Cuba carries the banner – Interview with Carlos Tablada

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.99 February/March 1981

carlos tablada

The Cuban economist CARLOS TABLADA addressed a packed Conway Hall in London on 30 November. Pathfinder Books, publishers of Tablada’s major work on Che Guevara: Economics and Politics in the Transition to Socialism, organised the meeting. We had the rare and inspiring opportunity to hear a committed communist tackle the problems faced by humanity today. Tablada examined the crisis of socialism, explained the vital contribution of Cuba’s experiences and discussed the global balance of class forces and socialism’s future. The following day FRFI had the opportunity of talking to Carlos Tablada personally. Below we print extracts from the interview.

FRFI: Cuba is carrying the banner. It is the standard bearer of socialist ideas today. Why has this happened?

CT: I think that this happened because socialism didn’t develop in the way that had been foreseen by Marx and Engels. Socialism, Marxism triumphed in a part of Europe that was less developed. The Russian Empire had a population of 160 million people and practically 90 per cent of them were illiterate, and they really didn’t have much idea of how to organise a socialist society. No one had done it before. They were the pioneers. And as we know, unfortunately after the death of Lenin, they made major errors of principle, which brought with them dogmatism. They lost the critical and self-critical character; they forgot something which Marx did. Marx wasn’t a political economist, he criticised the capitalist economy and this Marxist criticism wasn’t put into practice. The rest of the story you know. They constructed a model which they claimed was the only model of socialism possible, and the model contained within it the seeds of capitalism. They didn’t change the capitalist relations between people. That was the view of Che Guevara. He was the first communist leader in power who recognised the problems that this model would result in.

The Cuban revolution had a different concept of how society could be organised. You can read this in Fidel Castro’s speeches from 1953. We started to develop a different society and a different socialism, in a different form. And even though we did make some mistakes in copying he Soviet model, these remained the pillars on which our thought and the development of our society was based. We didn’t make the same mistakes as the East. And so we don’t have the same results.

If you say the locus of the revolutionary movement initially shifted to the East quite unexpectedly, and now it’s moving towards what has been called the Third World, what future do you think the communist movement has in this context?

First of all, in the countries of the East, there wasn’t a revolution. The only revolution was in Russia. So you can’t really say that the revolutionary movement is moving from the countries of the East, because it was never in the countries of the East.

Do you include the Russian revolution in that context?

There things are different. In Russia there was a revolution. The changes in the East I would prefer to refer to as changes in the popular workers’ movement. For many years the Communist Parties in those countries have been making big mistakes. They had the opportunity to make links with the people and they lost that. They had the opportunity of developing a real revolutionary movement and they didn’t do it. So now the revolutionary movement has to be won. The workers in those countries live well – but I think that the intellectuals there sold utopian capitalism to the working class. These workers, as the shock measures of the IMF come into effect, will lose the benefits they had under the previous system and will come to see what real capitalism means. I think that now there will be the opportunity to build up revolutionary workers’ movements. As this happens there will be a clearer understanding of the mistakes of the old socialist model and they will realise what they have to fight against in real capitalism. The mistake these working classes are still living with is that they equate one specific model with socialism and communism and that’s why they reject it. They will become aware that there is a difference between the socialist model that was developed there and the real socialist or communist thinking.

A miners’ leader from Yorkshire was explaining to me here that he had received a delegation of miners’ trade union leaders from an Eastern European country. What they wanted was for their mines to be privatised. He told me that he had to explain to them that wasn’t a solution but socialism was the way. I think that’s very interesting. We’re going through a period of confusion, because the fact is that the dominant class in the world is capitalist. And the first manifestation of this power is the press and media.

Every day they propagandise us and maintain class hegemony through these oppressive means, but these criticisms have also created expectations in the working class in the West itself. This is just like the tide which ebbs and flows, it comes to each in their turn. And it will return, not only because of the negative effects that we see in Eastern Europe. The fact is that this crisis in Eastern European countries has coincided with a capitalist crisis too. A crisis which means that developed countries are in recession. Many established US economists have recognised that they are in recession.

In the last great crisis of the capitalist system in the 1930s, because communist ideas and communist influence were on the wane, one of the dominant responses to the crisis was the creation of a right-wing – in some countries, fascist – movement. Why will this not happen again?

I didn’t say it won’t happen. Already there are manifestations of this in some of the East European countries. There is anti-Jewish feeling, and feeling against people from the Third World. Many Jews from East European countries are moving out. In Germany they are chucking the Turks out, in Yugoslavia the Spaniards. So you can’t just write off that possibility. But the world today is more interdependent than it was in the ‘30s. On the one hand it’s more fragile, but on the other it’s more interdependent. No doubt the USA is trying to play the role played by fascism, but things are not that simple nowadays, because of the development of the arms race, and the contradiction of capitalism which allows the sale of arms so that even underdeveloped countries can have intermediate range armaments, which can paralyse and neutralise world powers. Take for example Cuba: we don’t have the atom bomb, but we have 10 million inhabitants and we defend ourselves, and it means the Yankees have to think ten times before they attack us. Things are a bit more complicated now. That couldn’t happen in the thirties and forties.

Will the main influence now for socialist developments, as for example the Russian revolution influenced whole parts of the world, come from the Third World? From Cuba’s influence, from a revolution of the black people of South Africa, and so on?

The world has seen for some time now that when the Cuban revolution triumphed it wasn’t just a social revolution, it was a revolution of ideas. And that concept is being validated today. The socialist camp has broken down, and Cuba hasn’t, in spite of the USA, in spite of the blockade, in spite of the fact that we are a small underdeveloped country. So this makes people think, why is there a revolution in Cuba? Why is it, that 31 years after the revolution, the masses are more aware and more conscious than they were 30 years ago? Why is it that solidarity in Cuba is not just government solidarity but a solidarity that arises out of the people? What ideas make Cubans act in this manner? What is it that makes Cubans resist the blockade? What is it that makes Cubans resist the breakdown of the socialist camp? People will think, and reach their own conclusions. There’s even part of the US élite already convinced that they’re not going to overcome the Cuban revolution, and they’re defending the policy of normalising relations with Cuba.

Marxism, communism has been discredited amongst millions of workers now. What work do conscious communists, not just in Cuba but everywhere, have to do to win back working-class support?

I think that British communists have known how to empathise with us very well when they wrote on Karl Marx’s tomb ‘Philosophers have always interpreted the world, the point though is to change it.’ Now more than ever that principle is valid. The principles of Marxism are not in crisis. What is being questioned is a model of socialism. But in fact Marxist principles are totally contemporaneous. An analysis of present-day capitalism shows that what Marx pointed to as the development of capitalism is happening: concentration and centralisation of capital has happened; the relative impoverishment of the proletariat has happened at a world level; Marx spoke of the increase in the social character of production, and this has happened. Marx stated that the revolution was carried out mainly in order to give development a human characteristic, and it has been shown that capitalism hasn’t been able to develop a human face. The socialist model that was developed falls precisely because it wasn’t able to develop new human values. The central pillars of Marxism are still standing.

The bourgeois press attacks Cuba for banning two Soviet magazines, Sputnik and Moscow News. Why did the Cuban government ban these two magazines?

In Cuba we have 10.6 million inhabitants. We receive 13.5 million copies of Soviet magazines a year. More than one magazine per inhabitant. On the other hand the Soviet Union does not allow the entry of all Cuban magazines. For example, I work with two non-governmental agencies in Cuba – the Centre of Studies for America and the Centre for Research for World Economy. Their magazines have never been allowed into the Soviet Union. My book has been published in 12 countries, but they haven’t published it in the Soviet Union. So what happened then with Sputnik and Moscow News? These two magazines not only carried anti-Marxist thoughts, but they started to attack the whole Cuban revolution. So we had two alternatives: one, to have discussion with these magazines. We did answer one article. What happened? The Soviet press published only part of our answer and it was misquoted. We had to write another article; they didn’t publish that one. We don’t want to embark upon these discussions when we have an enemy who is eager to create problems between us and the Soviet Union. What can we do? What the people want. We have received thousands and thousands of letters from people saying that these magazines shouldn’t be there. So that’s what we do. We still have 13 million Soviet magazines coming into Cuba every year. And in those we have all of Gorbachev’s speeches, Yeltsin’s speeches, everything which is published in the Soviet news. And we don’t fear that, we haven’t prohibited that, even though there’s no reciprocity on their side.

Some time ago when Ochoa was executed, an editorial statement in Granma said that certain people had used the apparatus of the state and the party as a power base to gain privilege. Can you give some indication of the extent of this corruption, and the strength of these petty bourgeois tendencies?

Corruption had started to penetrate and privileges were there. Our combat against this started in 1984. But in Cuba we didn’t quite have the formation of the technocratic, bureaucratic class, basically because the vanguard of the revolution is not corrupt. The Party as such is not corrupt. And our level of corruption is very small, not only when you compare it with East European countries but fundamentally if you compare it to Western countries. Three ministers are in jail (jailed in 1988 and 1989): their corruption doesn't reach $100,000. I know that in the West, ministers are corrupted for millions.

Are you saying there’s no basis for a counter-revolutionary movement?

The USA itself says that. They haven’t been able to bring together more than a hundred people, who are fragmented into 13 organisations.