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Another Socialist Failure

June 3, 2011

Remember when Cuba enjoyed favoured status with the left? The Soviet Union edged towards collapse. China had no alternative but to go for markets and private ownership. But there was still some romance in a leader with a beard and a cigar who had stood up to the tyrannical, imperialist giant.

Couldn’t it be said that socialist Cuba had exemplary health services? Another extenuating factor: hadn’t the Marxist regime replaced a corrupt, mafia-bribed, oppressive tyranny led by a puppet of Uncle Sam, President Fulgencio Batista?

Now Cuba has fallen away, like all the other socialist citadels.

Fidel Castro told US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg and the Latin American scholar Julia Sweig last August, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

Where does that leave the friendship societies, the old left who were so fond of trouping over there, and the other refugees from Marxism? Jose Manuel Prieto in an article for The New York Review of Books and reprinted in the Financial Review describes returning to his homeland and observing “the dismantling of this gigantic state, visibly in retreat.” He says:

I saw the detritus left behind: the disaster of a dysfunctional economy and a deep financial crisis aggravated by a dual currency system. All amid the growing discontent of the population and surging dissidence.

I remember a visit to Cuba in 1986, seeing the state-owned stores with two choices of canned foodstuff on their otherwise empty shelves. I remember the dilapidated housing in Havana with the electric wires dangling in clusters from the ceilings of the corridors. I remember the gluttony of the official meals that revolutionary stalwarts would host for me and my party.

Now it’s all worse. The country is importing 80 percent of what it consumes, at a cost of almost $US2 billion a year. In 2007 the government was forced to pass out fallow land for individual farming, almost half of the county’s farmland – one of those desperate last minute efforts by Marxist regimes to delay the approaching catastrophe. Neither the Chinese or the Venezuelans are able to keep them afloat.

Prieto describes Havana’s “near-feral state of abandonment.” And here’s another new element in the description of the country: the breakdown of law and order, with hold-ups by armed men. The education system is now in decay, with parents paying private tutors for classes in mathematics and science. Under socialism.

One’s thoughts, as always with communist collapse, are of the wasted and wilted lives. The opportunities denied people who might have launched flourishing careers and businesses and scholarship had it not been for the crushed living standards and opportunities that socialism always brings. It was an experiment based on Marxism. We will be told by academics that this basis was entirely irrelevant to the collapse of the system.

Dream on.

  1. Chris Johnson permalink
    June 3, 2011 5:10 pm

    Just a mention of the US embargo and its effect on Cuba would have been good. Just a little mention of its negative effect. Just a hint that Cuba was up against it from the start.

    It’s clear that Socialism has some very large inherent flaws, but you have to admit that it never had a chance against the capitalist wrecking ball of vested- and self-interest. I mean it’s not as if Capitalism doesn’t have some very serious inherent flaws too.

    Just a mention would have made your view a little less … dare I say it …. doctrinaire .

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 3, 2011 5:46 pm

      It is a bit too much to blame the embargo after 50 years. The failure of Marxist regimes is always discussed in terms of “if only”…always an excuse. Always. Never the Marxist model itself. “If only the revolution had occurred in industrial Germany not feudal Russia…if only Stalin had not assumed total power and taken over the party…if only the the arms race had not bankrupted the Soviet state…if only Mao had not distorted the revolution’s aims…if only the Vietnamese revolution had not been resisted in the south…if only Pol Pot had showed a little more restraint…”

      Forget the excuses. It is the model of extensive state ownership of industry and agriculture, of leadership by a Marxist-Leninist party, of state planning of the economy and the abolition of markets. That is the essence of Marxist socialism and we now know IT JUST DOESN’T WORK ! Christ, do we need any other experiments before people like you give it up ?

      • Chris Johnson permalink
        June 3, 2011 6:16 pm

        I don’t actually know what ‘people like me’ are. But this ‘me’ has never subscribed to the ideology – given human nature, Socialism a system of government that’s pre-disposed to extreme corruption, violence and repression.

        However, let’s not think for a minute that the system’s failure is inevitable due only to it’s flaws. If that test were applied to Capitalism, America would not have survived this long.

        A system based on self-interest and powerful vested-interests, as Capitalism is, no matter it’s flaws, will outlast a system based on principles (albeit Utopian principles) of justice for all and equity. Socialism has a much harder brief.

        I know that Cuba can’t prosper under Socialism, not without a Second World to assist it, but to imagine that a flourishing Socialist system is inherently unachievable, no matter what the circumstances, is closed minded.

        Without our trading partners, how do you think Australia would go? Our system would collapse too. And some North Koreans ex-delegate from the SPA would be happily blogging of ‘Another Capitalist Failure”

    • June 4, 2011 10:17 am

      Yes, just like the mainland Chinese decades long ban from trading with Taiwan crippled its economy! Oh, wait …

  2. Watson permalink
    June 3, 2011 5:33 pm

    I don’t doubt that many capitalist nations would be in similar parlous state if they were isolated from their logical trading partners (like the US).
    This is not to defend the concept of the artificial ‘command’ economy of classical communism. North Korea is, if anything a worse example of the triumph of personality over rationality. But let us also reflect that the most determined ‘free market capitalist’ economy has racked up a debt, and a set of systemic problems that could bring it to the brink of collapse within the next few years if socially responsible reforms are not adopted.

    • June 4, 2011 10:15 am

      Taiwan was banned from trading with its mainland former trading partner for decades. Did not stop it from becoming prosperous. The American embargo of Cuba is a lousy excuse.

  3. James permalink
    June 3, 2011 6:49 pm

    Here come all the lame excuses whenever a socialist state fails e.g. socialism has never been given a chance to work, we need to change human nature etc etc. We have now had almost a century of brutal social experiments that conclusively demonstrate that socialism has never worked and cannot possibly work. It is no good complaining about human nature. Political systems need to adapt to human nature, rather than vice versa. When will the penny finally drop?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 3, 2011 8:27 pm

      Agree. But, comrade, don’t you understand, it is all a matter of “educating” people to understand socialism. Decades of attempting that in the GDR or Nth Korea or the Soviet never worked but we have to keep the dream alive and if the bastards don’t get educated you must put the most obdurate dissidents in psych asylums or hard labor camps until they reform and learn to love the party and its leaders.

      • christine swan permalink
        June 3, 2011 8:52 pm

        I’d like commenters put in labor camps till they learn the difference between “its” and “it’s”, Chris Johnson

  4. Watson permalink
    June 3, 2011 9:46 pm

    How about a labour camp for people who can’ t spell, Christine?

  5. rocinante permalink
    June 4, 2011 12:08 am

    I’m skeptical of arguments about the effects of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. If I’m not mistaken, the U.S. is the only country in the world that embargoes Cuba.

    The U.S. is the worlds largest economy, true. It’s also very close to Cuba. But I have to wonder, if *the rest of the world* is free to trade with Cuba, why does Cuba remain so poor and isolated?

    Could it be that Cuba has nothing to offer the rest of the world? That is to say, nothing that any other undeveloped country doesn’t have – cheap labor, raw materials, unspoiled wilderness for urban tourists to visit – and for fifty years Cuba’s revolutionary socialist masters efused to develop those resources for the benefit of its’ people.

    Cuba did just fine as long as the Soviet Union propped it up. (North Korea will remain like it is in one form or another as long as the Chinese keep propping it up.) When the Russians started demanding hard currency (instead of sugar cane at above-market exchange rates), Cuba suddenly couldn’t afford Russian oil.

    • June 4, 2011 10:16 am

      Quite. As I noted above, Taiwan was also banned from trading with its mainland for decades, did not stop it from becoming prosperous.

  6. rocinante permalink
    June 4, 2011 12:15 am

    Actually, it’s simpler than that. If one thinks of ideologies and economies as competing systems and measures their success by quantifiable real-world result, it’s quite easy to imagine a ‘flourishing socialist system’.

    All that would be required for a ‘flourishing socialist system’ is one of two things: (1) Free-market capitalist democracy decides not to compete, or (2) There is a sudden and fundamental change in human nature.

    Of course, that begs the question of what one considers ‘flourishing’ or, more to the point, exactly *who* would be flourishing under this theoretically flourishing socialism…

  7. Vinnie permalink
    June 4, 2011 2:31 pm

    I wishit was only a US embargo but instead it is an act of war: a blockade. The US has imposed an economic, financial, trade, cultural blockade on Cuba for 50 years. This has cost over 700 billion to the Cuban economy and hurts the people of Cuba.
    The blockade (the Helm’s Burton Law) it is an act of congress that prevents third countries from trading with Cuba. It is an imposition on the world despite the UN general assambly including Australia voted against it year after year. Cuba has little but it has shared much in the way of doctors, health workers and teachers globally including Pakistan, East Timor, the Pacific Islands and offers free medical training to poor young people from Latin America, East Timor and the US.
    Bob Carr talks about the excuses used by socialim to justify its failures, I also remember his excuses to justify the sale of the NSW assets that didn’t belong to him but to the people of NSW who totally rejected the ALP government for installing a mafia like leadership.
    I just came back from Cuba where I saw happy people supporting their governments adjustments to the economy to improve their socialist system and self determination.
    I suggest we leave Cuba, its people and their revolution alone because they have a lot to offer to themselves and others such as dignity and independence. We forget we have been involved in every single war adventure led by the US and keep US bases on our soil against the will of many Australians.
    The Friendship Societies will continue to work to strengthen the friendship and ties of solidarity with Cuba which marks 30 years in 2012.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 4, 2011 10:58 pm

      With such public support and happy people isn’t it strange that the rulers have not seen fit to allow a free election ie a multi-party contest with untrammeled media. Or strange that they have had to put critics of the regime in gaol. And why the refugee flow that parallels that from every other Marxist state. Think East Germany, Vietnam and Cambodia ? Fair questions, I think.

      • Vinnie permalink
        June 4, 2011 11:38 pm

        Bob, I think the Cubans are better off with a single political party. Their electoral system is far more democratic than ours. You do not have to be a member of the communist party of Cuba to be elected to parliament. Over there people are happy to vote in percentages not even dreamt off in western democracies. In fact what is the point of a multi party system in which the will of the people is not respected. One has just to look at our two party system in which the ruler is the ideology of the free market and we are controlled by the multinationals and finance capital. They even provided us with a technical coup d’etat so they could get a better deal from the resources super profits tax. In fact they did get a better deal from the new PM.
        The so called critics of the Cuban government were just mere mercenaries working for a foreign country. Even our democracy would have taken such critics to task. You seem to forget the witch hunt of peace and anti war activists who were harassed by the Australian government over the years. Even we put genuine trade unionists in gaol for exercising their democratic right of collective bargaining. I also refer to those honest trade union leaders members of the ALP who believed in their political party aims and constitution.
        The refugee question is another matter for discussion lets start for eliminating the pacific solution and treat people who reach our shores in a more humane way.

      • Bob Carr permalink
        June 5, 2011 9:12 am

        A Cuban who disagrees with socialism is put in gaol. The regime is collapsing. Accept reality or you will end up like the Leninists who were defending the GDR till it was overthrown. Australians can change their government, Cubans cannot.

  8. DavidG permalink
    June 4, 2011 6:26 pm

    I’m not saying comments that say socialism has failed are wrong. But capitalism has also failed. Just look at the inequities in our society, the poor that are left behind by the system… I could go on for hours. The list is long. A social democratic system along the lines of the Scandinavian countries seems to work best – with influences from both socialist and capitalist states.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 4, 2011 10:42 pm

      I agree but that doesn’t mean social democrats have got to grow uncomfortable when someone criticizes a Marxist tyranny.

  9. Eric Hearble permalink
    June 4, 2011 8:20 pm

    Bob, might be good to take a quick look at your Party card (if you still have one…). It reads: “I further pledge that I will actively support the Constitution, Platform and Principles of the Australian Labor Party including that democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields and the pursuit of social justice and equality in all areas of human endeavour”.
    Whilst I don’t think the ALP has ever (or should ever) aspire to replicate the kind of socialism/communism evident in nations such as Cuba, it still holds onto a small social democratic vision of society. Though, I note, those like yourself and others (Costa is one who springs to mind) have moved away from notions of “democratic socialisation” and the pursuit of “social justice” in some rhetorical flourishes of late and have subscribed to a model of governance that enshrines the free market as the best way to organise economic relationships.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 4, 2011 10:36 pm

      I have long opposed the expansion of public ownership ( which is the only definition of socialism that makes sense historically and in terms of political theory ). See Thoughtlines for a speech I gave on this in the 80s. To say this means I am opposed to social justice is absurd. Just, finally, stop hanging onto this romantic partiality to these ramshackle socialist regimes, to this anti-anti-communism.

  10. Vinnie permalink
    June 5, 2011 11:44 am

    Bob who are you trying to deceive we Australians can not change the system either we have a two-party system ONE ideology. The ALP and the Coalition take turns to govern for capitalism in the interest of finance capital not the people.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 6, 2011 8:12 am

      Australians can change their parties at any election. It is up to them and they do. You are just frustrated because they have never chosen to supported a Marxist party.

  11. June 5, 2011 1:43 pm

    The only thing really worth discussing, in a way, at this point, is why it has taken so long for people to realize the dismal shortcomings of that system, and more interesting, how come some still defend it in spite of all the evidence rubbed in their face.

    In Venezuela we have had now more than 12 years of yet another Marxist experiment that is slowly but surely ruining the country. The only reason that it is not so obvious yet is that because of high oil prices Hugo Chavez can still buy peace through massive subsidies that the country cannot afford anymore, even with oil at 100+ a barrel.

    But travel around of Venezuela and the signs are written on every wall, from the swiss cheese like roads, to the constant blackouts, run down hopsitals, etc, etc… Oh yes, we are way better off than Cuba but the need by Chavez to support Cuba at our expense is running us down the ground fast.

    And yet, even with Chavez recent and outspoken support to Assad and Qaddafy, in addition to his long term support for Cuba and Iran, there are people only too willing to defend his policies…

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 5, 2011 2:05 pm

      It is the phenomenon of fellow-travelling, remarked on by Robert Conquest in his The Great Terror. People who would never want to live under these conditions themselves think they are good for the Russians, Cubans etc. It is also anti-anti-communism, that is, it is unfashionable to call these regimes tyrannies because you might sound like Ronald Reagan. No enemies to the left. Fellow traveling is ingrained in the left, especially in Australia.

      • Nicholas permalink
        June 6, 2011 10:37 am

        Bob, great article and great point about the phenomenon of fellow-travelling. I wonder if the underlying psychology of this idiocy of the left, an unwillingness to criticise another left winger no matter how crazy or how authoritarian they are is the same mentality responsible for the support of abhorrent people and causes if they happen to be vilified by the mainstream right wingers.

        An example: a 2 minute standing ovation for the misogynistic, homophobic, imperialistic islamic fascist David Hicks by 900 people at the sydney writers festival and the lawyer Greg Barns on ABC news 24 channel saying he would absolutely have given David Hicks a standing ovation. I take it they don’t agree with the politics of someone who fought with islamist groups yet they lionise him, I suppose because their shallow fashionable anti-US stance blinds them. It is depressing and makes it harder to be a left winger. I would be very interested in your views on this.

      • Bob Carr permalink
        June 6, 2011 6:03 pm

        The left fellow travelling with Islamism is another phenomenon and one that deserves attention. Beautifully put about Hicks. He fires bullets on behalf of the forces who oppress women, stone homosexuals to death and enforce theocratic totalitarianism and the gullible clowns give him a standing ovation ! Pure fellow traveling.

        I agree completely.

      • Chris Johnson permalink
        June 6, 2011 11:07 am

        I think what this conversation has shown is that Mr Carr’s original post was, to be kind, somewhat lacking in nuance.

        One thing I definitely do agree with is that tyrannies should never be supported or even tolerated. What I find frustrating is when tyrannies are conveniently confined to Marxist/Socialist/Leftist regimes. We should also be discussing Capitalist dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia and remember Chile, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Hungary.

        So, does Socialism have a greater tendency to manifest tyrannical power? Maybe. Probably. Is it because of Socialism that nations fail? Only in the binary world of the Right and those of the Left captivated by the simplicity of certainty and browbeaten by entrenched power.

        As a Social Democrat I expect more from the leaders of the only social democratic party in Australia. I expect open-mindedness, nuance, perspective, insight and, most of all, fairness. I don’t see this in Mr Carr’s post and it’s disappointing.

        I thought that Left politicians in this country had simply lost the ability to explain and champion the complexity of their deep social democratic ideals, but on reading this post I fear the problem is far deeper: simplistic and shallow populism has actually found purchase in places where it should never have been sown.

      • Bob Carr permalink
        June 6, 2011 6:07 pm

        Social democrats should be uninhibited about attacking one-party, Marxist dictatorships . They shouldn’t be embarrassed to do so.

  12. Freddie Smith permalink
    June 6, 2011 10:31 am

    I always find it funny that supporters of Cuba always blame lack of free trade for its failings. Yet these same socialists will rant against the evils of free trade!

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 6, 2011 6:05 pm

      A very original point, and a hilarious one.

  13. Andrew Desmond permalink
    June 6, 2011 8:40 pm

    Let’s settle this argument now. I’ve been to Cuba. You don’t need to be Einstein to realise that the system simply doesn’t work. Havana is a beautiful Spanish colonial city but it’s falling apart at the seams. The place is a near ruin. Also, there is patently massive unemployment or underemployment. People loiter everywhere.

    Forget all the dewy eyed nonsense that is spouted about Cuba and the paradise that some people claim it to be. The fact is that the place is a mess and the government is to blame.

    • Chris Johnson permalink
      June 7, 2011 11:57 am

      Alright I give up.

      Cuba is Socialist, Socialism is bad, Cuba is dying, Socialism is the cause. I get it.

      It seems that there’s nothing much we need to do to rid ourselves of poverty and tyranny other than just to shut down all Socialist governments – present and future. Saved by the inherently flawless capitalist system – verdant lands plump with un-wasted and un-wilted lives. Excellent!

      As I retreat back into the complex world I thought we all lived in (where failure was not a term of inevitability), I would just note that the position you have taken on this issue, Mr Carr disappoints me greatly. Indeed, I think if you re-read Mr Desmond’s response you may even disappoint yourself. I think that Mr Desmond sums up your position quite well and one cannot help but be struck by its complete lack of insight or constructiveness.

      Forgive me if I’m blinded by my dewy eyes, but from my perspective there are many regimes, across the world and across political divides, that rely heavily on the ‘chronic goad of fear’ and one-dimensional triumphalism from our political elite is, well … just so bloody unhelpful.

      • Bob Carr permalink
        June 7, 2011 1:39 pm

        So your logic is that an indictment of a Marxist dictatorship is an endorsement of capitalism ? Logic ?

        No enemies to the left. We cannot criticize the Marxists because that looks like we are talking the language of capitalists.

        This sort of thinking is responsible for enormous damage to social democracy. It is a reason we were locked out of government in the cold war. You suffer from an acute case of anti-anti-communism.

  14. DavidG permalink
    June 10, 2011 11:35 am

    I was watching an excellent documentary this week called The Poor on the BBC that interviewed kids from very poor backgrounds in various parts of the UK, with the kids talking about their lives. In Australia the numbers are probably less, but there will be kids our politicians have failed who live in such dire circumstances through no choice of their own.

    It would be probably be more accurate to say that all political systems have failed. There is no way you can look at these kids living in poverty in Britain and say that capitalism or social democracy is a success.

    It could be that there are elements of all political systems that work, and others that don’t. And that there is no current political system that is successful.

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