Is Cuba’s Revolution still relevant to the left?


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!

* http://forums.redpepper.org.uk/index.php/topic,446.0.html

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9 Comments

Filed under cuba, International solidarity/democracy/oppression/neo-cons/, Organized Rage, Socialism/Politics/UK/EU/Democratic accountability/Left

9 responses to “Is Cuba’s Revolution still relevant to the left?

  1. Renegade Eye

    I agree with your post.

    The Cuban Revolution has contradiction to deal with, like the lack of independent unions, worker’s democracy, isolation etc.

    Serious discussion is occuring about its future. If the left will say, down with Castro, they might as well join the Florida gang.

    Cuba needs real changes. To be successful to raise the issues, they have to be raised in positive ways.

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Mick,

    You write:

    “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?”

    Isn’t Cuba better compared to Costa Rica rather than Trinidad and doesn’t the former provide free health care, education AND allow for independent Trade Unions?

    Also while the bulk of the external opposition to the Cuban regime (becasue thats what it is) consists of a group of right wing terrorists (which is what they are) operating out of Miami, the bulk of the opposition at home is reformist, trade union orientated and loosely social democratic.

    Not sure if that raises problems with ‘standing four square’ behind the revolution…

  3. Mick Hall

    Hi Anon

    I compared Cuba with Jamaica and Trinidad as they to are Caribbean islands. I am not an expert on Central America by any means, but Costa Rica it seems to me is pretty unique, not only in the Americas but throughout the world. As you know it was the only country in the world [I think] without a standing army and its history is unlike Cuba’s.

    It also has had for decades a soundly bedded in democracy, something Cuba has never really experienced.

    On the internal opposition within Cuba, I see no reason why those who wish to do so cannot support the emergence of independent trade unions and a greater political and social space, whilst at the same time defending the Cuban revolution.

    Indeed in some cases I can see the two running in tandem. However there is a line here due to historical reasons that Cuban opposition groups should not cross and for me it is the gate of the United States Interests Section in Havana.

    There is only one question that needs to be asked of any internal opposition groups, would they defend the gains of the revolution, or would they accept the demands of organizations like the World Bank and EU and insist that Cuba’s crown jewels be privatized.

  4. Anonymous

    Mick, thanks for the reply.

    This is an extract from the NS about two and a half years ago:

    Osvaldo Pay� the Havana-based leader of one of the best-known movements, the Varela Project, was one of the few who escaped arrest, though he claims to be under constant state surveillance in his home. He has argued forcefully that, given the chance, Cuba could make the transition to democracy without outside help.

    “We can keep the many good things which the revolution has given us – the education system, the hospitals – but without denying people their basic human rights,” Pay� told me in an interview shortly after the arrests. “In Cuba we have a better basis for true democracy than anywhere else in Latin America. We have an educated population, an equitable distribution of income. The problem is that people have always seen it as a choice between Fidel on the one hand and the US on the other. We need to ‘de-Americanise’ the opposition to the Castro regime.”

    Its a tricky balancing act, no? I feel if the left is too uncritical towards the Cuban regime then it polarisies debate and closes down the space for some sort of democratic socialist or even social democratic transition increasing the chances of a 1989 style neo-liberal orgy. Cuba has achieved much since 1959 but it also has many faults not all of which can be blamed on the Americans.

    Ultimately of course one hopes the Cuban people will decide their own futures.

  5. Mick Hall

    “Ultimately of course one hopes the Cuban people will decide their own futures.”

    Indeed

    best regards

  6. a very public sociologist

    I agree with you, Mick. Defending and extending the gains of the Cuban revolution is the bottom line for any opposition in Cuba. It is right to criticise deformations and problems in Cuba but we have to be clear this is not for point scoring, it’s about trying to help drive the process forward.

  7. Mick Hall

    AVPS

    We are both one of those old fashioned socialists who believe if you do not attempt to defend the gains of the past, we are unlikely to make new gains in the future.

    Still by thinking like this we are in good company.

  8. Jim Grant

    To be honest, Mick, I’m not sure “starry-eyed” is really the right word for Cubaphiles, since if you peel away a couple of layers the core of it seems to be “they have a good health and education system”.

    What’s so exciting about that? I mean, so does Finland. The truth is, there is a certain tradition – not quite stalinist I suppose, but Stalinisant if you will – of touting Cuba as a particularly clear vision of the future that, for my money, actually has its roots in something else you refer to in your text, which is the mass decolonisation and nationalist struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

    The cubaphilia phenomenon stems from various accounts of this wave as the revolutionary wave of the period. Mandel believed that there was an internal dynamic propelling these revolutions to socialism. Cuba is the jewel in Mandel’s cap, as it were – a peculiarly distilled version of this tendency. Other countries had similar experiences, but not so openly ‘socialist’ as Cuba’s.

    The thing is, this wave is dead. It did not ignite the world revolution. In fact, capitalism has found it easy in the long run to isolate, destroy or at least heavily deform all the revolutionary elements in this process. Cuba has held out longer – but is slowly drip-drip privatising this and that, and already relies on a relatively-autonomous tourist. And this is not the work of US agents or anything, but the very “socialist” state machine that you defend from so-called middle-class leftists!

    Is Cuba relevant to socialists today? There are, I’m sure, practical lessons to be learnt on how to run a hospital, or maybe ‘advanced interrogation techniques’. There is also a banal sense in which all that exists is relevant to socialists, since it all has to be dealt with one way or another. But as any serious precedent, model or strategy for socialism, Cuba is irrelevant. It is dead. The conjuncture that brought it about has passed. It is the zombified corpse of revolutionary nationalism, lumbering slowly towards conventional capitalism.

    Minority revolution is dead.
    Revolutionary nationalism is dead.
    The USSR sugar-daddy is dead.
    What’s left to admire about Cuba? A few hospitals…

    These hospitals (etc) are gains, yes. But they are not part of the same ‘process’ that you guys think you are talking about. They do not only need to be defended against the imperialists – they need to be defended against the bureaucracy as well. Extending them will require the total destruction of that bureaucracy.

    And the way I learned it, “middle-class leftism” tends towards starry eyed hero worship of benevolent socialist bonapartes (remind anyone of anyone?). But then, the phrase is so meaningless you can make it mean anything – and people do.

  9. Mick Hall

    Jim,

    Lets take some of the points you make, first the national liberation movements, whilst people like Mandel may well have seen these movements as the harbinger of socialism, who cares? Workers like me did not, for I had met far to many opportunists within these movements to understand that when/if they gained power their own best interest was at the top of their agenda, and so it proved. Although I must stress a majority of these comrades were not opportunists but fine people, however it is a fact of life that politics of all persuasions attracts opportunists, it is the nature of the beast.

    We supported organization like the MPLA, PLO, ANC, etc because it was the right thing to do, should we have absented ourselves when people were being treated atrociously in countries where either our own governments or Capital had a hand in their oppression? of course not.

    In any case, as workers it was to our advantage to support the national liberation movements as these comrades in their struggles were weakening and diverting our own ruling class.

    The same could be said for the Cuban revolution, although that was before my time, the fact that it has continued to exist on the fringe of the USA has been a living example to all oppressed people that there is another way beyond bending the knee. Why some sections of the left can understand only to well that it is impossible to build socialism in a single country, then complain that Cuba is not a socialist paradise is beyond me.

    Do you not see, that by creating a first class health care system and managing to give a degree of support to those struggling against poverty and oppression around the world, the Castroites have given socialists something to rejoice about, not moan well Finland has a good health care system, so what?

    Which is something I rejoice about to,
    if workers get better health care in Cuba than in much of the third world, that is a major victory for the Cuban masses and thus us all, as indeed incidentally it is for Finnish workers if they have a first class health care system.

    Such things take my word are not to be scoffed at nor do they drop from the sky as the largess of Capital, they have to be fought for and won and defended tenaciously. Which to date the Cuban people have always managed to do.

    The relevancy of Cuba is it still exists and whilst not paradise it is still a better place to be a peasant and worker in than many other third world nations, and this is in spite of the US blockade. If comrades need a role model to fight for socialism then they are never going to achieve much, indeed the real reason for the failure of the Trotskyist left is that it is willing only to take a single road to socialism, October 1917 and vanguardism, and how stupid is that as there is not a hope in hell of western European workers en mass giving up on bourgeois democracy for the dictatorship of the party.

    Why would we as our aim is to extend democratic accountability, not retract it down into a single party dictatorship. Some of us may be poorly educated but we are not fucking stupid! We are able to pick up a history book.

    Of course the Cuban state bureaucracy needs to be challenged, but so to will any socialist state, other wise it will atrophy. But that in itself is no reasons to claim there is nothing to be learned from the Cuban revolution, even if you are not a fan, you should still try and learn from its mistakes, but there is much more to be had from Cuba’s revolution than mistakes and disappointments, as it is still a living entity, despite its shortcomings, thus it must be defended by all socialists.

    No masters no gods.

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