Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cuba, Marxist Capitalism—and Israel?

Guest Voice


In this article, George Jochnowitz looks at capitalism and how its acceptance and implementation as an economic system in Marxist regimes has allowed them to establish trading and diplomatic relations with nations that it once considered enemies. Consider the examples of China and Cuba. China has adopted Marxist capitalism, and then established full diplomatic relations with Israel; there is a possibility that Cuba might follow a similar road. Here, Prof Jochnowitz raises an important point on how economic considerations can eventually overtake or trump ideology. "Now that Cuba is opening up to Marxist capitalism, will we see a change in Cuba’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist?"

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by George Jochnowitz

Marxist capitalismsounds like a contradiction in terms. Marx felt that capitalism was doomed. It would be replaced by the inevitable final stage of communism, when there would be no more economic inequality and therefore no disagreement among people. Since the final stage of communism has not yet arrived anywhere in the world, Marxist leaders try to enforce thought control as a way to end any form of disagreement.

Nevertheless, China has adopted Marxist capitalism—a system that combines thought control with a measure of economic freedom. China is very much committed to the idea of wealth, and consequently, China is doing business with any number of non-Marxist countries, even including Israel.

Cuba seems ready to follow the same route. Raul Castro has gone to China. According to a news story in the July 5, 2012, edition of China Daily, the country’s official English-language newspaper, “Castro’s Asian visit is geared to learning from China’s experience of development and reform. … Cuba is highly impressed by China’s dynamic economic development.”

Zhao Ziyang, who was Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party between January 16, 1987 and June 23, 1989, created special economic zones in coastal provinces in order to increase productivity, stimulate trade, and make money. After the Tiananmen Massacre on June 4, Zhao was kept under house arrest for the rest of his life. His economic policies continue to this day, however. Economically, China is approaching capitalism; politically, it is still Marxist and is still enforcing thought control.

Raul Castro wants to follow Zhao Ziyang’s economic policies without relaxing thought control. He visited China in order to increase trade and cooperation, but he also was eager to see how China managed to be Marxist and capitalist at the same time.

China’s current flexibility has extended even as far as Israel. China and Israel have signed an agreement to build a railroad going from Tel Aviv to Eilat.

Yet China and Israel did not have full diplomatic relations until 1992. When I was teaching in China way back in 1984, I was asked to give a talk about the history of the Jews at Hebei University. Before the talk I was asked not to mention the word “Israel” nor to refer to it in any way. Around the same time, I went to the post office with the young teacher who was serving as my interpreter. I had a letter addressed to my cousin in Israel, and I asked how much the postage was.

“There is no such country,” said the postal employee.

“Then how do I send this letter there?” I asked.

Ba mao” (8 dimes), she answered.

I bought a stamp and sent the letter. It arrived. This anecdote suggests that even in 1984 China’s rejection of Israel was not total.

Ever since the Asian-African Conference held at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, there has been a de facto Marxist-Islamic Alliance opposed to democracy and Israel. Today, this alliance survives as the axis of Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea—all committed to the destruction of Israel. It is also reflected among leftists, not necessarily Marxists, who are engaged in the BDS Movement. China has freed itself from this alliance, although at the UN it still votes against Israel. Now that Cuba is opening up to Marxist capitalism, will we see a change in Cuba’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist?

Fidel Castro, who is no longer in power, was interviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg in 2010. During the interview, Fidel said that Israel had the right to exist as a Jewish state, without a doubt.

Does Marxism have to be anti-Israel? Marx obviously couldn’t have said anything about the subject, since he died in 1883, before the publication of Theodore Herzl’s book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). What we do know, however, is that Marx hated the Jews. He also hated civil society, which he linked to the existence of the Jews. In his “On the Jewish Question,” Marx wrote, “It is from its own entrails that civil society ceaselessly engenders the Jew.” I assume that Fidel Castro does not agree.

Why didn’t Castro’s statement to Goldberg get more publicity? Did his brother Raul disagree? Did the United States tell Israel not to get too close to Cuba? That seems unlikely, since it would certainly be in America’s interest if Israel were not the most hated country on earth. Did Cuba’s ally, Venezuela, tell the Castros not to go too far? I find it curious that Fidel’s statement did not affect the nature of Cuba’s—and the Left’s—attitude to Israel.

Does Raul’s trip to China mark the beginning of a new era in Cuban flexibility? Will it extend to Israel? We can only hope.

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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. This essay appeared in the algemeiner on July 9, 2012. It is republished here with the permission of both the author and of the algemeiner.

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