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Message-Id: <199711171826.NAA28762@listserv.vt.edu>
Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Sat, 15 Nov 97 16:42:52 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Cuba f Us compared-Socialism 1.
Article: 21968

/** reg.nicaragua: 38.0 **/
** Topic: Cuba/Us compared-Socialism 1. **
** Written 3:52 PM Nov 12, 1997 by peg:jclancy in cdp:reg.nicaragua **
From: jclancy@peg.apc.org
Subject:Cuba/US- Socialism Comparisons 1.

Via: kwald@igc.org, kwald@giron.sld.cu,
To: jclancy@peg.apc.org
kwald@infomed.sld.cu (Karen Lee Wald assists from 3ra A #15205 entre 152 y 154 Nautico, Playa Habana.
FWD by: Cliff Durand <cdurand@Morgan.EDU (Professor Invitado-Cuba)

The Idea of Democracy and the Ideal of Socialism

By Cliff DuRand, October 1997

This paper was prepared for presentation at the conference Socialism Toward the 21st Century organized by the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, in Havana, Cuba, October21- 23, 1997. Cliff DuRand teaches Philosophy at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. In June 1997 he was also named Professor Invitado in the Faculty of Philosophy and History at the University of Havana. He is North American Coordinator of the annual Conference of North American and Cuban Philosophers and Social Scientists and Treasurer of the Radical Philosophy Association.

Venceremos, Cliff cdurand@jewel.morgan.ed

As we are all very aware, there are many different concepts of democracy. But much of the differences between them really come down to different means to achieve the idea of democracy. What I want to put before you is what I consider is the hard core of the idea of democracy; and that is this: democracy is the possibility of collec- tive decision making about collective action for a common good.

Right off it should be noted that this is the very opposite of a concept of democracy found in popular consciousness in the US today. In the US democracy is often thought of as the freedom of individuals to decide on their own about their actions to pursue their own purposes. While I would agree that such individual freedom has an important place in a democratic society, individualism is not what democracy is about. I repeat, democracy is about the possibility of collective decision making about collective action for a common good.

This common individualistic idea of democracy is currently being used by the political Right inthe US to provide ideological legitima- tion for a laissez faire role of government as they dismantle the common projects that had been won by popular struggles over the last 50 years. These projects are based on the idea that there exists a common good that can only be achieved through collective action. The ideology of the Right only recognizes individual goods, denying gov't as a means for collective action because they see no common good. But if democracy is about the possibility of collective decision making about collective action for a common good, as I contend, then they are in fact making the U.S. less democratic.

We on the Left should realize that this situation gives us the opportunity to reclaim the idea of democracy, indeed, to reclaim it as a socialist idea. What is the relation between democracy and socialism? Marxists have long advocated the social ownership of the means of production. Why? Because this is a condition of effective collective action for the common good, particularly when the forces of production have become social in character. So the Marxist argument is that social ownership of the means of pro- ductionis a means to realize democracy, a means to make it possible for there to be collective action for a common good.

Often we see democracy put in opposition to socialism- democracy vs.socialism. But if we retrieve the radical core of democracy we can see that a more accurate formula is democracy = socialism. For it is only through socialism that democracy can be achieved. As Marxists we need to reclaim this radical core of the democratic idea—this is an important part of the renovation of Marxism today.

So let me draw three elements from this radical core of the idea of democracy:

  1. participation in collective decisions concerning common affairs
  2. an institutional structure for that participation, and
  3. grassroots organization.

The culture of participation is key because it gives life to democracy. This culture includes civic values and social identities that make one a democratic citizen. From early in US history, the civic republican tradition emphasized civic virtues, learned through direct participation in public affairs. Thomas Jefferson especially recognized the educative effect of civic participation. For Jefferson democracy depended onthe independent citizenry of an agrarian society structured into small local self-governing institutions (townships) that fostered participation and thus made civic virtues habitual. The health of these little republics would ensure the health of the larger republic, i.e. the nation.

By contrast Madison distrusted the common man and so framed political institutions to limit popular participation in order to protect the propertied classes. At the same time he distrusted the power of central government and so sought to limit it so it could not interfere with the private pursuits of life. In this we have a classic example of the Marxist theory of the capitalist state, viz. a state that preserves and promotes the class relations of domination of civil society.

This gave institutional support to the culture of individualism. The state, rather than being seen as the means for a collective pursuit of a common good, was instead seen as limited to ensuring the conditions for individual initiative in the pursuit of self-interest so that I might make of myself whatever my talents and abilities will allow. This meritocratic individualism has become a popular ideology with both positive and negative consequences:

The resulting collapse of the public sphere has transformed politics into the play of competing interest groups. However, this interest group politics is only semi-legitimate because it lacks a moral foun- dation in shared values. Outcomes are determined by wealth and power and negotiated through professional politicians who patch together electorial alliances.

There is no common good to bind the body politic together.

This interest group politics operates within the framework of existing class relations of domination which the state is responsible to preserve. But to maintain sufficient legitimacy to be able to govern, the state has to accommodate, from time to time, some of the demands of interest groups in the name of social justice.

While interest group politics generally operates through the institutional structure of political representation (and thus does not rise above self-interest) sometimes interest groups that have been excluded from this structure are able to develop into social movements. Arising from grassroots self-organization, these political forces must forge their own alliances by finding a common ground with others. Demands are presented not as self-interested but as in the common good. They are articulated in terms of shared values. And as a result participants are educated to a civic mindedness, a social consciousness that transcends self-interest. Thus can social movements transform individualists into democratic citizens. In the U.S. the civil rights movement and the labor movement are recent examples of the educative power of social movements, as is also the Cuban Revolution. These were all democratic struggles for social justice against existing relations of domination and the political institutions that sought to maintain that domination.

To summarize briefly, in the U.S. we have an institutional structure designed to circumscribe participation combined with a culture of individualism that results in a privatistic self-interested participation rather than one that seeks a common good through collective means. On occasion this pattern is broken when popular struggles create a social movement. These are the democratic moments in U.S. history.

In Cuba the revolution has been such a democratic moment. It has been a participatory process that has evolved institutional structures that draw on grassroots organizations that have to be periodically renewed.

The U.S. struggle for independence late in the 18th century was led by a propertied class that projected its interests as those of the whole society. They succeeded in defining the nation in terms of their class project. The Cuban nation, by contrast, has been defined by a different class project. Under conditions of neo-colonialism the interests of the bourgeois were not identical to the interests of the nation as a whole. Through the struggles of the 1950's and 60's the revolutionary leadership was able to project a socialist vision that was embraced by most of the Cuban people. Thus the socialist project came to define the Cuban nation. Through this project popular struggles for social justice found their realization.

However, in Cuba social justice is not ensured through a meritocratic individualism (as in the U.S.) but through collective means with the agency of the state. As a socialist society the well-being of each is a public affair within the concern of all. The scope of public affairs is far broader than in the U.S. The state thus becomes the legitimate institutional structure for participation in collective decisions that are far reaching. It is for this reason that Cuba is more democratic than the U.S.

But democracy must be renewed periodically. The renewal of autonomous organization from the grassroots is essential to ensure the democratic character of the institutional structure of participation. They can easily become ossified, formalistic, and lose touch with the people they are supposed to represent. This can happen even in socialism, especially during a special period like this when the collective institutions of society cannot fully meet the needs of individuals. Then the social bond is weakened as individuals have to rely increasingly on their own means to survive. This individualism moves the heart in a private direction and weakens democracy. As the social bond erodes, there is also an erosion of citizenship.

To prevent this, it is necessary to find new collective solutions created by the participation of the people. The Cuban Revolution is fortunate to have an enormous reservoir of popular support committed to the socialist project. But it must not take this for granted. People cannot live on dignity and heroism alone. Solutions must be found to the material problems of life. And the people must have the political space to participate in finding those solutions. Otherwise they will feel weak and helpless and their revolutionary will can dissolve and more and more will withdraw into private life - just as in the U.S.

This is a time of test for the Cuban Revolution, but also a time with new opportunities. There is the opportunity to open political space for the newly rediscovered capacities for initiative among the people, for self-organization from the grassroots that can renew the democratic life of this unique revolution. The Revolution must have faith in the commitment of the people to social justice. Without the participation of the people, the Revolution cannot move forward. With the people, it can overcome.