“We have made the revolution that we could make and not the one that we wished to make” Fidel Castro
“Presently we are not building socialism, fundamentally, at this time we are defending our sovereignty, the independence of the country and the achievements we had attained.” Fidel Castro
( November 27, 2016, Boston, Sri Lanka Guardian) The truth is often unpalatable to many. After all, the Castro cult is still used to obscure the real nature of Castro’s Cuba. Fidel Castro, former President of Cuba, has been described by his supporters as a champion of anti-imperialism, humanitarianism, the environment and of socialism. His critics call him a dictator who oversaw numerous human rights violations inflicted on the people of Cuba. For better or worse, he did shape the history of Cuba.
Large numbers of the world’s radicals and militants threw their support to the Bolshevik government after the 1917 Russian revolution. Despite growing evidence of the brutal, totalitarian nature of the Communist regime, many continued to support it until well into the 1920s. Even then, many still refuse to surrender their illusions about the nature of the “workers’ state.” This situation repeated itself with Castro’s rise to power in 1959. A great many Leftists were so desperate to see a positive social revolution that they saw it where there was none—in Cuba, thanks in part to a skilled disinformation campaign by Castro’s propaganda apparatus. Despite suppression of civil liberties, the prohibition of independent political activity, the government take-over of the unions, the militarization of the economy, the gradual impoverishment of the country (despite massive Soviet economic aid), the reemergence of a class system, the institution of a network of political spies in every neighborhood (the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), and the government-fostered personality cults which grew up around Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, large and important sections of the world’s workers movement support Castroism. Cuba became the new Mecca for the Left. They continue to be hoodwinked by the Castro regime’s “revolutionary” rhetoric and the veneer of the (albeit eminently admirable) social welfare and health service measures with which it covers its ruthless determination to cling to power at any price. There is little to inspire us in the country which has had Fidel Castro at the helm. To understand how Cuba functions now, why it developed the way it did and why socialism was never on Castro’s menu, we must look at the origins and path of the revolution.
In 1947, Castro joined the Caribbean Legion, a group whose goal was to rid the Caribbean of dictatorships. The following year, Castro traveled to Bogota, Columbia where he spontaneously gained first-hand experience with popular uprisings. After returning to Cuba, Castro became a prominent figure in protests against the government while continuing his university studies. Castro’s interest in politics continued to grow and became a candidate in the 1952 election for a seat in Cuba’s House of Representatives. However, the elections were never held as General Batista seized the reins of power from the previous government in a military coup. From the beginning of Batista’s rule, Castro fought against him. At first, Castro tried using the courts to legally oust Batista from office, but when that failed, he began to organize an underground group of rebels to replace Batista by armed force. On July 26, 1953, Castro and about 160 armed men assaulted the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, a Cuban military base. Castro’s force was soundly defeated by the trained soldiers stationed at the base and he and his brother were captured and put on trial. After delivering a passionate speech at his trial, Castro was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released after serving only two years because Batista no longer considered Castro a threat. By that time, Batista had secured the backing of the United States government and the Cuban business community and did not imagine that a handful of insurgents could topple such a power base.
Upon his release from prison, Castro went to Mexico and spent the next year organizing the “26th of July Movement.” Named after the date of the failed Moncada Barracks attack, the group had only one goal — the overthrow of Batista. On December 2, 1956, Castro and his 26th of July Movement rebels landed on Cuban soil with the intention of inciting a revolution. Opposed by superior forces, the rebels took heavy losses before scattering into the hills to begin guerrilla warfare against Batista’s government. Many who weren’t in the July movement lost their lives, yet they seem to be forgotten in the process of deification which has taken place around Castro. There was the raid on the Mantanzans garrison in which all the young members of the radical nationalist Autentico Party lost their lives in 1956. Then there was the attempted assassination of Batista in 1957 by the Revolutionary Student Directorate. All of them were massacred. Over the next two years as the ranks of Castro’s guerilla forces swelled with volunteers, town after town were wrenched from government control. The war turned against Batista as he lost the popular support and, after suffering numerous defeats, Batista fled Cuba on January 1, 1959. By July Castro had effectively taken over as leader of Cuba, a position he held for the next four decades. During 1959 and 1960, Castro made radical changes in Cuba. He nationalized sugar industries and oil refineries, collectivized agriculture, and seized American owned farms and businesses which antagonized the United States. So began the myth of Cuba being Marxist. The US trade embargo is blamed for everything covering vast areas of inefficiency.
It is important to remember that the Cuban revolution was the work of a few armed insurgents. It was the work of a few hundred armed guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra mountains and various other rebels. The working class supported the rebels but it was a passive support that did not extend beyond strikes and demonstrations when the dictatorship was close to crumbling. “The emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers” and unfortunately in Cuba, true emancipation was not to follow the revolution. The aspirations of the workers are low and so is their confidence. The working class did not create the revolution and they have been crippled since Castro and his cohorts installed a new bureaucracy. In Cuba, you have a ruling class composed of those who came from the July 26th Movement plus the remnants of the Stalinist Partido Socialista (Cuban Communist Party) who saw the Revolution and the nationalisation that followed as a means to strengthen their positions. Then you have the professionals such as academics, scientists and management. They have fewer privileges than their counterparts in the ‘West’ but are rewarded with status and prizes as long as they remain uncritical. Soon after the revolution a manifesto from the Libertarian Association of Cuba declares:
“We are alarmed that the allegedly “temporary” administrations of the unions and their officials are being installed without consultation or agreement of the membership or of the various organizations that made the Revolution… In the midst of the revolutionary turmoil, we do not expect everything, including the labor organizations, to function normally in so short a time. But it is our duty, and the duty of all workers, by militant action, to see to it that the democratic procedures, the freedoms, and the rights gained by us with the triumph of the Revolution are respected…”
So, just a few weeks after the revolution, and the government had already “temporarily” taken over the labour organizations and never ever released its grip on them.
Inequality has been growing since the break-up of the Soviet Union and East European socialist bloc – Cuba’s main trade and aid partners – in the early 1990s. To ease the recession in the 1990s, the government of Fidel opened the doors to foreign investment, fomented tourism, legalised the dollar, and created the “foreign currency recovery stores”, among other measures whose economic benefits also came accompanied by greater social inequality. Those who only earn a public salary – the state is still by far the biggest employer, despite a reduction in the public payroll as part of the reforms – or who depend on a pension or are on social assistance find it impossible to meet their basic needs. According to statistics from the Centre for Studies of the Cuban Economy, food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget in Cuba. Now there are a lot of stores and farmers’ markets, but what is lacking is money to buy things. Cuba’s free universal healthcare and education, social security system and social assistance for the poor have been preserved in spite of the country’s economic troubles. A schoolteacher said, “I understand and appreciate that, but it is no less true that the differences in income differentiate us when it comes to putting food on the table or buying clothes.” The Catholic Church complains that broad swathes of society are plagued by “material poverty, the result of wages that are too low to provide a family with decent living standards.” That situation, it says, impacts semi-skilled workers as well as professionals. According to the last official statistics on poverty published in Cuba, from 2004, 20 percent of the urban population was poor. In this Caribbean island nation, 76 percent of the population of 11.2 million lives in towns and cities. Experts worry that the proportion today is even higher
The Cuban people must now decide how they will organise their lives, work, and communities in a post-Fidel era.