In the United States, Socialists, or those even vaguely sympathetic to the ideology, are often instructed to “move to Cuba.”
Undoubtedly, this is a cheap and clich?d political barb that most leftists shrug off, but examining its actual meaning is important.
Implicit in this phrase are two flawed assumptions: first, that leftists are hypocritical for voluntarily living in a country that they “hate,” and second, that Cuba is actually a socialist society.
The first of these assumptions can be easily done away with. American leftists don’t remain in the country because we are hypocritical; rather, we stay here to act as catalysts for social change in a society that badly needs it.
A policy of unjust war, a 20 percent child poverty rate, massive rates of pollution and environmental destruction – these are problems that leftists cannot simply abandon. They must actively struggle against these things – while maintaining an internationalist mindset – and not simply retreat elsewhere.
The other assumption touches on a more complicated issue. Cuba is led by a man, Fidel Castro, who proclaims himself to be a Socialist and consistently criticizes America as imperialist. The ruling political party is called the Communist Party of Cuba and the industries are nationalized.
For many people on both the left and the right, these qualities make Cuba a socialist country. Needless to say, the two groups make different value judgments of Castro’s Cuba – whether it should be emulated or condemned.
But this analysis is neither accurate nor useful, no matter the political orientation of the person who gives it.
Cuba may have a nationalized economy, high rates of literacy, free healthcare and extensive social welfare nets, but real political power rests in the hands of Communist Party bureaucrats. Workers, peasants and ordinary Cubans do not have democratic control of society or politics. And the Cuban Revolution itself was carried out by a band of guerrillas led by Fidel, his brother Raul and Che Guevara.
Socialism must be established and run by the working class itself, though. Anything else is a grossly distorted caricature not worthy of the name. And contrary to conventional wisdom, there are examples of this being carried out: the Russian Revolution, for example.
The Russian Revolution had mass popular participation and support, and it led to the most democratic society in Russian (and possibly world) history. Tsarist bans on homosexuality and abortion were abolished and ethic minorities saw civil rights for the first time in their lives.
Ordinary people had control over political, social and economic affairs via workers’ councils. In short, real socialism was developing in its early stages.
We are often told bluntly that “socialism doesn’t work,” but such an analysis fails to get at the real reason why the gains of 1917 were crushed under Joseph Stalin. In 1918, monarchists and other political elements opposed to the revolution instigated a bloody civil war.
Threatened by the prospect of a society run by and for workers and peasants, 14 imperialist countries sent armies to crush the country’s nascent socialism. The Russian people managed to fend off this two-pronged attack, but at an extremely high cost.
By the end of the conflict in 1922, Russia’s infrastructure was in shambles, and its working class was decimated. In other words, the entire basis for a socialist society was destroyed.
Despite the noble efforts of Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition, the devastation created a vacuum in which the domineering Stalin could rise to power.
By 1928, Stalin had fully established a brutal dictatorship that crushed the revolution’s accomplishments. He re-criminalized abortion and homosexuality and the working class became mere fodder for his harsh program of industrialization.
Socialism has been given a bad name ever since – even though the Stalinist totalitarian nightmare had nothing to do with this ideology.
What implications does all of this have for the political situation in Cuba today? Castro is in ill health, and the future of his government remains uncertain. The United States may very well try to intervene in Cuba (militarily or otherwise) and install a friendly regime, just like it has so many times in Latin America.
The Cuban Revolution may have not been socialist, but it was a slap in the face to neocolonialism: it ousted the U.S.-supported military dictator Fulgencio Batista.
If the Castro government falls, the Cuban people have the right to be free from another dictatorship and from imperialist domination by Washington.
With the strong rise of the left in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil, Cubans have the opportunity to join with their sisters and brothers in the struggle for a truly just, free and humane society; in other words, a socialist society.
Leftists will work to spread this same struggle in the United States. We do not intend on “moving” out of the country any time soon.