Science-based truth in Cuba
Cuban Marxists reject the notion of a “post-truth” era
In my last commentary, I reviewed the December 15, 2022 panel of the Annual Scientific Day, sponsored by the Julio Antonio Mella Center for Marxist Studies. The event commemorated the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Engels and the 130th anniversary of the birth of Antonio Gramsci. (See “Marxism today as seen from Cuba: A continually developing revolutionary science rooted in practice,” December 20, 2022). In today’s commentary, I review the panel of December 16, in which the necessity of the scientific quest for truth, standing against the post-modern assumption that we are in a “post-truth” era, emerged as a theme.
The December 16 panelists are professors at the Ñico López School of Higher Education of the Communist Party of Cuba. López was co-founder of the first Communist Party of Cuba. The students at the school are members of the Communist Party of Cuba.
Kenya Echevarría reviewed letters written by Engels in the 1890s on epistemological questions. She maintained that Engels proposed three epistemological premises that are necessary for breaking with the common errors of higher education. The first is historical consciousness, with a materialist conception of history that sees the progressive development of the productive forces as primary in shaping human life, but which necessarily includes ideology as a secondary factor. Secondly, reflection on judicial norms. This is why, Echevarría maintains, careful attention is given to the Constitution and the laws by the National Assembly of People’s Power and the Communist Party of Cuba. The National Assembly of People’s Power, to remind, is elected directly and indirectly by the people; and it is the highest authority in the nation; the Party leads, but is does not have the constitutional and legal authority to decide. Thirdly, consciousness of political-economy, the intertwining of political and economic factors. The dynamics of economic exploitation cannot be understood without taking into account political factors.
Camilo Rodríguez drew upon the writing of Engels to maintain that science is constructed on the terrain of reality, and science is the foundation for the construction of socialism. Socialism is characterized the greater involvement of the subject and the conquest and exercise of effective power by the people, which provides the basis for the socioeconomic transformation necessary for providing for human needs.
In socialism, Rodríguez noted, new relations of production are constructed, which implies the production of a new way of life that is the result of a political process in which power is exercised by the people. Social changes are advanced on the basis of this new political process of people’s power. In addition, Rodríguez noted, the new social construction occurs at the level of the nation, but in a global context, with a Marxist-Leninist understanding of global contradictions.
Nidia Estévez spoke of the role of subjectivity in the thought of Engels. She notes that, for Engels, capitalism maintains power through its control over the minds of the people. Marxism-Leninism seeks to break the hold of capitalism over the people through different interpretations based not merely on the interests of the dominant class. But in putting forth its new interpretation, its goal is not merely to interpret the world, but to transform the world.
A debate with Cuban characteristics
Following the panel presentations, the floor war opened to those in attendance. Here could be observed an interesting dynamic, which I have observed in previous interchanges that I have attended. First, a list was made of the persons who wanted to speak; of which there were five. When those five finished speaking, others were invited to speak, such that five more names were added to list. No restrictions were placed on the ten persons. They could ask questions, or they could make commentaries, or both. No time limit was announced. Most comments were from five to ten minutes, and my sense was that the people knew from experience what was an acceptable amount of time. There was no verbal or non-verbal expression of disapproval of anything that was said, regardless of content or the succinctness of expression. On the other hand, non-verbal and verbal support was permitted, and it was provided to some.
The debate was a concrete illustration of the Cuban belief that the path to truth is attained by respecting and listening to one another. And it is a never ending process. There was no need to cut off any voices seen as erroneous, inasmuch as these issues were not going to be resolved today. Persistent cordiality, friendship, and patience are key components.
I was the only international participant. Many, if not most, of the people in attendance knew me through previous events; and many made an effort to greet and welcome me. When I raised my hand to make a comment, I was included in the five persons in the extended list. The moderator did not know me, however, and she was mystified by my name, requiring the assistance of others to include me on the list.
The first two participants to take the floor offered what I would characterize as an ultra-leftist critique of the current leadership of Cuban revolutionary government. They maintained that the current leadership of the country does not have a sufficient Marxist framework, and they have not developed an application of the Marxist theory of prices to current Cuban conditions. The current Cuban leadership, in the view of one of them, illustrates the negative role of subjectivity in society.
I am not in agreement with these two gentlemen, both elderly men. The Minister of the Economy, Alejandro Gil, is constantly on television explaining the economic facts of life to the people, and I find his discourses persuasive. Indeed, Minister Gil was the first to explain to my satisfaction the wisdom of the maxim, “government deficit spending leads to inflation,” which I have heard all my life, but never really understood. Gil began the explanation by reminding that prices are set by the relation between supply and demand. Okay, so far, so good. If a good is in short supply, and there are persons with money and with desire to buy the good, they will be inclined to outbid each other to buy the good, thereby increasing its price. Gil further explained, and here is the key, that government deficit spending, all other things being equal, in effect increases the demand without increasing the supply. It increases the demand through subsiding costs, providing additional benefits, or reducing taxes, thereby increasing the amount of money in the hands of the people; without doing anything to increase the supply. Gil has repeatedly maintained that, in order to elevate the standard of living of the people, the productivity of the economy has to be increased. And Gil and the government are constantly generating initiatives designed to increase the productivity of the economy.
In the current conditions of Cuba, the sources of the current inflation are not difficult to understand, and Gil persistently explains them. The intensification of the U.S. blockade and the contraction of the Cuban tourist industry due to the pandemic have choked supply. When the U.S. government, for example, blocks a company in a third country from supplying a good to Cuba, it restricts the supply. So the supply is insufficient for the demand, leading to inflation.
Many Marxist scholars today maintain that there is not a socialist science of economics distinct from a capitalist science of economics. The laws of economics, such as the relation between supply and demand, are universal. A Marxist political-economy and philosophy seeks to utilize the laws of economics to increase the productivity of the economy and to construct a socialist society.
In light of the fact that I find Gil’s discourses persuasive, I would say to these gentlemen that they need to be more specific. They need to put forth alternative policy proposals. They need to address the question, what specifically would you have the Cuban government do?
A third participant from the floor noted that Lenin in 1894 wrote that social democracy is scientifically inexact, and that communism is a more appropriate designation. He further observed, however, that as ideas evolve, parties tend to keep their names, in spite of their problematic political implications.
A fourth participant observed that imperialism maintains control through subjectivity, particularly through the dissemination of the image of a consumerist lifestyle throughout the world. He observed that Gramsci, Fidel, and Che stressed the role of subjectivity in maintaining imperialist control.
A fifth participant expressed awareness of the academic debates concerning objectivity and subjectivity. She asked the panelists for their views on such terms as “subjective reality” or “subjective truth.”
The question of this last compañera was the basis for my own intervention. I observed that, according to my understanding, terms like “subjective truth” are based in post-modern thinking, which emerged during the twentieth century as an epistemology for the justification of sexual liberty. Initially, notions of sexual liberty were expressed in practice in Western Europe in the form of a Bohemian lifestyle, without including an orientation to change the prevailing social mores. But in the 1980s, French post-modernism challenged sexual norms, describing them as a profound form of repression.
Post-modern ideas entered elite universities in the United States, particular in literature departments. There emerged the “deconstruction of texts” and a rejection of the concept of an objective reading of texts, focused on the intention of the author. “Post-colonial” studies analyzed texts without attention to the real economic and political conditions of the neocolonial situation. The objective side of things was reduced to the fringe, assumed to be a fiction designed to serve the interests of the powerful.
A society cannot be constructed, I said, on an epistemological foundation in which each person constructs their own truth. The construction of truth is and must be a community enterprise. Proof of the negative consequences of a post-modern epistemology is found in the USA today, where profound divisions prevent that social consensus and unified action necessary to address national problems. I said to my Cuban colleagues that they should be wary of such concepts.
Another participant from the floor stressed the need to renew the structures of popular power in Cuba through more effective social communication. Yet another participant focused on the challenge to bring Marxism up to date, in accordance with existing conditions, in a form that does not involve its negation.
Isabel Monal, Director of the Julio Antonio Mella Center for Marxist Studies, reiterated that Marx and Engels were the co-founders of the science of historical materialism. She noted that all science begins with one subjectivity or another, but it resolves its limitations through ample participation of the people and through persistent observation of the evolving conditions of the society.
The moderator closed the event with some final words. Having finally mastered my name, she referred to the intervention that I had made, noting the emergence of the concept of an era of “post-truth.” She agreed that no society, socialist or any other, can be constructed on such an epistemological foundation. She declared that the struggle for socialism is above all else a struggle for truth and in the name of truth, a struggle to delegitimate subjectivities that are rooted in the particular interests of dominant and privileged classes.
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