Marxism today as seen from Cuba
A continually developing revolutionary science rooted in practice
The Julio Antonio Mella Center for Marxist Studies, named for the co-founder of the First Communist Party of Cuba, convoked its annual scientific interchange, held at the Institute of Philosophy in Havana on December 15-16, 2022. Having not met for the last two years due to the pandemic, the event commemorated the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Engels and the 130th anniversary of the birth of Antonio Gramsci. The conference was entitled “The process of the permanent updating of Marxism-Leninism, from the perspective of Our America.”
Isabel Monal, Director of the Center for Marxist Studies, welcomed the participants with some initial words. She paid tribute to the great Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci for his creative application of Marx’s concepts to the conditions of Italy. She noted that Engels, Lenin, and Gramsci were oriented to the creative application of Marx’s concepts to new and different conditions, including an orientation to look toward the South and the development of knowledge for the South.
Monal notes that Marxism is a science; like all sciences, it develops on the basis of new discoveries and new conditions. This process of the science of Marxism modifying itself on the basis of new conditions is never ending. The challenge is to modify, appropriating knowledge from various intellectual sources and geographical places, without losing the revolutionary perspective.
Marxism as a continually evolving revolutionary science was central to the thinking of Gramsci and Lenin, Monal maintains. Accordingly, Lenin reproached those Italian Marxists who repeated what Marx wrote, without taking into account the different conditions of Italy.
Monal also observed that Marx and Engels corresponded before writing the Communist Manifesto, and in this correspondence, the researcher can clearly see that the conceptualization of the work was a joint project. Engels deserves full credit as the co-founder of scientific socialism and historical materialism. Engels was not only a great revolutionary, but also a great theoretician, who discerned the evolutionary character of scientific materialism without lapsing into an anti-revolutionary evolutionary perspective.
In accordance with this concept of Marxism as an evolutionary revolutionary science, correspondence between Marx and Engels in the early 1880s shows that they were moving to the understanding that the proletarian revolution could begin in Russia, and not Western Europe. And they were beginning to conceptualize the Western European proletarian revolution and the Russian revolution as complementary, an understanding that Lenin would more fully formulate in the early 1920s, on the basis of his experience as leader of the Russian Revolution.
In a presentation on the letters between Marx and Engels, Rafael Cervantes supported the idea of Marxism in development, continually creating a legacy of theoretical development. Marx and Engels corresponded with one another, he noted, with respect to the writings of Russian economists. They discussed agrarian reform in Russia as well as the concept of the Russian and Western European revolutions as complementary.
The members of the December 15 panel are researchers at the Institute of Philosophy and affiliated with the Center for Marxist Studies.
Antonio Barreiro’s, presentation was entitled “Confronting the cultural war with arms forged by Marxism-Leninism.” He maintained that capitalism has waged cultural war against Marxism since its birth, seeking to generate a society-wide depreciation of Marxism, thereby enabling the international capitalist class and the great imperial powers to maintain their hegemony. To the extent that the imperial powers fail in this mission, and to the extent that Marxism demonstrates its validity, the decline of the great powers is the likely result.
The revolutionary struggle, therefore, Barreiro maintains, is above all a cultural confrontation and cultural war. Not culture in a narrow sense of art or formal education. Rather, it is a matter of the cultural formation of workers, so that they have the capacity to resist being reduced to merchandise, which is central to the construction of capitalism. It is a matter of workers having the internal cultural and spiritual capacity to resist being seduced by the capitalist sense of meaning, in which everything is for sale, and everything is attained through power and money. The workers must develop the material and spiritual capacity to reject the materialist point of view, so that workers will have the capacity to define themselves not by the things they possess but by unique dimensions of personality.
In this vein, Fidel maintained that the revolution cannot prevail economically if it does not prevail culturally. Colonialism understood this, and it made every effort transform all aspects of the society of the colonized, including the culture, imposing a capitalist culture and a capitalist structure of life. Colonialism sought the full colonization of the colony and the neocolony through the imposition of the capitalist culture.
Barreiro maintains that the war of all the people must be above all a war for the defense of their culture, under the guidance of the Party. Many in Cuba believe that Eastern European socialism fell because it lost the cultural war. The cultural war of the people is especially important in the era of the social media, which Cuban leaders and intellectuals refer to as the “anti-social digital media.”
Yaira Vila maintained that the emergence of Internet as a new dimension of communication has provided capitalism with new methods for imposing its version of knowledge and its conversion of the people into merchandise. She noted that Internet reduces the costs of marketing; digital and electronic commerce is easier to do.
Enrique Sotolongo maintained that Engels described Marx as a revolutionary and a scientist. He founded a scientific socialism dedicated to the analysis of revolutions. He had a scientific and dialectical conception of revolution, discerning the unfolding of anti-capitalist and communist revolutions related to concrete and material contradictions. There existed at the time of Marx anti-revolutionary evolutionary theories. But Marx had a different concept, in which evolution occurred on the basis of struggles between classes and between nations, the dynamics of which can be understood through analysis of the history of capitalism.
Sotolongo further maintained that the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels is the necessary point of departure for the construction of socialism, because scientific socialism is the only socialist theory that has discovered the forces and contradictions of capitalism and the sources of the sufferings of the people in capitalism. Scientific socialism formulates new knowledge of the struggle between classes and between nations, as capitalism develops new techniques that are designed to maintain control of the people. Capitalism today uses psychology and techniques of social communication as an arm of struggle. Nations constructing socialism and revolutionary socialist movements must develop techniques of effective resistance to these new techniques of psychological and communication warfare.
In a closing comment, Isabel Monal stressed that the struggle against capitalism is simultaneously a struggle for decolonization and a class struggle. She maintained that attention must be given to understanding the contradictions within nations that are reflections of class divisions, including aspects of the current cultural war. In the anti-imperialist movements that have been emerging in Latin American with great force during the last two decades, it is of course correct, she maintains, to focus on the struggle of nations for sovereignty. However, the class struggle within nations must also be understood, and the two dimensions brought together in an integrating scientific conceptualization.
Toward a theoretic synthesis of anti-imperialist and class struggles
Capitalism in its modern form was brought to the vast majority of peoples through European colonial domination. In seizing control of the raw materials, labor, and markets of vast regions, the colonial powers created classes, each with their specific functions in the colonial and neocolonial world-system. The national bourgeoisie, divided between the national industrial bourgeoisie and the landed estate bourgeoisie, were installed as the owners of the industrial, agricultural, and mining enterprises that are not in foreign hands. The national bourgeoisie is allied with the colonial and imperialist powers, and it controls the neocolonial state in a form consistent with imperialist interests.
The people in the colony/neocolony consists of various sectors, including peasants, agricultural workers, industrial workers, small merchants, informal workers and merchants, and professionals. All of these sectors of the people have an interest in the sovereignty of the nation, because if the nations were to develop independent and prosperous economies, these sectors would have greater possibilities for selling their labor, their services, and their goods, thereby elevating their standard of living.
The colonial situation, it should be noted, evolves to neocolonialism, driven by the national bourgeoisie, which has an interest in the greater control afforded to it by the neocolonial situation. In the drive to independence, the national bourgeoisie is divided into two ideological wings. The accommodationists are oriented to alliance with the imperialist power; whereas the revolutionary sector, in alliance with the various sectors of the people, seeks a transformation of the economic structures and the cultural formation imposed by the colonial power.
The ideological division between accommodation and revolution is to some extent driven by the particular economic possibilities of determined members of the national bourgeoisie. But it is also driven by cultural and spiritual factors, in that true independence is the foundation to establishing the dignity of the nations in the world-system.
Political conflicts in neocolonized nations often take the form of economic and political conflicts between the accommodationists and revolutionary wings of the national bourgeoisie. Imperialist powers support the former, in a deceptive form; the latter seeks to marshal the support of the people.
Objective conditions in the world-system today favor the forging of anti-imperialist foreign policies in Third World states. As the world-system reached and overextended its geographical limits, the imperialist powers did not make the necessary structural transformations that would have elevated the markets of the vast peripheral and semi-peripheral regions, which would have stimulated the growth of productivity in the core nations. Not understanding this necessity, or cynically dismissing it, the core powers increasingly turned to investment in financial speculation rather than productivity, thus weakening their economies in the long term. At the same time, several nations among the neocolonized began to advocate for and implement an alternative road of cooperation and mutually beneficial trade among nations. In these increasingly stagnating conditions for the imperialist powers, alliance by Third World governments with international capital and the imperialist power is a less reliable and less advantageous route than it was when the neocolonial world-system was at its zenith.
The pull of objective conditions toward mutually beneficial trade among Third World nations does not necessarily imply a turn toward socialism. This depends on the political-economic-ideological conditions in each nation.
In general, the nations constructing socialism are developing people’s democracies, in which people’s assemblies—elected directly and indirectly by the people—are the highest authority, and in which the people are organized in mass organizations, in a political process led by vanguard political parties. The state directs the national economy in a form that takes into account market principles and other concepts of the science of economics, seeking to orient the economy toward maximizing productivity, thus promoting the economic development of the national economy and increasing the possibility of providing for the socioeconomic needs of the of the people with respect to health, education, housing, nutrition, sport, and culture.
The nations that are constructing socialism along these lines have much influence, because one of them (China) is the world’s largest nation, and because they enjoy much prestige among the nations and peoples of the Third World. The nations constructing socialism have arrived to political maturity, such that they do not demand socialist practices as a condition for partnership. The orientation is for each nation to decide for itself concerning its political-economic system. At the same time, the vanguard socialist nations are calling upon all nations to develop an anti-imperialist foreign policy, to insist upon the sovereignty of all nations and non-interference in the internal affairs of nations, and to develop mutually beneficial trade among nations on the basis of win-win cooperation.
Thus, we are seeing a transition from a neocolonial world-system to a more just and democratic world-system defined by mutual respect for sovereignty and mutually beneficial trade among nations. The transition is favored by global economic conditions, which are, to reiterate, the overextending of the geographical limits of the earth, the declining economic power and prestige of the imperialist powers, and the growing political resistance of the neocolonized peoples. This suggests that the transition to a more just and democratic world-system is likely to continue, although the turn of the declining and decadent imperialist powers toward inflicting more chaos, violence, and confusion on the world remains a serious threat.
A final note
During the course of the twentieth century, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements emerged, creating new conditions in the political economy of the world-system. These new conditions were anticipated by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Gramsci, but they could not be fully and systematically explored from their historical time periods.
There is emerging a further conceptualization of the science of Marxism, that are grounded in the class and anti-colonial struggles during the last 100 years. Mao, Ho Chin Minh, Kim Il Sung, Fidel, Kim Jong Il and Xi Jinping as well as the vanguard communist parties of China, Vietnam, the DPRK, and Cuba are its principal formulators. Find previous commentaries on Cuba, China, Vietnam, and DPRK in the Thematic Index.
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