Fidel Castro at 86: A Review

This article was first written in August 2008 under the title Tribute to Fidel Castro, in commemoration of 82nd birthday of Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban revolution. It is edited today and republished for today’s lessons.

There has been a lot of attempt to denigrate Fidel Castro and consequently the Cuban revolution. This write up tend to do otherwise and give a critical review. This year’s August, the ailing Fidel Castro is 86 years. While British ruling class, after destroying the future of millions of youths, is committing millions of pounds to ‘celebrate’ the diamond jubilee of the last vestige of feudalism – the Queen Elizabeth-led British monarchy, Castro is being celebrated with ideas on how to move society forward from capitalist horrors. Indeed, Castro used early part of his life for the emancipation of Cuba and laying the basis for the radicalization of a new layer of youth in search of social justice. 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 democratic rights) – after a series of setbacks – led to the formation of the first deformed workers’ state in the Latin America. Deformed in the sense that while the society was created in the interests of the working people, they (the working people) have no direct political control on how the society is run.


Though Fidel, hesitated in moving the revolution (that was massively welcome by the working poor of Cuba) towards socialism, the pressure of events especially of the attacks from the US imperialism and further radicalized the working poor of Cuba (and some leaders like Che), pushed Castro to take the road of socialism. This was done through nationalization of the commanding height of the economy, which was previously held under the stranglehold of US imperialism, while mass social works were undertaken to lift majority of the poor and youth out of poverty, want and ignorance. Inability of the US to derail 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’ bureaucracy (as counter-posed to Lenin’s idea of workers’ democracy) helped Cuba, but the Soviet Union only supported Cuba as long as the Stalinist state policies of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism and its so-called “socialism in one country”, are not threatened. This means that the Cuba will not criticize the Soviet bureaucracy; it will not ensure a democratic socialism within its own country or propagate the idea of workers’ democracy in a socialist country; neither will it internationalize genuine working class revolution. While the terms of trade between Soviet Union and Cuba were exceptionally favourable to Cuba, as Cuba’s sugar was traded at higher prices with Russian equipments and fuel, this also had a negative effect on Cuba, aside the political straitjacketing of 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 costly bureaucracy in Russia.

These realities were exemplified by the experience of Che Guevara when he visited Soviet Union and Soviet Union’s reaction to his (Che’s) attempt at spreading the revolution to other Latin American countries through a guerrilla movement. When Che went to Soviet Union in early 1960’s, he was compelled, despite his likeness for the Soviet Union, to criticize the bourgeon lifestyle of Soviet bureaucrats which are not available to ordinary Russians. 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). Of course, looking at the Guerilla-ist method of Che, along with his nebulous idea about internationalization, he could not have been a Trotskyite (though there are debates of whether he had access to Trotsky’s idea before he died). This should not however mean denial of Che’s commitment and sincere dedication to expansion of the revolution and defence of equality of men. For instance, he lived a clearly austere and working class lifestyle, while working along with workers in factories; indeed he and Castro abhorred all bourgeois privileges.

Also, when Che launched a guerilla campaign for international revolution, he was categorized as an adventurer by the Soviet bureaucracy. However, a Marxist position would counter-pose to guerilla movement, 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. This is important rather than launching a revolution over their heads thus giving the capitalist state excuse to isolate and behead genuine working people’s movement. However, the singular attempt and aspiration of Che and Castro for seeking extension of revolutions against imperialism within the limit of their understanding is a commendable challenge which has maintained a hold on generation of youth activists across the world who have taken them as their heroes (in fact the capitalist businessmen have turned this to a business). I however doubt whether the change-seeking youths of today with their exposure will be enticed by guerilla movement. This boldness 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 the inadequacy of guerilla-ism in a tragic manner with his murder 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 Mujahideen guerillas (against the pro-Soviet Afghanistan government) in the seventies, which is now haunting the capitalist world. The same CIA, representing US imperialism, gave huge support to various terroristic regimes like the Chile’s Pinochet (where over ten thousands poor people were massacred).

Lack of internationalization of the revolution along a genuine Marxist line, both within and outside Latin America also isolated Cuba. With a Stalinist’s shortsighted interest in Cuban affair – expanding its sphere of influence to maintain global relation and not building a genuine international socialism – this will mean Cuba’s dependence on the Soviet Union without socialist revolutions in other Latin American countries that can give, Cuba much needed breathing air to truly flourish and surpass in material, technological and economic terms the capitalist states. Yet, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba – though witnessed economic difficulty in the early 1990’s – was still able to survive, reflecting the huge potential in a nationalized economy, even the distressed and isolated one like Cuba’s own. but attempt of some pro-Cuban ‘leftists’ to equate Castro’s and Che’s support for some anti-colonial movements in Africa and Latin America to socialist internationalism is misplaced.

Of course Cuba supported movement in many countries including Africa like the one led by Laurent Kabila in Congo, but it must be noted that not only Cuba helped some colonial countries achieve independence; other pro-West countries like Nigeria also did. 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 orientating such movements to socialist goals, which would have also helped resolve the isolation experienced by Cuba. This is what is needed not alliance with some capitalist (and indeed tyrannical and corrupt) governments in the name of building "progressive" support against imperialism. The 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 Soviet Union’s friendship is a typical example of the failure of Cuba on internationalism.

Although, currently 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. Surely, there were limitations to the ‘socialist’ government of Fidel Castro; while Castro himself has had many metamorphoses since he led the Cuban revolution (e.g. questionable support for Iranian regime and Qaddafi, among others), it is on note in history that he along with Che Guevara, for the singular reason of leading a social revolution in Cuba remain heroes among the growing layer of youth and working class activists around the world. This in itself in an era of global capitalist recession and wars, shows the gripping effects a radical, anti-capitalist idea and movement can make in the consciousness of young and working people. should not What Castro had achieved for the oppressed people of Cuba could not be compared with the destruction inflicted on the world by the capitalist rulers – civilian, military or monarchy despite all whitewashing of their terrible records. The best of the contemporary capitalist ‘leaders’ from US to Europe to Asia cannot 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 for profit. Of course, Cuba needs democracy but not the “free market democracy” that has led to misery for the working poor. Cuba needs 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 mean forming communes at local levels linked up at regional and national levels. This will radicalize the working poor and youths of the world, and deepen the growing movements for change globally. 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 claims to be championing democracy supported Pakistani military rule of Perwash Mussharaf (for over eight years thus boosting the strength of fundamentalists), Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, among several others.

The human developments in Cuba that has led to over 90 percent literate and unprecedented medical facilities (comparable to the advanced capitalist countries) gives a glimpse into what genuine working class government can achieve. Building a genuine workers’ democracy, and leading internationalization of socialism are the tasks 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 billions are still wallowing in abject poverty while a tiny clique continues 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 dollars of, for instance, Nigeria’s oil wealth going to the coffer of the tiny clique and foreign corporations, and their local accomplices will be used to develop education, health, infrastructures, social amenities, etc. It will mean trillions of dollars wasted in bailing out handful of capitalist big businesses, will be used to lift billions of impoverished people out of poverty, want and ignorance. It will mean making the wonders of technology and scientific advancements that can make living more meaningful for the people but are currently patented for capitalist profits, available to the working and poor people. Neo-liberalism will only mean diversion of the society’s 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.

This the real task before the working class activists from Kenya to Venezuela to Georgia to Pakistan and the rest of the world is 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 their historic limitations, he, along with Che Guevara remains among iconic. The so-called victory of capitalist neo-liberalism since the collapse of the Stalinist states, have only meant growing miseries for greater percentage of the population. Despite the growth in wealth and technological advancement, the more people are suffering from one form of want or the other. Since the so-called triumph of neo-liberal capitalism, tens of millions have died of wars and conflicts engineered by capitalist scramble for profits. The current great capitalist recession has shown that capitalism cannot move society forward. On the other hand, mass of working people have been responding through mass revolts and movements from the nooks and crannies of the world to the centres of capitalism. However, these movements must learn from the mistakes of and be inspired by the heroic movements of the past revolutions including the Cuban revolution. Rebuilding the mass organizations and parties of the working and young people under genuine socialist and revolutionary ideas is the first step in this direction.

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