Ron Ridenour : Half-Century of Cuban Revolution: ‘Challenges’

Some Cuban youth have turned to western styles. Here, a young Cuban with a punk hair style watches a tattoo artist apply a tattoo at the Metal City Festival in Santa Clara, Cuba, Oct. 27, 2007. Photo by by Javier Galeano / AP.

A successful revolution must be one in permanent development, one that can solve the basic needs of adequate housing, food and clothing; otherwise people will seek solutions elsewhere.

By Ron Ridenour / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2008

[This is the second in a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution by Rag Blog contributor Ron Ridenour. For Part I of this series, go here.]

Seventy days after the Cuban revolutionary victory, the National Security Council under the Eisenhower-Nixon regime issued a directive, March 10, 1959, to bring “another government to power in Cuba.” This decision was made precisely because Cuba’s young leadership initiated politics of solidarity among human beings. A week later, President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to train Cuban exiles for an invasion of their country, according to Eisenhower’s “The White House Years: Waging Peace [sic] 1956-1961”.

The Cuban revolution was declared to be socialist by Fidel Castro speaking before an approving crowd as US planes flew over Havana dropping bombs. The April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion had begun. Following its rapid failure, President JF Kennedy instituted a blockade of Cuba, which remains today.

In 1967, President LB Johnson, then bogged down in war against the Indo-Chinese peoples, expressed to a reporter: “We were running a goddamn Murder Incorporated in the Caribbean.” He said so after learning the CIA had used the Mafia to try to assassinate Fidel Castro. The CIA was also infecting humans, animals and crops with poisons, terrorizing its people from the air and on the ground. (See my book, “Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn”, Editorial Jose Marti, Havana, 1991.)

Readers here are familiar enough with the history of US subversion against the Cuban revolution that I merely touch on it, in order to set the background for why the original Marxist ideas of political democracy and workers control, of equality in economy without privileges to any sector or leaders were not thoroughly forthcoming, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union and Cuba’s other trading partners in Comecon. In addition to external attacks, which have twisted development, are adverse decisions taken by the national government as well as realities of underdevelopment.

Now, however, nearly two decades after the fall of Comecon and as Cuba begins to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it is the only remaining socialist country, at least in the western hemisphere (perhaps in the entire world given that China and the Indo-Chinese countries have converted nearly totally into capitalist economies). Cuba maintains its socialist roots and Marxist socialist ideology although the “Special Period” concessions to capitalist measures installed for shear survival have created inequality: a growing gap between a new poor and a new rich.

“This country can self-destruct; this Revolution can destroy itself, but they [the US] can never destroy us; we can destroy ourselves, and it would be our fault,” so spoke Fidel Castro, November 17, 2005, about the consequences of a double economy and decay in morality and consciousness.

Four areas of greatest popular discontent are: a) the double economy, two currencies; b) too much reliance on imports and not enough national production; c) perpetual lack of sufficient housing made worse by this year’s hurricane destructions; d) insignificant improvement in worker empowerment, with few exceptions.

A large part of the population has become disillusioned. It steals and hustles simply to meet basic needs, and many fall into the pit of consumerism, pursuing individual greed. These growing sectors have rejected the motto set by the revolution — in the words of Che — “The ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration: to see man liberated from alienation.”

The “new class”, of which Fidel also spoke three years ago, includes private farmers, self-employed artisans and handymen, a large number who legally earn convertible currency at their jobs, some who receive large sums of remittances from family members living abroad, and a growing sub class of thieves.

Those who must live exclusively on national pesos can not afford to buy basic items, such as shampoo and soaps, clothes, hardware, household appliances or even sufficient food stuff—not to mention repair materials for their residences, which can not be found in pesos. The amount of items remaining on subsidized rations is insufficient for survival. People, especially in the large cities, must find ways of supplementing their meager earnings.

A renowned economist, Dr. Omar Everleny, told me: “You can’t stimulate people with morality, with revolutionary propaganda, with anti-imperialism for a lifetime. People get tired of this and they must eat. Sure, everybody goes to the plaza for the marches, but when they return home they demand that the state provides them with their needs.”

Almost all the department stores in Havana, for instance, now only sell goods in convertible currency (cucs). The cheapest radio, for example, costs 13 cucs and is driven, foolishly enough, only on batteries. The store did not have batteries when I bought mine. I finally found batteries (6 cucs) after searching in 15 stores. The total price (24 pesos per cuc) came to 456 pesos, which is over twice the minimum monthly wage.

One sees youths, who have never worked, spending more money drinking beer in one session than a pensioner must live on for an entire month. These same teenagers often adorn themselves in gaudy t-shirts advertizing US capitalism and imperialism, promoting the FBI or the US military—whose illegal base on occupied Cuban territory is a torture chamber. Some of these youths grease their hair, wear their pants midway down their asses, and jabber on mobile telephones, which costs more to buy and speak on than in the rich capitalist west. When I asked some why they behaved thusly, they replied that “it is the fashion.” Maybe so in the decadent west but very few people in Cuba have the money to adopt such a life style even if they wished to, and why should they.

And there are far more cars and motorcycles in the streets than ever before, and fewer bicycles. Most cars are privately owned and all parts and the gasoline must be bought in cucs. The price of gasoline is as high as European prices and is double or more the cost in the US. And the state sells bicycles from China only in cucs.

The brain drain to the capitalist world, which the government speaks of lamentably, is a growing phenomenon, but it is also internal. More and more car owners are using their vehicles, especially the old US cars, as taxis. Some do so legally by buying a license, paying taxes and insurance; many do not. Taxi drivers earn more money in one day than my friend, a former captain of Cuban ships, who risked his life as an infiltrator inside enemy lines (the CIA), in an entire month. Acquaintances who have doctorate degrees, who were heads of media outlets, officers and other professionals have left their positions to find ways of earning convertible currency, such as taxi chauffeurs.

The double economy and its negative consequences are so rampant that the government has allowed the film industry to make films with this theme. The most recent one, “Horn of Plenty” (“Cuerno de la abundancia”), revolves around the greed and envy connected with this inequality. Rather than concluding, as one would expect by a propaganda-oriented state-run medium, the people involved did not learn their lesson.

Yet most media do not address this problem, or at least do not come up with analyses or solutions. The youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, does have a column of complaints from readers concerning specific failures of agencies and institutions, usually having to do with the lack of promised services and reparations. There are also a few magazines with limited press runs and audiences that do go a bit deeper sometimes: La Geceta, Cajman Barbuda, Caminos.

Caminos is published by the Martin Luther King Memorial Center and is distributed somewhat widely in pesos. It can do so because of donations from solidarity people such as Pastors for Peace.

While no coges lucha (don’t fight city hall) is still a common motto, some Cubans are acting to overcome that anti-revolutionary attitude—which is generated from a deaf bureaucratic institutionalized structure. The MLK center is a protagonist of fighting that attitude. Its director, Rev. Raul Suarez, is so respected that he is an elected delegate to the National Assembly. His center is also a casa comunitaria (community house) run on Paulo Freire participatory sociology principles, seeking to stimulate people to involve themselves in projects to improve the community. While this is progress there are only eight such centers in the entire of Havana.

The next half-century

Once Fidel became ill and stepped down from government, his brother Raul won the next elections. Many see him as an innovator. He has broadened some rights, such as that anyone with hard currency can buy imported mobile telephones, computers, cars, etc. and rent luxurious hotel rooms. But that does not affect the vast majority of Cubans. During his term thus far, and also due to the most damaging hurricanes in modern history, the gap between the new rich and a relative poor sector is increasing. Some think Raul will take the country more in the direction of China. Signs include: granting more land to private farmers; greater monetary incentives for farm production teams; the raising of retirement age by five years (women from 55 to 60; men from 60 to 65); increased credits and trade with China, buying everything from cheap items made by over-exploited workers to modern buses, trains and all sorts of manufactured items for energy and infrastructure.

The fact that Cuba has survived the wrath of US imperialism, whereas no other country attempting socialism has (we must wait more for Venezuela’s development to make a judgment here), is a miracle in itself and enough reason for solidarity people abroad not to be disillusioned. Nevertheless, 70% of the population was born after 1959 and much of it demands greater results than has been forthcoming. One cannot placate these demands by harping on the gains of, for example, free and full medical care, especially when service is less today than for ten years ago, because so many medical workers are abroad on missions.

A successful revolution must be one in permanent development, one that can solve the basic needs of adequate housing, food and clothing; otherwise people will seek solutions elsewhere as is evidenced by so many people leaving Cuba for economic gain. And for those who remain, they are glad if they have family members working abroad, including the land of the enemy, who send them benefits from capitalism’s exploitative economy. That is not the way to teach one’s people that socialism has greater virtues than capitalism.

People ask: why is the best service, the best production made by those earning lots of money in convertible currency? Is that not evidence that privatization (capitalism) is more effective?

The answer must lay in having confidence in the workers to run the farms and factories, to eliminate the hated and incompetent bureaucracy, to instill true debate and democratic decision-making. We must note that no working class has had the real power or exercised it, in order to build real socialism, or any system for that matter. And true democracy is impossible without the mass of people holding the cards. Perhaps, as some interpret the ideas of Marx, this cannot happen until world capitalism is defeated and swept aside so that the construction of socialism by the working class itself can begin. The progressive regional alliances taking root in Latin America is a good sign for the future of survival and for socialism to grow IF capitalism is rejected.

The globalized economic crisis upon us could be an excellent opportunity for working classes the world over to shed capitalist solutions and begin the process of socialist transformations. But that requires sacrifice and struggle at the risk of jail and death at the hands of the owners’ police and soldier traitors. That also requires prepared revolutionary forces. My reading of the times, unfortunately, is that most of the workings classes are not ready, which means that to solve their immediate needs they could go to the right, even towards fascism. The culture of fear with its terrorist wars and rampant racism throughout the institutions and governments in Europe, the US and elsewhere, could very well lead the world into a new fascist era.

The progressive regional alliances taking root in Latin America is a good sign for the future of survival of an independent continent, one in which socialism sows roots, and for the rebirth of a better socialism in Cuba.

[Ron Ridenour, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, is an award-winning writer and author whose special interest is Latin America. Ridenour was a sixties activist who wrote and edited for that decade’s underground press. He now lives in Denmark and also posts at http://www.ronridenour.com/.]

Also see Ron Ridenour: Half-Century of Cuba’s Revolution: ‘Solidarity’ by Ron Ridenour / The Rag Blog / Dec. 23, 2008

The Rag Blog

This entry was posted in Rag Bloggers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Ron Ridenour : Half-Century of Cuban Revolution: ‘Challenges’

  1. Carl Webb says:

    What do you mean when you write “The only remaining socialist country…?”

  2. Anonymous says:

    The phrase “decadent western styles” in the picture caption sounds like Stalinism at its best. Is the Rag now denouncing tattoos? Appropriate enough for an article defending the Stalinist regime of the tyrannical Castro dynasty.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Once Fidel became ill and stepped down from government, his brother Raul won the next elections”… What elections Mr.Ridenour ???? Your article is an insult to inteligence, democracy and freedom, all necesary to be able to have anarchists like this blog and unfortunatly “writers” like you. Unconscionable, an anarchist defending 50 years of communist dictatorship and hoping for another 50 of the Castro Dinasty

  4. Anonymous says:

    Once Fidel became ill and stepped down from government, his brother Raul won the next elections

    WON the next elections ?? Com’on , you must be kidding 🙂

    But that requires sacrifice and struggle at the risk of jail and death at the hands of the owners’ police and soldier traitors. That also requires prepared revolutionary forces. My reading of the times, unfortunately, is that most of the workings classes are not ready, which means that to solve their immediate needs they could go to the right, even towards fascism

    And this man wonders where the “deaf bureaucratic institutionalized structure” comes from? I wonder if he believes in spontaneous generation ….

  5. Pedro Juan says:

    Nasty, disgusting and undoubtedly malicious post this one. If this is today’s anarchism, i can see this movement is completely screwed up by now.
    An anarchist blogger kneeing deep by the totalitarian castrocommunist dictatorship? The oldest regime in the whole world and one of the strictest and reppresives?
    The pour soul who had written this has not the slightest clue about Cuba and the deepest dreams and desires of their people, yes, also those pictured in the photo.
    Crap like this shadows the web as much as the worst hate-ridden pages. Sucks!

  6. I posted this story and I agree with the comment on the use of “decadent” in the photo cutline. It was intended to be in keeping with the context of Ron Ridenour’s comments, but it was inappropriate and not consistent with The Rag Blog’s thinking, and I have removed it.

    I believe there is more than one way to look at the rise of youth counterculture in Cuba — and Ron Ridenour’s points have merit — but we are not about to condemn punk hairstyles or tattoos as somehow de facto counterrevolutionary.

    Thorne Dreyer

  7. My goodness, what unfriendly comments. I think I’ll steer clear of this one….

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dear Happy in Nevada, Why steer clear? Why not give your views? Some of us, apparently, think the original post is “unfriendly” to the freedom-loving Cuban people. Our comments may be unfriendly to the original post, but friendly enough to those Cubans who decry censorship, repression, jails, and the death penalty (still in use in Cuba).

  9. Anonymous says:

    Who knew! i never believed i would see the day when anarchist defend and excuse any dictatorship, less the most vicious, cruel, insane and obsolete of all “the tropical gullah” of the Castro Communist Dinasty. Is this Anarchism XXI Century?..if it is I’m checking out. Can’t stand the idea of anarchists taking a passive roll (bottoms?) towards this kind of communist monarchy

  10. Carl Webb says:

    As a Marxist Leninist Trotskyist I defend the Cuban revolution. Even a Stalinist dictatorship is the lesser of two evil compared to US imperialism.

  11. ron ridenour says:

    To Carl Webb and various anonymous anarchists. My reply:

    Cuba is the only remaining socialist country, which conducted a revolution, because the others have turned towards capitalist economies. Cuba´s economy is partly capitalist, partly socialist based but without its working class in direct and actual control.

    To those anarchists who speak so crudely of my views, even questioning whether or not I am a ¨writer¨, I say that your tone and lack of factual arguments is not an encouraging sign for anarchism, which I do not reject as a useful thought process for humanity, though I tend to be more marxist myself.

    If one would conduct a study of the electoral process in Cuba one would know that there are, in fact, elections albeit they are not what I would call engagingly democratic. But then most so-called democracies do not really conduct democratic elections, including the USA.

    It would take a lot of space to explain the electoral process in Cuba but one does exist and those interested can google to find descriptions and also look up the description posted on Cuba government´s web.

    No doubt that the election of Raul Castro was a forgone conclusion. So is it also a foregone conclusion in the USA that any elected president will be a supporter of capitalism and imperialism and their wars.

    One must bear in mind that while Cuba is not very democratic and censorship is integral it has done more to bring people out of economic poverty and provide decent health care and education to not only its citizens but to many millions of people in scores of countries than any other government–including the entire UN–in history.

    Surely Cuba is greater than its errors or failures as so many here indicate.

    Comradely,
    Ron

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.