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Cuba Libre? – ISJ

Cuba Libre?

Posted: 9 October 12

Dave Sewell

Sam Farber, Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment

(Haymarket, 2011), $24

Discussions around Cuba have an unfortunate tendency to generate more

heat than light, particularly on the left. Sam Farber’s new book, in the

same spirit as Jeffery Webber’s recent works on Bolivia, provides

much-needed clarity.

Farber starts from the simple premise that it is both possible and

necessary to oppose US imperialism and the imposition of neoliberalism

in the island without buying into the Castro brothers’ mythology. And he

backs this up with a wealth of detailed information about the state of

the island over the past five decades.

Many persistent myths are put to rest in these pages. Cuba’s

“anti-imperialist” foreign policy is dissected and found wanting, not

least for its alliance with General Franco’s Spain. Workers and peasants

remain disenfranchised-and inequality and underdevelopment remain rife.

Even Cuba’s celebrated health and education systems aren’t all they are

cracked up to be. The university system has been thrown into chaos by

Castro’s policies. And while Cuban doctors provide the backbone of the

island’s diplomacy, they haven’t been able to stop patients freezing to

death in substandard hospital buildings.

Perhaps the gravest failings of the Cuban revolution are its inability

to challenge oppression. The pre-revolutionary consensus of denying the

very existence of racism on the island has been upheld, and anti-racist

organisation suppressed as much as possible.

The role of women has been transformed, with far more women being

integrated into the workforce than was previously the case. This has, of

course, been the case in many other countries with no pretensions of

Communism-and it has coexisted perfectly well with old-style sexism,

placing a double burden on Cuban women. Farber can even point to

government officials who refuse to recognise the concept of marital

rape, and state schools where girls are expected to wash the boys’

clothes or risk being denounced as lesbians. And the Castro regime’s

persecution of gay men has been particularly extreme, from raids and

show trials in the 1960s to what were effectively mass expulsions in 1980.

Farber puts this in the context of a society that was never transformed

from the bottom up-that was only ever converted to “Communism” by decree

from on high, with all its reactionary prejudices left intact. It has

been left to Castro to pander to these prejudices at best, and at worst

to mobilise them in search of

a scapegoat.

Such a society is, of course, not without its discontents, especially as

the seemingly terminal decline of Castro’s economic model sets in. One

chapter takes us on a tour of the various dissident movements. Farber

doesn’t sow any illusions-from tame internal critics of the Communist

Party to fellow travellers of the Catholic church or the vicious Miami

right wing, the opposition is considered warts and all-but he shows that

there is, at the least, a debate under way about what a post-Castro Cuba

could look like.

Raul Castro clearly has a vision of his own. The policies declared at

the sixth congress of the Cuban Communist Party last year point

ineluctably towards the Chinese model of state capitalism. The imminence

of such far-reaching reforms, and the eagerness of US imperialism to

shape such a transition lend urgency to the discussion of the reality of

Cuba’s situation.

In his predictions for this “transition to capitalism”, it’s frustrating

that Farber refuses to recognise Cuba as already being state capitalist,

as having never really left capitalism behind. He may show no mercy to

the Cuban regime-or to those leftists abroad who would rather give it a

free ride than shatter their own illusions-but nor does he ever stop

referring to the country as Communist. But this doesn’t stop him from

recognising the potential for class conflict which the Cuban situation

presents. Farber concludes that “resistance is not futile, since there

is an alternative to both capitalism and the failed ‘Communism’ of Cuban

history” and that this “will not be handed down as a gift by the people

in power but will have to be obtained by struggles from below”.

With this vivid portrait of the real Cuba, Farber has done a valuable

service to all those who would seek to understand and to support these

struggles.

http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=860&issue=136

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