In just under five days I will be boarding a flight to Miami, where my bags will be searched, my background thoroughly looked over and a dirty look given over my passport as I funnel through TSA checkpoints to a singular flight leaving Miami where it will take to the air for just under an hour and land in Havana, Cuba. For any Marxist the prospect of travelling to the Prometheus of Marxist history, daily attacked by embargo and lies by its mere proximity to what Che called “the beast” is an exciting one, yet I embark with a keen sense of trepidation.
Cuba is changing, and many socialist onlookers (http://redantliberationarmy.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/a-new-economic-policy-why-cuban-socialism-is-still-very-real/) have remarked upon the similarity between Cuba’s attack on the “special period” (the depression following the collapse of soviet support) during the 90s and the New Economic Policy of Vladimir Lenin. Yet, whether we will see Collectivization or a Dengist return to capitalism on the other end of these reforms remains to be seen. It is with this sense of trepidation that I will expose some of the most common myths associated with Cuba, with a little help from my friends (sarcasm) at the ISO, for publishing this gem: http://www.isreview.org/issues/51/cuba_image&reality.shtml.
Myth: Fidel wasn’t a socialist and that is important
This is a classic misunderstanding of the Communist Party of Cuba pre and post revolution. Fidel was originally a member of Partido Orthodoxo, essentially tantamount to New-Deal liberals. As is commonly recounted Fidel renounced liberalism and lead an armed attack on a Cuban Army Barrack on July 26th. After the failure of the July 26th Movement, Fidel had plenty of time do to some reading in prison; and it is here where he first read Marx. The CPC before the revolution can for ease be compared to the CPUSA of today, that is, legislative, counterrevolutionary, ideologically bankrupt and thereby ineffective as a party. Fidel rejected this party, as an organ of the Batista parasite government, and rightfully so. After Batista had been replaced, Fidel certainly had the support and political clout to turn to the communist party to change it significantly, which occurred in 1965 where the party was reformed with Fidel as its first general secretary. (Julia Sweig’s book “Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know” goes into this in depth).
Also, one has to ask themselves, does it really matter if Fidel was a die-hard Marxist? His personal opinions, which in subsequent years during the time of troubles, have become increasingly focused on Cuban Socialism as opposed to Soviet models, are rather irrelevant. One must look to who benefited from the revolution he headed, and to what end it marched, not what was in the heart, itself impossible to discern, of the figurehead.
Myth: The Cuban Communist Party was formed by a bunch of strongmen who did/do not represent the workers
The ISO and other anti-communists look to Fidel’s proclamation of his socialist beliefs a mere day before the Bay of Pigs as the last resort of a populist, and as evidence for this, drum up the lack of peasant involvement in the formation of the Cuban State. It is not surprising that trotskyists would envision revolution only achievable by dirt-under-the-fingernails workers and thereby ignore, as Erik Wolf points out at length in his book Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century, the element of college students in the Cuban Revolution. Wolf elucidates the unique nature of the Cuban Revolution, one where a massive left-center coalition was lead to radical ends – a historical singularity. The role of the Cuban intelligentsia cannot be overlooked, as due to the lack of great repressions (highlighted below) they formed a large portion of the recreated communist party.
Also, the ISO and others often overlook the virtual continuation of the Civil War that went all the way through the Bay of Pigs invasion, itself something Fidel jokingly wished to thank JFK for. Fidel was fighting US Imperialism and armed rebellions at home, not unlike the intervention of allied powers in Russia and the drastic measures seen there to simply keep the worker’s state alive. In the lead up to the Bay of Pigs, dissidents were repressed, but this was not on a class basis, and indeed, the class nature of the Communist Party of Cuba can be seen in the survival of the party in the face of imperialism and rebellion. Even today, as recounted by historian Felix-Masud Piloto, debates rage informally and formally in Cuban society, voices advocating for total privatization float about the air freely, and a current debate on Afro-Cuban involvement in Cuban society is raging as we speak.
Immediately after the revolution and residential nationalization, rents were reduced to a fraction of their cost under Batista, and education was nationalized and made free – with Afro-Cubans, sons and daughters of illiterate Afro-Cuban urban poor, graduating with undergraduate, masters and doctorate degrees in the 1960s, and that’s to say nothing of the oft-praised Cuban Healthcare revolution. These, in short, are not the actions of a government detached from worker’s control, given that such actions cost the threatened, developing State much. Even liberal writer Sweig admits, “The Cuban Revolution retained a strong base of domestic legitimacy, based not only on nationalist pride for resisting Cuba’s defiance to the United States….but also on a marked improvements in the material lives of the majority of Cuba’s people.” And this improvement is not, as the ISO would claim, congruent to the improvement of life in Nazi Germany for the below reason.
A word on elections. Julia Sweig highlights the process of Cuban elections which require all candidates to publish their credentials and biographies in frequented spaces in towns and collectives and multiple public debates are held in front of live crowds in each district. Raul Castro has to do this very thing in his home district, every election, as did Fidel for the many years he was general secretary. It is a common practice for a non-communist to win an election and gain entry into the assembly by simply navigating a loophole by becoming a party member. In short, workers have as much control in Cuba as they did under the Soviets (Councils) in the Soviet Union if not more.
Myth: Women did not benefit from the Cuban Revolution
This one is heard quite often in conjunction with the next myth I will tackle, but to stay on topic, this is plainly and empirically false. In 1960, Vilma Lucila Espin, spouse of Raul Castro, formed the Federation of Cuban Women which provided education, job training and counseling for women in Cuba. This organization took on “doble jornada” (“double day” in spanish -working during the day, and taking care of a husband and child at night) directly and established that women as domestic slaves was in the past. Their work lead to the passing of the 1975 “Family Code” which legally established equal rights for women in the home. According to studies, the distribution of work in the home empirically improved after the code was put into law. Women’s representation in cultural, political and especially professional life improved, with female membership in the Communist Party increasing significantly after 1976. In short, the opposite is true of this myth. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Cuban Revolution is the work that was done and the work that is being done, notably by Espin’s daughter Mariela, for women in Cuba.
Myth: Cuban Socialism is Homophobic and Sexually Repressive
This, sadly, was true for many years; but it is no longer. Vilma Espin’s daughter, Mariela Castro, now heads a government organization called CENESEX, which advocates for LGBT rights and endeavors to sexually educate the people of Cuba. In recent news, a transexual was elected to the Cuban general assembly, showing of the progress being made by CENESEX (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/18/cuban-transsexual-adela-hernandez-elected). Fidel Castro even publicly declared that his homophobic policies were wrong and misguided. On my return from Cuba I will have much more information on this as I will be visiting CENESEX headquarters and speaking with Mariela Castro.
Myth: The Cuban Revolution created Gulags and Executed Tens of Thousands
This is a classic case of trotskyists and anti-communists importing Soviet Myths to every other case of implemented 20th century socialism. Conservative scholars list the highest population of political prisoners at 20,000 immediately after the revolution and the number of executions at about 5,000 people. I am not interested in a body count, but suffice to say more soldiers have been uselessly thrown to their deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed by revolutionary tribunals in Cuba, and there have been more causalities in terrorism committed against Cuba by american-tolerated terrorists from Miami than the 5,000 (if we are to believe such an estimate) executed. A historical study of revolutions, including all of the Bourgeois Revolutions, will note the relative tepidness of the violence in the Cuban Revolution. It is perhaps for this reason that Trotskyists and anti-communists must import myths. Today, less than 1,000 people are in prison for political reasons according to conservative scholars, it could be even less.
It’s worth noting that Cuba has consistently offered to free American spies imprisoned in Cuba for the freedom of the Cuban Five, counter-intelligence agents fraudulently imprisoned for defending their country, and the US has refused.
To be Continued…
There are many more myths about the cuban people’s revolution. I will return to the topic once I have seen the country for myself. I will do several write ups on sexual education, LGBT rights and the comparison being drawn between the NEP and the new Cuban experiement.
La Lucha Continua
Abrahams, Harlan, and Arturo Lopez-Levy. Raúl Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-up View of Change. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2011. Print.
Brouwer, Steve. Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care. New York: Monthly Review, 2011. Print.
Carnoy, Martin, Amber K. Gove, and Jeffery H. Marshall. Cuba’s Academic Advantage: Why Students in Cuba Do Better in School. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2007. Print.
Koppel, Martín, and Mary-Alice Waters. The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free. New York: Pathfinder, 2012. Print.
MacDonald, Theodore H. The Education Revolution: Cuba’s Alternative to Neoliberalism. Croydon: Manifeston in Association with the National Union of Teachers, 2009. Print.
Sweig, Julia. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Wolf, Eric R. Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper & Row, 1969. Print.