1. The aff’s claims of economic imperialism are a way to shut off legitimate criticism of the Castro regime. Lifting the embargo wouldn’t lead to a better life to Cubans as the problem is their political and economic structures. Even if your criticism of the embargo as being imperialist is true removing it is net worse- even far Left socialists understand the Castro regime is a blanket failure and should be resisted
PAUL D’AMATO [Paul D’Amato is managing editor of the International Socialist Review journal]
Cuba: Image and Reality. ISR Issue 51, January–February 2007 http://www.isreview.org/issues/51/cuba_image&reality.shtml
In many instances, the defense of Cuba’s right to independence and against the U.S. embargo is coupled with a political identification with Castro’s government. Any criticism of Cuba is seen as playing into the hands of imperialism and therefore off-limits. Evidence of problems, at least as the Left might identify them—if acknowledged at all—are excused as necessary or unavoidable distortions resulting from the embargo. “The more honest or open-eyed of the ‘friends,’ at least when speaking tête-à-tête,” wrote Trotsky of the apologists for Stalin’s Russia, “concede that there is a spot on the Soviet sun. But substituting a fatalistic for a dialectic analysis, they console themselves with the thought that ‘a certain’ bureaucratic degeneration in the given conditions was historically inevitable.”2 Defenders of Cuba, at least the less starry-eyed, make the same argument. But as Trotsky wrote, “The stupidity and dishonesty of one’s enemies,” in this case U.S. imperialism, “is no justification for one’s own blindness.”3 The blindness referred to by Trotsky was on full display in the July 2006 issue of the magazine Socialism and Liberation, the magazine of the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL, a 2004 break-away from the Workers World Party), which published an article by its editor, Andy McInerney, entitled “A litmus test for socialists: Defending Cuba’s socialist revolution.” In it, McInerney asks the following questions: Was the Cuban revolution a socialist revolution—that is, a revolution that brought the working class to state power? What is the role of the Cuban Communist Party and President Fidel Castro? Do they deserve the support of the progressive and working-class movement in the United States—not just against imperialist intervention but also against internal efforts to overthrow the government? Answering these questions is a test of the fitness of an organization to lead a revolutionary struggle in the United States. According to McInerney, organizations that “claim to be socialist,” such as the International Socialist Organization (ISO, the only group he mentions by name), fail his fitness test because, though they may oppose U.S. intervention in Cuba, they do not answer all of the above questions in the affirmative. For McInerney, this “fitness” (or lack of it) extends to any organization that fails to defend the former Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc countries, China (even today), and North Korea. Those who “refuse to stand with any of the parties and governments that have tried to build societies free of capitalist rule,” he argues, merely use “leftist-sounding criticisms” as “a cover for capitulation and cowardice in the face of anti-communist propaganda.” Cuba cannot be “state capitalist,” McInerney asserts, because there are no private capitalists, and therefore no competition, inside Cuba. As for the impact of the world market on Cuba, McInerney informs us that Cuba’s participation in the world market is—and this is his most absurd claim—“limited.” Cuba’s state bureaucracy cannot be a class that “owns the surplus value created by Cuban workers,” he argues, because it is not very rich by comparison to capitalists elsewhere. Selectively pointing to Cuba’s period of sustained growth—the first decade of the 1970s—McInerney argues that Cuba’s economic problems can be laid entirely on the doorstep of the U.S. embargo. Long live Stalin and…Saddam? How socialists answer the questions posed by McInerney is indeed important, for it determines whether one identifies socialism with a society of genuine human liberation under workers’ control or with one in which the needs and aspirations of the working class are sacrificed to the demands of state accumulation. As for “cowardice in the face of anti-communist propaganda,” Cold War propagandists did not invent the horrors of Stalin’s Russia—though they took full advantage of them to try and discredit genuine socialism for their own reasons. And just as cynically, the rulers of Russia pointed to the horrors of capitalist society in order to justify their rule. But there really was a gulag. Ante Ciliga, one-time leader of the Yugoslav Communist Party who joined the Trotskyist opposition and who spent several years in a Russian concentration camp, estimated that at the height of the 1930s purges there were ten million people in Russian prison camps.4 Millions died in these camps. Stalin was at this time imprisoning and shooting most of the revolutionaries who had played leading roles in the Russian Revolution—all in the name of socialism. “Nowhere else in the world,” Ciliga wrote bitterly in 1937, “exist such flagrant contradictions between official theory and real life, between hopes and their fulfillment, between word and deed.”5 We leave it to the reader to decide whether it was Ciliga or Stalin who employed “leftist sounding criticisms” as a cover. The Russian Revolution for a brief few years brought workers to power, but the revolution degenerated from within and was finally snuffed out by a state bureaucracy that was hoisted up on the ruins of workers’ power; a process caused by the revolution’s isolation and impoverishment in the face of imperialist encirclement. In short, imperialist invasion and civil war devastated Russia’s already weak economy and its working class. To build up Russia’s heavy industry, needed for Russia’s defenses, the new bureaucracy squeezed the working class and peasantry using coercive means. The theory of “state capitalism” was meant to capture the fact that the bureaucracy, in engaging in this “primitive accumulation,” acted as a kind of state surrogate for the expropriated bourgeoisie. Only the most hidebound sects that survived the fall of Stalinism persist in its defense. One of those sects was an organization that called itself the Workers World Party (WWP)—the political forerunner of the PSL, whose basic politics the PSL still shares. A 1959 splinter from the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, the WWP was led by Sam Marcy until his death in 1998. Though Trotskyist in origin, the hallmark of the WWP, perversely, was its uncritical support for all things Stalinist. The basis of Marcy’s split from the SWP was his support for the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 to crush the workers’ councils. PSL still adheres proudly to this tradition. The November 2006 issue of PSL’s magazine Socialism and Liberation published an article by Jon Britton entitled “The real lessons of the 1956 uprising in Hungary,” in which he writes: “Using the same language Bush uses today, the Hungarian uprising of 1956 was cloaked under the veil of ‘freedom and democracy.’ Few of the demonstrators called openly for the restoration of capitalism and landlordism. But the imperialist politicians and press knew where it was heading.”6 Since its founding, the WWP and its offspring have been consistent apologists for bureaucratic regimes from the Soviet Union to North Korea and Cuba. They supported the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia (“The ‘democratic socialist revolution’ in Czechoslovakia is in reality counter-revolutionary, anti-socialist and not very democratic,” wrote Marcy7), and Polish General Jaruzelski’s military coup against the Solidarity trade union in 1981. “The workers of the world and the workers in the United States have nothing to gain and a great, great deal to lose by supporting, encouraging, or promoting the cause of this counter-revolutionary, fink outfit misnamed Solidarity,” wrote Marcy in 1981.8 He characterized the Chinese government’s violent suppression of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989 as “a victory for socialism.”9 McInerney defended the Chinese government in a 1996 article that credits the Tiananmen crackdown for preventing China from going the way of the former Soviet Union, where, “A tiny handful have become fabulously rich.”10 Yet China at this time was itself in the throes of a series of pro-market economic reforms that were producing a new “fabulously rich” class of Chinese multi-millionaires, many of them leading Communist Party bureaucrats, a fact that led Western economists to lavish China with effusive praise. The Workers World Party has found itself in the company of strange bedfellows for socialists; offering uncritical support, for example, to Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. During the first Gulf War, Marcy compared Saddam Hussein to the leader of a Roman slave rebellion, Spartacus, who, Marcy noted, “was as much demonized, hated and vilified in his time as Saddam Hussein is today.” Saddam Hussein was a former U.S. ally, a butcher too fearful of domestic revolt to mobilize an adequate defense of Iraq against the U.S. invasion in 2003. Spartacus, on the other hand, a real leader of the oppressed and himself a slave, destroyed seven different Roman armies sent to defeat him. None of this directly answers McInerney’s claims about Cuba, but the historical record of the WWP and its identical offspring is relevant. Cuba came to model its state-led development closely on the Soviet Union until the latter’s demise in the late 1980s. McInerney’s position, which at first seems consistent, is broken, however, by his insistence that China, which has moved substantially to dismantle its aging state sector, is also socialist. Traditionally, Stalinists and their supporters would point to nationalized property as evidence of a regime’s socialist credentials. Today, we can only conclude that for McInerney a regime is socialist merely because it is ruled by a one-party state that declares itself socialist. The ISR’s difference with McInerney is not mainly about Cuba or some random fitness test, but rather about the fundamentals of socialism. For us, socialism is about workers’ self-emancipation and democratic self-rule. For McInerney, it is its opposite. To be sure, Cuba’s national revolution, and its independence from the U.S., must be staunchly defended. Likewise, the gains of the revolution, in particular the establishment of a much-improved public education system and a health care system clearly superior to the private system in the United States, must be defended against any attempt (from without or within) to retract them. But such support does not require one to hold illusions as to the socialist character of the Cuban state, any more than the superiority of Canada’s national health system renders it any less capitalist in its social relations than the United States. A workers’ state? The basic facts surrounding the Cuban Revolution are not in dispute. Castro’s rebel army marched into power after the collapse of dictator Fulgencio Batista’s army in January 1959. Castro’s small band had initiated operations after landing in the boat Granma on the coast of Cuba from Mexican exile in December 1956, with only a few dozen fighters. At the time of Batista’s fall, the rebel army had a few thousand armed soldiers but it also depended on a substantial urban network.11 Though never large enough to pose a serious military threat, the rebel army was able to take advantage of the political vacuum left by the collapse of the Cuban army and state, as well as the disgust the mass of Cubans felt for the old corrupt political system. Castro’s July 26th Movement appealed to all sectors of Cuban society. “Victory was only possible,” Castro told a crowd in New York’s Central Park in April 1959, “because we united Cubans of all classes and all sectors around a single, shared aspiration.”12 The movement’s nationalist populism did not necessarily presage any move toward complete nationalization of the Cuban economy, though there was already a strong tradition of state intervention in the economy. Ernesto “Che” Guevara had embraced a Stalinized version of Marxism and Fidel’s brother, Raúl, also a leading rebel commander, was, if not a member of the Cuban Communist Party, at least a close sympathizer. The July 26th Movement was programmatically vague, but it was committed to a more diversified national economic development that would reduce or eliminate Cuba’s dependence on the United States and on sugar exports. There was mounting hostility from the Cuban bourgeoisie and U.S. investors, especially after the promulgation of a new land reform, and Castro turned toward nationalization and sought out Russian support. The flight of Cuban capital and a series of punitive actions by the U.S. against Cuba accelerated this process. After the April 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco—the abortive U.S.-sponsored invasion of Cuba by several hundred CIA-trained Cuban exiles—Castro retroactively declared the Cuban Revolution “socialist.”13 What was the class nature of the revolution? The July 26th Movement’s core around Castro consisted of men from different social classes, mostly from the cities, but even those from the working class had not been active in unions or other working-class organizations before joining Castro. Likewise, peasant guerrilla recruits, “typically had little or no history of previous organized peasant struggles,” notes Sam Farber. “This was very important in allowing Fidel Castro to mould these men into faithful followers of his caudillo leadership. In any case, an inner circle of ‘classless’ men unattached to the organizational life of any of the existing Cuban social classes became Fidel Castro’s political core.”14 The collapse of the old state and the discredited status of the old political parties gave Castro’s movement a great deal of room to maneuver. In the end Castro’s movement stood not only above the capitalists who looked to the U.S. to “save” them, but also above the working class and the peasantry. He carried out his measures in their name, but neither class exerted any control over the process. According to McInerney, Castro established a “workers’ state.” His justification for this claim is that the revolution was popular, and the existence of an urban movement against Batista gave it a mass character. “There was support and participation from the masses,” writes McInerney, “such as the selling of bonds to finance the guerrilla fighters.” But even by this account, the urban resistance played an auxiliary role, that of providing material assistance to the guerrillas. More importantly, “support and participation” is by no means the same as saying that it was a mass upheaval or that the masses were in control of the process. Every successful revolution involves mass support and participation—such as the American and French revolutions. Neither created societies run by workers, however. What is so striking is that these bourgeois revolutions involved far greater mass mobilizations than did the Cuban Revolution. A sympathetic observer, James O’Connor, writing in 1964, made a similar assessment of the Cuban Revolution: From the attack by Fidel on the Moncada Barracks in July 1953, throughout the guerrilla war of 1957–58, until late 1959, when the Castro group firmly consolidated political power, not a single peasant revolt ignited the Cuban countryside. Passive resistance, surreptitious aid to Castro’s forces, there were, to be sure; unlike dozens of other political revolutions, however, the peasant class failed to grasp the initiative at any point in the struggle.…. The labor movement, in which over one half of Cuba’s labor force was enrolled, figured even less prominently in the Rebellion. It was in January 1959, after the regular army had received Castro’s final blows, that the working classes shut down Havana’s industry and commerce. Earlier a general strike in April 1958 had been a total failure. In the social revolution of 1959–61, the liquidation of Cuba’s private property system was invariably initiated by the ruling group. The peasantry did not spontaneously seize and cultivate idle lands.15 Castro, in fact, threatened reprisals against “anarchic land distribution,” drafting a law stipulating that anyone seizing land “without waiting for the new agrarian law will lose their rights to benefits from the new agrarian reform.”16 Nor did the urban workers and sugar mill laborers independently occupy the factories (this was a sharp departure from the abortive social revolution of 1933); rebel army or militia units at the direction of the central government took possession of Cuba’s farm land and industry. …The social revolution was more or less orderly because the political revolution transferred power from one relatively small group of men to another, [while] the masses of Cubans…passively supported the social revolution.17 There is no doubt that the new regime was enormously popular—a popularity it quickly consolidated with a series of significant reforms such as wage increases, land redistribution, utility rate and rent reductions, and a mass literacy campaign in the countryside; but Cuba’s was not a workers’ revolution, and it did not lead to a government by and of the working class. Castro’s decision to turn to the Cuban Communist Party (CCP, known then as the Popular Socialist Party, or PSP) was not a turn to the working class. The CCP had long before become a thoroughly Stalinized party, discredited for its withdrawal of support for a general strike against the Machado dictatorship in 1933 and its collaboration with Batista from 1938 into the mid-1940s. The PSP had pledged its support for Batista in exchange for legalization, control of the Cuban Confederation of Workers (CTC) and two positions in Batista’s cabinet. Many activists in the July 26th Movement resented the PSP for its past collaboration with Batista, a resentment that Castro, always tactically flexible, waived aside when the time came. The CCP cadres, with their administrative abilities and ties to Russia, were useful now, especially given the exodus of thousands of technicians, administrators, and managers. “I needed them,” Castro remarked.18 Is there “direct democracy,” or any democracy, in Cuba? Castro supporters, and Castro and Guevara themselves, have argued that Cuba had abandoned “the commonplaces of bourgeois democracy”19 for a new kind of direct democracy. The nature of this democracy derived allegedly from Fidel’s connection with the masses established, for example, at the numerous mass rallies where he would deliver hours-long speeches. But these rallies allowed millions to applaud Castro’s decisions, not debate or guide them. “Fidel Castro will decide on the orientation of the future,” a university director told René Dumont in 1969, expressing a widespread sentiment at the time.20 In the early phases of the revolution, these rallies were genuinely spontaneous expressions of mass enthusiasm, but by the late sixties they had become, according to Dumont, “obligatory.”21 At best, the masses are expected to play a consultative role, at worst, as an echo chamber for decisions already made at the top. For Fidel, according to his 1960 May Day speech, democracy in Cuba was expressed not in elections, “so often prostituted to falsify the will and the interests of the people,” but in “the close union and identification of the government and the people.”22 It is one thing to expose the limits of bourgeois democracy, however, and another to claim that democracy can exist without voting and elections. As Nigel Harris writes, for Marxists, The critique of parliament…was not a rejection of democracy itself. Lenin wrote: “The way out of parliamentarianism is not, of course, the abolition of representative institutions and the electoral principle, but the conversion of the representative institutions from mere ‘talking shops’ into working bodies.” For, Lenin continues: “We cannot imagine democracy, not even proletarian democracy, without representative institutions, but we can and must think of democracy without parliamentarianism.”23 “Close union,” that is, in the sense of support or agreement with decisions taken at the top, is not democracy, unless the close union is a product of elected leaders answering to their constituents. For Castro, however, democracy was not about the power of the masses to make important decisions or to exercise control over their elected representatives. Nigel Harris, writing about Mao’s China, captures in his description a similar reality in Castro’s Cuba: The Chinese Communist party’s view of democracy was taken from the Russia of the 1930s. Democracy is a style of relationship between cadres and non-cadres, between party leaders and cadres, not the subordination of power to the majority. In this sense democracy is not directly about power at all.24 Real working-class democracy would have required the creation of formal institutions of working-class rule, such as existed in the Paris Commune or the Russian Revolution—real decision-making bodies directly elected and instantly recallable, making no more than an average worker’s wage. As Argentine socialist Francisco Sobrino notes, “There can be no substantive democracy (one with truly egalitarian features) without it also being a formal democracy.”25 The fact that the old “national institutions were in varying degrees of disrepute”26 meant that the mass of Cubans did not cry when Castro failed to revive bourgeois elections. Yet neither were new organs of popular democracy created from below to replace them. State power was in the hands of a small group around Fidel. A number of supporters of the Cuban regime point to the existence of mass organizations such as the neighborhood-based Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and the Federation of Cuban Women, which, says McInerney, “involved the masses of Cuban workers and peasants in the revolutionary process,” as evidence of democracy in Cuba. But the CDRs are not decision-making organs; their day-to-day function is to act as the eyes and ears of the regime at the neighborhood level. As one author notes, “CDR militants have…hounded ‘nonintegrated’ individuals, denouncing and condemning all forms of parasitic and antisocial behavior, as well as collaborating with local authorities in policing neighborhoods. In 1980, according to eyewitness accounts from Mariel refugees, the CDR sponsored ‘repudiation meetings’ designed to chastise, browbeat, and humiliate citizens who wanted to leave Cuba. Often, these meetings turned into violent and vituperative mob action.”27 The Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), like all state-sponsored “mass organizations” in Cuba, is an instrument for the mobilization of women to fulfill tasks determined by the party rather than collective debate and decision-making. A study of women’s role in Cuba by Alfred Padula and Lois M. Smith found that the FMC “was an intensely hierarchical organization.” With its top-down lines of command and its use of military terminology, the FMC—like all mass organizations in Cuba—had a certain martial aura. Activities were perceived as battles, struggles, campaigns; members were organized in brigades and detachments. Uniformity was the watchword. In 1974 the FMC launched a campaign to encourage proper sleeping habits in children, which included a contest “to select a figure and a melody that will be used every day at a specific hour [on radio] to urge the children to go to sleep.”28 As with most important gatherings, Fidel Castro was always the last speaker at FMC congresses, and according to Vilma Espín, president of the FMC, “His words constitute a mandate.”29 Even the much-celebrated system of “poder popular” or people’s power, does not in fact confer any real power on ordinary people. Popular power was touted as a means to institutionalize the revolution after a period of years (it wasn’t formed until 1976!) in which the revolutionaries had lost contact with the masses. A system of municipal and regional assemblies, crowned by a National Assembly—popular power, in the words of Sam Farber, offered “the appearance of democracy without the substance.”30 This is true for a number of reasons. One, there is only one legal political party—the Cuban Communist Party. Barred from campaigning, candidates can only present their political biographies. The electoral law of 1992 allowed for the election of all the members of the National Assembly (previously only 55 percent were elected, the rest appointed from above). A “candidacy commission” consisting of leaders of the CCP and leaders of the mass organizations nominates the candidates, resulting in a situation in which the overwhelming majority of candidates are either members of the CCP or its organizations. What’s more, the number of candidates is restricted in such a way that the municipal electors can either vote for “all the candidates, some of the candidates, or none of them.”31 All of this, in any case, is moot because the National Assembly, which meets only twice a year for a few days, is a rubber-stamp body. As Marifeli Pérez-Stable writes, it is “not a permanent legislature and consequently did not have an actual role in governing Cuba.” Its role is to listen to various reports and approve various budgets, economic plans and laws and vote for them. “Debate could modify but never reject proposals. The assembly approved most matters unanimously, or nearly so.… Invariably…once President Castro spoke definitively on an issue, discussion stopped.”32 Scholar Carollee Bengelsdorf, who observed a meeting of the National Assembly in 1978, witnessed a discussion about Cuba’s housing shortage in which some delegates complained that they had lost voters’ confidence because none of the problems affecting people at the municipal level ever seemed to get solved. On the last day of the assembly, Fidel explained, We cannot simply do things because the electorate says it’s best, that it is good, really beautiful. There are many beautiful things in the world that have to wait to be realized. Unquestionably, there is a yearly plan of work, construction, and when this plan is made, the wishes of the electorate cannot be taken into account.33 Quite simply, the bureaucracy denies democracy because it has decisions it wants to make that it knows Cuban workers won’t accept. The top CCP leaders are also not accountable to their own party. It held its first congress in 1975—ten years after the party’s founding. Since then there have been only five congresses, the last one being held in 2002. In the party itself, as Maurice Zeitlin, a sympathetic observer, described in 1970, “The Central Committee of the Communist Party was not chosen by the rank and file of the party throughout the country, and there seems to be no inclination to carry out such elections with the Party itself.”34 One might expect that in a workers’ state the working class might have some degree of control over economic priorities, but such is not the case in Cuba. The technical advisory councils established in 1960, for example, were seen as a way to get workers to accept management decisions. “It is not a question of discussing all administrative decisions with the workers,” noted Politburo member Armando Hart, “but of obtaining their enthusiasm to support the principal measures of the administration.”35 Guevara and other leaders were of the same opinion. Writes Pérez-Stable, Collective decision-making was never their prerogative: the revolutionary government conferred exclusive power over enterprise matters to management. “Collective discussions, one-man decision-making and responsibility,” Guevara contended. Carlos Rafael Rodriguez seconded him: “We hear from many quarters the idea that workers should decide by majority vote…. Collective management is destructive. Administrators should have, have, and will have the last word.”36 The trade unions in Cuba are also adjuncts of management that promote productivity and labor discipline rather than defend workers’ rights. The justification for this new role for the unions was that the interests of the working class and the state were now identical. “One of the principal functions of the trade unions under socialism,” wrote Raúl Castro in 1971, is to serve as a vehicle for the orientation, directives, and goals which the revolutionary power must convey to the working masses…. The work of the trade unions helps and supports that of the administration…. The principal tasks [in which the unions should be involved] are productivity and work discipline; more efficient utilization of the workday…and most efficient and rational use of both material and human resources.37 Union organizations independent of party (state) control are prohibited, and there is no right to strike. Beginning in 1969, a new law required that “everyone in the labor force carry an identification card listing his occupational and employment record, and making the maintenance of such records on their employees mandatory.”38 This emphasis on the part of the Cuban leadership on the role of unions promoting greater productivity continues today. The September 20, 2006, edition of Granma, an official organ of the CCP, cited a speech by José A. Carrillo Gómez, chief political director of the Cuban armed forces, stating that, “The principal role of the labor unions is to promote productivity and labor discipline.”39 Political opposition to the regime is carefully monitored and frequently suppressed, either through intimidation or imprisonment. And it is not just Miami-funded dissidents who are harassed. Pro-Soviet communists and left-wing critics have also been repressed, as well as various artists. In the 1960s, “The tiny group of Cuban Trotskyists (Posadistas) was in prison for several years after their literature and printing press were seized by the government,” writes Farber. This was a group that supported the Cuban Revolution. “They were eventually released on condition that they cease independent political activity.”40 Ariel Hidalgo spent seven years in prison in Cuba, according to Amnesty International, on the charge of “hostile propaganda,” for writing a pamphlet in 1984 criticizing the “prerogatives” enjoyed by managers but “denied to nearly the whole rank-and-file working population.”41 Where critical opinions that contradict official policy are not permitted one cannot speak of real debate, let alone democracy. Raúl Castro once said that Cuba is “the most democratic state” in history, “even without representative institutions” because it “represents the interests of the working class, no matter what its form and structure.” It is surely a peculiar democracy whose superiority consists in the fact that the governing party rules in the name of the working class without having to answer to any “representative institutions.”42 The Cuban regime squared this circle by asserting that, “The working class considered as a whole…cannot exercise its own dictatorship.” Why? “Originating in bourgeois society,” the working class is “marred by flaws and vices from the past.”43 (Apparently, Raúl, Fidel, Che, and all the other revolutionaries who “originated in bourgeois society” were somehow unmarked by these vices). Ironically, when Raúl Castro made this statement, the head of the CTC was Lázaro Peña, the same Stalinist bureaucrat who was president of the union federation under Batista’s first dictatorship. Some socialists who have no problem seeing through the limitations of bourgeois democracy—the choice every four to six years of who will misrepresent the people—seem to wear blinders when it comes to the absence of any democracy at all in Cuba. The economics of dependency The Cuban economy has gone through a number of different phases since the revolution, each a response to problems created by the previous phase. In the early 1960s, Cuba attempted to introduce a Soviet-model, centrally planned command economy with the aim of rapidly diversifying the economy and abandoning Cuba’s dependence on sugar. This phase ended in crisis as Cuba found itself increasingly in debt to the Russians, yet with declining foreign exchange from its neglected sugar sector. Cuba found that it had moved from dependence on the U.S. to dependence on the Russians, forced to return to sugar exports as its main source of earnings. In the late 1960s, Cuba embarked on a “Guevarist” phase of hyper-centralized growth based on “moral incentives,” the demand for “selfless production,” and the use of military-style campaigns and production competitions (“socialist emulation”). The goal was rapid accumulation and industrialization based on an extremely high rate of investment. The period ended in disaster (practically zero growth), as the economy was thrown into dislocation by the attempt to mobilize the entire population to meet the goal of a ten million ton sugar harvest by 1970. At the end of the post-revolution regime’s first decade, per capita income was below what it had been in 1959.44 In the period of the 1970s, Cuba came back into the Russian fold and adopted a more modest development plan involving an emphasis on quotas and monetary incentives, as well as experiments with market mechanisms. Cuba retained its dependence on sugar throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, receiving “something like a $5 billion annual subsidy from the Soviet Union—about $500 per capita annually—in the form of a relative price for Cuban sugar bartered for Soviet oil that far exceeded prevailing world market price.”45 This did not prevent Cuba from entering a period of economic crisis in the late 1970s, and again in the late 1980s, in which declining sugar prices reduced Cuba’s foreign exchange earnings and drove up its trade deficit and foreign debt. Cuba’s economic troubles, in other words, did not begin in the 1990s. To respond to the 1980s crisis, Castro initiated the “campaign to rectify errors and negative tendencies” in 1986 and revived a number of features of the late sixties—moral incentives, the expansion of the state’s role and the restricting of various market concession made earlier in the decade, and the reintroduction of work brigades. Castro’s rhetoric spoke of the need to curb “two-bit capitalists” who were “forgetting about the country.”46 But at the same time he began opening up the country to more foreign investment and expanding the tourist industry. The campaign was devised to increase the available surplus wealth to pay back Cuba’s mushrooming foreign debt. In addition to clamping down on private business transactions and corruption, the government “came out against employment security, wage guarantees, and unemployment and seniority rights,”47 and initiated cuts in the supply of important consumer products like milk and sugar. The government also doubled transportation fares, raised electricity rates by 30 percent, “stopped providing snacks at work centers, and… replaced the afternoon meal (until then offered at child care institutions) with a snack.”48 The rectification campaign was in part Castro’s response to perestroika in Russia and Solidarity in Poland. His attacks on bureaucratic privilege in this context were in large part ideological (though he was concerned to curtail theft at all levels)—to ease public opposition to austerity by presenting it as shared sacrifice. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to post-revolutionary Cuba’s worst economic crisis in its history. The crucial subsidy Russia had provided to Cuba suddenly disappeared. Below market-rate oil shipments, some of which Cuba had resold at a profit, dried up. The Eastern Bloc had accounted for 80 percent of Cuba’s imported machinery, and imported 63 percent of Cuba’s sugar (at higher than world market rates), as well as 73 percent of its nickel exports. The results were catastrophic. Imports fell 70 percent between 1990 and 1993. “Nearly half of all factories were shut down or forced to operate on a much reduced scale, for lack of imported raw materials, spare parts, and petroleum.”49 Cuba’s economy went into a tailspin, declining by 36 percent in the same period. Cuba was forced to import bicycles and use horse-drawn carts, and malnutrition was widespread.50 A UN observer who visited Cuba in 1996, Solon Barraclough, reported rural shortages of basic farm implements like machetes and hoes, clothing, paper, pencils, books, and medical supplies like aspirin and antibiotics.51 Yet the urban economy was even worse off, prompting the state to send urban refugees into the countryside.52 In response to the crisis, Cuba declared itself to be in a “Special Period in Peacetime” and initiated a series of reforms to cope with the crisis: opening up of foreign investment, in particular to joint (50-50) enterprises; decentralization of foreign trade activity; an increase in tourism; a restructuring of land ownership toward cooperatives and small farms (in an effort to increase domestic food production); authorization of licensed self-employment on a limited basis; creation of handicraft markets; greater autonomy and self-financing for state-owned enterprises; and legalization of dollar holdings. Cuba’s chief economic strategist, Carlos Lage, claims that Cuba’s special reforms are “not an opening toward capitalism, but rather a socialist opening toward a capitalist world.”53 The head of Cuba’s national bank explained that, “We have to think like capitalists but continue being socialists.” Castro defended “creeping privatization,” citing the need for a “practical attitude,” and the slogan became “capital yes, capitalism no.”54 This opening included allowing foreign investors in joint ventures (of which there were 340 in 2003, down from a peak of 540 in 2000)55 to repatriate all of their share of the profits. Whereas the Cuban managers of these concerns are paid salaries comparable to their foreign counterparts, the Cuban workers in these businesses are paid by an agency of the Cuban state, which receives $450 in hard currency per month, but only pays the equivalent of fifteen Cuban pesos per month in wages. In order to attract foreign investment, the Cuban government “exempted investors from compliance with labor laws, and it allowed for unlimited profit repatriation for up to ten years.”56 Not even Cuba’s state-run unions were permitted in the joint ventures. According to Jorge Pérez-López, the special labor regime of workers in joint ventures and the tourist industry allows employers more leeway to apply disciplinary action, requires longer probationary periods, longer hours, and allows more irregular work schedules. Workers also have less job security, as employees can be dismissed if they are not deemed “suitable.”57 In addition, the state began an economic program known as “perfeccionamiento empresarial” (enterprise optimization)—first adopted by enterprises run by Cuba’s armed forces in the late 1980s—allowing some enterprises to buy and sell directly on the world market and set their own labor policies. The aim was to “increase the maximum efficiency and competitiveness” of state enterprises.58 Low world market sugar prices and declining crop yields prompted the state to restructure the industry, shutting down half the sugar mills and diverting fields for cane production to other agricultural products. Tourism revenue grew from $243 million in 1991 to $1.8 billion in 2001, surpassing sugar as Cuba’s main industry and accounting in 2000 for 41 percent of Cuba’s foreign exchange.59 Dollar remittances (estimated at as much as $1 billion) became a crucial source of foreign exchange as well as a lifeline for many Cubans on the island. Cuba expanded its biotechnology industry, and sought foreign investors from Canada and China, to revive its nickel industry. Cuba now gets Venezuelan oil at below-market prices and has developed a series of joint economic ventures with Venezuela and China. Though there had been some recovery, the industrial sector is still far from its 1989 levels, there are shortages of consumer goods, chronic underemployment, and Cuba’s per capita income “is at best marginally better now than in 1957,” according to one left-wing economist.60 The promotion of tourism brought back features that were more redolent of pre-revolutionary Havana, which was not altogether discouraged by the Cuban government: In its drive to attract tourists the government played on the image of the “old Havana.” Three of the main Cuban organs that operate resorts—Cubatur, Cubanacán, and Cimex—hosted a Playboy trip around the time the Special Period was launched. The government allowed the magazine to feature an article on the “girls of Cuba,” contingent on coverage of the island’s tourist facilities. Even the Ministry of Tourism began to run travel advertisements abroad featuring string bikini-clad sexy Cuban girls. If that were not enough, in 1991 the government opened a Tropicana nightclub in Santiago de Cuba, a club capitalizing on the name of Havana’s most famous prerevolutionary nightspot. The government’s interest in hard currency led it to play on its prerevolutionary reputation and to reverse its earlier puritanical stance on such matters.61 Tourism introduced a sort of economic apartheid in Cuba, with a marked contrast between tourist wealth and extravagance and the austerity and low pay of most islanders. The legalization of the dollar in 1993 created a parallel economy that increased income inequality on the island. Those with access to dollars (about 60 percent) had access to services and goods that others did not. The economy has become so distorted that state-employed professionals like doctors and professors with no access to dollars have a lower income than taxi drivers in the tourist zone, prompting the former to moonlight as cabbies and small restaurant operators. For many young workers, pay is so low that many decide to become self-employed in order to improve their living standards. As in times past (for example, the 1980 Mariel exodus), the regime, though it regularly restricted travel abroad among ordinary Cubans, has allowed the exodus of thousands of poor Cubans, which acts as both an economic and political safety valve. In 2004, some of these economic reforms were curtailed—for example, small businesses were restricted again and Castro, in retaliation for Bush’s new restrictions on remittances and visits by Cuban Americans to the island—decreed that dollars had to be exchanged for convertible pesos for a 10 percent surcharge, and enterprises’ access to foreign exchange was recentralized through the state. But another motive seemed to be that the state would be able to concentrate more hard currency for imports and debt repayment. Cuba’s hard currency debt stands at almost $14 billion as of 2004, not counting the estimated $22 billion it still owes to the ex-Eastern Bloc countries, a fact that makes it difficult for Cuba to secure, when it can, other than short-term, high-interest loans. Even Cuba’s debt to Venezuela, in spite of paying cheaper than market prices for Venezuelan oil, is estimated at $2.5 billion. According to economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, The scarcity of hard currency has been aggravated by several problems: continuous deterioration in the terms of trade; a merchandise trade deficit of about $3 billion from 2000 through 2004; a decline in foreign direct investment from 2001 through 2004; cash purchases of food and agricultural products from the United States that reached a cumulative total of $1 billion at the start of 2005; [and] extensive imports of equipment, spare parts, and goods in 2004 due to the electricity crisis and subsequent paralysis of great parts of the tourist sector.62 These zig-zags do not represent an alternation between capitalist and socialist measures, but rather an effort to overcome the problems that each economic shift creates. Each time the state opens up the economy it runs the risk also of opening things up beyond its control. It then lurches in the other direction, only to find that it creates other problems. The economic rationale for centralization of the economy and banning of private economic activity is that it allows the state to concentrate in its hands greater surplus and prevent “leakage” of wealth. However, the shortages of basic goods and the long lines for goods and services lead to high rates of absenteeism and resentment, lower productivity rates, and economic decline. In response, the state moves toward allowing private market mechanisms to operate more freely, including small service-related businesses, legalization of the black market, and so on. And the cycle begins again. State (and private) capitalism in Cuba Marx wrote in Capital that individual capitalists are driven by market competition to maximize profits: Competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt by each individual capitalist, as external coercive laws. It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation.63 Defenders of Cuba’s socialist character claim that these laws don’t apply because there is no competition domestically between firms. This purely national view fails to take into account that Cuba is not a self-sufficient entity, but a small island nation that does not even produce all of its own food, let alone the energy, raw materials, machinery, spare parts, and investment funds that it needs to develop. The “external coercive laws” of capitalism impose themselves in the form of the world market, from which Cuba, a country dependent on imports and exports to survive, and which is deeply in debt to international creditors, was not able to escape at any point in its history. What has guided the investment and production priorities of the Cuban state? In Castro’s 1978 speech to the National Assembly previously referred to, he explained that the overarching need to invest Cuba’s resources in “economic and industrial development” was “an absolute,” and that therefore “the priority given to such investment was not open to discussion, or questioning.”64 Historian Louis Pérez, Jr., tells of how the regime’s drive to reduce Cuba’s sugar dependency led to an economic policy in the 1960s in which “consumption was curtailed to divert investment into industrialization and rapid economic growth.”65 As an economy dependent on exports, and until recently on sugar, the Cuban state has, just like an individual capitalist, been concerned not with what “use value” it produces, but with its value, i.e., what can be gotten in return for as little expenditure as possible. After the initial failures of the Guevarist phase, its entire development strategy rested in large part on the maximization of profit on a single export. The exigencies of the world market compel the state to engage in “progressive” accumulation—the expansion of surplus value—for the purposes of reinvestment and expansion of the Cuban economy. As with “private” capitalism, in Cuba “living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labor.” Of course, as the provider of social services, the state has been responsible for the maintenance of certain minimum living standards for the Cuban working class, but the limits of improvement of this “social wage” are conditioned by the needs of accumulation. That is the meaning of the countless statements by Castro & Co. that workers must sacrifice today for a better tomorrow. “We should not speak of improving living conditions,” Castro said in his speech commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the revolution. “The most sacred duty of this generation is to devote their efforts to the development of the country…. This generation must make sacrifices…. Other generations will live better.”66 It is evident in the fact that the bureaucracy has never been able to solve Cuba’s housing crisis—there was a shortage of one million housing units at the end of the 1970s (and still more than 700,000 today),67 a result not simply of shortages, but reflects “the priority given to construction programs in other sectors.”68 Yet this sacrifice has never been a shared sacrifice. Like any ruling class, the Cuban nomenklatura also reserves special material privileges for itself, though the income disparities in Cuba (reported by Dumont to be about 9.4 to 1 in 196969) are not comparable to those, for example, in the United States. But money is not an adequate indication of the privilege of the ruling class in Cuba. In the Stalinist economies political access to goods and services has always been more important than access to money. As Louis Pérez, Jr., writes, whereas many durable consumer goods for workers and poor Cubans have been rationed—often goods like refrigerators and TV sets are awarded only to the most “productive” and “conscious” workers—“at a higher level…the government made available to high-level technicians, labor union leaders and ranking state functionaries valued goods and services, including automobiles, better housing, and access to vacations abroad.”70 There are also special shops and clinics for the elite. Though some Castro supporters may concede these inequalities of wealth, they deny that the Cuban bureaucracy is a ruling class, or that Cuba is capitalist, on the grounds that there are no private owners (although even this view has to be modified in light of the joint ventures). Classes are defined by their relationship to the means of production, and by who thereby controls the surplus. In Cuba, the state owns most of the economy, and the top echelons of the CCP control the state, and therefore the surplus; the working class, which is deprived of control, and therefore ownership, of the means of production, as well as the surplus it produces, is an exploited class. The Catholic Church was the largest feudal landowner in Europe. It exploited peasants even though no Vatican high officials privately owned Church land. The fact that individual bishops could not inherit or pass on landed wealth did not negate the fact that the church as an institution was an exploiter of the peasantry on the lands it collectively owned.71 The same holds true for Cuba. What makes Cuba capitalist is the pressure of the world market on the priorities and decisions of the Cuban ruling class. Socialism on one island is no more possible than socialism in one factory. The fact that work discipline must continually be reinforced is strong evidence that Cuban workers do not feel themselves to be owners of the means of production. In response to the wide gap between wages and the scant availability of consumer goods, workers often work only as much as is necessary to buy their rations. Forms of labor coercion are needed to supplement efforts to convince workers to work under conditions of austerity. Absenteeism and theft are recurrent themes in the speeches of state officials. Lacking other means of redress for their low standards of living (such as striking), Cuban workers engage in these more passive forms of resistance. Workers absent themselves from their official jobs to engage in various unofficial activities to supplement their wages. This behavior only accelerated in past years because of the introduction of the parallel dollar economy related to tourism and dollar remittances from the United States. Conclusion No country can escape from the effects of the world market, least of all a small island economy. While small nations can achieve political independence from imperialism—Cuba is living proof—the idea of “economic independence” was always a nationalist pipe dream. Cuba’s inescapable reliance on one or two key exports (sugar, then tourism) its dependence on foreign investment and imports for capital, raw materials, and even food—first from the Eastern Bloc, today from elsewhere—is proof of this truth. If Cuba is able to diversify its exports in biotechnology, nickel, oil, and services (i.e. doctors) it will not have thereby strengthened “socialism” in Cuba. It will have been accomplished by significant investment from Canadian, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and Venezuelan capital. The use of state planning to develop the products that give Cuba a “comparative advantage” in the world market is a development strategy employed by dozens of once less developed capitalist countries, from South Korea to Singapore. It has no more to do with socialism than Mexico’s national oil company. The class nature of Cuba must be separated from the question of the defense of Cuba against U.S. imperialism, for they are not identical questions. Too often liberals have historically sided with U.S. aims and failed to defend countries under U.S. assault—witness the failure of the Left to oppose U.S. intervention in Somalia and Panama—because they could not identify politically with the regimes of those states. The uncritical defense of Castro’s rule is the flip side of the same approach. All sincere anti-imperialists should condemn the cruel U.S. economic blockade of Cuba; but we should have no illusions as to what the lifting of that embargo would mean. The proximity of Cuba to the U.S. and the latter’s size and power will lead to the more or less rapid reintegration of Cuba with the U.S. economy. With special rules that allow it to circumvent restrictive laws against trade and investment with Cuba, U.S. agribusiness has exported $1.6 billion in products to Cuba between 2001 and 2005, making Cuba the third largest U.S. food importer in Latin America.72 The Bush administration has also authorized a San Diego company to market three anti-cancer vaccines developed by the Center for Molecular Immunology in Havana.73 A lifting of the embargo would lead not to the flourishing of socialism, by whatever definition. Cuba’s social services—its free health care and educational system especially—would come under threat.
2. The Aff is naïve- power always exists in the international arena. If the US doesn’t exercise imperial force others will and that is comparatively worse
Niall Ferguson [MA, D.Phil., is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford] IN "IMPERIAL DENIAL." WITH NONNA GORILOVSKAYA. MAY/JUNE 2004. http ://www. globalpo I icy . org/empire/analvs is/2004/052 mperi al d en i al .htm)
Well, it could be for a very short-time indeed. One of the nightmare scenarios that I have been thinking about a lot recently is that there is simply a world without hegemony in which the United States goes: "Oh dear, this is too nasty and morally compromising, we are going home." The Europeans are entirely taken up with their own problems of demographic, aging, and immigration. Out in Asia, the big issue is essentially economic development for the hinterland of China. Nobody wants to play the role of empire in mid-twenty-first century history and that's a perfectly plausible scenario. and its not a very comforting one. Those of my critics who say "empire is always bad, we should never have empire," have not looked at the historical alternatives to empire Throughout most of recorded history there have been empires. Empires essentially create order. In their absence, you don't end up with lots of happy, little nation-states full of people sitting around campfires singing John Lennon's "Imagine." What you end up with is civil war, anarchy. You end up with -- say in the 9th century- the Vikings who were quintessential beneficiaries of the collapse of empire. They were able simply rampage around Europe looting and pillaging cities. But that scenario - what I would call .the "Dark Age" scenario --is a much scarier. one in the 21st century than in the 9th century. Technology gives the Vikings of our time the possibility of dirty bombs. In that sense, empire is to be preferred to the available alternatives. That's why I want the United States to keep its nerve, to go the distance, to recognize that the alternatives to empire are worst, not better. And in that sense, my arguments for liberal empire or whatever you want to call it -- hegemony, primacy, you name it — are really activated by a sense that the alternatives involve more violence, more repression, more hardship, especially for the people of the Middle East.>
3. The Cuban government skims money from foreign investment and tourism, the plan plays right into their hands
Mitchell Bustillo [will be attending Columbia University in the fall where he will be majoring in Engineering with a minor in Economics on a Pre-Law track. He is a first-generation Cuban-American, a Hispanic Heritage Foundation Gold Medallion Winner, and a former United States Senate Page, appointed by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. He one day hopes to return to the Hill]¶ Time to Strengthen the Cuban Embargo¶ May 9, 2013¶ http://www.internationalpolicydigest.org/2013/05/09/time-to-strengthen-the-cuban-embargo/
Still there is the idea that further increasing American tourism to this nearby Caribbean island will at least aid their impoverished citizens in some manner, but this is neither a straight-forward nor easy solution. From the annual throng of American visitors, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio declared at a 2011 Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Hearing that an estimated, “$4 billion a year flow directly to the Cuban government from remittances and travel by Cuban Americans, which is perhaps the single largest source of revenue to the most repressive government in the region.”¶ These remittances are sent by Americans to help their Cuban families, not support the Cuban government. It is also a common belief that the Cuban embargo is a leading cause of poverty among the Cuban citizens and that lifting the embargo would go a long way toward improving the Cuban standard of living. However, no amount of money can increase the living standards there as long as their current regime stands. “After all, the authorities were already skimming 20 percent of the remittances from Cuban-Americans and 90 percent of the salary paid to Cubans by non-American foreign investors,” states Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Senior Fellow of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute.¶ However unfortunate it may be, Cuba, in its current state, is a nation consisting only of a wealthy and powerful few and an impoverished and oppressed proletariat, who possess little to no means to escape or even improve their fate. Lifting the trade embargo will not increase the general prosperity of the Cuban people, but it will increase the prosperity of the government. Ergo, the poverty and dire situation of the Cuban people cannot be blamed on the United States or the embargo.
4. The aff is an act of moral irresponsibility actively rewarding a brutal and oppressive regime- the Embargo is the only way to pressure the regime into reform. The status quo is the most ethical act
Miguel Olivella [Florida based attorney and writer about Cuban-American issues]¶ May 24, 2011¶ Miguel Olivella: Morality, not votes, guides embargo¶ http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20110525/OPINION05/105250303/Miguel-Olivella-Morality-not-votes-guides-embargo?nclick_check=1
Carl Leubsdorf advances the notion that the Cuban embargo should be abandoned since it is in place solely due to political considerations that trump "the national interest." If Leubsdorf had his way, we would lift the embargo to create an atmosphere of change in Cuba that would enable Cuba to join the global democratic revolution. Leubsdorf appears to suffer from an extreme case of naivete when it comes to the likes of Fidel and Raul Castro. But before presenting my humble opinion as to justifiable reasons for the embargo, let's dispel the premise for Leubsdorf's opinion piece, i.e. that the Cuban-American vote dictates policy positions by Florida politicians. Recently, Gov. Rick Scott expressed support for the embargo. It is no secret that the governor is pro-business. The business community at large favors a lifting of the embargo because of the obvious trade and financial opportunities. This constituency is much larger than the Cuban-American constituency, and thus Gov. Scott's position on the embargo is clearly a net vote count loss for him. Even an unabashed Florida liberal such as Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is vehemently opposed to relaxing U.S. policy toward Cuba. The Cuban-American community can hardly be considered Wasserman Schultz voters in light of fundamental disagreement with her overall political philosophy. Moreover, I would suspect that her support of the embargo has cost her votes with her Democratic base. History also teaches us that the Cuban-American vote does not translate into election victory in Florida. If Cuban-American votes could truly carry an election, President Obama — a vocal proponent of abandoning the embargo — would never have won Florida in 2008. So why would ourpro-business governor and the liberal Wasserman Schultz refuse to sanction a lifting of the embargo? Because they are both guided by a moral compass that will not allow them to reward one of the most reprehensible, Machiavellian regimes of our time with more trade than currently is in place. And, unlike Leubsdorf, they do not suffer from the rose-colored-glasses belief that trade with Cuba will engender democracy. For some 50 years, the Castro regime has prohibited all political dissent. My fellow countrymen and relatives have been tortured, executed and imprisoned for daring to express any political view that differs from the regime's philosophy. There is no right to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement or due process of law. Enforcement of government policy is carried out through surveillance, detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions and dismissals from employment. Rewarding this conduct with open trade is unconscionable. As for democracy, Fidel and Raul Castro have perfected a tyrannical system that has made them and their friends inordinately rich. This power structure includes not only human right atrocities, but a complete dominance over the economy, which is in the exclusive hands of the Cuban military and the Castros' circle of friends. Any company seeking to engage in commerce with Cuba must go through the state, and since the Castros enjoy unfettered control over all aspects of the economy, the only beneficiaries of commerce would be the Castros. No thinking person can possibly believe that the Castros would allow democracy to flourish, since it would jeopardize what they have been zealously protecting for 50 years — lives of privilege and wealth.
5. Moral absolutism is complicity with violence – it allows people to die for the sake of clean hands
(Jeffrey C., James H. Rudy professor of Political Science and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Public Life at Indiana University, Bloomington, “Ends, Means and politics,” Dissent, Spring)
As writers such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Max Weber, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Hannah Arendt have taught, an unyielding concern with moral goodness undercuts political responsibility. The concern may be morally laudable, reflecting a kind of personal integrity, but it suffers from three fatal flaws: (1) It fails to see that the purity of one’s intention does not ensure the achievement of what one intends. Abjuring violence or refusing to make common cause with morally compromised parties may seem like the right thing; but if such tactics entail impotence, then it is hard to view them as serving any moral good beyond the clean conscience of their supporters; (2) it fails to see that in a world of real violence and injustice, moral purity is not simply a form of powerlessness; it is often a form of complicity in injustice. This is why, from the standpoint of politics— as opposed to religion—pacifism is always a potentially immoral stand. In categorically repudiating violence, it refuses in principle to oppose certain violent injustices with any effect; and (3) it fails to see that politics is as much about unintended consequences as it is about intentions; it is the effects of action, rather than the motives of action, that is most significant. Just as the alignment with “good” may engender impotence, it is often the pursuit of “good” that generates evil. This is the lesson of communism in the twentieth century: it is not enough that one’s goals be sincere or idealistic; it is equally important, always, to ask about the effects of pursuing these goals and to judge these effects in pragmatic and historically contextualized ways. Moral absolutism inhibits this judgment. It alienates those who are not true believers. It promotes arrogance. And it undermines political effectiveness.