PART I – COMPARING THE GREATEST DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD
This was another thing that until recently simply didn’t click. To be fair, the terms are all better understood when as a base – a foundation – a premise – we consider that the new Socialist State is to be Created. The lack of this understanding is in no small part why some of these concepts, such as ‘The Vanguard’ and especially the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat,’ have been misinterpreted and misunderstood by the general public, myself included, given that the terms are analyzed under the very same framework that is trying to be revolutionized/changed.
If we think of applying these terms utilizing the exact same tools of the previous system – the Bourgeois Democracy, with all its pillars, balances of checks, parliamentary chambers, jargon, etc. – then some of these concepts will understandably be met with resistance, ambivalence and, at the very least, misinterpretation.
As for me, however, now that I’m convinced of this fact – that the new society must be started from anew – the term Vanguard makes a lot more sense.
To explain what I understand by this concept, I think I want to first gloss over – very superficially – the structure of the regular presidential process applied in the United States, supposedly the freest and most democratic country in the world.
Though they do, indeed, hold elections every four years where a new candidate (or incumbent, if it’s his first term) from either of the two parties – Democrats or Republicans – are elected to be president of the country for a maximum of two terms, this fact simply doesn’t seem like a comprehensive enough yard-stick to measure, evaluate and eventually deem a system a Great Democracy. Then to go on and use the same dwarfed yard-stick against countries that don’t have presidential elections, such as Cuba, for instance, and deem them Dictatorships is – it goes without saying – ludicrous.
Let me explain.
The running candidates in the U.S.’ presidential elections always seem to be a rotation of all the former governors, senators, representatives, ambassadors and, at least from what I could tell from these past elections (2012), even leading business men. I think the only position where someone from the “common citizenry” (not a known politician moving up in ranks or being appointed) can aspire to reach is that of mayor. Then, of course, after enough time and with discipline, perseverance and adherence to the rule of law, he/she can aspire to move up in the ranks…or so the story goes. Of course, it is expected, as is anywhere else in the world, that the person who aspires to run for mayor will be someone who has been involved in the community, who knows what the problems are in his community and who has a more or less developed understanding of what it will take to solve said problems…of course, again, so goes the story.
Yet the corruption, mismanagement, discrimination and simply lack of functioning at the mayoral level in most of the major U.S. cities is not something that I am creating because I am against that system; it is a truth that has been documented by the mainstream press time and time again. The fate of the real common citizenry – the people: the laborers the truck drivers, the shop-keepers, the nurses, the factory-workers, the taxi drivers, even the professional/middle classes, who also are suffocating under the pressure of that tiny 1% at the top – it seems is destined to be at the hands of the most savvy businessman that can squeeze his way in.
PART II – SHEDDING THE OLD SYSTEM: PARTICIPATORY – NOT REPRESENTATIONAL – DEMOCRACY
In the Creation of the New Socialist State, every remnant of the old system must be shed, or, at least, as much as possible. But this doesn’t mean succumbing to a dictatorship.
As new nations continue to, as Che has written somewhere, “fall off of the weakest branches of the Imperial Tree,” either through Liberation Struggles or Revolutions of a social nature (even if not necessarily of a socialist nature), the movement and the struggle itself is, at all moments – during the actual armed guerrilla war, or the peaceful movement, or even after victory, in the oceanic depths of a nation seemingly isolated from everything, but really only far away from every vestige of the old society as the new society begins its birth – led by a group of people who’ve been ideologically, physically and mentally trained for such a task; they are led by the Vanguard.
While many people understand the concept that the guerrilla war or even the peaceful movement has to indeed be led by a group of people better trained to do so, the thought that the same group should have any influence on the reconstruction of the political, social and economic atmosphere of the nation seems disparate if not entirely backwards to them. But perhaps it isn’t properly understood that after victory, the group, which in the first place was formed by the People, has not a Controlling Role per se, but rather one of Impulse, of Movement, of Pushing the masses forward, or even Pulling them where necessary.
In Cuba, the Guerrilla that began as 80-something men somewhere in Mexico, was formed of people, among them Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, that had never had any military training prior to the experience. Some of them had fired guns and were avid marksmen, but most were laborers, peasants and even professionals from the common citizenry (Che was a doctor, though Argentinean), that had literally taken up arms to take back their nation from Imperial Domination. Though they received some military training in Mexico, they were leading a fight mostly on Ideology…and a whole bunch of fucking courage, of course!
As the fight went on in the thick jungles of the Sierra Maestra, the Guerrilla that had began as 80-something men started to swell as the fighters began educating the peasants they found isolated and spread throughout the mountain, forgotten – or rather, neglected – by Batista’s Dictatorship, which had funneled the booming economy to the very top, leaving most of the people as forgotten peasants in the mountains and impoverished, illiterate, sick, hungry, nearly zombie-like bodies in the rest of the cities throughout the country. And education, at that time, didn’t necessarily mean in terms of ideology, for the revolution, at that time, still had not taken up Socialism as its goal, though as the fight went on, more communist, socialist, and left-wing groups joined the fighting both in the mountains and the cities. Education was literally Education: peasants in their 40s, 50s, 60s and so on, had, for the first time, learned what their names looked like on paper, and that they themselves could do it. They were taught their own history – that of the Latin American continent – and why their land and family were often abused – in every sense of the word – by thugs from the government.
Well, as the fighting goes on, as the people from the cities and the mountains see the legitimate goal of the revolution and begin joining them, the Vanguard itself begins to expand. At this moment, it still comprises the fighting groups, but after Victory and, more specifically, after Fidel officially announces a year after they’d won, in 1961, that they’d led a Socialist Revolution and were now, in effect, a Socialist State, the group would comprise elements directly from the common citizenry.
Now, it is true that the president – who at least nominally continues to be Fidel Castro – is not elected and that, in fact, the position was simply inherited by his brother, Raul Castro. So it is here that begins what needs explaining, though to most people, entirely convinced of the backwardness of “socialism,” it may sound like justifying. But let me give it a try anyway.
To create a new state, every vestige of the old one must be shed. In the attempt to do so, the Revolutionary Government must, as Castro did, abolish everything and every vehicle through which supporters of the old system could again slither their way in, to infect it from within the political-judicial sphere, like a goddamn cancer. He abolished Congress and did not allow any of the people who had participated in the previous rigged elections to participate in government.
Now, though I’m not 100% knowledgeable of the entire political system in the island, I do know that they have a National Assembly whose 614 members are not only elected by the public, but half of the members are comprised by nominees from youth/student groups, women groups, trade unions and members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are a little more than 8 of the 11 million Cubans living there. Then they go on to choose the members of the other legislative/executive bodies, who are in charge of passing/proposing laws, ratifying them, executing them, etc. There is no need, now, to get into the semantics of the political structure itself.
The Vanguard, which as we’ve seen began with the Guerrilla Fighters in the mountains, then grew with the peasants and common citizenry that joined the fighting, now, after Victory, begins looking for more and more people to join it. And how? By looking for the people that are choosing to open their eyes, or people who are legitimately giving themselves willingly (and understanding exactly what it means to do so) to the task of creating a new society. Going into detail would take a lot more analysis, but let’s just look at a couple of ways.
PART III – REAL COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Firstly, with more than 8 of the 11 million citizens voluntarily joining the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution – in every neighborhood of the country – it is clear that “People Power” is indeed more than just a term. Critics of the system say that this is essentially a “secret police” that monitors every activity, and every minute detail of peoples’ personal lives, tattling on the ones that are plotting against government or who simply are dissidents. This is the loss of freedom they woe. However, the roles of these bodies are much more than simply monitoring, though it has never been denied that one of those is indeed to monitor for counter-revolutionary activities.
Castro himself has been quoted saying of their purpose: That they exist “In the face of Imperial Aggression, we’re going to implement a system of collective vigilance…so that everybody knows who lives on every block, what they do on every block, what relations they have had with the tyranny, in what activities are they involved and with whom do they meet.” (Context is imperative here. The quote comes from CNN, so I will always question its entire veracity, but nevertheless, it does sound like Castro; however, it was said in 1960, at the very top of the tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, and when the former was actively and militarily trying to topple the revolution and infiltrate its ranks. Moreover, also placing this quote in the context of the creation of a new society with a selfless mentality, where we are as much in tune with other people’s lives and needs as we are with our own, this type of “collective vigilance” can be understood as the typical – and necessary – effort to increase community involvement, participation and identity, where neighbors aren’t just individuals living beside each other, alienated from each other’s lives but for a “hi” in the morning and a “hi” at night, but rather they are members of a neighborhood – which itself is a member of a society – where everyone’s efforts affect everyone else.) But there’s more to their purpose, which directly links with the need for a Vanguard and, even more importantly, for the need of specific type of people to join the Vanguard.
The criteria that is looked for in candidates that are nominated to be members of the National Assembly, who in turn will elect, among themselves, members to go on to form the Council of State, is, above all, merit, patriotism, ethical values and revolutionary history. Now, though to some that may sound like a bunch of bull, consider what the 8 million members of these neighborhood committees are involved in doing, most notably in regards to social activities that get people to work together and disaster relief.
From Wikipedia, citing information from National Assembly of People’s Power as well as the above mentioned CNN article:
“Its defenders note that [the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution] have other important responsibilities…these include arranging festivals, administrating voluntary community projects, and organizing attendance to mass rallies. Proponents also emphasize that CDR helped to put medical, educational, or other campaigns into national effect and that, being organized on a geographical basis, they also act as centers for many who do not work in farms or factories and hence include a large proportion of female membership. The CDR’s also take an active role in vaccination campaigns, blood banks, recycling, practicing evacuations for hurricanes, and backing up the government in its fight against corruption.”
Indeed. In Global Justice: Liberation and Socialism, which I quote again below, Che describes an occasion at the beginning of the revolution where these type of community efforts were exemplified in the people.
The following passage describes both the type of attitude that is trying to be harnessed in the new society, and the final goal. I quote:
“At other opportunities in our history, the total commitment to the revolutionary cause was repeated. During the October Crisis, on the days of the Floral Cyclone, we saw exceptional acts of valor and sacrifice realized by an entire people. Finding the formula to perpetuate that heroic attitude in every-day life is one of our fundamental tasks from the ideological point of view” (34).
PART III.I – SIDE-NOTE ON DETRACTORS
Just for the sake of some objectivity, I want to very briefly address some points that detractors criticize.
It reads in Wikipedia:
“However, a 2006 Amnesty International report noted CDR involvement in repeated human rights violations that included verbal as well as physical violence. Critics also contend that the CDR’s are a repressive tool, giving the government a heads-up about dissident activities on the micro-local level, by tattling on the non-compliant. They identify CDR’s as “one of the lead entities responsible for the wave of repression sweeping through Cuba,” most recently, the brutal beatings and detention of 75 members of the Ladies in White in Havana in 2011 and 2012.“
First: Amnesty International is enraged at alleged “verbal as well as physical violence,” and therefore is constantly condemning the “dictatorship” in Cuba and its “human rights abuses.” Yet they say absolutely not one single word when violent attacks by cops towards women, minorities, youth, (peaceful) protesters have been CLEARLY AND EMPIRICALLY DOCUMENTED time and time again in the United States. I do not intend this to be a “if you do it, why can’t we?” argument; I say it simply to point out the illegitimacy and injustice of an international body that claims to be non-partisan while defending human rights, yet turning a blind eye to the obvious abuses in any country that has not rattled the status quo. It is simply a matter of ILLEGITIMACY, HYPOCRISY AND INSINCERITY. Thus, to me, going by the information provided by Amnesty International regarding human rights abuses, is as objective as using the Bible – the very book I question – as empirical/objective evidence of the existence of God.
Second: “Critics say it is a tool for giving a heads up to the government about dissident activities on the micro level by tattling on the non compliant.” Two things to say about this: One is that once it is established that a new society is in creation – that the task has been embarked upon by the masses (MAJORITY) – any non-compliance automatically means the wish/fight to keep the old one alive, therefore being counterrevolutionary, therefore being illegal. Period.
But, second, to those who feel the weight of that sentence to be too heavy, let me just paraphrase what someone else said: The U.S. has the FBI, which is comprised of federal government agents monitoring absolutely every single person’s email, phone calls, etc., with a file on everybody! It is so commonly known, that even in movies and sitcoms, the FBI’s all-seeing-eye is often parodied. Cuba may have something similar, though it is comprised of people – not government officials – who have accepted the new task of creating a new society. Moreover, the CDRs have additional, more important roles, as was mentioned above.
Detractors also mention brutal repression “sweeping through Cuba.” In an article (http://www.wbez.org/blog/achy-obejas/2011-10-20/ladies-white-cubas-shame-93335), it is written:
“The Ladies in White came about after what’s referred to as Cuba’s Black Spring, those months in 2003, when state security agents descended on dissidents like a series of flash floods. We’d hear the racket in the neighborhood in the wee hours, get up, sneak a peek out the door and see the street blocked; somebody’s house was getting sacked.
“Eventually, the government condemned 75 men and women to sentences that went up to 30 some years, the evidence against them technologies such as computers and cells that weren’t legal on the island then, payments from abroad for articles and interviews, the eyewitness reports of men they’d thought were comrades in arms and turned out to be government spies embedded in their midst.
“One of the condemned men was Hector Maseda, an independent journalist and leader of the unofficial and thus illegal Cuban Liberal Party”
From my point of view, if those certain computers and cells were illegal, then you are committing a crime, right? That’s how it works? When people do something they feel shouldn’t be a crime but get punished – are they being repressed or punished for committing a crime? Here in Canada, recreational weed is illegal, though I, as a chronic user, certainly don’t see why it should be and even advocate for the opposite. However, if I am caught smoking a joint by a cop, whether I believe it unjust or not, the fact remains that I am breaking the law and that I will have to deal with consequences. Period.
“Payments from abroad for articles and interviews”? In a time when it is known that the U.S. is trying to topple the Revolution (which it continues to do)? To “pay” for interviews? What kind of journalist from “abroad” – whatever country that may refer to – pays for interviews and articles? No self-respecting journalist does this. It goes against every ethic of the profession. Plus it is penalized, even here in Canada. In fact, when I read that sentence in the article, something actually clicked: Oh, I thought. So that’s how they get all their “misinformation” which they feed to the American public about the “hardships,” “volatility” and “repression” in Socialist Island: Buying News…
Lastly, someone may argue that the sentences were too long. Too long??! They are counter-revolutionaries trying to undo/undermine/sabotage (through every avenue, even lies/illegal ones) the efforts thus far made at creating a new system in order to return to one which they know kept the majority of the population oppressed, hungry, homeless, illiterate and sick. At the very best, they are simply looking out for their own interests, unable to cope with the social movement in the country and unable to lock arms with the masses that are indeed moving forward; at the very best, in other words, their self-interest causes them to choose to walk alone, away from the masses (the MAJORITY). So, in my opinion, let them rot! Thirty years is not enough! But perhaps that is why I am not the leader of a nation; I may be too harsh; too impulsive; not wise enough; not diplomatic enough, who knows.
Even so, later on, brokered through Cuba’s Catholic archdiocese with the Cuban and Spanish governments, early releases were granted. “Most of the freed men chose to leave the island, to settle in Spain and the U.S. as part of the arrangement.”
What a surprise. Where else would they go??
PART IV – IDEOLOGICALLY ADVANCED
Anyway, back to the Vanguard.
As more people from the common citizenry continue to excel in the previously mentioned camps, namely merit, patriotism, community involvement, heroism, volunteerism and, of course, ideological prowess, as part of their routine life as either members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or even outside of it (though apparently the majority are in it), the Vanguard continues to grow.
Those more ideologically advanced – the ones that understand the Marxist-Leninist Theories of the Construction of Socialism – as well as the ones that have the more meritorious qualities, such as volunteerism, heroism, community involvement, what have you, are the ones in charge of helping the rest of society reach the same level of culture and to then go on climbing together (note the contrast to competition, where the winner – the more advanced – does not have any obligation to help the “losers” reach the same level). This is part of the Direct Education that Che believes is essential in the formation of the new Man, and calls “Auto-Education.”
I quote from Socialism and Man, itself a part of the short anthology, Global Justice: Liberation and Socialism (Pg. 39).
“In our case, direct education acquires a much greater importance. The explanation is convincing because it is true, not filled with subterfuges. It is exercised through the educative apparatus of the State in terms of general culture, [technique] and ideology, through such organisms as the Ministry of Education and the divulgation apparatus of the State. Education then is absorbed by the masses, and the new type of advocated attitude turns to habit; the masses continue to make it their own, and pressure those who still have not educated themselves. This is the indirect form of educating the masses…
“But the process is conscious; the individual constantly receives the impact of the new social power and perceives that it isn’t totally adequate for him. Under the influence of this indirect education, he tries to accommodate himself to a situation he feels just and whose very own lack of development has impeded him from doing so until now. He auto-educates.
“In this period of construction of socialism, we can appreciate the new man that is being born. His image is not yet finished; it couldn’t be, since the process marches parallel to the development of new economic ways.”
And it is through this socialist education that the new Vanguard swells in numbers of members, pushing forward from behind, and pulling from the front, all of the people who have yet to accept the creation of the new system, or who need help understanding the steps to be taken, or who consciously move forward with them, though still not sure of the final goal. Ultimately, as the numbers continue to increase to engulf the entire population, the Vanguard ceases to exist as every member becomes consciously a New Man. This, of course, is Communism.
I quote again, from page 39 and 40.
“Not counting those whose lack of education makes them opt for the solitary path, towards the auto-satisfaction of their own desires, there exist those who, even inside this new panorama of a unified march, tend to walk isolated from the masses that accompany them. What is important is that they daily go on becoming more and more conscious of the necessity of their incorporation (integration) into society and, at the same time, as engines of the same.
“They no longer march alone, through skewed roads toward distant aspirations. They follow their Vanguard, constituted by the Party, by the leading laborers, by the leading men and women who walk linked to the masses and in tight communion with them. The Vanguard has its view fixed on the future and in its prize, but this isn’t perceived as something individual; the prize is the new society where men and women will have different characteristics: the society of the Communist Man.
“The path is long and full of difficulties. Sometimes, due to taking the wrong route, we’ll have to take steps backwards; other times, due to walking too fast, we’ll lose sight of the masses; on occasions where we go too slow, we’ll feel the breath of those stepping on our heels. In our revolutionary ambitions, we try walking as fast as possible, opening paths, but we know that we must feed from the masses, and that they, in turn, will only be able to advance if we encourage them with our example.
“Notwithstanding the importance given to moral stimuli, the fact that there exists a division between the two principal groups (excluding, of course, the minority fraction of those who do not participate, for whatever reason, in the construction of socialism), indicates the relative lack of development in the social consciousness. The Vanguard group is ideologically more advanced than the masses, who know of the new values, but insufficiently. While in the first group (vanguard), a qualitative change is produced which allows them to sacrifice themselves in their leading roles, the second group (masses) only sees halfway forward, and must therefore be subjected to stimuli and pressures of a certain intensity; it is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat imposing itself not only over the defeated class, but also, individually, over the victorious one.
“All of this begs, for its total success, the necessity of a series of mechanisms – the revolutionary institutions…”