Socialism or death?

By Brett Petzer

“The bourgeoisification of the ANC poses a growing danger to South Africa and its poor,” said Young Communist League secretary, Buti Manamela. This statement is in response to what The League regards as the government’s pro-capitalist political philosophy.

Meanwhile in Cuba, Fidel Castro is ailing and with the Third World struggling to develop, the debate is whether the Cuban Revolution will outlive its leader and offer real solutions. For decades Latin-American communism appeared to be the only alternative to liberal capitalist economic models. Castro, who is the longest ruling head of state, is unlikely to return to office, which signals the end of a political era. The Third World can use this changing political climate to assess the relevance of Cuban communism and pursue possible alternatives to existing unworkable economic strategies.

Castro has launched a broad-based battle of ideas, to replenish the ideological capital of his movement. Referring to the United States, he said, “they cannot destroy [the Cuban Revolution], but we can”. But Cubans still live in considerable poverty and the tension between black market trade on the island, and political zeal, has fostered considerable public dissent. After 46 years of communist rule, the state appears to be taking strain and is perhaps dismantling itself.

When asked about the continued relevance of communism, Rosa Whitcher, a first year journalism student said, “I don’t think communism is a viable political system. I mean, it’s such a dynamic and global world, I don’t see where it fits. I honestly see capitalism as the only real choice”.

The evident success of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” may offer a possible alternative political strategy.The Venezuelan economy excludes 80% of its citizens. Chávez aims to leverage the state’s oil wealth to improve the economic situation, and to enhance solidarity among Third World states. More than two million Venezuelans have consequently been lifted out of poverty in the last year alone.

The issue becomes the translation of the “Bolivarian Revolution” to the rest of the developing world. Decision makers can benefit from the Chávez phenomenon in three ways. They can either assimilate the cultural and political aspect of the “Bolivarian Revolution”, or absorb its economic model, or both.

David Fryer, a lecturer with the economics department says, “the basic problem remains with the empowerment of people”, especially as state policy becomes more investor-friendly.

Economically, South Africa seems far from the actions of Chávez, which appear bold and sometimes even rash. NEPAD may come closest to the Venezuelan model. The plan is a formal undertaking by African states to promote a culture of peer accountability and economic development. But the generous social grants and easy state credit that are having such effect in Venezuela cannot be realised in Africa without the income from oil that Venezuela is able to generate, and cannot be financed by the current level of foreign aid.

However, one aspect of the “Bolivarian Revolution” that is export-ready is its people-centred approach. According to Pakama Ngceni, the gender officer for SASCO’s Rhodes branch, any form of political leadership that “advances a broad-based ownership of society, collective decision-making, and equal access to resources has a fighting chance at displacing neo-liberalism”.

The debate over political philosophy may never die, but Castro certainly will – thus lending a new twist to that phrase daubed in Cuban towns – “Socialismo o muerte” – socialism or death.

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