Socialism is built by people and for people

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

One of the great lessons of the Cuban Revolution over the past 43 years has been that building socialism is a process, not something immutable and finished. It is a lesson completely lost on the bourgeois and sectarian mindset of a British left for whom the achievements built by and with the Cuban people are somehow never quite socialist enough. JIM CRAVEN examines the issues.

After the initial triumph of the revolution in 1959 and the affirmation of its socialist character during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the seventies and early eighties witnessed a creeping deterioration in the development of socialism in Cuba, with increasing reliance on capitalist mechanisms and, as a result, a significant drop in political consciousness and commitment. This was stemmed with the conscious launch of a socialist Rectification programme in 1986, only for Cuba to come up against the devastating economic crisis of the Special Period with the collapse of its main trading partner and socialist ally, the Soviet Union, in 1991. The bleak economic realities of the next decade meant harsh choices being made by the Cuban Communist Party – such as the legalisation of the dollar, the formation of joint enterprises with foreign capital and the increase of private enterprise and self-employment, which the communists were the first to concede had nothing to do with socialist development and everything to do with mere survival in the cold light of a new world order dominated by imperialism.

It was inevitable that economic change would bring political consequences: a lowering of revolutionary consciousness and growing inequality within the Cuban population. But over the last eighteen months, as Cuba’s economy has grown and stabilised, the Communist Party has risen to the challenge of not simply addressing those problems, but of taking the process of building socialism to a new and higher political plane. This is the Battle of Ideas, an ideological and political offensive aimed at educating, empowering and conscientising the whole population of Cuba at a level not seen since the Revolution of 1959.

For a more educated, cultured and revolutionary people
On a day to day level, objectives include increasing the number of university students by 50% in five years, raising the average educational standard to graduate level within 10 years and eradicating unemployment.

Education projects include:

• the University for All;
• reducing primary classes to 20 pupils and in junior high classes to 15;
• putting 45,000 computers into schools;
• installing 2,000 solar panels in rural schools (including one with a single pupil) to ensure every child has access to audio-visual equipment;
• building 33 new schools and 4,453 new classrooms;
• training 70,000 teachers in IT skills;
• training 4,500 new primary school teachers in two years;
• training 30,000 high school graduates over five years to teach alongside junior high school teachers while continuing their own further education;
• a new integrated, student-centred approach to junior high school education.

In the social sphere 85,000 young people who would not otherwise have pursued further education are being trained as social workers. Their role is not that of social workers under capitalism – trying to patch up a system that cannot be reformed – but to offer support and information within communities. In addition some 80,000 unemployed young people have now been given the chance for further education and training which they will be able to continue to higher levels until they obtain a suitable job. All the tens of thousands of sugar workers who lost their jobs in the recent re-organisation of the sugar industry will be offered alternative jobs and/or further education and re-training.

Something new
Cuban socialism has already made remarkable achievements, but these developments amount to something qualitatively new, with leading Cuban communists publicly criticising the achievements of Cuba to date.

On several occasions recently, leaders have talked of being ‘ashamed’ of their previous socialism. At a recent speech at the Victoria de Giron Medical Institute, Fidel reiterated the outstanding medical advances made in Cuba since 1959 but then went on to make a devastating criticism of mistakes and failures within the health service, of ‘considerable damage, which was supposedly due solely to the critical shortage of material resources... Old prejudices... combined with measures that reflected arrogance, mediocrity and incorrect management methods could have wiped out some of the best things achieved by Cuban medicine. In the midst of the battle of ideas we were waging, it became evident that we needed to deal with situations created by incorrect management styles and methods and even commercialisation vices that are unacceptable in the health care services created by the Revolution’. (Granma, 27 October, 2002)

This amounts to a declaration of a new rectification programme by a people increasingly committed to socialism and confident of tackling the problems created by concessions to capitalism over the Special Period. The Cubans are planning, as Fidel said 18 months ago, ‘A new dawn...a more accomplished socialism, a more promising and profound revolutionary work’.

Socialism at a deeper level

Three main principles guide this renewed process. First, that far more can be done even with limited resources if you have the support of the people. Earlier this year an outbreak of dengue fever was eradicated by the thousands of health workers and volunteers who cleared up stagnant pools and other potential breeding sites for the disease-carrying mosquito and by the voluntary disinfecting of homes on a mass scale. The recent school building programme was achieved only because parents and workers were totally committed. With just two months to go to the start of the new school year, repairs in 80 schools hadn’t even been started and another 344 needed completing and yet the target was still reached. The total cost of the solar panel scheme was considerably less than the annual budget of a small secondary school in Britain.

Secondly, that socialism must penetrate to the individual level. It is not good enough to have 99.9% of the population well-fed if somewhere a dozen people are under-nourished. Recently, all 2.2 million Cuban children up to the age of 16 were weighed, measured and checked precisely for symptoms of under-nourishment and potential health problems. In Cuba no-one is to be left alone without support, no-one is to be excluded from society. That is the purpose of the new social workers – to make sure every family, every individual has someone they can turn to. That is the purpose of eradicating unemployment – not to save on state benefits or force people into crap jobs – but because everyone has the right to feel a valuable member of society. Indeed, the Cubans plan to change the very concept of what employment means in a socialist society. Employment under socialism does not just mean producing surplus value or providing services, it means playing your part in the total endeavour of society, and if that means continuing to study because a ‘normal job’ is not available then you are valuably contributing to the wealth of human resources. This is not possible under capitalism, where the vast majority of people are essentially valued only as sources of labour power.

Thirdly, that building socialism demands a population educated to the highest technical, political and cultural level. Among the first courses offered by the University for All were art, music and dance. All Cuban universities must now offer humanities courses. The Higher Institute of Arts has been re-organised, seven new art schools have been opened and 4,000 new art teachers per year are being trained. Similar developments are taking place in dance and drama. Every neighbourhood now has a cultural centre where video films are shown and discussed and hundreds of thousands of old people, now way beyond the age at which they could produce surplus value, are taking degree courses in foreign languages, history and literature.

In these ways the Cuban people can defend themselves against the onslaught of imperialist cultural domination. Cuba’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, Abel Prieto, put it this way:

‘The cultural work of the Revolution is aimed at insulating our people against campaigns in the style of Goebbels, the philosopher of Germany’s Third Reich.

‘If one is going to talk of freedom, democracy and human rights Bush needs to be reminded of Cuba’s cultural efforts conceived as spiritual enrichment, so that people’s activities are expanded rather than mutilated. [In the imperialist countries] the media has created an ideological mechanism for presenting the USA and its allies as the civilised nations and the rest of the world as barbarians [through] racism; the systematic demolition of intelligence, memory and historical significance; and the promotion of fanaticism and glorification of the white Anglo-Saxon race, the American way of life and the messianic role of the United States...Fascism tends to promote messianism, [but] in Cuba we say, “Don’t believe, read!”’

Defend socialist Cuba
In Cuba they are trying to create the most cultured, educated and humane society that has ever existed, a living example that a better, socialist world is possible even in a country with limited material resources. We must be even more confident in confronting those on the left who attack
Cuba. If, as they claim, Cuba is a state capitalist, bureaucratic dictatorship, we must ask them what sort of capitalism it is that ensures no one is excluded from society, that pays workers to study as a form of employment? What sort of dictatorship provides everyone with the possibility of the highest cultural education to allow them to withstand propaganda and brainwashing? If this isn’t socialism, what does the socialism of the petty-bourgeois left amount to?