Introductory note: below is a reply to a post of mine that I received from Juan Lopez. I asked Juan if I could post it on my blog site and he graciously agreed. Juan’s reply raises a number of important issues that warrant further discussion. I will reply to some of them soon, but if the spirit grabs you, please do so yourself. Dialogue is an essential part of gaining new insights into past and contemporary events. SW
I want to thank you for raising these critical issues and, in so doing, pushing the envelope. I agree with your general conclusions as a matter of principle and practice. You elaborate them clearly, powerfully and succinctly.
Now, I’d like to develop some ideas that your piece stimulated in me.
[But two caveats first:
[One: as you well know, life never unfolds neatly. It is messy, contradictory, more complicated and more nuanced than any conclusion or theory we humans can arrive at. So what may appear as absolutes are approximations of reality.
[Two: for the sake of brevity I will use “democratic” and “humane” alternately instead of the full “democratic, egalitarian, sustainable, and humane” to characterize the socialism you project and that I agree with).
I would argue that power and democratic values must co-exist and, even more, reinforce each other. I agree when you say, “…we still have to ask what measures are necessary to guarantee that power and its practitioners are subordinated to (and, when necessary, reined in by) socialist values, norms, vision, and democratically constituted bodies.”
At the same time, I think that power and its practitioners (worthy of their revolutionary values) must act as facilitators and guarantors of “socialist values, norms, vision, and democratically constituted bodies,” as you say.
Power can be wielded to advance and/or suppress democracy.A particularly egregious example of suppression of democracy is that of the Stalin reign and its political, ideological and practical premises and consequences, as you have been so wel elaborating for some time.
As for power to advance democracy I will cite something closer to home: The presence of the Union army in the South after the Civil War as guarantor of the safety of newly freed slaves and of democracy’s burst during the Reconstruction period. This short-lived but consequential period is an example of power in the service of advancing democracy and, at the same time, suppressing the class and political forces impeding democracy.
Or, take Cuba and Venezuela.
The former is an example of power being wielded in defense of democracy and democracy being applied to reinforce power in the face of imperialist aggression. One cannot do without the other. These two inter-dependent categories are critical to the nation’s economic development which, depending on the latter’s success or lack thereof, can play a critical role in advancing or retarding the consolidation of power and democracy.
For the moment at least, that’s the dilemma in which Venezuela’s revolutionary process finds itself.As you say, “Power has to be devolved and decentralized to the people and popular institutions,” which I think Raul Castro at the 6 th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba did very ably. “And the only hope of such an outcome,” you add beautifully, “is a multi-racial, working class-based, majoritarian movementof great depth, understanding, and unity that acts as socialism’s midwife and stays engaged long into its old age.”
This brings me to an additional observation I had: The quest for power and democratic values must co-exist and reinforce one another at every stage of struggle. For example, at the Riverside Church I was struck when Fidel said that, in guerrilla encounters, vanquished enemy government soldiers who were captured, instead of being executed as the oligarchy would do, would be cut loose (I suppose after an education on the revolution’s aims). In some cases, this happened with the same soldier more than once.The rebel army was in no position to tug along prisoners.
More importantly, the rebels cut loose prisoners as a living example of the humanistic revolutionary values for which they were aiming. This played a role in eventually winning over many soldiers and those with whom they came into contact and, when coupled with other measures, securing the moral high ground with the people generally. These and other humanistic and democratic-minded actions foretold early on the nature of the revolution once power was won.
During our own Civil War, after an initial “tug-of- war” among generals in the field and in Lincoln’s own thinking, the Union forces went on to encourage consciously what initially the enslaved did spontaneously – running away from the plantations (in what Dubois aptly described as a general strike).
Later Lincoln proclaimed the Emancipation Proclamation and went on to arm the newly freed slaves (which played a decisive role in victory over the Confederacy and the abolition of slavery).
I have some questions regarding point 1 and 2 in your piece.
With reference to point 1, in arguing against the “vanguard” party you say: “Power should never again be the property of anyone party (or movement). There is little evidence for the notion that under socialism social contradictions disappear and thus obviating the need for a multi-party system.”
I do agree we should retire the “vanguard” party concept. But, let me raise these questions:On the world scene today there are nations at various levels of anti-imperialist and socialist development with one party rule and also multi-party left-center coalitions at the helm of government. In the case of multi-party left-center fronts while proclaiming a socialist path they are confronting right-wing parties coalescing together in most, if not all cases, being encouraged by imperialism (Here I’m thinking of Latin America because I am unacquainted with developments in Africa and Asia).
In our country, we have a two party winner-take- all electoral system, obviously not based on proportional representation and multi-party electoral system as in most countries.
Let’s put aside the idea that we are “the vanguard” party. The party has argued for the formation of an anti-monopoly party, in which the party is one force among others, as we enter the anti-monopoly stage laying the basis for the socialist stage.
Whether the anti-monopoly party emerges within or outside the Democratic Party shell remains to be seen, in my opinion. So, how would your views in point 1 play out in these circumstances?
Then you say: “Much the same can be said about state-controlled media. Experience abounds that an independent and broadly based media is crucial in socialist as well as capitalist societies.” I too think it’s necessary.
How would this play out at different junctures on the road to socialism? In countries where big business and the rightwing sections still can influence public opinion through its media outlets? Or where imperialist media outlets continue to try topenetrate? And finally, in nations on the path to socialism (here I include China, Cuba and Vietnam) where power is consolidated in one party and, depending on the country, with varying degrees and forms of participation, influence and decision-making powers by the people?
How do you envision “an independent and broadly based media” in our country as we move through higher stages of struggle? What popular forces do you envision constituting “independent and broadly based media?”
Perhaps on these last two points, I am trying to give concrete shape to general principles that developments over time will determine.
Anyway, again I want to emphasize how much I appreciate your probing ideas.
Take care my friend and brother,