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Nigerian socialist: A tribute to Fidel Castro

Kola Ibrahim of the Democratic Socialist Movement of Nigeria looks at the legacy of Fidel Castro, the internationalisation of struggle and calls for ``working-class activists from Kenya to Venezuela to Georgia to Pakistan and the rest of the world'' to build a genuine working people's political platform.

* * *

This year, an ailing but still going Fidel Castro will turn 82. Castro used the early part of his life for the emancipation of Cuba and laying the basis for the radicalisation of a whole new layer of youth in search of truth. Fidel along with the late Che Guevara led the armed struggle for the liberation of Cuba and indeed the whole of Latin America. The eventual success of the armed struggle (itself a product of the inability of the Cuban capitalism under Batista to grant full democratic rights), after a series of setbacks, led to the formation of the first workers' state in Latin America. Fidel at first hesitated in moving the revolution (which was massively welcomed by the working poor of Cuba) forward towards socialism, but the pressure of events especially from the attacks by US imperialism; the further radicalisation of the working poor of Cuba; and the resoluteness of some of the other leaders such as Che, pushed him to take to the road of socialism.

Less than three decades after the revolution, despite a US embargo and consequent isolation, Cuban society under Fidel was able to achieve what many leading capitalist countries have not achieved in centuries. In Cuba one finds a well-educated population (with more than 90 per cent literate) and a sound health system (Cubans have an average lifespan of 80 years). Of course, it can be argued that the presence of the Soviet Union under the Stalinists bureaucratic apparatus (a caricature of genuine socialist ideas as espoused by Marx, Engels and Lenin) helped Cuba, but the Soviet Union only supported Cuba as long as her expansionist interest were satisfied. This meant that Cuba would not criticise the Soviet bureaucracy, it would not struggle for democratic socialism within its own country, or internationalise the revolution and would accept Soviet goods at any cost.

All these had a terrible effect on Cuba as many inferior goods were brought in without any alternative. Any attempt to turn to the then ``Communist'' China would have incurred the wrath of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia. Lack of internationalisation of the revolution along a Marxist line, at least within Latin America further isolated Cuba. Yet, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was still able to survive.

When Che went to the Soviet Union in early 1960s, he was forced, despite his liking the Soviet Union, to criticise the bourgeois lifestyle of Soviet bureaucrats. This incurred the wrath of the Soviet bureaucracy, which tagged Che, a Trotskyite (a term used then to denigrate the followers and ideas of the foremost leader of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky who fought against Stalinist degeneration of the revolution after the death of Lenin). Also, when Che launched a guerilla campaign for an international revolution, he was categorised as an adventurer by the Soviet bureaucracy. This was contrary to a genuine Marxist position, which encourages the building of revolutionary movements among the working people of the Third World countries, radicalised by the liberation movements and especially the Cuban revolution, rather than launching a revolution over their heads thus giving the capitalist state the excuse to behead genuine working people's movement.

But the singular attempt and aspiration by Che (and Castro) for an international revolution against imperialism has inspired youth activists across the world (even capitalists have turned him into a commodity). The Soviet bureaucracy that had the power to build an international socialist movement deliberately abandoned this vision.

The best of the contemporary capitalist rulers from US to Europe to Asia cannot be compared to Fidel. He has inspired a generation to fight for their freedom while the former brought the working people of the world wars, misery, poverty and exploitation in the search of profit. Of course, Cuba needs democracy but not the market democracy that has led to misery for the working poor.

Cuba needs genuine socialist democracy where the huge gains of the nationalised economy will be realised by the collective leadership of the working people. There is need for a socialist multi-party democracy from local to national level in Cuba and the ability of the people to determine and discuss every government policy. This will appeal to the working poor of the world and lay the basis for revolution in the whole of Latin America (which is now under radicalisation from Venezuela to Bolivia to Ecuador) and the world as a whole.

It is not for the capitalist apologists to teach Cuba democracy because the history of capitalism is that of subjugation of the people's will. Is it not hypocritical for US to claim to be fighting for democracy in Cuba when the whole world rejected the US embargo on Cuba and yet the Bush government still maintains it? Despite the millions that protested around the world against the invasion on Iraq, the US along with the willing allies still went ahead. The same US government that is championing democracy supported Pakistani military rule for over eight years thus boosting the strength of militants.

Cuba has shown what can be achieved under a genuine socialist government. The task before the working people of Cuba is to prevent a restoration of capitalism. Despite the so-called increase in GDP by many Third World countries in the past few years, hundreds of millions are still wallowing in abject poverty while a tiny clique continue to increase their wealth. Neoliberalism will only mean diversion of the wealth for a tiny clique as has been seen in Nigeria where just 1 per cent controls 80 per cent of the nation's wealth while over 70 per cent go hungry.

To get another Castro in the world will require a revolution that will enthrone genuine socialist democracy. This is the real task before the working class activists from Kenya to Venezuela to Georgia to Pakistan and the rest of the world -- to build a genuine working people's political platform that will wrest power from the hands of the capitalist class and enthrone a genuine socialist society, and not to depend on capitalist politicians for liberation.

[Kola Ibrahim is a member of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), which is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International -- Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. This article first appeared in Pambazuka News.]

Comments

A shoddy article by Kola Ibrahim

Kola Ibrahim's remarks about the achievements of the Cuban revolution
and the negative effects of neo-liberalism are accurate enough; but
unfortunately much of the article is sheer drivel, reflecting either a
paucity of historical knowledge and analysis on the part of the
writer, or an attempt to conceal the truth.

A few examples:

"...the Soviet Union only supported Cuba as long as her expansionist
interest were satisfied"

The Soviet Union gave diplomatic and material support to revolutionary
and anti-imperialist movements and states, but this was limited by its
policy of 'peaceful co-existence' with the West and its position of
relative weakness (eg in material wealth, level of technology and
military power) vis a vis the USA & its allies. It is certainly an
arguable view that the Soviet Communist Party's main international
policy line was wrong, but to describe the USSR as expansionist flies
in the face of the facts.

"Cuba.. would not... internationalise the revolution..."

A truly bizarre assertion, particularly as it comes from an African
writer. Cuban soldiers fought in the Congo in the 1960s, and thousands
more later on in Southern Africa. The defeat of the SADF at Cuito
Canavale would have been impossible without the Cuban fighters.

"[Cuba] would accept Soviet goods at any cost... a terrible effect on
Cuba as many inferior goods were brought in without any alternative."

In fact, Cuba got its petroleum, industrial equipment and consumer
goods from the USSR and other CMEA members at very low cost. They were
paid for by Cuba supplying sugar at significantly above the prevailing
world market price, and through 'soft' loans on terms which were very
advantageous for the Cubans.

Through these arrangements, which are usually described as a 'Soviet
subsidy' by Western commentators, living standards in Cuba rose very
substantially, despite the US blockade. It was when they came to an
end that the Cuban economy crashed, leading to the 'Special Period' of
great material hardship.

Further. Kola Ibrahim notes that "It is not for the capitalist
apologists to teach Cuba democracy..."- but presumably it is OK for
him or her as a 'non-capitalist apologist' to try to teach democracy
to Cuba:

"There is need for a socialist multi-party democracy from local to
national level in Cuba and the ability of the people to determine and
discuss every government policy."

Well, Cuban democracy is far from perfect as even its Communist Party
leaders would agree. But by making this remark without noting the
relatively very high level of participation by the Cubans in choosing
their representatives and deciding policy, Kola Ibrahim conceals the
reality in terms of democracy in Cuba.

It's a shoddy article, and Links ought to publish a correction to
address at least the worst of the falsehoods and distortions which it
contains.

Noah Tucker

Co-editor, http://21stcenturysocialism.com/

Response to Kola Ibrahim on Cuba

I agree with Kola Ibrahim that "Cuba has shown what can be achieved under a genuine socialist government".

However I must disagree with a number of his/her assertions. Comrade Ibrahim says: "The eventual success of the armed struggle (itself a product of the inability of the Cuban capitalism under Batista to grant full democratic rights), after a series of setbacks, led to the formation of the first workers' state in Latin America."

The reference to "armed struggle" ignores the general strike/popular insurrection that accompanied the entry of the guerrilla fighters into Havana in January 1959. The strike, called by Fidel Castro and supported by the urban underground, including anti-Batista union activists, played a key role in destroying the old army and police, key elements of the bourgeois state apparatus.

Ongoing mass struggle, including further general strikes and mass rallies, played a key role in deepening the revolution and making the transition from a democratic to a socialist revolution.

Comrade Ibrahim says: "Fidel at first hesitated in moving the revolution (which was massively welcomed by the working poor of Cuba) forward towards socialism, but the pressure of events especially from the attacks by US imperialism; the further radicalisation of the working poor of Cuba; and the resoluteness of some of the other leaders such as Che, pushed him to take to the road of socialism."

In reality Fidel Castro played a key role in leading "the further radicalisation of the working poor of Cuba". His speeches to mass rallies helped inspire workers and peasants to deepen the revolution.

Comrade Ibrahim says: "...Cuba would not criticise the Soviet bureaucracy, it would not struggle for democratic socialism within its own country, or internationalise the revolution...."

It is true that Cuba did not usually publically criticise the Soviet bureaucracy. It needed Soviet aid to survive the imperialist economic blockade and to deter the threat of a US invasion.

However Cuba does have the system known as Peoples Power, enabling Cubans to elect local, regional and national representative bodies. It is true that this is not a "multi-party" system, but it does give Cubans a say in running their country.

Cuba has done a lot to try and spread the revolution internationally. It defeated the South African army in Angola, thereby contributing to the fall of apartheid. It has sent thousands of doctors to countries around the world, and is training thousands of doctors from other poor countries in Cuba. By showing what a socialist health system can do, it is popularising the idea of socialism amongst the people of countries who benefit from Cuba's aid.

Chris Slee

Democratic Socialist perspective, Australia. 

Following the Cuban Revolution

Considering everything, from geography to population magnitude and more, Cuba and the United States are not and cannot be equal. Cuba’s government certainly does limit democratic rights. But in a situation like David and Goliath, Cuba does what it feels it must to defend itself. Look at Iraq today and you can see what Cuba would look like if it were “liberated” by Washington.

In Guantanamo, the world can see what legal system Washington would impose on the rest of Cuba if only it could. In Guantanamo, which is United States occupied territory, prisoners are held without trial for years, and are told they could be held indefinitely even if not found guilty there. In this context, Cuba’s defensive measures should surprise no one.

My father and his parents lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1942. They were German Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and not political left-wingers. That family history is where my own interest in Cuba comes from.

Cuban society today represents an effort to build an alternative to the way life was under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who ran Cuba before Fidel Castro led a revolution there. No one complained about a lack of human rights and democracy in those days, but U.S. businesses were protected.

Some things work, some don’t. Like any society, Cuba its flaws and contradictions, as well as having solid achievements. No society is perfect. But we can certainly learn a few things from Cuba’s experience.

Since August 2000, the CubaNews list, a free Yahoo news group has compiled a wide range of materials, pro and con, about Cuba, its people, politics and culture, and life within the island and affecting it in the Cuban diaspora abroad.

Winning the Battle of Ideas: a Response to Noah Tucker

Noah Tucker makes many good and salient points as to the role of the Cuban leadership and its internationalist and principled policies in many areas of its revolutionary history.

Where, however, his response to Kola Ibrahim breaks down, is precisely that area where Ibrahim is most correct: the lack of democratic and socialist freedoms and structures necessary to win the battle of ideas, as Fidel calls it.

Even the most hardened ideologue of the right will now admit to the social gains of the revolution. Those who witnessed the speeches at this year's annual conference of the Cuban American National Foundation, where Obama spoke about lifting the restrictions of travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans, were treated to the spectacle of the son of Mas Conosos, guasano primero uno, admitting that any change in Cuba must come from within Cuba itself, and not through armed intervention by patriotic forces. Mas Santos' call for the use of money repatriated to Cuba by Cuban Americans for the promotion of democracy, and Obama's promise to move to lifting the blockade and normalising diplomatic relations when steps "towards democracy" are taken, indicate to me that the sole method of isolating the Cuban revolution politically, is to focus on the lack of democratic norms.

The North American left has as much at stake as anybody else, perhaps more so given the geography, of ensuring the existence of revolutionary Cuba. In fact it behooves us to not gloss over the political weaknesses of the revolution, but to be seen as not only as defenders of the revolution, but the promoters of its next steps forward.

Ibrahim has identified some of the programtic ideas which the left needs to promote, and to propose these to the Cuban leadership. More concretely, there needs to be a sustained dialogue on what precisely "democracy" means in the context of a maturing revolutionary state.

Where should that dialogue begin? I believe the left should propose that the Cuban leadership issue a call to create local popular assemblies where this question is placed on the agenda, and where all the subsidiary questions ranging from freedom of Internet access to the right to create political parties and tendencies be raised and discussed within the somewhat abstract rubric of "within the Revolution, everything".

If we are to win the Battle of Ideas, then there needs to be an open battleground where all the soldiers of the Revolution can be heard.

Re: Responses to Article on Fidel Castro

I have read with much interest, reactions to my article on Fidel Castro. I have noted the following:
1. the websites using the article edited some vital part of the article that could have helped genuine seeker of the points I was raising. This has made the article to look confusing to some people. Therefore, I will post the article here again for possible re-publication.
2. most of the responses were baised on sentiment rather than a critical analysis expected to marxists (of course i do not expect that every respondent is a marxist) or at least a leftist. I noted that Castro, along with Che Guevara, is one of the most enigmatic individuals of the last century despite the attempt to denigrate him by mouthpiece of the capitalist butchers. But we must also examine his evolution as a revolutionary so as not to place the whole struggle of humanity and indeed the Latin American working poor on just one individual. We in DSM, as marxists belief that individual may play certain decisive role in history, but the role of individual is also subject to the prevailing objective (socio-economic situation - both local and international) and subjective (the consciousness of the masses, organizations of struggles, etc). Therefore, while Castro's doggedness also inspired generations of youth and working class people both during and after the revolution, he was also a product of events. If the working class has stayed away from the armed struggle, how would we describe Fidel today. We must examine the progress and the limit of the ideas of guerrilla movement as a counterwieght to a mass movement. The defeat Che suffered in Bolivia is a lesson. While guerrilla may be successful to a certain stage in some countries (then), it may not be applicable now as imperialism now use its isolation from the mass to launch attack on guerrilla movements while even economic development has led to more urban societies (where there are more working class people than peasants) which may be repelled by guerrilla movements. Even in those country like Cuba where Guerrilla movement was successful, because of the lack of working people's initiative and involvement in how the movement development, it has impacted on the society that emerged from such movement - a society where working class democracy is limited, despite gains of nationalised economy.
3. to those who still regard Soviet Union has the best representation of a socialist society, they should sincerely ask themselve: why should Stalin closed down the Comintern (which it has destroyed ideological) only to move towards the imperialist United Nations? what informed the theory of socialism in one country (as against the Leninist internationalism)? Why the need to use tyranny to run a so-called socialist society? A sincere examination of this will reveal that despite the massive gain of the OCtober, 1917 Russian Revolution, lack of workin class democracy and internationalism led to the final collapse of Stalinist states (not socialism).
4. Of course Cuba supported movement in many countries including Africa. But it must be noted that not only Cuba helped some colonial countries achieve independence, other pro-West countries like Nigeria also did so, therefore, the issue is not helping to fight colonialism, which is a progressive move. The point is helping develop working class international movements in those countries where there are struggles against imperialism and colonialism as a step toward diverting such movement to socialist goals which would have also help resolve the isolation experience by Cuba. This is what is needed not alliance with some capitalist (and indeed tyrannical and corrupt) government s in the name of building "progressive" support against imperialism. Te failure of Fidel Castro to condemn the Mexican government's attack on students' and workers' struggle in the late 1960s in the name of preserving friendship is a typical example of the failure of Cuba on internationalism.

Other issues raised will be addressed later. Thanks to all contributors. We in DSM in Nigeria is committed to socialist internationalism and for working class movements. The current wave of struggles against capitalism globally show the potential for revolutions in the world, the degeneracy of working class organizations has been a major hinderance to the achievement of this. This is the historic challenge before genuine working class activists. We enjoin you to join DSM (and help build socialism in Africa) and CWI today (and help build socialism in the world).

______________________________________________________________________________
Tribute To Fidel Castro
A Kola Ibrahim There has been a lot of attempt to denigrate him by bourgeios ideologists and consequently the Cuban revolution. This write up tend to do otherwise. This year, the ailing Fidel Castro will be around 83. He had used his early part of his life for the emancipation of Cuba and laying the basis for the radicalization of a whole new layer of youth in search of truth. Fidel along with the Late Che Ernesto Guevara led the armed struggle for the liberation of Cuba and indeed the whole Latin America. The eventual success of the armed struggle (itself a product of the inability of the Cuban capitalism under Batista to grant full democratic right), after a series of setbacks, led to the formation of the first workers' state. Though Fidel, unlike Che, hesitated in moving the revolution (that was massively welcome by the working poor of Cuba) forward towards socialism, but the pressure of events especially of the attacks from the US imperialism, the further radicalization of the working poor of Cuba and the resoluteness of some other leaders, first of whom is Che, pushed Fidel to take to the road of socialism, through nationalization of the commanding height of the economy which were previously held under the stranglehold of US imperialism. Inability of the US to curtail the radicalization that was pushing Castro forward led to the eventual embargo on Cuba by US imperialism after a failed attempt to curtail the revolution at its backyard. Less than three decades after the revolution, the Cuba society under Fidel, despite US embargo and isolation was able to achieve what many leading capitalist countries could not achieve in centuries a well educated population (with over 90 percent literate), a sound health system (with an average lifespan of 80 years) and provision of accommodation for the citizenry. Of course, it can be argued that the presence of the Soviet Union under the Stalinists bureaucratic apparatus (a caricature of genuine socialist ideas as espoused by Marx, Engel and Lenin) helped Cuba, but the Soviet Union only supported Cuba as long as her expansionist interest is satisfied meaning that the Cuba will not criticize the Soviet bureaucracy, it will not ensure a democratic socialism within its own country, will not internationalize the revolution and will accept the Soviet goods at all cost. All this had terrible effects on Cuba as many inferior goods were brought to Cuba without any alternative. Any attempt to turn to the then “Communist” China would have incurred the wrath of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia. Lack of internationalization of the revolution along a Marxist line, at least within Latin America also isolated Cuba, and with a shortsighted interest of the Soviet Union in Cuba, (that is, the ability to maintain the world relation of forces in favour of Soviet bureaucracy and not to build a genuine international socialism), meant Cuba's dependence on the Soviet Union without socialist revolutions in other Latin American countries will on the long run deprive Cuba. Yet, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba, though witnessed economic collapse in the early seventies, was still able to survive. Although, there are some elements within the Cuban ruling class who want a return to capitalism, but the example of the collapse that Russia witnessed could not easily put this to focus, even as the US imperialism plan for the total take-over of Cuba. The final task will be decided by the working masses of not only Cuba but the whole of the Latin American continent. When Che went to Soviet Union in early 1960's, he was forced, despite his likeness for the Soviet Union, to criticize the bourgeon lifestyle of Soviet bureaucrats which are not available to ordinary Russian. This incurred the wrath of the Soviet bureaucracy, which tagged Che, a Trotskyite (a term used then to denigrate the followers and ideas of the foremost leader of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky who fought against Stalinist degeneration of the revolution after the death of Lenin). Also, when Che launched a guerilla campaign for international revolution, he was categorized as an adventurer by the Soviet bureaucracy. Though a genuine Marxist position would have been the building of revolutionary movements among the working people of the third world countries who were radicalized by the liberation movements and especially the Cuban revolution rather than launching a revolution over their heads thus giving the capitalist state excuse to behead genuine working people's movement; but the singular attempt and aspiration of Che (along with Castro) for an international revolution against imperialism is a commendable challenge which has maintained a hold on generation of youth activists across the world who have taken him as their hero (in fact the capitalist businessmen have turned this to a business). This boldness of Che is further expressed by the fact that the Soviet bureaucracy that had the power to build international socialist movement deliberately abandoned this. It is unfortunate that Che had to learn the lesson about building a genuine revolutionary movement among the working people rather than using guerilla movement in a tragic manner that saw his death in the hands of the CIA agents in Bolivia. The same CIA that killed Che for guerilla movement supported the ultra-right, religious conservative Osama bin Laden's guerilla against the pro-Soviet Afghanistan government in the seventies, which is now haunting the world. Surely, there have been limitation to the socialist government of Fidel Castro, it is on note in history that he remains a hero among the growing layer of youth and working class activists around the world. What Castro had achieved for the oppressed people of the world could not be compared with the destruction inflicted on the world by the capitalist rulers, either civilian, military or monarchy despite all whitewashing of their terrible records. The best of the contemporary capitalist rulers from US to Europe to Asia could not stand the feat of Fidel. He inspired a generation to fight for their freedom under the yoke of imperialist capitalism while the former brought the working people of the world wars, misery, poverty and exploitation in the search of profit. Of course, Cuba needs democracy but not the market democracy that has led to misery for the working poor. Cuba need genuine socialist democracy where the huge gains of the nationalized economy will be realized by the collective leadership of the working people. There is need for a socialist multi-party democracy from local to national level in Cuba and the ability of the people to determine and discuss every government policy. This will appeal to the working poor of the world and lay the basis for revolution in the whole of Latin America (which is now under radicalization from Venezuela to Bolivia to Ecuador) and the world as a whole. It is not for the capitalist apologists to teach Cuba on democracy because the history of capitalism is that of subjugation of the people's will. Is it not hypocritical for US to claim to be fighting for democracy in Cuba when the whole world rejected the US embargo on Cuba and yet the Bush government still went ahead? Despite millions that protests around the world against invasion on Iraq, the US along with the willing allies still went ahead to plunge the world to another misery. The same US government that is championing democracy supported Pakistani military rule for over eight years thus boosting the strength of militants. The human development in Cuba that has led to over 90 percent literate and unprecedented medical facilities (comparable to the advanced capitalist countries) show what can be achieved under a genuine socialist government. This is the task before the working people of Cuba if Cuba is not to become another degenerate Russian state where the gains of nationalized economy has been thrown back as a result of lack of working people's democracy through the restoration of capitalism. Despite the so-called increase in GDP by many third world countries in the past few years, hundreds of millions are still wallowing in abject poverty while a tiny clique continue to increase their wealth, this shows the limit of capitalist market economy. A genuine socialist state will use the resources of the society to develop the economy under the working people's control. This will mean billions of, for instance, Nigeria's oil wealth going to the coffer of the tiny clique and foreign corporations will be used to develop education, health, infrastructures, social amenities, etc. neo-liberalism will only mean diversion of the wealth for a tiny clique as has been seen in Nigeria where just one percent controls 80 percent of the nation's wealth while over 70 percent go hungry. To get another Castro in the world will require revolution that will enthrone genuine socialist democracy. This is the real task before the working class activists from Kenya to Venezuela to Georgia to Pakistan and the rest of the world to build a genuine working people's political platform that will wrest power from the hands of the capitalist class and enthrone a genuine socialist society, and not to depend on capitalist politicians for liberation. As Castro prepares for the eventual end, he remains a hero. Despite the historic limitations, he, along with Che Guevara remains among the great leaders.

Kola Ibrahim
Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife
P.O.Box 1319, GPO Enuwa Ile-Ife, Nigeria

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