Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 19, 2014

A response to Owen Jones and James Bloodworth on Cuba

Filed under: anti-Communism,cuba,journalism — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

Owen Jones

James Bloodworth

Vexingly but not unexpectedly, Owen Jones and James Bloodworth used their Guardian and Independent columns as bully pulpits against the Cuban government. Despite their impeccable left-liberal credentials, their commentary left a bad taste in my mouth not unlike the one I experienced when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews weighed in: “I just don`t think they are going to change their stripes. I think they’re commies. I think they’re communists.” Commies. Nice.

I have more respect for Jones, who was on Marxmail briefly when he was 16 years old or so, a most precocious lad. Back then he repeated the talking points heard across the British left: “If the working class wield no political power, then who does? A privileged layer of officials, i.e. bureaucrats. It is they who legislate and enforce law, not the working class.” Nothing has changed in the 14 years when he wrote this except maybe a softening on bureaucracy, something understandable given his loyalty to the British Labour Party—a far cry from the heaven-storming sensibility of his adolescence.

Yesterday Owen Jones weighed in at the Guardian on the Cuban “dictatorship” that he hoped would disappear with the blockade. Like a comparison test for detergents, Brand X—Cuba—fails miserably next to those “progressive governments that promote social justice as well as democracy.” He adds: “They have lifted 56 million people out of poverty this millennium, and have done so without imposing a dictatorship.” (The 56 million figure was arrived at by the United Nations Development Programme and formed the basis of a BBC article Jones linked to.)

Apparently Peru was one of the countries Jones held up against Cuba since its poverty rate was reduced by 26.3 percent and had lots of freedom—hurrah, hurrah.

But I would urge some caution on taking the United Nations Development Programme report at face value, the source of the BBC article’s poverty reduction claims. If, as is likely, Peru’s National Statistics and Information Institute (INEI) is feeding data to the UN, the numbers are not to be trusted.

The INEI recently announced a sizeable 5.2 reduction in poverty in 2007. However, many have questioned the validity of these numbers, including Farid Matuk, an ex-president of INEI, who guesses that such numbers might be forged. They suggest a poverty reduction rate of 0.6 percent per each point of GDP growth, which is three times higher than the average of previous years. At this rate, Peru would eliminate poverty completely in about 10 years, which strains credulity.

I suppose that if having parliamentary democracy is ipso facto a sign that a nation is freer, then Peru—Brand A—is superior to Brand X. But if you are an Indian, Peru does not seem all that free. Between 2006 and 2011 after protests were mounted against mining on indigenous lands, the government declared martial law and gave the green light to the military to kill 200 activists.

For an incisive report on the reality behind Peruvian president Ollanta Humala’s faux populism, I recommend Deborah Poole and Gerardo Rénique’s NACLA report from May 2012:

Within weeks of Humala’s inauguration, major mobilizations were staged in the departments of Ancash, Apurímac, and Cajamarca—which are characterized by extreme poverty, long traditions of subaltern politics, and some of Peru’s largest mining projects. The protesters’ demands included an end to all mining in headwaters, a ban on the use of cyanide and mercury, a national ecological zoning code elaborated with citizen participation, and implementation of the national Law of Consultation. Led by Valdés, at the time minister of the interior, the Humala government moved quickly to repress the popular mobilizations. In November, during a strike in Apurímac, Valdés’s heavy-handed approach clashed with the more conciliatory politics of then prime minister Lerner and other left-wing cabinet members who favored negotiation and reform. It also, however, drove home the widening political and cultural divide pitting Humala’s right-wing functionaries against the popular organizations that had helped to bring his government to power.

I guess that if Humala came to power through multiparty elections, he had the right to “repress the popular mobilizations”. That’s how democracy works, right? In Brazil as well, right? Another Brand-A success story.

Let me repeat. Except for this sort of article and his membership in the Labour Party, I really respect Owen Jones especially when he backed out of a Stop the War Coalition’s meeting on Syria that was featuring Assad apologist Mother Agnes. James Bloodworth, on the other hand, is a sniveling little rat.

Bloodworth’s column opens with the obligatory “god that failed” confession that is so necessary for those pursuing a career as a lapdog for the ruling class:

One small claim to fame of mine is that I was present during Fidel Castro’s final public speech as Cuban President back in 2006. Stood at a lectern about 50 yards from me, El Maximo Lider harangued the relatively small crowd for over two hours, littering his speech with the usual denunciations of ‘Yankee imperialism’, ‘capitalist monopolies’ and – I particularly enjoyed this part – ‘Bush and Blair’.

For a young revolutionary tourist like myself the spectacle of the bearded ideologue in full flow was subversively exciting: I hated all of those things too, or at least I thought I did. Like so many who pretend to despise the boring machinations of liberal democracy I was passionately rooting for the romanticism of Che Guevara over the banal compromises of the capitalist system. And so beards, green fatigues and tropical exuberance were in and Starbucks and McDonalds were most definitely out.

Did you catch the business about getting over denunciations of ‘Bush and Blair’? Oh no, we can’t have such dogmatic notions cropping up in the writings of a 31-year old journalist angling to be the next Christopher Hitchens. How so yesterday, railing against Bush and Blair. Why the next thing you know, people will be playing Billy Bragg CD’s. So embarrassing.

But our latter-day Arthur Koestler came to see the light:

But in reality the ‘plucky Caribbean island’ was no tropical Shoreditch and what I witnessed was the stage-set Cuba rather than the grim and Spartan reality. I was a Useful Idiot, in other words; a person who would valorise the 95 per cent literacy rate on the island without telling you that it was the Cuban Government which decided what a person was allowed to read. Like many a pampered comrade, I rallied against the ‘superficiality’ of McDonald’s and Burger King while forgetting that plastic food is incomparably better than no food at all.

What is there to say in reply to a claim that fast food is better than “no food at all”. This is the sort of shit-flinging rhetoric you get on the Sean Hannity show and hardly worth bothering to answer.

Now it is true that Cuban media is state-owned. Presumably it would be better for Cuba to have the sort of free press we have in the USA where those with the money have the freedom to own one, to paraphrase AJ Liebling.

But it is not enough to be able to buy and sell a newspaper or television station. Bloodworth raises the bar even higher. If you buy a newspaper or TV station and then use it to editorialize on behalf of a government that was voted into power but that does not live up to your lily-white liberal standards, then watch out.

On February 19, 2014 Bloodworth repeated his god that failed shtick, this time about Venezuela:

There was a time when the so-called Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela appeared to hold great promise. I remember watching The Revolution Will Not Be Televised back in 2003 and being mesmerised by what I saw: here was a government spending the country’s oil wealth on social programmes for the poor and giving the rich a kicking in one of the most unequal societies in the Western Hemisphere.

But unlike 2003, Venezuelan television no longer plots against the government, a function of private enterprise apparently:  “In 2013 the last remaining independent television station in Venezuela was sold to an ally of the president.” Maybe there’s something I’m missing but isn’t that the way bourgeois democracy operates? Last week the New Republic editors and writers that Martin Peretz had hired resigned because they objected to the new owner’s intentions to make the magazine more like the Huffingto Post or the Daily Beast. And that’s not much different from when Peretz bought the magazine in 1974. He fired the liberal editor and a bunch of people then resigned.

That’s how capitalism operates as far as I know. Newspapers are profit-making enterprises. You buy one and then you have the right to order people to write things that reflect your POV. That’s how the Independent operates, doesn’t it? If Rupert Murdoch bought it tomorrow, heads like Patrick Cockburn would roll. I do suspect that James Bloodworth would still have a job. Murdoch would smile ever so benignly on such a bright young anti-Communist thing.



  1. Peru?! He’s got to be kidding, or showing his ignorance. Things have only gotten worse – much worse – since 2012. For example, http://www.globalwitness.org/perudeadlyenvironment/docs/peru_deadly_environment_en.pdf

    Comment by Fred Murphy — December 19, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

  2. The Peruvian economy depends for its growth on the export of natural resources and investment in the mining and hydrocarbon sectors. Peruvian governments and mining corporations have confronted anti-mining protests in different ways. While the current government has introduced policies of social inclusion to soften the negative effects of the operations of mining capital and policies of dialogue to engage social actors with the essence of governmental policies, mining companies use corporate social responsibility programs as a cover for the devastating effects of their operations on the environment and the livelihoods and habitats of the indigenous and peasant communities. Curiously, in the current context of the declining commodity prices and export volumes the Peruvian government strengthens its extractivist model of development. This article argues that whatever government that follows the rules of capital cannot but favor the corporations. It points out the main adversaries of the indigenous and peasant communities and the problems to transform the locally and/or regionally struggle into a nationwide battle for another development model.

    full: http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/classracecorporatepower/vol2/iss3/3/

    Comment by louisproyect — December 19, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

  3. With so many starving people in Cuba, it is remarkable that life expectancy is so high and infant mortality so low. And all of those doctors? Teachers? What a jackass. Former marxmail member or not, the other guy is pretty bad too.

    Comment by michael yates — December 20, 2014 @ 4:59 am

  4. the blockade of cuba ranks amongst imperialism’s top criminal acts but its lifting does not mark the victory that some opportunists are calling it nor does it somehow signify the dissolution of american aggression as owen jones suggested. the very opposite in fact. it signifies the beginning of an open alliance between the islands stalinist leadership and american capitalism against the cuban revolution. the self serving bureaucracy has seen the writing on the wall and would rather hand cuba back to american gangsters and transform themselves into a new semi colonial ruling elite than face the growing anger of the population with their imperious tyranny. what is needed in cuba is a political revolution that sweeps aside the bureaucrats and, basing itself on workers democracy, defends and extends the gains of the revolution whilst looking to the wider northern and southern american working classes for popular support and defence.

    Comment by davidellis987 — December 20, 2014 @ 8:46 am

  5. Talking about Cuba with leftists of a certain generation is a lot like talking about Israel with liberal Zionists. I’m not saying the two countries are particularly similar (though both are make-believe democracies); my point is that criticisms of either regime deeply wound the true believers because these countries represent repositories of cherished hopes and embattled ideals. Both regimes stage special propaganda tours for foreigners. Both aggressively market their admittedly real social accomplishments while attempting to paper over the fatal rot at the heart of their political systems.

    Comment by Adrian — December 23, 2014 @ 5:01 am

  6. I guess Adrian thinks that calling attention to the brutal facts of life in Peru (or Brazil et al) represents blind loyalty to Cuba. He would have advanced the discussion here by making Peru’s case rather than empty observations that would put him in a superior position to True Believers.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 23, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

  7. Adrian doesn’t seem to comprehend the purpose of the post at all. And using Israel’s “fatal rot” with Cuba’s is an egregious comparison. For a comment that uses a comparison, ironically you missed the point about misusing comparisons to favour your argument.

    Comment by Joshua — December 23, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

  8. Yeah, my comment was off-point here. I am sorry. I think I was more responding to the full-throated castroism I have seen on my facebook feed but am afraid to post there for fear of offending my friends.

    Comment by Adrian — December 23, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

  9. Cuba has few good options, but opening up to the U.S. is near worst. For one thing, when Cuba’s currency starts trading on the international markets, they are basically going to be servants to whatever Washington or Wall Street wants. A small country can easily have its currency shorted into oblivion. Right now Cuba’s currency is off limits to speculation because of the blockade. But since their big industry with the US is going to be tourism, the currency will necessarily have easily convertible.

    I pretty much think this is the end of whatever people think of as the Cuban socialist experiment. Obama is a far superior imperialist to Bush jr.

    Comment by jay — December 24, 2014 @ 2:00 am

  10. Concerning Bloodworth, Owen and the pseudo-revolutionaries who can’t resist joining them in putting the boot into Cuba’s revolutionary leaders… It’s amazing how Cuba’s – our – victory has provoked such a torrent of arrogant, conceited, petulant attacks from people who love to gaze into the mirror and admire how wise and progressive they are! Revolutionary Cuba has a tremendous capacity for revealing people in their true colours!

    Comment by John Smith — December 24, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

  11. A couple of Brit twerps, typical products of a state whose political-economic relation to the rest of the world has become utterly parasitic. As have their “thoughts”.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — December 28, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

  12. I didn’t read the article but I look at Owen Jone’s face. When someone goes to so much trouble to present themselves as hopelessly naive, and has success doing so, my instinct is that there is likely something more at play.

    Comment by Peter David Carter — August 1, 2015 @ 2:55 pm

  13. Damn. Why do i keep reading the musings of eurolibtards… it gives me fits of murdering rage. Is so unfair i don’t get to kill them all, families included.

    Comment by Juan — August 31, 2016 @ 9:03 am

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