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.]

The Rag Blog

Monday, December 1, 2014

CONTRADICTIONS IN THIS POLITICAL MOMENT: 2014 AND THE FUTURE



Harry Targ

On Contradictions

Political philosophers influenced by the writings of Marx and Engels emphasize the connections among all social processes, the opposing characteristics embedded in them, and how social dynamics are intrinsically conflictive leading to new and different futures. For most activists this means that politics and history are complicated. Before drawing premature conclusions about what is going on and what to do about it, thoughtful reflection on the multiple dimensions of causes and effects and effects and causes are needed. No more is this so than in coming to grips with the political “time of day” in which we live.

The Advance of Reaction

Recent events underscore the rise of what can reasonably be called “neo-fascism,” advances in the construction of a police state, a desperate and renewed commitment to U.S. imperialism, escalated assaults--economic, political, police--on African Americans, Latinos, women, workers, and immigrants, and gluttonous increases in corporate and banking profits while gaps in wealth, income, and political power widen.

The November, 2014 election brought Republican control of the U.S. Senate (53-44 so far) and the House of Representatives (243-178), and both houses of 29 state legislatures compared to 11 Democratic-dominated state legislatures. In total Republicans hold majorities in 68 of 98 state legislative bodies. 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will be holding a planning meeting in Washington the first week of December to map out an agenda for the newly victorious Republicans at all levels of government. High on their agenda will be legislation blocking increases in minimum wages, expanding so-called right-to-work laws, limiting access to Medicaid, restricting global taxes on tobacco, creating more free trade agreements, and increasing the privatization of schools. Of course the Republican wave brings with it more climate change deniers, war hawks, and anti-choice activists, tinged with biblical visions of public policy.

The crisis over the police murder of young Mike Brown has highlighted the racial and class character of the criminal justice system in the United States. Various data sources have uncovered the egregious racism in the criminal justice system from arrests, access to legal counsel, trials, convictions, sentencing, and incarceration. For example, white policemen were 21 times more likely to shoot a Black man than a white man between 2007 and 2012. At least two Black men were killed by white policemen each week during these years, killing at least 500. (This was double the number of lynchings occurring during a five year period before anti-lynching laws were introduced in Congress in the 1920s). Michelle Alexander estimates that there are more African Americans in jail in 2010 than were enslaved in 1850). Furthermore, while African Americans constitute 13 percent of drug users they constitute 46 percent of drug convictions (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “Organizing Fergusons,” Jacobin, November 26, 2014, jacobinmag.com).

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was fired on November 24 in the midst of United States foreign policy “crises” from the struggle against ISIS to the Syrian civil war, negotiations with Iran over nuclear development, escalation of U.S. troop activity in Afghanistan, and continuing public campaigns from the neo-conservative wing of the foreign policy establishment to send troops and in other ways expand military operations around the globe.

Pundits offered competing interpretations of the meaning of the firing from incompetence to policy disputes with Obama or his national security staff. Probably Hagel had some disputes with National Security Advisor Susan Rice who usually sides with the interventionist wing of the foreign policy elite. Irrespective of the reasons for the firing, the long-term impacts of securing a new Secretary of Defense nomination and Senate approval, and in the context of the Republican Congressional victories, will be a renewed debate about escalating U.S. military interventionism in the Middle East, South Asia, and even the Western Hemisphere. Obama’s sometimes “realist” foreign policy will be further challenged.    

President Obama in a prime time address on November 20, 2014 announced that he was using his executive authority to grant temporary amnesty to approximately five million undocumented immigrants, mostly parents of children who are United States citizens by birth. Despite the fact that the Obama administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president, his announced executive order brought outcries from Republican leaders, threatening lawsuits, impeachment, and various legislative actions when the new Congress assumes power in January. Ironically, although the president’s action does not constitute comprehensive immigration reform the groundswell of support, particularly from the Latino community, was enormous suggesting that if the announcement was made before the fall election several losing Democratic Senatorial candidates might have been victorious.

Finally, and as always below the radar screen, the economy has been doing well for the one percent. For example, Thomas L. Hungerford (“Is Corporate America Going to the Poorhouse?” The Economic Policy Institute Blog, October 8, 2014, epi.org) pointed out that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $30 million supporting mostly Republicans. Even so, Hungerford presents data indicating that while corporate profits have fluctuated between 1946 and 2013, they reached a peak in 2013. “In 2013, the before-tax profit share was 21 percent, which is the highest level since the mid-1960s. Interestingly, the 2013 after-tax profit share is at a post-World War II high of 15 percent! It would appear that corporate America has been doing rather well under President Obama and the current corporate tax system.”

Growing Resistance

Even though the data is not in and resistance and revolt may or may not have lasting effects, the contradictions generated by capitalism, the police state, and imperialism are stark. In the electoral arena voters who went to the polls elected rightwing extremists and voted on various referenda to raise wages and to legalize marijuana. Most sitting Congresspersons were reelected, including members of the Progressive and Black Caucuses. A few candidates, such as Senator Al Franken campaigned as populists. And in selected communities, get out the vote campaigns led to turnouts exceeding the 2010 figures. Rev. Barber made it clear that the Moral Mondays: Moving Forward Together movement is not primarily about an election or elections in general, but used the elections to articulate a moral agenda that is as relevant in the streets as the ballot box.

John Nichols pointed out (“An Inconvenient Political Truth: That St. Louis Prosecutor is a Democrat,” The Nation, November 26, 2014,  thenation.org) that the St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who rigged the Grand Jury to absolve policeman Darren Wilson of his killing of unarmed Michael Brown is a Democrat. “Across America, counties elect top law-enforcement officials as state’s attorneys, district attorneys and prosecuting attorneys. Hundreds of them are Democrats.” Nichols says that many of these are progressive, others are not. Less visible elected office holders need to be properly vetted, not taking party label as sufficient indicator of candidate commitments to justice.

Robin D. G. Kelley appropriately describes the longstanding tradition of police brutality as akin to a “low-intensity war between the state and Black people.” He describes in painful detail the long history of police violence and white vigilantism against African Americans and the ideological justifications for their actions. Kelley reports that revolt against this war has begun first in Ferguson where young organizers have created “Hands Up United, Lost Voices, Organization for Black Struggle, Don’t Shoot Coalition, Millennial Activists United” and other groups. Mobilizations have spread to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Indianapolis, and other cities and towns across America. Paralleled by traditional and older civil rights organizations, this potential mass movement is stimulated by energetic, angry young people, Black and white.

In the midst of the election season, police violence, calls for expanded U.S military adventures overseas, mobilizations of historic magnitudes have occurred. The People’s Climate March in New York City drew 400,000 participants among them activists concentrating on the environment, peace, anti-racism, and worker rights. Increasingly movement activists see the inextricable connection between their issues and saving the natural environment.

Also fast food workers have been protesting low wages and long hours. Others have been organizing economic boycotts such as against Black Friday, demanding better working conditions. Health care workers are mobilizing about wages and the right to organize and teachers are actively opposing charter schools, school vouchers, and the selling off of higher education to corporate interests.

The Moral Mondays movement has begun the reconceptualization of the politics of resistance by appropriating the idea of fusion politics which first appeared during Reconstruction after the civil war. Then, former slaves and poor whites built coalitions to gain power in state legislatures and to write truly democratic state constitutions. Rev. William Barber and the movement that was initiated in North Carolina in 2006 emphasizes the interconnectedness of all the problems that impede social and economic justice much as was done by Blacks and whites in the 1860s. Today, he says the only antidote to huge corporate power, whether the extremist wing reflected in the Koch Brothers and ALEC or the Clinton Wall Streeters, is the coming together of masses of people--Black, white, workers, straight, gay, faith-based or no faith-- and their organizations to fight the right and propose a moral agenda based upon constitutional and ethical principles. Moral Mondays is expanding throughout the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest.

Finally, pockets of youth militancy drawn to visions of 21st century socialism have sprouted up in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Jackson, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Young people are making long-term commitments to study, organization building, and the construction of political power as reflected in modest electoral victories at local, state, and national levels.  

All these mobilizations are grounded in local circumstances, U.S. history, and global mobilizations rising up against neoliberal globalization. Cross-national networks of activists are increasingly sharing their insights and sense of solidarity that just might lead to a global resistance consciousness in the future.

 It remains unclear what the outcome of the contradiction between reaction and resistance will bring in the months and years ahead. But Frederick Douglass was correct when he said:

“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will (“If there is No Struggle, there is No Progress,” August 3, 1857, at blackpast.org).



Monday, November 17, 2014

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: PROFITS AND JOBS UP AS HOUSEHOLDS SUFFER



Harry Targ

“The numbers show a conservative blueprint for success: seven straight months of job growth with unemployment under 6 percent and a state that leads the nation in new manufacturing jobs. Plus, throw in tax cuts and a budget surplus for good measuresummarizing an interview with Governor Mike Pence. (David Brody, CBN News, “GOP Eyes Indiana’s Pence as Presidential Contender,” www.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2014, June/Indianas-Gov-Pence-a-Presidential-Contender-For-2016/)

News from Indiana celebrates the state’s economic recovery (still below pre-recession levels). As the statement above suggests, the recipe for Hoosier success has been tax cuts, corporate and private, and cutting budgets to maintain surpluses for emergencies. Indiana has been a trend-setter for the nation as to privatization of the public sector: including shifting to charter schools, establishing a voucher system encouraging parents to shift their children from public to private schools, selling off public roads, and recruiting controversial corporations such as Duke Power and government agencies, military and civilian, to support research at the state’s flagship research universities.

A panel of Purdue University economists recently predicted continued economic and job growth in 2015 approaching pre-recession levels. While panelists recognized the problem Indiana faces concerning long-term job loss and stagnant wages, they reported some growth in manufacturing employment and expanding jobs in data analysis and finance. They reported also that household expenditures had stabilized. Finally, agriculture, they said, is holding its own. For the future panelists recommended that workers should be trained for the skills demanded of a high technology 21st century economy.

The Purdue economists were more cautiously optimistic and less partisan than politicians such as Governor Pence cited in the Brody article.  However, the relatively positive narrative about the Indiana economy presented by the Governor and Purdue economists varies greatly from recently published research findings. For example, the Indiana Institute for Working Families reported on data from a study of work and poverty in Marion County, which includes the state’s largest city, Indianapolis.  Four of five of the largest growing industries in the county pay wages at or below family sustainability ($798 per week for a family of three) and individual and household wages declined significantly between 2008 and 2012 (Derek Thomas, “Inequality in Indy - A Rising Problem With Ready Solutions,” August 13, 2014, (www.iiwf.blogspot.com).

Further, Thomas quoted a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report on wages and income:  “wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession.” This is so because new jobs created paid less on average than the jobs that were lost since the recession started.

Thomas pointed out that the mayors’ report had several concrete proposals that could address declining real wages and stimulate job growth. These included “raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, public programs to retrain displaced workers, universal pre-k and programs to build the nation’s infrastructure.”  They may have added that declining real wages also could be related to attacks on unions in both the private and public sectors and the dramatic reduction in public sector employment.

Thomas added that Indianapolis (and Indiana) should take these data seriously because in Marion County “poverty is still rising, the minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work, and a full 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).” 

More recently, November 10, 2014, the Indiana Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report on the state called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, parallel to similar studies in five other states and prepared by a research team at Rutgers University, refers to Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling data revealed that:

-a third of Hoosier households cannot afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

-more precisely 14 percent of households are below the poverty line and 23 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, or earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.

-570,000 households are within the ALICE status and 353,000 below the poverty line.

-over 21 percent of households in every Indiana county are above poverty but below the capacity to provide for basic sustenance.

Referring to those within the ALICE category of wage earners who struggle to survive but earn less than what it takes to meet basic needs, Kathy Ertel, Board Chairperson of Indiana Association of United Ways said: “ALICE is our child care worker, our retail clerk, the CAN who cares for our grandparents, and our delivery driver” (Roger L. Frick, “Groundbreaking Study Reveals 37% of Hoosier Households Struggle With the Basics,” Indiana Association of United Ways, November 10, 2014, (Roger.Frick@iauw.org).

Assessing the current state of the Indiana economy depends upon where one is located in terms of economic, political, or professional position. Those Indiana men, women, and children who come from the 37 percent of households who earn less, at, or slightly above the poverty line probably have a negative view of their futures. For them, the tax breaks for the rich and the austerity policies for the poor are not positive. 

It is the task of progressives to mobilize to reverse those policies that hurt so many Indiana citizens.


   

Monday, November 10, 2014

ANTI-WAR ACTIVISM: SOLDIERS, VETERANS, AND MILITARY FAMILIES, A Book Review



Harry Targ

Fighting for Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement by Lisa Leitz. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. (306 pages; paper)

One of the biggest scholarly secrets about social movements since the Vietnam War is the magnitude and vibrancy of the anti-war movement inside the military. “Sir! No Sir!” a 2005 film documented the militant anti-war movement that spread throughout the United States military in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movement included acts of civil disobedience at military bases, networks of coffee houses near military installations, anti-war newspapers targeted to military readers, and a spreading network of anti-war families and loved-ones as the movement percolated throughout U.S. society.

Fighting for Peace by Lisa Leitz, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of Project Pericles at Hendrix College, fast-forwards in a rigorous way to the study of the military anti-war movement from 2005 to 2012; involving veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, loved-ones of those serving, extended families, and networks of military families. The volume uses a variety of methods--questionnaires, extended interviews, archival materials, and ethnographies of organizations and individual military anti-war activists and their families. While surveying anti-war movements against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Professor Leitz concentrates on the participation, vision, rhetoric, activism, tactics, and contradictory “identities” of five organizations: Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace, and Gold Star Families Speak Out.

The narrative begins with the formation of some of these groups and growing tensions between them arising after the dramatic anti-war protests initiated by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a son who was killed in Iraq. The site of these demonstrations in Crawford, Texas was adjacent to the summer residence of President George Walker Bush.  For Leitz, the camp site that was created and named after Sheehan’s deceased son, Camp Casey was “a watershed moment for this movement.” In addition to inspiring the anti-war movement generally “…the vigil brought together veterans of the current wars, veterans of past wars, families of dead military service members, and families of current service members who were all critical of the Iraq War” (3).

The volume presents in-depth research on each of the anti-war military organizations. It addresses their composition: current military and veterans; families of service members and those killed and injured; and veterans of prior U.S. wars, particularly the Vietnam War. It examines the collaborations and tensions between the veterans and military families and the larger peace movement.  It describes policies, programs, and strategies. These involve anti-war positions and demands for increased services for soldiers on the ground and those returning veterans with health needs. It describes debates about how the military and military families should use their special legitimacy, experiencing war directly or through loved ones, in the mass movement. And the narrative describes how the military anti-war movement (rather than the peace movement in general) became a platform for debate between some socialist organization members who wished to incorporate it in a larger campaign to radically transform society versus those who argued that the military anti-war movement should concentrate on the more limited goal of ending the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and providing adequate services for returning veterans.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the study is the portrait of the contradictions faced by the author herself and the five organizations as they navigated through a hostile military environment. First, Professor Leitz, a visible anti-war activist was married to a career military officer. As a military spouse, she lived on military bases and carried out some of her anti-war activism in a social milieu that was hostile. She frames much of the study around how active military personnel, veterans, and military families addressed these contradictions personally and politically. 

The contradiction of being anti-war activists in social networks of military personnel and families was replicated in the tensions anti-war veterans and military families experienced working with the larger, non-military peace movement. Many of the former opposed the two twenty-first century wars but believed that the U.S. military was needed and, on occasion, could engage in positive projects. This position put these military activists at odds with peace movement ideology and sometimes peace movement practice.  

This portrait of the contradictions between the military movements and the larger peace and anti-war movement provides useful information for activists who ponder how to expand participation in campaigns to promote a peace agenda. And, of course, the peace movement should appropriately respect the special experience, legitimacy, policy preferences, and more limited perspectives of those who actually have experienced war. In addition Professor Leitz describes how the military activists reflected on how their influence could be enlarged as they struggled to become part of a larger more “generic” peace movement.

Fighting for Peace can be a valuable tool for researchers as well as activists. Despite the author’s abstract framing of her research as a study of the military “insider-outsider” identity which sometimes interferes with the well-written account it remains an important contribution to the scholarly study of social movements. Furthermore the rigorous study demonstrates the issues and pitfalls that peace activists must consider as they organize to create a more peaceful world.