On its web site, the radical magazine Red Pepper has a thread entitled ‘Is Cuba’s Revolution still relevant to the
left.’ * When I first read it I could feel the hackles rising on the back of my neck, for not only is the Cuban revolution relevant to the political left, not least as it is still a work in progress. But we socialists have a sacred duty to support it in what ever way we can. Myself I would go further and say there is no such thing as a socialist who does not stand four square with the Cuban revolution against the crude and obscene power that is the government of the USA, as it is impossible to be a socialist, whether reformist or revolutionary if you do not stand with the Cuban people and there revolution.
Yet judging from some of the replies to the thread and the link’s posted, not only do people who claim to be socialists believe that the Cuban revolution has no relevancy for today’s left, they go further and if one ignores the neat and pretty bow they adorn their opposition to the Cuban government within, in reality their position is little different from countless US administrations, in that they judge Cuba to be a bankrupt dictatorship unworthy of support.
Fiona Osler the Web sites administrator accused those of us who support Cuba of being starry eyed, something I will return to more fully. Whilst she openly admits that since 1959 when the revolution brought Castro and his comrades to power, the Cuban working classes and peasantry have made enormous gains in the provision of health care and education. She also acknowledges that through their government the Cuban people have given unselfish and practical support to progressive struggle across the world. Yet for the likes of dear Fiona, all this means nothing as it is balanced out due to what she calls “human rights abuses, a lack of civil rights, lack of independent trade unions and the lack of political and social space.”
It is hardly surprising that her attitude, which is a very US centric viewpoint, is not shared by the majority of the people who live in South Africa, whose suffering under the tyranny of apartheid would have been far longer without the blood sacrificed by Cuban solders who held the line on the Angolan plains when the SADF attempted to destroy Umkhonto We Sizwe training camps and the MPLA led government that had given the ANC fighters sanctuary.
Fortunately unlike some English liberal leftists, Nelson Mandela is neither “starry eyed” nor a fair weather friend; and proved his continuos support for the Cuban revolution when on being released from jail, the first visits he made overseas were to those nations who had supported the ANC through thick and thin, with Cuba at the top of his itinerary.
Thus it is not those of us who support the Cuban revolution who have stars in our eyes, but those middle class European socialists who have a starry eyed illusion about what real socialism is about in practice, and when it fails to live up to their image they turn away from it and in the process, often unintentionally, place themselves in the same camp as the exploiters. Never questioning the limitations that our comrades within Cuba faced when attempting to build a new type of society on Uncle Sam’s doorstep and within a bankrupt and economically backward nation to boot.
Yes, the lack of independent trade unions in Cuba has been a set back for the revolution as it displays a lack of trust in the masses; and there have been and in all probability still are a limited number of human rights abuses, show me a criminal justice and penal system in which barbarous acts do not occur? I also have no doubt that democratic accountability is not what we European lefties would wish.
Although perhaps we would do well to remember that here in the UK and the north-east of Ireland we have a unelected monarch as head of State and an unelected second legislative chamber which is made up of Capital’s place-men and women, pray tell how many urban and rural workers sit in that British House of Thieves. After two hundred years of political struggle we in the UK have still not perfected a viable democratic state and society. We still live in a nation where wealth and accidents of birth more often that not define a persons life chances.
As to human rights abuses? Are we in such a position to declare that our own excreta does not stink, the United Kingdom has the higher percentage of its people in jail than any comparable European State. Was it really such a long time ago that the Cuban revolutions left critics have forgotten when the British armed forces operated a shoot to kill policy in the occupied north east of Ireland. Have we forgotten that in 2003 our Prime Minister and his entire cabinet, bar one man, went against the wishes of the majority within the land, when they hitched the British armed forces wagon to an immoral and criminal US president, who had decided to invade and occupy the independent nation of Iraq. Need I mention Guantanamo Bay?
To understand the achievements of the Cuban revolution one only needs to look at the occupied west Bank and Gaza Strip. When the Oslo accords were first signed there were leading Palestinians who thought, wrongly in my view, that the Accords would give the PLO a chance to build up a civil society within these territories. They hoped to emulate Cuba and work along side the Palestinian people and provide decent health care, education and other essential elements of a successful state’s infrastructure. The Israeli embargo and IDF military incursions soon brought such hopes crashing down, and the people within the occupied territories now live in a chaotic society not that dissimilar to that which the USA once had in mind for Cuba.
When judging the Cuban revolution it is worth considering what Britain would be like today if the USA had not entered WW2 and the Nazi’s had blockaded the UK since 1945 and since that date had continuously enforced an economic and social embargo. Since its inception in 1959, the Republic of Cuba has suffered at the hands of all US administrations economic and social embargoes, periodic invasion, and a continuos stream of dire threats.
Rather than spiraling into chaos as was the US governments intention, for the first time in its history Cuba has had a government that has been able to rally and harness the abilities of its people, what ever their profession; and has in the process not only successfully resisted foreign aggression, including the bay of pigs invasion and built a society equal to most within the region. Cuba has an educated population, a system of health care better than that which millions of US citizens have access to. Law and order and a criminal system prevails in which imprisonment is not a first option for judges and magistrates, unlike its northern neighbor the USA which has the largest prison population in the world, 3.2 percent of the adult population, which is nearly as large as the population of New York City.
Socialism is different where ever it is practiced, whether it is implemented after a revolution or after an electoral victory, in an advanced industrial society or one dominated by a rural peasantry. I had hoped we were moving beyond the days when socialists believed a one size fits all version of socialism. For decades the blight of Leninism hanged over the left like the sword of Damocles, the belief that socialism could only flow from a rerun of the October Revolution or Labour’s victory in 1945 became deeply entrenched within sections of the left.
I’m sure there will be middle class socialists who will say I’m one of those starry eyed lefties and remind me that the Cuban revolution happened years ago and people should make their judgments on the hear and now. In reply I would say exactly, I would ask does Jamaica, Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean nations provide their people with the quality of health care, education, welfare and overall well being that the Cuban Republic provides for its toiling masses? The US embargo of Cuba is not something from the pages of history, but is happening in the here and now; and for working class socialist like myself unity really is strength, not some abstract slogan we shout out on marches and at demos.
We all have our own thoughts about the direction the Cuban revolution should or should not have taken down the years, but that is nether here nor there. For as political activists we have only one option when push comes to shove, that is to place ourselves in the same trench as the dispossessed and the wretched of the earth. In the class war there are only two trenches, one facing the other, one is occupied by Capital and in this age that means uncle Sam, the great Satan, the other by those of us Capital wishes to destroy, control and manipulate, the working classes, whether of town or countryside. Thus where-ever existing socialism may be found, whatever its weaknesses we must defend it, for how can we make new gains when we are refusing to defend the past gains of the working classes.
As to the Cuban revolutions relevancy, if it only teaches us that for a socialist state to succeed, international solidarity is of vital importance, it will be a lesson well worth re-learning. However the real relevancy of the Cuban revolution is that another world is possible, if only we leftists are prepared to unify and reach out for it.
Victory to the Cuban revolution!