Date: Sun, 19 Nov 1995 05:55:40 -0500
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Subject: Marxism and Cuban revolution

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Title: #40- Discussion On `Marx's Marxism' In Cuba

Discussion On 'Marx's Marxism' In Cuba

By Fernando Martinez Heredia, in the Militant,
Vol. 59, no. 40. 30 October, 1995

The following are excerpts of an article that appeared in the July-August issue of La Gaceta de Cuba, the magazine of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). It appeared under the title, "On the 100th anniversary of Frederick Engels's death: History and Marxism."

The article was based on a talk given at the Department of Philosophy and History of the University of Havana in January 1994. The translation and subtitles are by the Militant.

The question of what constitutes the Marxism of Marx in Cuba is very difficult. This is true for at least five reasons: the lack of enough direct sources; the limited use of adequate studies on this subject; a thick, accumulated layer of vulgar interpretations and absurd arguments pretending to be Marxist that were imposed on us as ideological requirements; little real use of Marx's Marxism in the theoretical realm of our ideas and scientific work; and the recent loss of interest in Marxism....

The socialist parties and labor federations in Europe that constituted the Second International sponsored the first Marxism, proclaimed as the official doctrine of socialism, its organizations, and its body of ideas. This socialism "of the golden age" alternated with bourgeois cultural domination and gradually adapted to it.

In social-democratic Marxism, the dominant current - although not the only one - was evolutionism and scientism of the "materialist conception of history" variety, represented by Kautsky (and Plekhanov), for whom society was a corollary of nature and socialism was a consequence of the advance of the civilization that the bourgeoisie imposed on the world. Orthodoxy (Kautsky) and revisionism (Bernstein) were its two faces, complementary in politics although conflicting in theory. Edward Bernstein not only theorized revisionism; he proclaimed the ideological importance of moral conscience and advocated a return to Kant.

From a different political position, foreign to both of those, Rosa Luxemburg advocated mass, democratic revolution, based on "the firm ground of objective historic necessity" that she believed she demonstrated in trying to finish Marx's economic theory.

Lenin and the Bolshevik revolution

Revolution, economic theory, political theory, Marxism, and materialism were Lenin's themes, who - without expressly questioning the theoretical basis of orthodoxy - produced the most important work of the whole period. Lenin established a communist anti-revisionism, defended the dictatorship of the proletariat, advocated the theory of the state of Marx and the Commune, although not its spontaneism.

He elaborated a more developed theory of capitalism, made more contributions than anyone to the complex analysis - from a revolutionary political standpoint - of concrete situations in European societies, and presented with total consistency the anticolonial struggle as part of the revolution. But above all he was a practical politician, the indisputable leader of an effectively organized party that resolved to take power in Russia and carry out a communist revolution and did so.

The Bolshevik victory modified and broadened the object of Marxism, and created a veritable cultural pole for revolutionaries in Europe and other countries. It is impossible to speak of Marxism or understand it without taking into account this stage. Ernesto Guevara left us the intelligent advice to read everything - "right up to the last page" - written by Lenin since the beginning of the experience of Soviet power in 1917.

It is also necessary to study Leon Trotsky, a theoretician devoted to Marx and a profound political analyst, who was sometimes visionary, as a historian, above all in his master work, The History of the Russian Revolution, which combines an extraordinary historical tableau with a great analytical richness and valuable methodology.

It is necessary to appropriate for ourselves the theoretical contributions of the Marxist and revolutionary dialectical philosophy of Karl Korsch and of Lukacs, author of History and Class Consciousness, of the thinking of a left that considered the events in theory as functions of the historical movement. To take up the rich variety of positions and courses advanced by Ernst Bloch, Wilhelm Reich, or the Frankfurt Institute. To study and discuss the powerful and open work of Antonio Gramsci, the most outstanding and last great European thinker of the current opened by Lenin. To critically study and adopt the complex flourishing of intellectual practices and social thinking carried out by many Europeans in the heat of the struggles, needs, most diverse influences, experiments, polemics, and limits of revolutionary efforts.

The end of that process and the establishment of a post-revolutionary regime in the Soviet Union in the 1930s had deadly consequences for Marxism. Thinking was liquidated or terrorized in name of the state and a system of vulgarization was created that combined caricatures of the old speculative philosophy with distortions of Lenin, Marx, and Engels as well as all sorts of doctrinaire and pragmatic elements. This ideology of obedience and justification was imposed in an exclusive and dogmatic manner in all spheres of relevant social life, including history and other intellectual disciplines.

The damage later became chronic, because this institutionalized ideological body dominated for a half a century. It weakened and gradually wore down in its most aggressive aspects, but it extended its scope to countries, institutions, and individuals where the influence of the Soviet Union reached. Today its source has dried up, which is potentially very positive for the development of liberation thought in the world, but there is still a ways to go before we can overcome the negative consequences of what it left behind....

Rise of Marxism in Cuba after 1959

After the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Marxism rose greatly in Cuban society, a development that was inevitably very controversial, above all for three reasons, in my opinion: the incongruity between international Marxism and the content and character of the deep-going anticapitalist revolution and communist ideals of the Cuban process, the achievements, strengths, and problems of the prior accumulation of Cuban culture, and the close relations Cuba had to establish with the Soviet Union....

The situation facing the revolution after 1970 caused deep changes that cannot be elaborated on here. Regarding the present topic, the issue became complicated because social thought was smashed and Marxism thus became underdeveloped. It was turned into an aggressive "general science" and "guide" for social thought, and became dominant and exclusive. Among other very negative consequences, this process led to an increasing rejection of that doctrine by researchers and students of social studies (or rather the distancing and aversion that occur when rejection is impossible)....

Need for theory

I believe that in Cuba today, the study of history requires theory and ideological affinity, and that Marxism vitally needs to be revolutionized. We have already seen that Marxism can be useful for liberation, but also for domination. Abandoning it today for the latter reason would mean not taking advantage of such costly lessons, and it would mean losing a tremendous aid to the scientific work of historians and an integral social vision of that work on a broader horizon that gives social meaning to professional research and studies.

Not abandoning Marxism can mean also finding a more effective defense against discouragement, against history made for tourists, against the failure to choose those topics that are most valuable and necessary, against the domination of conservative ideas about historical material, which perhaps can be explained as ideological reactions but which seriously prejudice historiography and the Cuban conscience.

I have only written "can mean," because Marxism is not a magic wand. There is no reason to expect Marxism to really be useful, or attractive, unless it shakes off the heavy load that has weighed it down and turned it into a burden for all. It is true that today it has to regain prestige, but it can also count on some favorable factors.

Our most outstanding historians are Marxists, and we have very capable professionals in other social fields that are too. There are historians and Marxist thinkers with high- quality works and valuable ideas in many countries of Latin America, and also in the United States and other continents. We must get to know more about their ideas and works. And - it's surprising but true - we Cubans must get to know each other better and exchange views, ideas, works, projects, information, and opinions among ourselves.

History and Marxism in Cuba need different things, but also they need each other.

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