CASTRO’S RESIGNATION OPENS UP NEW CHAPTER
CASTRO’S RESIGNATION OPENS UP NEW CHAPTER
What Are The Prospects For The Revolution?
By Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (CWI, England and Wales)
The formal resignation of Fidel Castro as President of Cuba opens up a new chapter in the history of Cuba and its revolution. Since his original illness in 2006 (an intestinal problem) intense discussion has been engendered about Castro’s role, linked to the future of Cuba. His resignation now signifies that he is unlikely to recover and that the Cuban government is seeking to prepare the Cuban population for his death, maybe soon. When this happens, it will be marked publicly by mass demonstrations, particularly throughout Latin America. Despite any shortcomings and mistakes of Fidel Castro, he is recognised by the downtrodden masses worldwide as a monumental figure who tenaciously fought against their capitalist and imperialist oppressors.
This time, however, in capitalist circles, from Bush to the millionaire Cuban exiles in Miami â€“ salivating at the expectation of juicy profits from their ‘returned’ property â€“ there is little speculation, unlike 2006, about the imminent collapse of the island’s system. Then, through the mouthpiece of Bush, US imperialism expected rioting in Cuba’s streets, a quick ‘regime change’, not just of the government of Cuba but in its social system â€“ a planned economy â€“ as well.
Conversely, millions of working-class people and the poor worldwide wished the opposite; that Cuba and the social gains of the revolution would endure, even if Castro was to die from his illness. No doubt, his considerable presence will still be felt, but his resignation denotes his inability to wield the power that he did previously, which will now probably be exercised by his brother, RaÃºl.
Since 1959, the Cuban revolution has faced a savage embargo imposed by US imperialism. There have been 600 assassination attempts against the person of Castro. However, through its planned economy, Cuba gave a glimpse of the great possibilities for humankind, if the straitjacket of landlordism and capitalism was eliminated. Heroic figures, like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, exercise a profound influence upon many young people and workers throughout the world.
The reputation of Cuba on social issues, such as housing, education and, particularly health, if anything, has soared recently. In Michael Moore’s incredible film ‘Sicko’, the contrast between the brutal, profit-driven health system in the US and the free health care provided by Cuba is starkly emphasised. Ordinary Americans who lost their homes through illness, including one through developing cancer, as well as a woman worker who participated in the rescue operations on 9/11, were denied affordable health care by the shameful, private insurance company-driven system that exists in the US. However, they were given succour and treatment, to their delight, free of charge, when Moore took them to Cuba.
Moreover, last year, eight American students graduated from the Cuban medical school after six years of free tuition. One of these American graduates stated: “Health care is not seen as a business in Cuba.” This is precisely why the US ruling class and its stooge states in Latin America, in the past, did everything to try and destroy the example of the planned economy that arose from the Cuban revolution. It provoked the opposite reaction of support from the masses of Latin America. This is particularly so in the recent period, given the brutal neo-liberalism on the continent. They compare the achievements of Cuba to the dismal record of landlordism and capitalism in the region, as well as in Africa and Asia.
ACHIEVEMENTS OF REVOLUTION
In a revealing new book, ‘Fidel Castro â€“ My Life’, in which Castro collaborated with the writer Ignacio Ramonet; Castro sets out the impressive achievements of the revolution. He comments: “We now have more than 70,000 doctors, plus another 25,000 young people studying medicineâ€¦Our neighbours to the north [United States] can only send helicopters, they can’t send doctors, because they don’t have enough to solve any of the world’s problems. Europe, that “champion of human rights”, can’t either; they don’t have even 100 doctors to send to Africa, where there are 30 million or more people infected with AIDSâ€¦ I believe within ten years, we’ll have 100,000 doctors, and we may have educated 100,000 more from other countries. We are the largest educators of doctors [in the world]; we can now educate ten times more doctors, I think, than the United States â€“ that country that carried off a good number of the doctors we had and did everything possible to deprive Cuba of doctors. That’s our answer to that.’
Between 1959 and today, life expectancy in Cuba has risen by 19 years. Following the social counter-revolution in Russia, in the early 1990s, it fell for men to 56 years! Could there be a greater contrast between the claims of social revolution and the barbarism of capitalist counter-revolution? And this has been achieved in the teeth of a massive economic decline in the early 1990s following the spiteful withdrawal of aid, particularly oil supplies, firstly by former Russian president Boris Yeltsin and continued by Vladimir Putin, as Castro explains in his book.
While the historic achievements of free education and medical attention were preserved in Cuba, nevertheless, a brutal austerity programme was inflicted on the great mass of the population. The regime was forced to make concessions to the ‘market’, that is, to capitalism. Through ‘dollarisation’, a parallel economy developed, which resulted in relative privileges for those involved in tourism, where they were paid in dollars, and in sectors involving ‘joint ventures’.
Unfortunately, those who remain firm supporters of the planned economy, such as doctors, teachers, etc, continue to be paid in the Cuban peso and suffer accordingly. Even the state monopoly of foreign trade, according to the well-known left-wing author, Richard Gott, was formally abolished in 1992. But essentially, Cuba remained a planned economy, with foreign enterprises requiring authorisation from the ministry of trade to perform their operations. Decentralisation took place with hundreds of enterprises permitted to import and export on their own authority. However, Fidel Castro declared that “nothing will be privatised in Cuba that is suitable for and therefore can be kept under ownership by the nation of the workers’ collective”.
Yet, it is not true, as Fidel Castro has also argued in the past, as well as in this recent book, that bureaucracy and inequalities do not exist in Cuba. Fidel Castro is not, as his capitalist opponents have tried to picture, in the mould of Stalin. No state-sponsored cult of the personality exists, nor are there portraits, statues and images of Castro in Cuba while he remains alive. Moreover, while he freely admits that he has made mistakes, and has zig-zagged from one policy to another â€“ sometimes causing significant harm â€“ throughout the last 49 years, this has not been comparable to the monstrous crimes of Stalinism: forced collectivisation, big purge trials, etc.
This book also reveals that Castro could sometimes behave erratically. For instance, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, he incredibly proposed to Russian leader, Nikita Khrushchev, that a ‘first strike’ nuclear attack should be launched against the US by the Soviet Union. Khrushchev replied to Castro: “You propose that we carry out a first strike against the enemy territory. This would not be a simple strike but the beginning of a thermonuclear war.” (p281}.
Castro sometimes attacks Stalin: “He was to blame, in my view, for the invasion of the USSR in 1941 by Hitler’s powerful war machine, without the soviet forces ever hearing a call to armsâ€¦Everyone knows about his abuse of force, the repression, and his personal characteristics, the cult of personality.”
Yet, at the same time, Castro claims that Stalin “also showed tremendous merit in industrialising the country, in moving the military industry to Siberia â€“ those were decisive factors in the world’s great fight against Nazism”.
He states that Stalin “disarmed himself”, in reality, dismantled the defences of the Soviet Union, as the Nazis prepared to attack. But Stalin was not the original author of the idea of the ‘Five-Year Plan’, and the accompanying idea of industrialisation. It was Trotsky and the Left Opposition who first formulated these ideas. Stalin borrowed them and applied them in a bureaucratic fashion at great, unnecessary costs to the Soviet Union and its people. At the same time, Castro pointedly denies â€“ quite wrongly as Celia Hart has indicated â€“ that Che Guevara had ‘Trotskyite sympathies’. Castro states: “I never heard him talk about Trotskyâ€¦ He was a Leninist and, to a degree, he even recognised some merits in Stalin.” Che Guevara, it is true, was not a conscious Trotskyist. Yet, in his last period in Cuba, Guevara became a critic of bureaucratism and particularly in the so-called ‘socialist’ countries he had visited. Moreover, he had a book by Trotsky in his knapsack when he was killed in Bolivia in 1967.
In these comments, however, Castro reveals, at best, a one-sided understanding of Stalinism from a ‘sociological’ and political point of view. The blunder of forced collectivisation, the monstrous purge trials, the annihilation of the last remnants of the heroic Bolshevik party, were not just personal traits of Stalin alone or ‘mistakes’ but flowed from character of the bureaucratic machine which he personified and represented. Stalin presided over a bureaucratic political counter-revolution, as Trotsky brilliantly analysed, which feared the independent movement of the working class and the ideas of workers’ democracy. Fidel Castro distances himself and Che Guevara from Trotsky and his criticisms of Stalinism because his regime, in the final analysis, is also ruled by a bureaucratic elite unaccountable to the masses.
Cuba and its revolution had many different features to the Russian revolution, and Castro is not Stalin. However, despite its enormous popularity at the beginning, its weaknesses were evident in the absence of democratic control and management, and a clear class consciousness by the working class and the poor. Castro himself says that, at the beginning, there was ‘not yet a socialist awareness’. Throughout his book, moreover, there is no clear perception of the role of the working class â€“ as explained by Marx â€“ as the main agency of the socialist revolution, nor of its role in controlling, together with the peasant poor, the workers’ state that is thrown up by the revolution.
He speaks about 1968 but is completely silent about the working class movement in France that year, the greatest general strike in history. He also shamefully passes over the massacres of students, during the same year, in Mexico. At the time, because of diplomatic ties with Mexico â€“ the only state in Latin America to recognise Cuba, at that time â€“ Castro did not say a word about the Mexican government’s murderous actions.