The viability of Marxism

By Maria Luisa Fernández

Maria Luisa Fernández is the Cuban consul-general in Australia. This is the text of her opening address to the Marxism 2000 Conference in Sydney.

Dear friends: It is really an honour to have the opportunity of being here with all of you in this event. The study and understanding of Marxism are not easy. Many things have to be taken into account when those concepts are to be applied to any specific country, such as: history, culture, idiosyncrasies, economic development.

Cuba has a long history of wars of independence, of colonial and neo-colonial status, a school of revolutionary anti-imperialist thoughts whose leader was José Martí in the 19th century. Bearing in mind that we are far from being a perfect society, the Cuban revolution tried its best when applying Marxist concepts.

It is worth studying the way in which the revolution attempted to guarantee that the leading role of the working class and the other popular sectors would not be usurped or shifted to the party or to an individual, that the masses were really involved in a participatory, consensual democracy that favoured the development of culture, art, social thought and socialism.

It is very important to have in mind that the transformation of society is not only an economic, material task but also one of consciousness. And above all, it is a process of eliminating alienation.

In his studies of Marxism, Che said: Marx analysed the problem of the liberation of humanity and viewed communism as the solution of the contradictions that produced alienation. In other words, communism cannot merely be seen as the result of class contradictions in a highly developed society, contradictions that would be resolved in a transitional stage in order to reach the peak; man is the conscious actor in history. Without this consciousness, which includes consciousness as a social being, there will be no communism. The Cuban revolution was characterised from its beginnings by placing the person at the centre.

The revolution was not made solely to reach a higher standard of living, but also to achieve individual and collective dignity, independence, sovereignty, accessibility to power, education, culture and health for all the dispossessed—working class or not—and against all forms of abuse of individual rights.

In the world, the tendency today is to bury Marxism and communism. The equation is simple: the collapse of the European socialist bloc is the end of the ideology and theory that inspired its existence.

But Marxist and communist ideas have today, perhaps more than ever, the possibility of demonstrating their viability. The collapse will accelerate the anti-capitalist movement on a world scale in the medium and long term.

In the short term, it can be expected that sectors of the left will find themselves unable to respond, confused, and that may be reflected in their parties, unions and movements of the left. These effects will be transitory despite the campaign that is being waged on the global level.

Precisely the inability of capitalism to resolve the most urgent problems of the majority of the world's population and the very logic of the system, laid bare by Karl Marx, make it impossible that a materially and spiritually humane society can be built under capitalism, a society free of exploitation of man by man, of discrimination against women, of racism, of xenophobia, of fascism and its successors, of the misery of hundreds of millions of people, a society free of alienation, of individualism and of destruction of the environment.

On the other hand, the neo-liberal and postmodernist ideologies and neoclassical economic theory are incapable of providing a balanced, true picture of what is happening in capitalist society. The social theory of Marx continues to this day to be the only theory that enables us to analyse and interpret the structural changes of capitalism at the end of the 20th century and that can help us to get an idea of its future development.

In Europe and North America the euphoria over the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Union is evaporating. Euphoria is giving way to worry.

The crisis of the stock markets and the banking systems of the countries of south-east and north-east Asia and the repercussions in Latin America—Brazil, the stock exchange in New York and other parts of the world have done no more than increase scepticism and a lack of confidence in the system. The neo-liberal, postmodernist and globalist ideologies, which are the only current of thought, fail to lead to the development of spirituality, ethics and culture in the service of the individual and the community; instead they drive people toward a rampant individualism and the most brutal and dehumanised egotism ever seen.

So it is important and essential to go to the classics, read them, understand their message, get their teachings. Remember that up until 1848, philosophy had proposed to interpret the world but the fundamental premise of Marx and Engels was the need to change it. That is the most important useful philosophical and practical conclusion for humanity left by Marxists' works. To end, I would like us to remember what Fidel has said about Ernesto Che Guevara:

"If you are to look for a model of the communist man, there cannot be greater symbol than Che because he is the personification, the image of the new man, of that human being who is essential, if we are going to speak about communist society, not just to build socialism but even more advanced stages; if mankind won't give up on the beautiful, extraordinary idea: of living in the communist society some day."