Sunday, June 24, 2007

Small earthquake in Cuba - no casualties reported

21st Century Socialism


September 25th 2006

What will happen when Fidel Castro dies? As the absolute normality pervading Cuba during the past few weeks of Fidel’s hospitalisation demonstrates, nothing will happen. Devastating news indeed, at least for Washington and its army of compliant media soothsayers, ten of whom were exposed this month as being on the US Government payroll.

Conservative Latin American commentarist, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, neatly encapsulated the wishful thinking of Cuba’s enemies in a piece in The Wall Street Journal: "We know, to judge by the experience of the last two decades around the world, that one of the last five communist tyrannies left in the world is in its death throes” [1] – (Llosa is, perhaps, unfamiliar with a book entitled “Castro’s Final Hour” - published in 1992).

This conventional wisdom rests on the profound misunderstanding that what has enabled revolutionary Cuba to see off nine US presidents and survive the collapse of the Soviet Union and its other socialist trading partners, was internal repression and the rule of one man. It therefore follows that post-Fidel, Cuba will enter a period of transition which will lead, sooner rather than later, to the end of socialism and the restoration of capitalism. To this end the US government has earmarked an additional 80 million dollars for anti-Cuban activities, ranging from radio and TV broadcasts to be beamed into the island, to the direct financing of political opponents, both in Havana and Miami. This attempt to manufacture dissent and destabilise Cuba has proved spectacularly ineffective, although it does serve as a warning to other countries of what to expect should they seek to escape US hegemony.

Whilst Fidel is, and will always remain, a towering figure that links the past with the present, the 1959 revolution was not the work of a single man; rather it was the culmination of centuries of national independence struggles to rid Cuba of ruthless Spanish colonial domination and then the equally brutal US neo-colonialism which followed it. It was only in 1961, after the US Air Force bombed Cuban airports in the prelude to the Bay of Pigs invasion, that Cuba declared itself to be a socialist republic. Henceforth, Cuban patriotism and the benefits of socialism (in particular, universal health and education) were inextricably intertwined, both as a matter of practical reality and, equally importantly, in the eyes of the people.

Participatory democracy

The political model that Cuba adopted in the face of the US economic blockade and military threat – participatory democracy within the framework of a one-party system – has proved remarkably durable. Direct elections are held for the regional and national assemblies. Anyone can stand, and 30% of those elected are not Communist Party members. Real power and influence was also devolved to mass organisations of workers, students and women, and also to local bodies called the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. For example, during the economic crisis that followed the collapse Cuba’s main trading partner, the Soviet Union, the whole nation was consulted over the course of several thousand public meetings, and workers and students successfully opposed several planks of the proposed austerity measures.

Faced with the obvious absence of counter-revolution, a more sophisticated, but equally flawed, analysis of Cuba has recently emerged in the leader columns and opinion pieces in the US and European press. The Reuters news agency reported, in a clearly editorialised piece, that “some foresee an ideological tug of war between 'tropical Taliban' [classical socialists] and proponents of Chinese-style economic reforms” [2]. The acting president and head of the armed forces, Raul Castro, it is alleged, is a proponent of the Chinese way, and it is implied that this that will lead to a rapprochement with the United States and ultimately bring down socialism. Curiously, in the 1990’s the opposite was being said. Raul, it was then argued, was an advocate of North Korean-style economic reforms and pressed Fidel to opt for isolation rather than develop tourism and encourage inward investment. The evidence offered in support of either proposition is scant or non existent. In the case of 'Chinification', the speculation appears to be based solely on Raul’s efficient management of large parts of the tourism industry and joint ventures with foreign firms, all of which is in line with, and not a departure from, existing Government policy.

The rationale offered for Raul’s alleged conversion to market reforms is the need to avoid an impending social explosion which would bring down socialism. This ignores two things. Firstly, if there was to be a social explosion in Cuba, it would have already occurred in the early '90s when the USSR collapsed and precipitated an economic crash which wiped 35% off the nation’s GDP in a single day and left the population barely able to feed itself. Secondly, it was the limited market reforms introduced as a result of that crisis – small scale private enterprise, the legalisation of the US dollar within Cuba and so forth – that reopened, albeit in a relatively minor way, the sort of social divisions and inequality that the 1959 revolution had abolished. These market reforms are now in the process of being reversed as the Cuban economy has rebounded.

Paradoxically, Cuba's steady economic growth is predicated not only on the ever deepening relationship with Venezuela and its Bolivarian revolution, but also, and perhaps more importantly, on Chinese expertise and investment. Providing that both international relationships remain intact (which is a reasonable medium to long term assumption), there are no compelling political or economic reasons that would precipitate a right turn. Rather the reverse in fact; it is booming Chinese state-capitalism and its need to find new markets which makes possible the survival of socialism in Cuba. Moreover, for a country as geographically close to the US as Cuba, Chinese-style reforms would arguably lead to US-style reforms and everything and everybody that goes with them, including the return from Miami of the virulently anti-communist and violent remnants of the Batista dictatorship. And who in Cuba wants that? Not Raul Castro, that's for sure.


[1] Cuba Libre? Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Wall Street Journal, Aug 2, 2006

[2] Fidel Castro fades out. Tropical Taliban next? Bernd Debusmann, Sep 17, 2006

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