On Feb. 18, Fidel Castro declined to be nominated for another term as Cuba’s president. Cubans took the news in stride. Enemies of the 49-year-old revolution, however, went into a frenzy.
Miami-based gusanos dream of sailing back to a defeated Cuba, reclaiming abandoned palacios long ago converted into schools and clinics by a social system that guarantees free healthcare and education to all. Feeding gusano aspirations, President Bush pledged to help Cubans realize the “blessings of liberty” — no doubt the same blessings he’s bestowed on the Iraqi people.
But the revolution is more than the man. When Cubans rose to oust Yankee-backed dictator Batista in 1959, oppressed people everywhere took heart. Over the next two years, Cuba nationalized industries exploiting the island and became the first workers state in the Western hemisphere.
Overcoming every U.S. attempt at economic coercion, political blackmail, military might and dark-of-night plot, surviving the Soviet collapse and loss of its international partners, Cuba lives on, defiant against U.S. imperialism and demanding its sovereign right to steer its course toward socialism. Its people have withstood the reactionary firestorm and established an alternative world to the capitalist morass.
Since Castro’s withdrawal, the U.S. mainstream media has given endless print space and air time to Cuba’s critics and to soothsayers predicting a pro-capitalist policy shift. Speculations about the imminent demise of the workers state are mostly rightpipe dreams, but the threat of capitalist restoration is real.
Change in one direction or another is certainly in the wind.
Capitalism: in by the side door? Voices within the island’s Communist Party bureaucracy are pressing newly elected President Raœl Castro to increase openings for foreign capital, a la the “Chinese model.” At the grass roots, public discussions called by Raœl Castro have stirred increasing demands for higher wages for state workers, lower costs for consumer products, and streamlining the government bureaucracy with more decisions made at the local level by the people directly involved.
Although the Cuban leadership remains popular based on the achievements of the revolution, discontent and disillusion is growing, especially among the youth.
After the USSR fell, Cuba’s joint ventures with foreign capital brought in desperately needed currency and goods. They also generated economic inequality, government corruption, and a revival of prostitution and racism inflamed by tourism.
Capitalism may not have to defeat the revolution militarily, if it can insert itself gradually through “reforms” instituted by Cuban officials and a seductive influx of dollars and consumer goods. As one rightwing blogger put it, “Led Zeppelin tapes and blue jeans are the real heroes of Communism’s demise in Europe. Let Justin Timberand Nintendo DS do the same in Cuba.”
The road to survival. Cuba is balanced on a precipice, but it is possible to tip the direction more strongly toward socialism — through the Cuban people stepping forward not to renounce the revolution but to strengthen it. Full workers’ democracy must replace top-down bureaucracy.
Needed are workers’ control of industries and farms; a tightening of control over foreign trade and operations; the right of unions to strike; and wholehearted support to movements fighting for revolution around the globe.
This last is crucial. Socialism cannot be constructed in one country — let alone on one small island in an ocean of imperialist might. Cuba’s grand project will be guaranteed of success only when the world’s building ground for socialism is radically expanded.
And there could be no more valuable ally than a socialist U.S.A. Bottom line: Cuba’s future depends on what those of us in capitalism’s heartland do. Are you ready for revolution?