Views from the bar: Socialism and the rules of engagement – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Kanisa George  -
Kanisa George –


CO-OPERATION rather than competition, authoritarian over autonomy. What would the world be without the powerful impact of leadership and the many ways it is achieved? Beyond the comfort and clarity that democracy provides exist a world so different that its presence is frequently questioned. The political red tape of international trade and shady deals on nuclear power is perpetuated by an air of solitude that some countries notoriously welcome. It is safe to say some are defined by entirely different and generally frowned upon principles. The thing is, we know they exist, but how does it work?

In societies where the rules are not dictated by the power of the people and socialist ideologies reign, what are the rules of engagement?

1965 both reignited and solidified socialism in the land of cobblestone and vintage cars. With roots to Stalin, socialism changed the landscape of Cuba and continues to do so to date. At the very heart of socialism is the belief that recognises community, rather than individuals, should own and manage property and natural resources. Applied to varying political systems, socialism impacts communism, utopianism, anarchism, and social democracy. Diverse yet synonymous, these systems all share an opposition to an unrestricted market economy and the belief that public ownership of the means of production will lead to a better distribution of wealth and a more egalitarian society.

As a response to capitalism, socialism aims to separate the class divide and ensure the equal distribution of wealth, but does it work?

Long after Marx and Engels revolutionised socialist thought, did socialism rear its head. To date, only China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam maintain an extreme form of socialism and are recognised as Marxist-Leninist socialist or communist.

As an international powerhouse, China shows its economic prowess, dominates trade and has a highly-developed human resource, and is still able to maintain its traditionalist views on governance. This suggests that a socialist system can work. Nevertheless, even in China, whose culture is saturated by socialist ideologies, poverty continues to loom.

Despite this apparent setback, World Bank figures suggest that China has lifted approximately 100 million people out of poverty and has continued to place focus on rural development through access to healthcare, education and housing. Sceptics believe this is a farcical position, for socialist rule played a significant role in overlooking the class it sought to protect. This is the very reason abject poverty exists in China. Recently, the Chinese people express widespread support for capitalism, blaming their government’s economic policies for the rich-poor gap.

In Cuba, socialist rule has gained the island a dismal reputation. Defined by embargoes and less than civil relations with the US, Cuba has come a long way since its extreme left-wing views attempted to topple its existence. Activists suggest that political propaganda has tainted the world’s view of Cuba’s socialism, in addition to the island experiencing periods of severe political unrest.

One commonly cited argument against socialist leadership is the view that the government has most of the power, a position that only works when the government represents the wishes of the people. 1950 Cuba was terrorised and held hostage to Batista’s reign of violent oppression, military rule, torture, and public executions. His rule caused widespread poverty resulting from the exploitation of workers which displaced many Cubans, and led to an untenable economic situation.

Despite the trade embargo, there are some noticeable benefits of socialism in Cuba. The government has dedicated a significant fraction of its limited budget to providing free healthcare and education. However, even with the steady economic recovery over the past few decades, poverty in Cuba still exists, owing to infrastructure, healthcare, food security, and housing deficiencies.

There is a concern that a critical feature of socialist rule is the blatant disregard for human rights. A 2020 report by the Human Rights Watch found that the Cuban government continues to repress and punish dissent and public criticism. Arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders and independent journalists remain high, and the government continues to use other repressive tactics against critics, including beatings, travel restrictions, and termination of employment. In China, authorities control citizens’ internet use by blocking social media sites and restricting news publications, and often individuals are detained without trial, charge or access to legal aid.

Socialism is not without fault, and the very nature of this rule requires far more effort and pragmatism. It must be said, however, that no matter the rule, corruption and inequitably appears to be a noticeable stumbling block to success.