This month the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. This revolution, and its bigger than life heroes and heroines, has been an inspiration to peoples from the Global South, and progressives, particularly youth, in developed countries. For all its flaws, the Cuban Revolution validates the slogan of international activists who chant: "Another World is Possible."
Happy 50th Anniversary Cuba!
(Below I insert a few commentaries I have written over the years on Cuba).
February 19, 2008
Reflections on the Cuban Revolution Today
President Bush now travels through the African continent trumpeting the United States as a model for the peoples of the Global South. At the same time Fidel Castro steps down as Cuba’s chief of state stimulating reflections on the role of the Cuban revolution at home and abroad. Which country has had a more progressive impact on the historical development of the world?
Despite enormous changes and advances since the 1959 Cuban revolution, Cuba remains part of the Global South (what used to be referred to as “Third World” or “developing countries”), a world which has been shaped and distorted in its economics and politics for 400 years by the global capitalist system. Cuba, while in many ways a developed and even industrialized country, remains closer in economic profile and diplomatic standing and possibility to the nations of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America than the industrial capitalist countries of North America, Europe, and Japan
In the words of C. Wright Mills reflecting on the Cuban revolution at its outset, Cuba remains part of the “hungry bloc,” not in the sense of poverty and scarcity as he meant it-Cuba is part of the developed world in these terms- but in the sense of still struggling to achieve its right and capacity to define its own destiny. In fact, it could be argued that Cuba’s “hunger” for self-determination, its spirit of nationalism, is what drove the revolution in the nineteenth century, in the 1930s, in 1959 and still drives the revolution today.
The spirit of revolution links Cuba’s past to its present. There have been other continuities in Cuban history as well, particularly since 1959. The most obvious one has been the hatred and aggressive stance of the United States. The United States suspended formal diplomatic relations with the island nation before President Eisenhower left office, launched a full-scale economic blockade of Cuba in the Kennedy period, initiated a long-term program of subversion and sabotage of the islands economy and polity, and extended the blockade to pressure other countries to cut their ties to the island’s economy.
The hostile United States policy since the 1950s has been driven by the needs and hopes of capitalism; cold war fears of “communism;” the “realpolitic” philosophy which says that Cuba is within the U.S. sphere of influence; and the historically claimed right of the U.S. to control Cuba’s destiny enshrined in the Monroe Doctrine of the 1820s.
Despite this hostility, since 1959 there has been a high level of support for the revolution among Cubans because it provided substantial economic advances for the people and satisfied their thirst for self-determination. Consequently, even during the “special period” of the 1990s support, while declining, held because the revolution continued to represent the spirit of nationalism for the vast majority of the Cuban people.
Finally, a continuous element of the Cuban revolution has been change and a pragmatic spirit that addresses needs, possibilities, and dangers as they arise. Cuba has been one vast laboratory experiment in which new policies, priorities, and programs have been introduced to meet the exigencies of the moment. Alongside inevitable dogmatisms and bureaucratic resistances has been the willingness of Cubans to throw out the old, the unworkable, the threatened, and replace it with the new as history requires (shifting from fertilizer, pesticides, and hybrid seeds to organic agriculture for example). Over its long history the revolution ended foreign ownership of the Cuban economy. It created an egalitarian society. It provided health care, education, jobs, and a rich cultural life for most of its citizens.
At the most fundamental level, the revolution fulfilled all of the economic and social goals Fidel Castro articulated in his 1953 “History Will Absolve Me” speech. For most Cubans alive before 1959, there is no question that the revolution has been an outstanding success. This is true for their sons and daughters if one could compare what would have been their possibilities before 1959 with what they have achieved today. The revolution has worked.
And finally, in the great debate between the U.S. and Cuba as inspirations and models for most of the citizens of the globe, Fidel Castro might say again “History Will Absolve Me.”
Harry Targ teaches U.S. foreign policy and political economy at Purdue University. His book on Cuba is called Cuba and the USA: A New World Order?, International Publishers, 1992.