Recent changes taking place in Cuba and statements regarding these changes made by retired head of state Fidel Castro have gotten a couple of journalists associated with the liberal Nation Magazine all hot and bothered.
One of them is Alexander Cockburn, whose column now appears only once a month—an obvious function of the magazine’s displeasure with Cockburn’s enmity toward their beloved occupant of the White House. Cockburn, now pushing 70, was at one time on the payroll of prestigious and well-paying print publications like the Wall Street Journal and House and Garden. Except for the once-a-month Nation job, his main outlet is through a syndicated distributor creators.com. They send his articles to the usual leftwing culprits (Truthout.org, etc.) but also to Chronicles, a magazine published by the Rockford Institute. This Rockford is not the Jim Rockford played by James Garner in the popular TV detective show of yore, but rather a paleoconservative think-tank that garnered Max Blumenthal’s attention recently:
Even though the Rockford Institute has been dubbed “xenophobic, racist, and nativist,” by its former New York branch director, Richard John Neuhaus; even though Rockford’s current director, Thomas Fleming, is a leading anti-Semite and Holocaust revisionist; even though Rockford’s flagship publication, Chronicles, has served as a nest for white nationalists like Sam Francis; Cornyn — a moving force behind Republican immigration policy — accepted Rockford’s invitation to headline their conference.
One can only wonder if Cornyn had a chance to rub elbows with Alexander Cockburn at the event.
[Originally, this article stated that Cockburn's main outlet besides The Nation and Counterpunch was Chronicles. I have modified the article after receiving a clarification from him. I will say this, however. I would never allow anything with my name appear in a racist, xenophobic publication like Chronicles. There really is no excuse for that.]
The other journalist is a fellow named Marc Cooper, who arguably might be described as a retired journalist since nobody, including the Nation Magazine, appears interested in publishing him nowadays. A quarter-century ago Cooper was an estimable figure, writing a first-rate piece on Pinochet’s Chile if memory serves me right. I never would have dreamed that he would have evolved into the dyspeptic, Albert Shanker-like figure he is today. Keeping Woody Allen’s wisecrack from Sleeper in mind, let’s hope that Cooper never gets his hands on a nuclear weapon.
Turning to Cockburn’s article first, Autumn of the Driveler, we learn that he takes great exception to a couple of recent offenses by the retired head of state. The first of these is Castro’s joining ranks with the 9/11 “truthers”:
Castro claimed that the Pentagon was hit by a rocket, not a plane, because no traces were found of its passengers. “Only a projectile could have created the geometrically round orifice created by the alleged airplane,” according to Fidel. “We were deceived as well as the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.” All nonsense of course.
Cockburn links this conspiracism with a more recent offense by Castro, namely giving credence to a book about the role of the Bilderbergs:
The 84-year-old former Cuban president published an article on August 18, spread across three of the eight pages of the Communist Party newspaper Granma, quoting in extenso from the Lithuanian-born writer Daniel Estulin’s ‘The Secrets of the Bilderberg Club,’ (2006) alleging the Bilderbergers control everything, which must mean that they pack a lot in to the three-day session the Club holds each year as its sole public activity. Of course they probably skype each other a lot too and rot out their brains plotting and planning on their cell phones.
It should be mentioned, by the way, that Castro’s age had been cited earlier in the article by Cockburn: “In both of these media Castro, now 84, has spouted a steady stream of drivel.” Now I would not want to advise such an acclaimed journalist to review an article he has written before publishing it, but it is probably not a good idea to make such a gaffe. It might give readers the impression that he is slipping—as they put it.
I should also add that Cockburn might want to tread a bit more lightly when it comes to conspiracy theory since his frequent contributions to the climate change debate amount to a conspiracy theory themself. He claims that scientists warning about climate change are basically part of a vast conspiracy by companies like General Electric who make things up in order to scare people into accepting nuclear power. Wow!
I was greatly amused by Cockburn’s discovery that “bits of Estulin’s book reverently quoted by Castro, who called Estulin honest and well informed, retread some of the doctrines of Lyndon LaRouche, one of the most lurid conspiracists in political history”. I guess that he must have forgotten that he has called upon Zbigniew Jaworowski, an expert in Larouche’s stable, to support his global warming denialism:
Alexander Cockburn in the 6/9/2007 Weekend edition of Counterpunch:
Take Warsaw-based Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, famous for his critiques of ice-core data. He’s devastating on the IPCC rallying cry that CO2 is higher now than it has ever been over the past 650,000 years. In his 1997 paper in the Spring 21st Century Science and Technology, he demolishes this proposition. In particular, he’s very good on pointing out the enormous inaccuracies in the ice-core data and the ease with which a CO2 reading from any given year is contaminated by the CO2 from entirely different eras. He also points out that from 1985 on there’s been some highly suspect editing of the CO2 data, presumably to reinforce the case for the “unprecedented levels” of modern CO2. In fact, in numerous papers prior to 1985, there were plenty of instances of CO2 levels much higher than current CO2 measurements, some even six times higher. He also points out that it is highly unscientific to merge ice-core temperature measurements with modern temperature measurements.
Cockburn failed to identify Jaworowski’s professional qualifications. He is in fact not a climatologist but a professor at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw, Poland. He also fails to identify 21st Century Science and Technology as a publication of Lyndon Larouche’s bizarre ultrarightist cult that used to beat leftists up in the 1970s, provided snitches on the antinuclear movement to the Reagan administration, received paramilitary training from a KKK leader, blamed modern day capitalist ills on the Jews and Queen Elizabeth, etc.
Turning from the ridiculous to the ridiculouser, Marc Cooper’s blog has been churning out diatribes against the Cuban government with more regularity than the Cuban American National Foundation.
Most recently, Cooper has written a self-congratulatory article about what he (and Jeffrey Goldberg) regards as the arrival of capitalism to Cuba. While it contains the usual vitriol directed against the Evil Dictator, it does mark something of a departure for Cooper in that it is framed in Marxist theory, something that by the evidence looks like what the journalist picked up in a freshman poli sci class rather than from any reading of Karl Marx.
Marx saw “socialism” as an economic stage superior to capitalism. He didn’t mean morally superior. Marx meant that socialism, a society of equality, could ONLY be built upon a fully developed and mature, indeed over-ripe, global capitalist system.
This, of course, is the sort of thing that social democrats of the Kautskyite stripe have been arguing forever. One doubts that Cooper ever read Kautsky in the original but absorbed this Menshevik platitude from a copy of Dissent Magazine years ago.
One hardly knows how to break this to Cooper, but this was not Marx’s view at all. In the late 1870s, he developed a keen interest in the struggles against Czarism that he regarded as a possible springboard for a renewed assault against capitalist privilege across the European continent. He carried out a correspondence with populist leaders in Russia who understood Plekhanov’s writings to be a true interpretation of what Marx had been writing. Plekhanov, whose influence on Kautsky was profound, believed that it was a mistake to struggle for socialism in such a backward country. The best that could be hoped for was a deepening of capitalist relations that could prepare the way for socialism. This meant that it was necessary to give critical support to the capitalist destruction of the rural communes, a precapitalist social formation in the countryside that the populists wanted to defend.
In an 1881 letter to Vera Zasulich, Marx wrote:
At the same time as the commune is bled dry and tortured, its land rendered barren and poor, the literary lackeys of the “new pillars of society” ironically depict the wounds inflicted on it as so many symptoms of its spontaneous decrepitude. They allege that it is dying a natural death and they would be doing a good job by shortening its agony. As far as this is concerned, it is no longer a matter of solving a problem; it is simply a matter of beating an enemy. To save the Russian commune, a Russian revolution is needed. For that matter, the government and the “new pillars of society” are doing their best to prepare the masses for just such a disaster. If revolution comes at the opportune moment, if it concentrates all its forces so as to allow the rural commune full scope, the latter will soon develop as an element of regeneration in Russian society and an element of superiority over the countries enslaved by the capitalist system.
In another letter to N.K. Mikhailovsky, the leading theorist of Russian Populism, Marx explicitly disavows himself from any kind of unilinear theory of history that would require societies to go through stages, like a larva turning into a butterfly. Referring to Capital, a work that supposedly gave its imprimatur to this kind of schematicism, Marx wrote:
In the chapter on primitive accumulation, my sole aim is to trace the path by which the capitalist economic order in western Europe emerged out of the womb of the feudal economic order. Hence it follows the movement which divorced the producer from his means of production, transforming the former into a wage-earner (a proletarian, in the modern sense of the word) and the latter into capital. In this history, “every revolution marks an era which serves as a lever in the advancement of the capitalist class in the process of its formation. But the basis of the evolution is the expropriation of the tiller of the soil”. At the end of the chapter, I deal with the historical tendency of accumulation and I assert that its last word is the transformation of capitalist property into social property. I supply no proof of this at that point for the good reason that this assertion itself is nothing but the succinct summary of prolonged developments previously presented in the chapters on capitalist production.
Now, what application to Russia could my critic draw from my historical outline? Only this: if Russia tries to become a capitalist nation, in imitation of the nations of western Europe, and in recent years she has taken a great deal of pains in this respect, she will not succeed without first having transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians; and after that, once brought into the lap of the capitalist regime, she will be subject to its inexorable laws, like other profane nations. That is all. But this is too much for my critic. He absolutely must needs metamorphose my outline of the genesis of capitalism in western Europe into a historico-philosophical theory of the general course, fatally imposed upon all peoples, regardless of the historical circumstances in which they find themselves placed, in order to arrive finally at that economic formation which insures with the greatest amount of productive power of social labor the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. He does me too much honor and too much shame at the same time. Let us take one example. In different passages of Capital, I have made allusion to the fate which overtook the plebeians of ancient Rome.
Originally, they were free peasants tilling, every man for himself, their own piece of land. In the course of Roman history, they were expropriated. The same movement which separated them from their means of production and of subsistence, implied not only the formation of large landed properties but also the formation of large monetary capitals. Thus, one fine day, there were on the one hand free men stripped of everything save their labor power, and on the other, for exploiting this labor, the holders of all acquired wealth. What happened? The Roman proletarian became not a wage-earning worker, but an indolent mob, more abject than the former “poor whites” in the southern lands of the United States; and by their side was unfolded not a capitalist but a slave mode of production. Hence, strikingly analogical events, occurring, however, in different historical environments, led to entirely dissimilar results.
By studying each of these evolutions separately, and then comparing them, one will easily find the key to these phenomena, but one will never succeed with the master-key of a historico-philosophical theory whose supreme virtue consists in being supra-historical.
Now, of course, the notion that it was a mistake to overthrow capitalism in Cuba or anywhere else for that matter until the capitalist system has “ripened” to the extent that it is safe to go on to the next stage of socialism is just a demonstration that some erstwhile radicals have gotten very cozy with their place in capitalist society. People like Christopher Hitchens and Marc Cooper enjoy the emoluments their capitalist employers hand out to them. From the heights of the posts they occupy as esteemed journalists and professors, they snarl at anybody who has the temerity to break with the system. The implication is that people in places like Haiti have to have the patience to endure capitalism for another century until things get rotten-ripe enough for them to rise up against the system.
Until now, and arguably for the foreseeable future, socialist Cuba will be a beacon to all those fighting for a better world, as the differences between capitalist Haiti and socialist Cuba make clear. Here is what Paul Farmer had to say on the subject in a July 10, 2000 New Yorker Magazine profile:
Leaving Haiti, Farmer didn’t stare down through the airplane window at that brown and barren third of an island. “It bothers me even to look at it,” he explained, glancing out. “It can’t support eight million people, and there they are. There they are, kidnapped from West Africa.”
But when we descended toward Havana he gazed out the window intently, making exclamations: “Only ninety miles from Haiti, and look! Trees! Crops! It’s all so verdant. At the height of the dry season! The same ecology as Haiti’s, and look!”
An American who finds anything good to say about Cuba under Castro runs the risk of being labelled a Communist stooge, and Farmer is fond of Cuba. But not for ideological reasons. He says he distrusts all ideologies, including his own. “It’s an ‘ology,’ after all,” he wrote to me once, about liberation theology. “And all ologies fail us at some point.” Cuba was a great relief to me. Paved roads and old American cars, instead of litters on the gwo wout ia. Cuba had food rationing and allotments of coffee adulterated with ground peas, but no starvation, no enforced malnutrition. I noticed groups of prostitutes on one main road, and housing projects in need of repair and paint, like most buildings in the city. But I still had in mind the howling slums of Port-au-Prince, and Cuba looked lovely to me. What looked loveliest to Farmer was its public-health statistics.
Many things affect a public’s health, of course-nutrition and transportation, crime and housing, pest control and sanitation, as well as medicine. In Cuba, life expectancies are among the highest in the world. Diseases endemic to Haiti, such as malaria, dengue fever, t.b., and AIDS, are rare. Cuba was training medical students gratis from all over Latin America, and exporting doctors gratis- nearly a thousand to Haiti, two en route just now to Zanmi Lasante. In the midst of the hard times that came when the Soviet Union dissolved, the government actually increased its spending on health care. By American standards, Cuban doctors lack equipment, and are very poorly paid, but they are generally well trained. At the moment, Cuba has more doctors per capita than any other country in the world-more than twice as many as the United States. “I can sleep here,” Farmer said when we got to our hotel. “Everyone here has a doctor.”
Farmer gave two talks at the conference, one on Haiti, the other on “the noxious synergy” between H.I.V. and t.b.-an active case of one often makes a latent case of the other active, too. He worked on a grant proposal to get anti-retroviral medicines for Cange, and at the conference met a woman who could help. She was in charge of the United Nations’ project on AIDS in the Caribbean. He lobbied her over several days. Finally, she said, “O.K., let’s make it happen.” (“Can I give you a kiss?” Farmer asked. “Can I give you two?”) And an old friend, Dr. Jorge Perez, arranged a private meeting between Farmer and the Secretary of Cuba’s Council of State, Dr. José Miyar Barruecos. Farmer asked him if he could send two youths from Cange to Cuban medical school. “Of course,” the Secretary replied.
Again and again during our stay, Farmer marvelled at the warmth with which the Cubans received him. What did I think accounted for this?
I said I imagined they liked his connection to Harvard, his published attacks on American foreign policy in Latin America, his admiration of Cuban medicine.
I looked up and found his pale-blue eyes fixed on me. “I think it’s because of Haiti,” he declared. “I think it’s because I serve the poor.”