Socialist Alliance’s Dave Holmes gave this speech at a Melbourne rally in honour of Fidel Castro on December 4.
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Fidel Castro was a towering figure in world politics for almost six decades. Now, with his passing the hacks of the capitalist media have been gloating over the death of the “dictator”. Of course, he was nothing of the sort. As he truthfully told director Oliver Stone in the movie Commandante: “I am a slave to the people”. His life is a monument of conscience and loyalty to principle.
The January 1959 victory of the Cuban Revolution electrified the left around the world, especially in Latin America. With Fidel the acknowledged leader, little Cuba has punched above its weight ever since.
The revolution has transformed Cuba. It has First World social indicators. Its medical system shows what can be done when the capitalist profit motive is eliminated and human need placed at the centre of government policy.
‘Tomorrow will be too late’
For all its problems, Cuba has avoided the horrors that capitalist “development” brings, both of large-scale poverty on the one hand and consumerist madness on the other. In 2006 the World Wildlife Fund said Cuba was the only sustainable country on the planet.
In 1992 Fidel made a stirring speech, Tomorrow will be too late, at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro: “Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin the environment. Make human life more rational. Adopt a just international economic order.
“Use science to achieve sustainable development without pollution. Pay the ecological debt. Eradicate hunger and not humanity …
“Enough of selfishness. Enough of schemes of domination. Enough of insensitivity, irresponsibility and deceit. Tomorrow will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.”
Hurricanes regularly devastate the Caribbean, but for the all the material damage they do, the death toll in Cuba is always very small, due to a well-rehearsed system of civil defence. Compare this to the shambolic US response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
If humanity is to survive it will have to learn from Cuba’s ecological and climate protection measures.
A democratic and humane revolution
Under Fidel’s leadership the Cuban Revolution has always been marked by its democratic and humane values. Cuba has had nothing even approximating a Stalin chapter: There have been no show trials and mass repressions, no destruction of people.
One of Fidel’s most famous speeches is his 1962 address at the University of Havana, “The revolution must be a school of unfettered thought”. It is a broadside against narrowness and sectarianism and a call to members of the new revolutionary organisation to adhere to the highest personal standards and reject all privilege and self-seeking.
Bold initiatives at home and abroad
Fidel and Cuba have always been associated with bold initiatives at home and abroad.
One of the first big projects of the revolution was the 1960 campaign to wipe out illiteracy in Cuba. If the people were to participate in politics in a new way, they had to have the basic skills to do so. One hundred thousand teenagers were enlisted and sent to the countryside to live with the peasants and teach them to read and write. Illiteracy plunged from 25% to less than 4% within a year.
Cuba’s interventions in Angola, in 1976 and again in 1987, played a crucial role in defeating the forces of the South African apartheid state and preventing it from occupying the country. Coupled with the township uprisings at home, South Africa’s defeat in Angola convinced its leaders that they had to make a political turn and ditch apartheid if the underlying capitalist economic system was to be preserved.
Several hundred thousand Cuban soldiers served in Angola and more than 2000 died there. When the mission was over the Cubans left. They were not after oil or gold but were simply carrying out their internationalist duty.
In 1986, the government launched the “Campaign of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies”. It aimed to increase people's participation in the economy and politics by raising political consciousness rather than using material incentives and bureaucratic directives. The title of one of Fidel’s speeches says it all: “A communist consciousness is a thousand times more important than money”.
Then there was Cuba’s epic of survival in the “Special Period” of the 1990s when the collapse of the Soviet Union removed — almost overnight — most of Cuba’s imports and exports. This would have finished off most other countries but after several very hard years Cuba came through it, thanks to the work of the revolution and Fidel’s inspired leadership.
The generation that made the 1959 revolution is inexorably passing from the scene. Fidel has gone and Raul and the others will soon follow. The imperialists hope that Cuba will succumb and capitalism will return.
Cuba undoubtedly faces some very serious problems today. There is a growth of bureaucracy (among which there are surely many would-be Yeltsins); corruption among the officialdom is a big worry; social differentiation among the population is growing (some have dollars and others do not); and significant sections of the youth are disengaged from the revolution. The economic situation has forced the government to rely on mass tourism: This brings in the dollars but also creates serious social problems.
But socialists should not give up on the Cuban revolution. That would be unworthy and certainly would not be in the spirit of Fidel. Cuba needs our solidarity more than ever. Without shutting our eyes to the serious problems, we should continue spread the word about the achievements of the revolution and refute the slanders of the capitalist lie machine. Cuba shows what can be done and if humanity is to survive, eventually the whole world must take the Cuban road.
Long live the Cuban revolution!