Seeking a Better Grade

Published on, by Erasmo Calzadilla, April 1, 2009.

Erasmo Calzadilla (writes): Now I’m 33 years old and teach philosophy at the University of Havana, but before I was a child and later a teenager in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Havana. I was 20 when I began to study philosophy at that university. That’s when for the first time I got to know the ambiance of the city, very, very different than that of my humble, marginal and conservative municipality. I fell in love with the liberal arts, history and philosophy, and it was after graduating that I began to re-channel my path towards what attracted me. Today I feel lucky: my hobby and my work are practically the same thing …

… For a long time (better said, for an entire lifetime), I have heard about the struggle between socialism and capitalism. The former, at least as we paint it, is a just, ethical, and above all humanistic social system, while the latter sacrifices everything for the profits of the powerful.

Seen in this manner, only a selfish, degenerate, son of a bitch could prefer the latter. 
Fortunately, however, reality is not so simple. We have all had time to appreciate life under the construction of real socialism, where we have seen the centralization of power not in the hands of the workers, but in the managers. Ordinary people have been marginalized, left to play only the role of passive consumers of the system’s benefits. If this marginalization of the masses continues, the level of alienation generated will ultimately prove to be self-destructive.

Since I don’t like this form of socialism, but I don’t want to completely give up on the idea of socialism either, I latched on to a good point made by Marx for attacking both capitalism and this variant of socialism. The key word is “alienation.”

From this perspective, capitalism is not only deplorable in that it generates poverty, but is especially disgraceful in that workers do not possess any control over the productive process. They cannot recognize themselves in the fruits of a labor that wasn’t of their choosing and which they perform only to earn a paycheck.

For this same reason, they never see themselves as the creators of the wealth that they consume, nor of the beauty that they enjoy, perpetuating in this way their practical and emotional dependence on capital. In short, capitalism -like all social systems in which the producers do not control the process of production- is alienating, since it prevents people from ultimately being their own bosses.

Socialism, at least the version that sparks my admiration, is not simply a system that distributes consumer goods equitably -even if that were the actual case- but one in which people become the true and concrete owners of the production process in which they expend their energies. In this scenario, they then become conscious generators of their life project, from the individual level to the broader collective realm.

Returning to the point, if under socialism, the managers make all the important decisions, but they do not explain their reasons to the “ordinary” working people, this will generate mass alienation, among a host of other problems. It undermines socialism, at least as I recognize that system … (full text).

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