The Left in Its Labyrinth

By Harold Cardenas Lema

In 2020, conservative, nationalist and far right movements could become more popular with the working class. The idea that opposite economic interests between the workers and the elites would be a decisive and favorable factor for progressive movements proved just another deterministic notion. If acknowledging the existence of a problem on which there’s abundant evidence is the first step towards its solution, the situation will get far worse before it gets better, because the left seems to be facing this and other problems with the ostrich’s strategy, including Cuba.

In the 60s, Herbert Marcuse, the father of the New Left, disagreed about the inevitable class struggle announced by orthodox Marxists, and he warned about the incorporation of workers into capitalism. When ‘the matters of material existence have been resolved, moral mandates and prohibitions are no longer relevant.’ He was right. Little by little, welfare policies and the sophisticated methods of social control assimilated the workers into the prevailing system.

Since 1959, Seymour Martin Lipset warned that ‘in some countries, the working-class groups have proven to be the most nationalistic and jingoistic sector of the population.’ Maybe the best example is the United States, where the Stars and Stripes in the porches of working-class homes contrast with the more progressive stances of the sector with a university education. Lipset pointed out that the working class was ‘at the vanguard of the struggle against equal rights for minorities, and they have tried to limit immigration or impose racial controls in countries with open immigration.’ His words from six decades ago seem prophetic of what would follow.

Donald J. Trump won the presidency in 2016 by getting 74 more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, but he lost the popular vote by a margin of almost three million. The 2600 counties that voted for Trump represent only 36% of the national GDP, while the less than 500 counties that voted for Hillary represent 64% of the GDP in the world’s wealthiest country.

Cultural and demographic differences are almost decisive nowadays.

Thus, the theory of class struggle could not overcome the political radicalization of the baby boomers and generation X, mostly made up by white adults with little education, but brought up during the Cold War, and influenced now by the right-wing propaganda of FOX News. These are adults who feel threatened from two different sides: from above by a liberal political class which did little to reduce the growing inequality in America, and from below by immigrants and minorities which bear different values and will soon become a majority in the country. The fear of losing their status as an alpha group –stoked by evangelical sectors and conservative groups like the Council for National Policy– drove millions to vote for a narcissistic millionaire with the soul of an autocrat.  And it’s no accident; they may do it again in 2020. Not all Trump followers are white or working-class, nor all white workers follow Trump, but the numbers indicate an escalating cultural war.

There’s another country in crisis. Hailed as one of the world’s oldest democracies, the United Kingdom has had three elections and three Prime Ministers in three years. Last December 12, the Labour Party under the socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn suffered its greatest electoral defeat since 1935, when they lost 59 Parliament seats to the Conservative Party of Boris Johnson. Described as a British Trump, Johnson’s demagogy is public knowledge. In December 2019, many Labour supporters voted for him.

The British worker’s movement was founded on the basis of industrial communities which do not exist today. In the 80s, Margaret Thatcher’s conservatives broke the backbone of unions, factories and mines that sustained the country’s northern and central regions, which is now a postindustrial area. Why did they vote now for the party that destroyed their political power and economic base? Maybe because of the unpopularity of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and to keep Brexit from dragging on. Or maybe because the cultural war caught up with British workers, who are today more fearful of migrants and minorities than of the conservatives who deprived them of their livelihood decades ago.

The deterministic trend within Marxism, which promotes social change through class struggle without analyzing other factors, was also criticized by other thinkers. Castoriadis argued that the formation of social institutions and the shift are not exclusively explained through material needs and causes; the change is also a product of the social imagination. Since the 20th century, social psychology, marketing and political communication reached a level of precision that part of the left still ignores. Turning our backs on science and human nature doesn’t seem a very Marxist thing to do.

There are troubling signs in Latin America.

The corruption within the Workers’ Party (PT) and the advance of conservative evangelism put Brazil in the hands of a fascist misogynist in October 2018. Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration was a constellation of fanatical right-wing leaders, headed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the Prime Ministers of Israel and Hungary, Benjamin Netanyahu and Viktor Orban. Under Lula da Silva’s leadership, the PT raised out of poverty up to 30 million workers, who for the first time had access to university studies, and were able to buy a car and a decent home. Many of them went on to vote for Bolsonaro. In the outskirts of São Paulo, of the 23 electoral districts that overwhelmingly voted for Dilma in 2010, 17 voted in 2018 for the Brazilian Trump.

The demonization of the left has been so systematic and effective on the international level, that when the people lose trust in liberal institutions and the political establishment in their countries, they look for alternatives in the far right, and seldom in the left. This comes together with the calculated advance of evangelical groups in Latin America, connected with American conservative politicians, and often taking over the functions of the State.

The degree of integration of the right is impressive. Let’s take the uCampaign company as an example. Founded in 2014 in Washington, uCampaign designed the mobile applications used in the Donald Trump presidential campaign and in favor of the National Rifle Association in the US, in favor of Brexit in the referendum of three years ago in the UK, and in anti-abortion campaigns in Ireland and recently in Latin American countries. The app uCampaign prepared for Donald Trump (America First) included video games and a medals system for those who watched more ads, donated and shared Trumpist content in the social networks. In contrast, Cinton’s app was made by designers from Dreamworks Animation, and consisted of a virtual tour of the campaign offices. For an app aimed at young people, it couldn’t be more boring. Defeating ‘corrupt Hillary’ in Trump’s app was simply more fun. American liberals fell sorely behind conservatives in handling public perception. They still are.

It’s time to talk about Cuba, where after six decades of harassment and poor administration, there are popular sectors with high levels of dissatisfaction. For decades the official narrative has reduced internal problems to the action of an external enemy, without going more deeply into the historical defects of the communist movement or the nation’s colonial inheritance. On the other hand, the general and political culture of Cubans remains in stark contrast with that of the world’s most cultured nation it once aspired to become.

While dialectics and the existence of contradictions are mentioned in universities, curricula and journalistic articles systematically avoid any nuances, and they show an ideological propaganda which admits little complexity. There’s talk of materialism, but leaders are worshipped as faultless figures. The hardest lesson for a philosophy professor to teach continues to be the one about the crumbling of the Soviet socialist bloc, where parallelisms with Cuba become obvious for even the most absent-minded student.

Our Marxism is a poor updating of the Soviet model. How can we expect to have a complex view of the class struggle?

It’s hazardous to make categorical statements about the state of political ideas in the Cuban people, because such a diagnosis is still the prerogative of the Communist Party, wary about divulging what ‘the opinion of the people’ is. It’s a complex moment for the Cuban left, limited in its diversity by the hegemonic and hardly inclusive stance of the Communist Party, where some radical actors have disproportionate representation and power over the rest of the membership. Not unlike Soviet sectarianism and dogmatism, an impersonal bureaucratic machinery has thus been built, which reproduces authoritarian models in a country that presents itself as socialist. Thus, there’s been an attempt to deprive the popular sectors which are not subordinated to the State of their spontaneous social and political participation, whether they share left-wing ideas or not. Obedience and party affiliation have predominated over ideology. It’s more a case of power for itself, rather than the left in power.

One cannot rule out the possibility that the working class will soon impose conservative policies instead of becoming ‘the engine of revolution’. When President Díaz-Canel showed support for LGBT rights and implied presidential consent for same-sex marriage in his first interview, it was the process of social debate that turned down that immediate possibility. It wasn’t the country’s leadership, but the base, although the numbers of support or rejection for that policy still haven’t been clarified. Additionally, Cuba is influenced by Florida, a Republican and conservative American state, where an increasingly radicalized Latin American right-wing elite has been gathering. We shall have to see the role this relationship plays in the future.

We could safely say that the Cuban state’s political communication is one of the worst in the continent. If it had to compete with the communication strategy of the world’s most dogmatic organization, the Vatican, it would still lose by a mile. What chances does the Cuban government have of facing the informative machinery of a far right which is on its way to becoming multinational, when not even the American Democratic Party has measured up to it? If the State continues to take social support for granted, as if it were a blank check, how long will it be before Cuban workers begin to seek solutions in the right, as it happened in the UK? If the government continues to obstruct civil society movements which defend animal and vulnerable minority rights, banning a march down Prado Avenue in favor of LGBT rights while it looks the other way when a church in Marianao gathers 3,000 parishioners to protest same-sex marriage, how long before the evangelicals supplant the functions of the State in Cuba, as they did in Brazil? The reaction might come when it’s already too late.

In the United States, Europe and Latin America, social control defeated the economic dimension of the class struggle. In Cuba, there are ominous signs that a bigger crisis is coming, about which there’s little or no awareness. Yes, the left continues to be in its own labyrinth.

(Translated from the original)