Rock around the Blockade goes to Cuba

FRFI 173 June / July 2003

In April, Rock around the Blockade’s Battle of Ideas brigade visited socialist Cuba. Comrades returned inspired by the example of collective organisation, social inclusion and mass participation that characterises Cuban socialism and by the steps Cuba is taking, through its Battle of Ideas, to extend the Revolution at every level. Here, they give their impressions of how socialism is working in Cuba.

For a report of the brigade’s activities, see page 14. For further reports see Viva Cuba newsletter 27.

Economic reform in Cuba

An important issue has been addressing the issue of inequality created by the legalisation of the dollar and the dual economy that has existed since the 1990s. Access to dollars has given some workers, for example those working in tourism, a better standard of living than others. This had the potential to divide Cuban society. The problem is being addressed by a decision taken in consultation with the trade unions to pay a bonus in dollars to workers who do not have access to dollars like those in state services such as health and education and those in industries such as oil and nickel.

Steps are also being taken to raise productivity without compromising the moral and social basis of the revolution. The recently introduced ‘Perfection’ system aims to increase productivity and salaries. Planning and central control will remain in state hands. The agreed state quota will remain the priority for the enterprise. There will not be competition of the type seen between capitalist enterprises but there will be a degree of decentralisation, allowing enterprises to open up new products and markets. Any surplus will go back into society. One portion will be paid to the state, another will be for local projects enabling workers to contribute to developing socialism by their involvement, for instance, in rebuilding homes, schools, hospitals, or taking part in projects for the disabled.

Socialist Cuba knows the problems and is addressing them in a creative and principled manner.
Hannah Caller


Power to the people

The people’s project
Before visiting Cuba, we wanted to discover the thoughts of ‘ordinary’ Cubans about the revolutionary process. However, if you define ordinary as those outside the political system, then you very soon realise that very few people in Cuba fit this definition.

It is through their mass organisations that Cubans join the revolutionary process and have an effective voice. For example, 80% of Cuban women are members of the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC), working on social projects that include education of prisoners, working with troubled families and dealing with issues such as domestic violence. It was they who put proposals concerning paid maternity and paternity leave from work to the National Assembly, where they were debated before being made law. This is part of the Cuban system of popular power where the mass organisations have the right to make legislative initiatives.

At all ages Cubans can be a member of a dedicated organisation. From 7-14 there is the Pioneers. The UJC organises people under 30 and has a membership of one in three of the age range. It works closely with the Mid-Level Students’ Federation (FEEM), for students aged 14-19, and the Federation of University Students (FEU). There are other mass organisations for every group in society, such as farmers, artists and writers and, of course, trade unions for all workers. If we add to these the Committees for Defence of the Revolution (CDR), of which 99% of the population (from 14 years on) are members, we can see that almost every person in Cuba has important roles to play in the organisation of society.

Such mass participation is in direct contrast to life in Britain, where less than 40% of inhabitants bothered to take part in the recent elections. Cuba offers an insight into the way forward to a society that is run by and for its people. For those on the right, who refuse to accept that socialism can work, Cuba stands in defiance. For those on the left who are unable to picture socialism as a living process the message is clear, visit Cuba and see for yourself. We did.
Mark Suibhne


CDRs – at the heart of the revolution


We visited a Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) in the city of Guantanamo as well as a rural CDR within the Imias municipality.
The CDRs are central to the functioning of all Cuban society. The vast majority of Cubans over the age of 14 choose to participate in them, but membership is not compulsory. The few who don’t join are still entitled to benefit from everything the CDRs do. They organise everything within communities from street parties to regular blood donations; the care of disabled people to the integration of prisoners back into society; looking after the local environment to being on call for night-time emergencies. It was evident when we met with the people from both these neighbourhoods that it was the incredible unity that binds these communities together that gives the Cuban revolution its strength.
The Cubans are famous for saying that they have no gold and they have little oil, their most valuable resource is their people. Perhaps the most important organisations within Cuban society, the CDRs ensure that no family is left alone and isolated. They are united within the revolution, assisting each other to achieve the best possible for their neighbourhood, their country and their revolution.

Linsay Powell


Social inclusion in Cuba

Cuban society continuously promotes unity amongst its own people, but also solidarity with other peoples, as we saw at the May Day rally in Havana which encompassed people of all ages, colour and creed. In the same way the many grassroots organisations in Cuba try to get everyone united and involved in running their own society.

In particular, over the last 18 months, the Cubans have sent out social workers, working in collaboration with the mass organisations, to every family to ensure the benefits of the revolution are equally distributed and that the voice of its people is heard. The Cubans have identified that a small portion of its population is not accessing what is available to the majority. This small percentage (1-5%) may well be disabled, unidentified in their needs or even social delinquents. The aim of the revolution is to empower every individual so that they can be responsible citizens of Cuban society, including former convicts. Unlike the British ‘justice’ system, the Cuban authorities don’t believe that stigmatising ex-convicts is a form of rehabilitation.

I wondered how much of a problem racism was within Cuba, both within organisations and generally in the streets. While walking around Havana and Guantanamo on my own I found that I received none of the peculiar looks that I often get in ‘multi-cultural’ Britain. But also, when visiting old people’s homes and the chocolate factory or when meeting with the UJC, I saw that, compared to Britain, many more of the workers in responsible positions are black.

At the passport checkpoint I deliberately walked ahead of my comrades at Gatwick to see whether it was true that non-whites are more likely to be ‘randomly’ checked. Sure enough the officers at the airport questioned me about my travels. They also questioned another comrade with an Arabic-sounding name. This charade didn’t happen in Cuba. This made me realise how set institutionalised racism is in the imperialist countries.

While this does not mean racism does not exist in Cuba, the Cubans are confident that through education and the widest possible inclusion, these problems will gradually have less bearing on society.
Mohammad Hussain


Growing up in Cuba

Over 50% of Cubans are under 30. These young Cubans have rights and responsibilities far greater than we could imagine in Britain.

Cubans begin life in the most supportive of environments. Mothers get a full year of paid leave, with the guarantee of their former job when they return and this is soon to be extended to fathers as well. For the next five years most Cuban children join their local nursery, learning co-operative ways of working and living through practices such as the collective celebration of birthdays.

From 7-14, they enter the Pioneers’ movement, taking part in recreational, social and educational courses at Pioneers’ Palaces in everything from alternative medicine to traditional music; from how to fly a plane to baking bread – with a wealth of hands-on experience. The Pioneers have their own structures, based upon principles of solidarity and co-operation. Their mass conferences are run by the children themselves, to determine the direction of their movement. This grassroots self-organisation results in bullying being entirely alien to Cuban schools. The power bestowed upon young Cubans to influence their world in a positive way makes unnecessary such destructive assertions of self. Similarly, the selfish academic competition between individuals which puts such pressure on students in Britain is not evident in Cuba. Those having more difficulties are helped by those achieving more easily. A recent development now sees secondary school students assisting younger students, and university students assisting secondary schools students. With maximum class sizes of 20 in primary schools, and 15 in secondary schools, teachers can provide much closer assistance than in Britain.

In the community the contribution of Cuban young people to society is highly valued and encouraged. By the time they reach 14 and become eligible to join the mass organisations, they are already well versed in the practices of participatory democracy and collective working, and have a strong sense of their important place in society, and of their responsibility to build and defend the Revolution.

Tom Vickers

Desde el corazon

La Brigada ‘Batalla de Ideas’ quiere agradecer sinceramente desde estas lineas el trabajo organizativo y el calor humano del Departamento de Relaciones Internacionales de la UJC y el buro politico y ideologico de la UJC en Guantanamo. De su mano hemos aprendido el poder de las organizaciones populares y de masas en Cuba, la fuerza revolucionaria de la educacion en libertad y la solidaridad verdadera con los oprimidos del mundo.
Porque vuestra inspiracion es nuestra lucha y la Revolucion no conoce fronteras, juntos compañeros cubanos hasta la victoria siempre!