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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Remembering Fidel

Mourning the Death of Fidel Castro and Remembering
Readers are encouraged to discuss Castro's legacy, and what happens in Cuba now

Tristan Ewins

News today of the passing away of former Cuban Marxist revolutionary and President Fidel Castro.

Fidel rose to power through the vehicle of a popular insurgency which overthrew the corrupt US-backed Batista government.
   Turning to the USSR for support, Castro survived arguably hundreds of assassination attempts, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and more.  He built a one-party state – albeit one based on overwhelming popular mobilisation and participation.  Arguably his government was authoritarian: though this must be largely understood in the context of terror attacks, and the aforementioned assassination attempts.   Much like Western intervention in Revolutionary Russia drove Lenin to embrace a spiralling Red Terror (which ultimately descended into Stalinism), Castro embraced authoritarian measures to ward away his adversaries.  Though certainly he was never a monster like Stalin. 

For decades Cubans flourished in the context of a system which prioritised Health Care for all,
  reducing infant mortality, eliminating illiteracy, and reaching out to Cuba’s neighbours  through the vehicle of volunteer doctors and teachers.  Indeed, on many indicators (eg: infant mortality) Fidel’s Cuba out-performed his neighbours, including the United States itself.

Castro was one of the earliest and most consistent opponents of Apartheid in South Africa.
  He actively supported revolutionary movements in Central and South America, including in Nicaragua and El Salvador.  The brutality with which those movements were repressed – with US support – stands in stark contrast with many Western nations condemnation of Fidel’s government as ‘totalitarian’.  Repression of left-wing movements, including the murder of Liberation Theologian Archbishop Oscar Romero ; saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

But when Communism collapsed in the USSR and Eastern Europe in 1989-1991 Cuba was left exposed to the long-term US Economic Embargo.
   Living standards fell on many indicators.  But still Cubans overwhelmingly supported their government.   Fidel lived to see the Cuban economy recover ; and to see his brother, Raul engage in ‘fence-mending’ with the government of Barack Obama.  Under Raul there were market reforms – which were essential to Cuba’s survival, including its engagement with the rest of the world ;  But Cuba’s identity and orientation remained inarguably socialist.  For instance Cuba remained implacably in solidarity with the Leftist/Bolivarian governments of Venezuela.

All this aside,
 the threat of Terror and assassination do not fully explain or fully excuse repression in Cuba.  There have been extrajudicial executions ; Imprisonment of political prisoners, systemic harassment of critics.  Cuba’s government may have overwhelming popular support: but as Rosa Luxemburg effectively argued in contrast to Lenin and Trotsky: human rights and democracy must always also be rights for those who dare to think and speak differently.  It is easy to romanticise Fidel’s reign given his enormous personal charisma.  But on the Left we must keep in mind the shortcomings, also.  And strive to do better.

Nonetheless for many of us on the Left this is a sad day.
  Fidel achieved so much in his leadership of socialist Cuba.   And socialist Cuba’s survival in the post-Cold War world is remarkable.  Fidel deserves to be remembered for the sum of his achievements and of his legacy.  Some of that is questionable ; but much of it is laudable.   When we remember him let it be in applying those same standards to our own governments ; and the governments of our historic allies.


  1. thanks, Tristan, and a very fair summary. Vale Fidel, warts and all.

  2. Like Lenin and his Bolsheviks, Fidel and his 26th of July movement seized the political State. To be sure, a political revolution occurred. But the social revolution which Marx and Engels barracked for workers to make, did not occur as a result of Castro's and Lenin's political revolutions. Both established regimes where, at first an equality of wages was established. As time marched, the wage system morphed on closer and closer to full blown capitalism. Witness contemporary Russia and even "Communist" China today! This was and is the line of march for all Marxist-Leninist States: from an attempt to control commodity production through a non-market based wage system to a full blown marketplace where the sale of the commodity is king.

    As Engels points out, once again, at the end of his life, he and Marx considered that socialism could only be established by the "immense majority" (see the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO). Communism was to be the result of the workers themselves, organising as a class for their own EMANCIPATION from the wage system, the end of class rule, and commodifiying wealth for sale (see Engels's Anti-Dühring)

    Of course, most of the left's leaders from Bernstein to Lenin to Castro have rejected the abolition of wage labour and the workers emancipating themselves from this form of bondage as being quaintly silly. To be sure, Fidel never took Marx's advice seriously and so we have today, the capitalists media howling for the return of the free marketplace, the democratic rule of the bourgeoisie and the freedom of workers to sell their labour power to Monsanto etc. for the market price of the only vendible commodity they own.

    "In the second chapter, in connection with the "right to work," which is characterized as "the first clumsy formula wherein the revolutionary aspirations of the proletariat are summarized," it is said: "But behind the right to work stands the power over capital; behind the power over capital, the appropriation of the means of production, their subjection to the associated working class and, therefore, the abolition of wage labor as well as of capital and of their mutual relationships." Thus, here, for the first time, the proposition is formulated by which modern working class socialism is equally sharply differentiated both from all the different shades of feudal, bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, etc., socialisms and also from the confused community of goods of utopian and spontaneous communism. "

    "The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for [with body and soul]. The history of the last fifty years has taught us that. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required, and it is just this work which we are now pursuing, and with a success which drives the enemy to despair."

    Engels, 1895