How best to defend the Cuban revolution?

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Of all the hard questions socialists confront, few evoke a more polarized gamut of opinion than how to advance Cuba’s revolution — a revolution under constant threat from the ruling class to the north.

The decades-old divide on the role of the Castroist leadership is especially wide. Appraisals range from unqualified endorsement and near idolization to utter condemnation by those who believe that the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) has engineered capitalism’s restoration in Cuba and should be overthrown.

So I expected strong reaction to my article, “Cuba’s Fate: Balanced on a Razor’s Edge,” in the October-November 2009 Freedom Socialist. I expressed my belief that although ravening capitalism was closer than ever to regaining dominion, its comeback could still be averted. And I had sharp words for some of the actions of Raúl Castro that I consider, as I wrote, “180 degrees in the wrong direction.”

As the article reached Cuba, Argentina, Australia and beyond, it generated response both positive and negative, including expressions of interest from folks wanting to know more about what the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) thinks and does. We received some clearly argued rejoinders, most defending the PCC, a couple asserting we went too easy on them. But among the replies were a small, incensed handful from people characterizing me as politically hostile to Cuba — and, in one case, even labeling me a CIA agent. (Click here to read an excerpt from one of the letters, and an open response by the FSP.)

For the record: I have never been associated with the CIA, other than as one of its targets!

FSP is an ardent defender of the Cuban Revolution. Over decades, the party has organized against the U.S. blockade, joined solidarity caravans, hosted Cuban delegates, and taken part in international meetings called by the PCC.

The party also participated in the 1997 International Feminist Brigade to Cuba organized by FSP’s sister organization, Radical Women, in partnership with the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). I have worked personally with the FMC and, at their request, organized a U.S./Australian campaign to send toys to Cuba for Children’s Day.

In meetings with Cuban representatives, I and other FSP and RW members have directly raised our concerns about problems such as escalating privatization, the reemergence of prostitution, growing inequality, and the persistence of racism. We have also stressed the importance of the U.S. revolution to world revolution and asked for their support for our efforts as U.S. radicals.

In 2006, change was roiling Cuba, and FSP members wanted to take a fresh look. I volunteered to spearhead an in-depth study with other comrades, and we devoted a hefty chunk of the last three years to the project. Why spend so much effort trying to get it right? Why be so blunt about our conclusions?

Because Cuba matters. The fate of the Cuban Revolution matters profoundly — and not only to its own citizens. Of all countries where working people took power, Cuba was the healthiest, freest of the oppressive legacy of Stalin’s bureaucratic stranglehold. After the brutal re-ascendancy of capitalism in the Soviet bloc and China, Cuba remained the sole light in the global battle to create workers states.

It’s difficult for radicals to debate with each other while imperialism breathes down our necks. In regard to Cuba, things have only gotten worse since the election of Barack Obama, who promotes using the blogosphere to portray Cuba as a bleak, heartless dictatorship while the U.S. continues to support counterrevolution financially. Government officials and the right wing exploit every opening to smear Cuba, and this includes mimicking genuine concerns on the Left about limited democracy for Cuban workers.

Small wonder some suspect that any criticism of Cuba’s course or leadership is in the enemy’s service. But, with the importance of defending Cuba greater than ever, the Cuban people need something more and better than cheerleading from the sidelines. Along with stepped-up solidarity actions, they need to hear the hard, critical truths that real friends feel a duty to share. The FSP doesn’t claim to have all the right answers. But the party is attempting to make an honest contribution to an indispensable discussion.

So let us champions of Cuba engage in a fullscale debate, one in which we consider our differences on their merits — because an epic revolution is at stake. And, as Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton writes, the society that is our common aim will be “an aspirin the size of the sun.”

Susan Williams, a senior gastroenterologist at Harlem’s Metropolitan Hospital and FSP National Committee member, can be contacted at

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