Friday, December 28, 2018


Harry Targ
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 forty US/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 US/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 re-instill 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 neo-colonial 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.
(also published in The Rag Blog, July 5, 2012)


Sunday, December 2, 2018


Harry Targ

Humans react to the death of people they know or of famous people with sadness and feelings of sorrow for surviving loved ones. However, personal sadness should not be confused with historical amnesia. Reminiscing about recently deceased President George Herbert Walker Bush should not be an occasion for reinventing history because understanding history matters. If we do not understand the past, we will recreate its errors in the present and the future.
Reviewing George Herbert Walker Bush’s executive experience, it should be remembered that as Vice President, he supported President Reagan’s brutal war on the peoples of Central America, particularly in Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Contra war on the Nicaraguan government continued in the Bush years and when President Daniel Ortega ran for reelection in 1990 the United States funneled $12 million to the candidacy of his opponent, Violeta Chamorro. In addition, United States 1980s funding of the brutal Salvadoran government continued despite the fact that Salvadoran soldiers invaded the Central American University, killing six Jesuit priests and two aides in November,1989. The Jesuits were advocating a negotiated settlement of the ten-year civil war in that country.

Two months before the Nicaraguan election Bush ordered a 26,000 marine invasion of Panama to depose its president Manuel Noriega who had decided to end Panama’s collaboration with the US support of the Contras fighting in Nicaragua. Further, the invasion sent a message to Nicaraguans just two months before their election that if they chose to reelect Ortega, their country might suffer an invasion also.
Concerning the ending of the Cold War, President Bush decided to “reward” the former Soviet Union for shifting to markets and reducing its influence over Eastern European states as opposed to calls from hardliners in his administration to become more tough with the Soviets to force its collapse. However, the United States in the Bush years violated informal agreements with the Soviets, initiated in 1988 and 1989 for a mutual withdrawal from “trouble spots” such as Afghanistan, Angola, and Central America. What was called “low intensity conflict” in the Reagan years continued under Bush. In other words, while the Soviet Union was withdrawing its troops and support for its allies in zones of conflict, the United States did not.

The George Herbert Walker Bush presidency is most known for his initiation of the Gulf War (which would be continued by his son in the new century). After a decade-long war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, one in which the United States funded its ally Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the United States turned against Iraq when the latter sent its armies into neighboring Kuwait. Although the Iraqi invasion constituted aggression against the smaller (but wealthier) Kuwait, Hussein’s decision was based on numerous economic and geopolitical factors. These included signals that Iraq continued to get from the United States government that it would not respond if Iraq chose to invade Kuwait. The United States Ambassador to Iraq told Saddam Hussein in July,1990 that disputes with Kuwait were matters for the Middle East to resolve. Again, while Saddam Hussein’s reasons did not justify his military aggression, his moves were not what Bush later called “Hitler revisited.” Bush like every president since the 1930s would cull up the shopworn but functional “Munich Analogy” which declared that the United States could not allow aggression to stand as the European powers did in the 1930s. The world learned from its experience in 1938, the analogy goes, that dictators, like Hitler, should not be “appeased.”
The record is clear. President Bush decided within a few days after the Iraqi invasion on August 2, 1990 that he would launch a war, preferably a global coalition effort, against Iraq. Over the next several months he engaged in a sustained campaign to get the reluctant military on board (including allowing Secretary of Defense Dick Chaney to threaten organizing his own DOD-led invasion), to lie to the American people about why war was necessary, to convince many members of the United Nations, including the faltering Soviet Union to join a military coalition, and finally to convince Congress to authorize military action. On January 17, 1991, Operation Desert Storm was launched. The media salivated over the brutal high-tech assault on Baghdad, which was televised almost as a video game, and over the next month, Iraqi troops were forced out of Kuwait and much of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s strongholds were attacked. The Iraqi army surrendered on February 28, 1991. At a press conference announcing the end of the war, President Bush declared: “At last we have licked the Vietnam syndrome.” In other words, the American people would no longer be opposed to US militarism around the globe.

In the years to follow, Presidents Clinton and George Walker Bush would continue economic sanctions against Iraq, causing, according to a United Nations estimate, 500,000 deaths of Iraqi children under the age of five because of starvation. Clinton would engage in periodic bombing campaigns against Iraq in so-called “no-fly zones.” And finally, George Walker Bush and his key advisors, including his father’s Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, would employ a propaganda campaign such as the one used in 1990 to create support among the American people for renewed war on Iraq after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Both the Gulf War of the first Bush and the Iraq War of the second led to the turmoil, instability, and killings of masses of civilians that continue today.
So to paraphrase an old Mother Jones statement, we need to mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living. In this case, we can mourn the death of a United States President but we should learn from reflecting on his policies that we need to build a more powerful peace movement to insure that the violence and war he endorsed never happens again.