by Nick Wright
The astounding scenes of human solidarity and revolutionary pride with which the Cuban people have marked the progress of Fidel Castro’s mortal remains from Havana to the birthplace of the Cuban revolution have burst through the miasma of misinformation and bourgeois prejudice which has characterised the mainstream media’s coverage of this remarkable event.
Even the Daily Mail’s Katy Hopkins found the intellectual and emotional depth to allow the challenge reality posed to her prejudices to surface.
“I found the Cuban people to be strong, and fiercely proud of their way of life. Queuing in their thousands at the Revolution Square, I stood with them through the night as they waited in line. Queuing without complaint. Young and very old. Tiny babies in their Sunday best. Politely joining the back of the line, without hint of wanting to put themselves before others.
Many appeared to shed genuine tears” she writes.
Her experience mirrors that of many hundreds of thousands of people who visit Cuba only to find that the mindset imposed by the dominant discourse in the capitalist world cannot inoculate them against the contradictory realities of contemporary Cuba.
One feature which strikes people accustomed to TV images of the lily white Miami emigre community is how many of Cuba’s people are black, and how well represented black people are in public life, in the media, trade unions and especially in those organisations, of both civil society and state which exist to defend the socialist order.
Cuba’s revolution took place in 1959, literally a life time away, a period of time greater than the life expectancy of Cuban workers and agricultural labourers in the years of the Batista dictatorship when Cuba’s economy was in the hands of an oligarchy, US big business and its constant accompaniment of gangsters, prostitution, gambling and violence.
How then do we explain the persistence of the reactionary mindset among people, who in conditions of relative capitalist stability and social peace, think of themselves as being on the left yet see Cuban realities through the distorting spectacles of the dominant capitalist ideology.
Where the capitalist discourse sees Cuban socialism as an import from Russia Britain’s semi-trotskyite Socialist Workers Party argues that in a world polarised by the Cold War, what Castro meant by socialism was more about aligning with one superpower to resist the other, than any factors arising for Cuban experience.
The SWP shows no understanding of the ways in which Cubans had deep experience of capitalist reality, that in overcoming Batista and defeating an armed CIA-sponsored invasion, taking control of the land and expropriating the property and wealth of the rich who had fled to Miami that they had practical experience of what building socialism meant.
Socialist Worker argues that Castro focused on armed actions by necessarily small and conspiratorial groups. Such self-willed blindness to the actual course of revolutionary events takes no account of Castro’s analysis that the Cuban masses were ready for revolt, that the overthrow of the US-backed regime would necessarily incur the displeasure of the US and that the success of the revolution could only be guaranteed by mass participation and mass support. It is blind the difference between Castro’s conception of revolutionary change and the traditional Latin America coup.
Castro’s lifelong faith in the revolutionary maturity of the Cuban people and his own modesty is exemplified by his injunction that no memorials be erected in his memory. No traditional Latin American caudillo this.
For the SWP the Cuban revolution had to fit into their abstract schema derived from mechanical reading of Marx rather than forged in real life struggles. For the SWP it was “nothing like a communist revolution as envisaged by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. They made it a central principle that “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”.
For the SWP the new Communist Party that Castro created in 1965 was a tool not of workers’ rebellion from below but of state control from above.
This show a complete lack of understanding of the historic legacy of workers’ struggles, the organising power of Marxism Leninism, the staunch Leninism of Che Guevara or the long membership of Raul Castro and others in the Cuban Communist Party. It shows no understanding of the revolutionary potential that arose when the struggles of the rural poor, the progressive intelligentsia, the urban workers and the heroic guerrillas fused into a common movement that overthrew Batista and led, in the new conditions in which imperialism blockaded the revolutionary republic, and only the socialist countries stood in solidarity.
It shows no understanding that these experiences would result in the formation of renewed communist party that would tackle the new problems that arose in new conditions.
For the SWP, “A new ruling class was forming based on state property—not workers’ power.”
That the land belonged to those who tilled it, the factories were in public ownership, the rich had fled taking only their portable wealth, that production was for collective need, that no one could live on the labour of another, that wage differentials were levelled and the defence of the socialist order was entrusted to the massive numbers of armed citizens who made up the popular Committees for the Defence of the Revolution meant for the SWP that: “This left the fundamentals of capitalist society untouched.”
Socialist Worker argues that “Exploitation continued, as did the oppression that grew out of it. Despite major gains in literacy, many Cubans still have bad housing conditions and low wages. This is especially true of the black Cubans who still face institutional racism and were hit hardest by the 1990s “special period” of economic crisis after the Soviet Union’s collapse”
In this theoretical dreamworld exploitation is unquantified and left unexplained. How, for example is surplus value appropriated from Cuban workers labour and by whom. Where is the capital thus accumulated concentrated and deployed?
This approach makes the material conditions under which Cuba has achieved — for Latin America – unparalleled levels of health, literacy and life expectancy and universal housing a marginal factor and all shortcomings a function of the ‘state capitalist’ order.
One would think, given their own recent difficulties in the field of sexual politics, that the SWP might strike a more reflective stance over sexual politics. For Socialist Worker morality and sexual mores of other people exist in a timeless vacuum, divorced from material reality. Thus the gender roles, sexual orientation and social positioning of Cubans in this barely post-colonial society, with the pressure exerted from the North, the influence of Catholicism and the distortions embedded into Cuban life by centuries of slave society count for nothing.
Over the years Cuba has educated, for free, thousands of doctors and medical specialists from all over the world on condition that they serve the communities from which they come. This even includes many from the poor and oppressed minorities in the USA some of whom are now deployed in North Dakota to serve those resisting the pipeline across ancestral lands. But for the SWP this is “… used more for foreign policy—sending doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil, for example—than provision for the poor.”
And after decades in which, at the UN and in international fora, the US blockade was condemned routinely by all but the US and Israel the SWP has concluded that as Obama bowed to this reality it provided only ‘an opportunity for Castro’s successors to further his retreat from Cold War State capitalism towards a market-based model.’
Socialist Worker signs of with the pious sentiment that the socialism Castro claimed to represent is as important as ever—but making it a reality means workers’ self-activity, not state control from above.
The scenes in Cuba rather show that uncovering evidence that antagonistic contradictions exist between the state and the people is a task that is beyond the sterile theory of ‘state capitalism’. The Cuban revolutionaries were able to draw theoretically rich conclusions from revolutionary experience.
Socialist Worker should follow their example, and Marx’s dictum. Question everything, And learn from experience.