope it is the tenement hoping. I am not an individual; I am all that the tenement group poured into me during those early years of my spiritual travail."[3]

 Gold argued that artists born in tenements should not have to apologize for it or go beyond the experience and indeed should not forget it. For what is art but "...the tenement pouring out its soul through us, its most sensitive and articulate sons and daughters." Because life for us, he said, "...has been the tenement that bore and molded us through years of meaningful pain."[4]

He contended that the artist had assumed the egoistic, solitary, and even competitive individual stance that comports with capitalism. As individual artist, she or he, combated with God, then Reason, then logic, so that now he wrote, "they have turned to the life of the moods... Most critically intellectuals have become contemptuous of the people...The people live, love, work, fight, pray, laugh; they accept all, they accept themselves, and the immortal urgings of Life within them. They know bread is necessary to them: they know love and hate. What do the intellectuals know?"[5] For Gold, the artist must root herself/himself in the life of the people.

Central to social ferment, is human solidarity. "Man turns bitter as a competitive animal…From the solidarity learned in the family group, they have learned the solidarity of the universe, and have created creeds that fill every device of the universe with the family love and trust."

The revolutionary project for Gold was the creation of the unity of humans. Its secular manifestation might be in strikes, revolutionary agitation and many other forms of particular struggle. But its ultimate goal was human oneness. And what was the place of the artist in the drama, he asked? "If he records the humblest moment of that drama in poem, story or picture or symphony, he is realizing Life more profoundly than if he had concerned himself with some transient personal mood."[6]

After offering Walt Whitman as an example of a proletarian artist, Gold ended his essay by criticizing writers whose audience is the "leisured class" and whose vehicle is the little magazine.

No Gold says; "It is not in that hot-house air that the lusty great tree             will grow. Its roots must be in the fields, factories and workshops of America-in the American life. When there is singing and music rising in every American street, when in        every American factory there is a drama group of the workers,            when mechanics paint in their leisure, and farmers write sonnets, the greater art will grow and only then. Only a creative nation understands creation. Only an artist understands art. The method must be the revolutionary method-from the deepest depths upward."[7]

Folsom assembled a variety of Gold's 1930 musings about "Proletarian Realism" which the editor viewed as a continuation of the arguments presented in the 1921 essay. First, culture did not emerge in a social vacuum; indeed culture was a social product. Intellectuals would acknowledge the existence of "nationalist cultures" but never a working class culture. Despite the protestations of bourgeois intellectuals, proletarian art was spreading all across the face of the globe.

About the method of writing proletarian fiction Gold counseled writers to describe what workers do “with technical precision. “Deal with the real conflicts and dramas of workers lives, not the isolated dilemmas of artists and other intellectuals. Only write fiction that makes a point. Use as few words as possible. Have the courage to draw upon your personal experience and background. Develop plots that are clear, direct, and fast moving or use ‘cinema in words.’ Do not just portray the drabness and sordidness in workers lives but portray the hope in such lives as well. Write about humans in all their complexity, framed neither by superficial notions of human evil or good. Finally, draw upon the drama of life without inventing ‘supreme melodrama.’"[8]

(This is the first of three essays on Mike Gold to appear in Diary of a Heartland Radical.)


    [1]Michael Folsom ed., Mike Gold: A Literary Anthology, International Publishers, 1972, 7-8.

    2.Folsom, 62
    [3]Folsom, 64-5.
    [4]Folsom 65.
    [5]Folsom, 66.
    [6]Folsom,67
    [7]Folsom, 70.
    [8]Folsom, 203-208.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Rag Blog (reposted)

21 January 2013

Harry Targ : Dr. King and the Civil Rights-Labor Alliance

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy lead a march by sanitation workers in Memphis, March 28, 1968. Photo by Sam Melhorn / AP.


Martin Luther King and the
civil rights and labor alliance
King knew that black and white workers' struggles for economic justice were indivisible; that civil rights could not be realized in a society where great differences in wealth and income existed...
By Harry R Targ / The Rag Blog / January 21, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King arrived in Memphis on March 18, 1968 to support the sanitation workers of that city who had been on strike for five weeks. These workers had many grievances that forced them to protest.

Garbage workers had no access to bathroom or shower facilities. They were not issued any protective clothing for their job. There were no eating areas separate from garbage. Also sanitation workers had no pension or retirement program and no entitlement to workers compensation. Their wages were very low.

Shortly before the strike began two workers died on the job and the families of the deceased received only $500 in compensation from the city. Finally, after Black workers were sent home for the day because of bad weather and received only two hours pay they walked off the job.

On March 28, 10 days after King arrived, violence disrupted a march led by him. He left the city but returned on April 4 to lead a second march. On that fateful April day, King told Jerry Wurf, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees or AFSCME: "What is going on here in Memphis is important to every poor working man, black or white, in the South." That evening Martin Luther King was killed by a sniper's bullet.

It was logical for King to be in Memphis to support garbage workers. Despite a sometimes rocky relationship between the civil rights and labor movements, King knew that black and white workers' struggles for economic justice were indivisible; that civil rights could not be realized in a society where great differences in wealth and income existed, and where life expectancies, educational opportunities, and the quality of jobs varied by class, by race, and by gender.

The more progressive and far-sighted leaders and rank-and-file union members in the AFL-CIO knew it too. At the time of King's death working people were coming together to struggle for positive social change around the banner of the Poor People's Campaign.

Dr. King's thinking on the need for an alliance between the civil rights and labor movements was expressed many times. As far back as 1957 at a convention of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) he asserted that "organized labor can be one of the most powerful instruments in putting an end to discrimination and segregation."

During an organizing effort of the Hospital Workers Local 1199 in the fall of 1964, King was a featured speaker at a fundraising rally. He said of the 1199 struggle,
Your great organizing crusade to win union and human rights for New Jersey hospital workers is part and parcel of the struggle we are conducting in the Deep South. I want to congratulate your union for charting a road for all labor to follow-dedication to the cause of the underpaid and exploited workers in our nation.
Shortly after, Dr. King left a picket line of Newark hospital workers on strike to fly to Oslo, Norway, to receive the Nobel Prize.

Upon his return from Norway, King returned to the picket line; this time in support of Black women workers of the Chemical Workers union at the Scripto Pen Plant in Atlanta. He said there: "Along with the struggle to desegregate, we must engage in the struggle for better jobs. The same system that exploits the Negro exploits the poor white..."

At the Negro American Labor Council convention of June, 1965, King called for a new movement to achieve "a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God's children." In February, 1966, King spoke to Chicago labor leaders during his crusade for the end to racism and poverty in that city. He called on the labor movement which had provided techniques and methods, and financial support crucial to civil rights victories to join in the war on poverty and slums in Chicago.

Such an effort in Chicago, he said, would show that a Black and labor alliance could be of relevance to solving nationwide problems of unemployment, poverty, and automation.

One year before his death, King spoke at another meeting of Hospital Workers 1199. He said a closer alliance was needed between labor and civil rights activists to achieve the "more difficult" task of economic equality. The civil rights movement and its allies were moving into a new phase to achieve economic justice, he announced. This would be a more formidable struggle since it was in his words "much more difficult to eradicate a slum than it is to integrate a bus."

In early 1968, Dr. King incorporated his opposition to the Vietnam War with his commitment to economic justice. He called for an end to the War and the utilization of societal resources to eliminate poverty. To those ends the Poor People's Campaign was launched. It demanded jobs, a guaranteed annual income for those who could not find work, the construction of 6 million new homes, support for employment in rural areas, new schools to train jobless youth for skilled work, and other measures to end poverty.

While preparing the Poor People's Campaign, King got a call to go to Memphis. Before leaving he sent a message to be read at the seventh annual convention of the Negro American Labor Council. He wrote that the Council represented "the embodiment of two great traditions in our nation's history: the best tradition of the organized labor movement and the finest tradition of the Negro Freedom Movement." He urged a black-labor alliance to unite the Black masses and organized labor in a campaign to help solve the "deteriorating economic and social conditions of the Negro community... heavily burdened with both unemployment and underemployment, flagrant job discrimination, and the injustice of unequal education opportunity."

Forty years later the social and economic injustices of which Dr. King spoke continue. But so does his vision of a working class movement united in struggle to survive, a movement of Blacks, whites, and Latinos, men and women, young and old, and organized and unorganized workers.

The times have changed but the importance of Dr King's political vision remains.

A version of this article was first published on January 13, 2009, at Diary of a Heartland Radical.

 [Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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Friday, January 2, 2015

OLD IDEAS STILL HEGEMONIC AS WE GREET THE NEW YEAR



Harry Targ

Karl Marx in The German Ideology argued in the 1840s that the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas. Almost one hundred years later theorists from the Frankfort School elaborated on Marx’s idea by developing the theory of the “cultural apparatus.” German sociologist Max Horkheimer wrote:

One function of the entire cultural apparatus at any given period has been to internalize in men [and women] of subordinate position the idea of a necessary domination of some men over others, as determined by the course of history down to the present time. As a result and as a continually renewed condition of this cultural apparatus, the belief in authority is one of the driving forces, sometimes, productive, sometimes obstructive, of human history (quoted in John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, “The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital,” Monthly Review, July/August, 2013).

Ideas do not spring from the air nor do they arrive untarnished by social reality from Gods and religion. No, as suggested by Marx, Horkheimer, Foster, McChesney, and other theorists, ideas are weapons in the continuous struggle for economic and political domination. Herbert Marcuse added that the “necessary domination” over people comes from pleasure and enticements in addition to threats of force. If the image of pleasure does not mollify the people, then threats  of impending pain can be transmitted from parts of the “cultural apparatus” (education systems, mass media, the internet, patterns of child rearing, religious institutions), thus legitimizing the application of force.

As we prepare for a new year with hope for positive social change, it is worth reflecting on three central concepts communicated through and justified by the “cultural apparatus:” markets, police, and the war system.  Markets offer the image of growing pleasure. Economists and politicians reiterate over and over again that economic development and political stability require the free flow of markets-- buyers and sellers, investors and speculators, workers and bosses, and the commodification of everything. The idea of markets permeates political discussion and is presented to publics as intimately connected to democracy, freedom, and cultural advance. Markets may serve as one mechanism among many to distribute goods and services but are not, as the ideologues suggest, the fundamental way of organizing society. But we hear over and over the promise that markets will bring to all humanity. And market fundamentalists add that government programs, visions of the public good, and community constitute a threat to markets and ultimately human betterment. On television, the internet, in schools, and everywhere in the cultural apparatus people are encouraged to consume, enjoy, think primarily of themselves, and remain obedient to the ongoing order. 

According to the cultural apparatus not all people, because of their own shortcomings, will be beneficiaries of the pleasures of the market. Consequently societies require the construction of police forces to maintain order. In societies where the threat of violence exists, police are necessary to protect the citizenry from the violent, the crazed, and the hateful who see race or exploitation behind their misery. The cultural apparatus communicates images of violence and mayhem in society such that people are convinced that police and prisons are the only institutions that save us from a brutal “state of nature,” based on killing, rape, and robbery. General sentiment, reinforced by the criminal justice system, suggests that for majorities of the US population police should be free to act as they choose. 

Finally, politicians, pundits, security analysts, and many scholars point out that human nature is flawed and as a result there will always be wars. During the brief periods when the United States is not actively engaged in war, policy makers ruminate on how the United States must be prepared for the “next” war. Visions of a peaceful world are beyond the scope of the economic and political system because there are aggressive, greedy, and crazed nations and terrorists in the larger world.

In sum, markets, the police, and the war system constitute key concepts embedded in the cultural apparatus and are central to the interests of the ruling class. The formulation of these key concepts is left purposefully vague here as is the description of the cultural apparatus because every aware participant in the political process can fill in detailed examples. Whether one “consumes” film, videos, computer games, music, television, or print media, examples of the messages about the legitimacy of markets, police, and the war system are readily available. The same self-reflection can be made about the level of centralized control of the cultural institutions that shape peoples’ consciousness.

Therefore, while global corporations, banks, police forces, and militaries constitute material sources of power and control, they are maintained also by core ideas about markets, police, and the war system. In short, ideas matter. Transforming society therefore is about changing ideas and who distributes them as well as the economic and military institutions themselves.  



















Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Reposted Essay for the Season

Harry Targ : Season for Hope, Season for Struggle


‘I swear it’s not too late’
Turn! Turn! Turn!
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn (chorus)
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
(repeat chorus)

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
(repeat chorus)

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
(repeat chorus)

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

(Words from Ecclesiastes; text adapted and music by Pete Seeger)
We received a wonderful Chanukah present the other day, a children’s book called Turn! Turn! Turn! It is an illustrated adaptation by designer Wendy Anderson Halperin, of words from the Old Testament and music by Pete Seeger.

This present rekindled for me emotions, as I am sure it does for others, as I remembered things past; youth, family, naïve images of peace and tranquility. There is poignancy for us now too as we move towards the holidays at the same time that we struggle over the range of issues that will shape the destiny of humankind: peace, saving the environment, jobs, and health care reform.

This season progressives are debating whether we have been betrayed by Barack Obama; who is the biggest scoundrel — Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe; how to revitalize the peace movement; and whether to finally break with the Democrats.

But then “Turn, Turn, Turn” reminds us that “to everything there is a season.” The song suggests that the ebbs and flows of history are not bound by calendars, dates and times, and heroes and villains. A “season” is defined by its historic projects.

And these historic projects, the words suggest, include “a time to reap,” “a time to build,” “a time to break down,” “a time to cast away stones,” and “a time to gather stones together.”

Our projects, our seasons, entail defeats and victories, tears and laughter, but the seasons go on and encompass “a time to love” and “a time to hate.” And in the end the song declares, “I swear it’s not too late.”

So if we are inspired by the song, as we were in the 1960s, we remember that the struggles for peace and justice are not about individuals, political parties, and calendar deadlines but about the continued commitments which we have made to create peace, save the planet, put people back to work, and provide secure health care for all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Repost: Revisiting the Cuban Revolution

05 July 2012

Harry Targ : Revisiting the Cuban Revolution

Havana street scene in 2010. Inset below: school kids in Havana, 2010. Photos by Desmond Boylan / Reuters.

Revisiting the Cuban revolution
Cuban society has been an experimental laboratory... If one set of policies became problematic, the Cubans moved in different directions. Usually change came after heated debate at all levels of society.
By Harry Targ /The Rag Blog / July 5, 2012

I participated in the 2012 “Seminar on Socialist Renewal and the Capitalist Crisis” co-sponsored by the Radical Philosophy Association and the Institute of Philosophy, University of Havana. More than 40 U.S./Canadian/ Latin American scholars met in conference with at least 75 Cuban scholars in a five-day conference to discuss the political and economic changes occurring in Cuba and the United States.

I purposely entitle this essay “revisiting the Cuban Revolution” because I came away from this exciting conference convinced that the revolution continues. I say this because I saw no reason to revise what I wrote in 1992 about the Cuban Revolution (Cuba and the USA: A New World Order? International Publishers, 6):
...the Cuban revolution (even until this day) has constituted a living experiment that most progressive forces around the world identify with. Even though each society has its own history, class structure, level of development, and revolutionary potential, Cuba’s desire to create a government to serve its people and at the same time to transform them from a traditional consciousness to a revolutionary consciousness is shared by progressives everywhere. For progressives, Cuba is a laboratory, a grand social experiment that will provide knowledge for others as they seek fundamental change in their own societies... Cuba’s successes in the years ahead are successes of all progressive forces and, similarly Cuba’s defeats are defeats for all who wish to create egalitarian and humane societies.
The idea of “revolution” refers to a fundamental transformation of economic and political structures and peoples’ consciousness of their place in society and the values that should determine human behavior. Also, revolution is not a fixed “thing”but a process. That means that changes in structures, patterns of behavior, and consciousness are changing over time and in the case of revolution are moving toward, rather than away from, more complete human fulfillment.

What has been most fascinating to observe about the Cuban Revolution is its constantly changing character. Cubans have debated and made decisions about gradual versus fundamental changes, the need to experiment with different ways to allocate scarce national resources and, most critical, how to respond to external economic, political, and military assaults.

Cuban society has been an experimental laboratory, changing public policies as contexts demand. If one set of policies became problematic, the Cubans moved in different directions. Usually change came after heated debate at all levels of society.

For example, after the 26th of July Movement seized power, the revolutionary regime launched programs to reduce rents for urban dwellers, established a nationwide literacy campaign, and after a cool U.S. response to the new government, put in place a large agrarian reform program. As United States hostility escalated Cuba established diplomatic and economic relations with the former Soviet Union. From that point U.S./Cuban hostilities became permanent.

In the mid-1960s, Cuba engaged in a great debate, to some degree unresolved, between those who wanted to move the Revolution along the path to “moral incentives,” that is creating a society in which people act because of their commitment to communist ideals, versus those who argued that in the short run “material incentives,” wages and benefits, needed to serve as the source of human motivation.

Later, the Cuban government embarked on a campaign to produce more sugar than ever before to earn scarce foreign exchange in order to advance the domestic economy. The 10 million ton sugar campaign failed with negative consequences for the sectors of Cuban society that were ignored. Then Cuba embraced the Soviet model of development, including joining the Eastern European Common Market.

By the 1980s, while the economy grew, Cubans saw a decline in the commitment to the Revolution. This recognition led to a campaign of “Rectification,” to reinstill in society and consciousness, the spirit of the Revolution. When the Socialist Bloc collapsed between 1989 and 1991, once again the Cuban Revolution had to adapt. “The Special Period” was instituted in the face of a decline in the economy of at least 40 percent. The Revolution survived, contrary to the predictions of outside experts.

In the 21st century, despite devastating hurricanes, a global economic crisis, and an escalating United States economic blockade, the Revolution continued. Now, the Cubans are embarking on a new set of policies that are designed to overcome economic stagnation, inadequate agricultural productivity, bureaucracy and corruption in government, and insufficient grassroots participation in decision-making, particularly at the work place.

After extensive debate in the society at large, from the leadership of the Communist Party to virtually every workplace, neighborhood and village, the Cubans have decided on new structures and policies.

The new policy guidelines include the expansion of a market in the production of goods and services. This expansion will include a dramatic shift of employment from the state sector to self-employment. Emphasis will be placed on developing cooperatives in manufacturing and services as well as in agriculture.

In the agricultural sector efforts are being initiated to encourage a dramatic increase in those who can return to the land, increasing domestic food production while reducing the need to import food from abroad. New forms of grassroots participation in addition to revitalizing the mass organizations will occur. And the ration system of food distribution will be replaced by the establishment of a safety net for those still in need of food. And where possible, enterprise autonomy, such as in the renovation of Old Havana, will be encouraged and supported.

The new guidelines, over 300 in all, are designed to renovate economic and political institutions, stimulate local entrepreneurial enterprise, increase political participation, and overcome the continuing economic crisis that a small country such as Cuba finds itself in as a result of natural and political disasters as well as a continued effort by the “Colossus of the North” to overthrow the regime.

Debate within Cuban society (and among our North American delegation) about these new guidelines has been animated. Perhaps most basic is the concern about whether the economic reforms will undermine the Socialist character of Cuban society after over 60 years of struggle. Some worry that the introduction of markets may undermine the spirit of compassion and revolutionary consciousness that was inspired by the heroic Che Guevara and the band of scruffy revolutionaries who overthrew a neocolonial regime in 1959.

Still others debate about whether cooperatives constitute a productive and yet inspirational step in the long history of building Socialism and Communism. And what about youth, people ask. Is the revolution ancient history for young people, a youthful population that has had access to a rich educational experience and live a healthful life. Will they have the same fervor for the Revolution that their elders and foreign friends have had?

And, in fairness to the young, how can the Revolution be preserved while serving the lives of people whose historical experiences are different from their elders?

There are no easy answers to these questions; no guarantees of success; no convincing narratives of a linear development from a contradictory present to a utopian future. But, as I clearly saw in 1990 when I started attending meetings of U.S. and Cuban scholars, there is reason for hope. The Cuban Revolution has survived, given so much to the world, and continued to intrigue progressives everywhere. I returned from my encounter to Cuba in June 2012, with renewed optimism.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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