The following speech was delivered by Curry Malott June 10th at the Paul Robeson house in West Philadelphia as part of a PSL (Party for Socialism and Liberation) sponsored event featuring Cuban revolutionary Luisa Campos. Since 1996 Campos has been the Director of the Museum of the Literacy Campaign in Havana, Cuba. Around forty people attended the event, which also included a speech by leading figure in the Black radical tradition and resident of North Philly, Dr. Monteiro.
Needless to say, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the PSL, defends socialism in Cuba. In these short remarks I will explain why we defend socialism in Cuba and highlight some of what we defend in socialist Cuba.
Since the historic defeats suffered by the socialist movement in the late 80s and early 90s, it has become increasingly difficult for workers’ states, such as Cuba, to survive. The struggle for socialism is a global struggle and as communists in the U.S. we naturally defend any gains in this movement. All oppressed people have a stake in defending socialist Cuba. Special economic reforms, beginning in the 1990s, have been enacted in Cuba to cope with this increasingly difficult period, driven by decades of strangulating U.S. sanctions, and we stand with them in solidarity.
Now as the stigma of socialism is beginning to dissipate in the U.S., due to the Occupy movement, the movement for Black Lives, and the Sanders campaign, which are responses to growing suffering stemming from the deepening crisis of capitalism itself, more and more people are interested in learning the truth about Cuba.
As we stand with Cuba, we acknowledge that the overturning of capitalism does not necessarily mean the end of the struggle. We know that anytime a capitalist class is displaced by a working class revolution, the former exploiters will become counter-revolutionaries and do everything in their power to restore capitalism, and ultimately their capacity to exploit. External imperialist forces will also direct their destructive power towards the restoration of capitalism wherever gains have been made toward the negation of the negating capitalism system.
The 1961 failed Bay of Pigs invasion is an example of Cuba’s former capitalist class exiled in Florida working in cahoots with U.S. imperialists to violently restore capitalism in Cuba. The long history of economic sanctions, assassinations, including the assassination of literacy volunteers, sabotage, and other forms of U.S. terrorism aimed to overthrow Cuba’s workers’ state are further examples of how imperialists will always be an external threat to workers’ states and movements wherever they exist in the world until they are defeated once and for all time.
We therefore support Cuba’s workers’ state and their right to self-defense and self-determination. We support the enormous gains that the Cuban people, through their revolution, have made correcting the extreme poverty, suffering, and depravation that marked the pre-socialist era.
At the core of the Cuban Revolution and the force behind transforming the country into a much more socially just society, we defend the Rebel Army that, became the embryo of the new state and was instrumental in carrying out the early revolutionary measures of land reform and other economic decrees
We therefore defend the institutions that the Rebel Army transformed into, such as the National Institute for Agrarian Reform and the National Institute of Housing and Savings. For example, only three months after the ousting of the Batista regime utilities and rents were cut in half and evictions were banned. The following year an advancement was made under the Urban Law Reform of 1960 transforming half of the nation’s tenants into home owners and eliminating landlordism.
Similarly, the private ownership on a large scale of the means of production – the tools and material needed to create the wealth of society – was gradually ended. For example, under the Agrarian Reform Law of 1959 the amount of land that could be held by a private interest was reduced to 1,000 acres, and by 1963 that had been drawn down to 163 acres. At the same time large parcels of unused land were handed over to peasant collectives. As a result, over 15 million acres of land had been expropriated from foreign corporations by 1963, which marked the end of capitalism in Cuba and the strengthening of the global struggle for socialism.
These transformations allowed the Cuban Revolutionary government to use the wealth created by Cuban labor for the benefit of the Cuban people and to support workers and peasants in other parts of the world struggling for their own self-determination. Of course, this is one of the reasons why U.S. imperialism would like to see capitalism fully restored in Cuba, that is, as a blow to the global working class movement.
Contrary to popular belief, however, this process of transforming capitalist power into socialist power in Cuba was not carried out without widespread participation among the people. This stems from the Revolution itself where the overthrow of the Batista regime was not the sole product of Che, Fidel, and their small band of guerillas, but was a popular revolution where over 20,000 Cubans gave their lives fighting in it. From January 1st 1959 the end of the capitalist class in Cuba and its repressive regime was set in motion and carried out through a series of trials and well-defended policies.
For example, the early housing and land reforms were supported by massive mobilizations of one million or more taking to the streets to let the remaining capitalists know where the people stood.
Another example is the over one hundred thousand youth who came out to volunteer to transform Cuba from a nation of illiteracy to a nation of literacy. This task was accomplished relatively quickly as a result of the suspension of secondary education for a year. Rather than go to the schoolhouse, for a year the youth went to workers and peasants and taught them how to read. This was not only effective in defeating illiteracy, but it is reported to have helped foster a sense of unity across the country transforming the youth who had not fought in the Revolution into veterans of it anyway. It is surely not an exaggeration to assume that the post-1959 mass mobilization movements contributed as much psychologically as materially to the ongoing success of the revolution.
A major part of this has been the Committees in Defense of the Revolution that were organized block-by-block in 1960. These committees helped to protect the country against counter-revolutionaries while simultaneously contributing to the fostering of widespread political participation amongst workers and peasants. Today there are approximately 8.5 million members of the Committees in Defense of the Revolution in a country of 11.5 million. This is what people’s democracy looks like.
Every two and a half years there are elections for the 186 municipal assemblies and every five years for the National Assembly of Peoples’ Power. There are assemblies for all 15 provinces and a special assembly for the youth. Adding to the real power held by the Cuban people every public official is immediately recallable. To get elected a candidate must receive fifty percent of the vote plus one. If no candidate receives this, then a second round of votes are cast. Over 88 percent of Cubans participate in these elections. Undoubtedly contributing to this high voter turnout is the fact that Cuban elections are free from campaign spending.
In stark contrast to this is capitalist democracy, as practiced in the U.S., where recent successful presidential campaigns have cost nearly 4 billion dollars and senatorial campaigns between 80 and 90 million. Consequently, workers tend to feel so alienated from any real sense of political power that the average voter turnout in the U.S. is between 50 and 60 percent. In some of the most impoverished and oppressed cities in the U.S. voter turnout can be as low as 22 percent of registered voters as is the case with Trenton, NJ.
Perhaps what Cuba is most known for in the U.S. is universal health care and advances in vaccine research. Cuba is also an international leader in training doctors throughout the so-called third-world, and sending thousands of doctors around the world wherever they can help to alleviate suffering. This is solidarity, and this is why Cuba has so many friends around the world and in the U.S.
What all of this points to is the fact that the class that rules in Cuba is not the capitalist class, but the workers, and we stand with them shoulder to shoulder.
While U.S. imperialist forces have been working to restore capitalism in Cuba since the day after the ousting of Batista, current signs suggest that they are once again ramping up their efforts. The U.S.’s movement toward normalizing relations is a great victory and a testament to the strength of the revolution, but in the eyes of the U.S. government this is viewed as a new tactic designed to undermine socialism in Cuba. That is, if U.S. corporations and banks, and the C.I.A., can get a foothold in Cuba, they can foster the emergence of a new capitalist class.
All the gains of the Cuban revolution-its independence from U.S. imperialism as well as the social gains like literacy, full employment and health care-are guaranteed by the strength of the Cuban working class. We are confident that they can succeed in the face of any threat, and we are fully committed to supporting this fight from the belly of the beast.
Curry Malott is Associate Professor of Educational Foundations at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the author of multiple books, including most recently, History and Education: Engaging the Global Class War.