Malcolm X: revolutionary voice for our epoch / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

Malcolm X, Black liberation and the road to workers’ power Jack Barnes, Pathfinder Press 2009, £15

This book, by the leader of the US Socialist Workers Party, is a timely analysis of the contribution by Malcolm X to the black liberation struggle in the United States.

Barnes takes us from Malcolm’s early years, including attacks on the family home and eventually the murder of his father by white racists, through his attempts to make a living in Boston from petty crime, to his conversion in prison to the Nation of Islam. From mid-1953 he was a full-time organiser for the Nation and became its most prominent public face, even more so than its leader Elijah Muhammad, who maintained absolute power within the organisation.

Conflict was inevitable as Malcolm came up against the bourgeois limits of the organisation’s programme. ‘The Nation leadership sought to carve out a place for itself within the US capitalist system. Malcolm, to the contrary, was being politically drawn more and more toward the rising struggles for black freedom in the United States and revolutionary battles by the oppressed and exploited the world over’ (p78). In 1960, when Fidel Castro first came to address the UN General Assembly and discovered that Manhattan hotels were refusing to accommodate the Cuban delegation, it was Malcolm who arranged for them to stay at Hotel Theresa in Harlem (p109). Malcolm noted that Castro had come out against lynchings in the US, and was promoting equality for black Cubans. So important was that alliance to the Cubans that on 19 September this year, 50 years after Castro first came to Harlem, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez participated in a commemoration event just yards from where Hotel Theresa used to stand and told the crowd that support from Malcolm and other black leaders in 1960 had ‘forged a lasting bond between Cuban revolutionaries and the African-American progressive people’.

Over time, Malcolm’s disillusionment with Elijah Muhammad’s leadership grew as he struggled to get the Nation to take an active role in the civil rights struggles. But ‘the organisation wouldn’t do that because the stand it would have to take would have been too militant, uncompromising and activist, and the hierarchy had gotten conservative’ (Young Socialist interview, January 1965; Barnes, p46). To make matters worse, Malcolm learned – from Elijah Muhammad himself – that the Nation’s leader was sexually abusing women members. Finally, in November 1963, Elijah Muhammad publicly silenced Malcolm for remarking, after the assassination of John F Kennedy, that ‘the chickens have come home to roost’.

In March 1964, Malcolm announced his break with The Nation and the formation of the Muslim Mosque Inc, which would take a more active role in the civil rights struggle. But he quickly realised that a strictly religious organisation could not lead the mass actions for which it had been formed, and established another, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).

Over the next few months Malcolm embarked on a tour of recently-independent African countries. He had for years been strongly anti-imperialist; now he was also overtly anti-capitalist and pro-socialist, inspired by the examples set by the Cuban revolution and the Algerian government of Ahmed Ben Bela. Previously, as Malcolm told Jack Barnes and Barry Sheppard in the Young Socialist interview, he had considered himself a black nationalist, this being ‘the idea that the black man should control the economy of his community, the politics of his community and so forth’ (p47). Not any longer. ‘If you notice, I haven’t been using the expression for several months’ (p48). Malcolm’s bottom line was simple: whatever his colour, the Algerian Ahmed Ben Bela, like Castro and Che Guevara, was among the true revolutionaries, dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation ‘by any means necessary’ (p47). When asked his opinion of the worldwide struggle between capitalism and socialism, he replied that capitalism was ‘like a vulture…it’s only a matter of time, in my opinion, before it will collapse completely’ (p56).

There is much to support Barnes’ contention that ‘if Malcolm is to be compared with any international figure, the most striking parallel is with Fidel Castro’ (p41). Barnes believes that Malcolm was converging with communism (definitely), specifically with the SWP. I am less convinced of that, although Malcolm maintained good relations with the SWP over his last year, praising its newspaper, The Militant, as ‘one of the best anywhere you go today’ (p34).

But the theory that there was any convergence between Malcolm X and the leadership of the civil rights movement, especially with Martin Luther King, is demolished here. For example, in June 1964, Malcolm sent King a telegram on behalf of the OAAU saying that if the government wouldn’t defend activists who had been beaten by the Klan and arrested for organising civil rights protests, ‘just say the word and we will immediately dispatch some of our brothers there to organise self-defence units’ (p126) – an offer King rejected as a ‘grave error’ and ‘an immoral approach’.

On 15 February 1965, he revealed for the first time why the Nation of Islam had stopped attacking the Klan. As far back as 1960, the Nation’s leadership had been negotiating with the Klan on Elijah Muhammad’s instructions – talks that Malcolm had taken part in, something he was now ashamed of.

By now, Malcolm was receiving constant death threats and on 21 February 1965, he was gunned down as he stood up to address an OAAU rally in New York in an assassination Barnes concludes could equally have been organised by the cops, elements within the Nation – or both (pp147-50).

I would have appreciated more analysis of the Black Panthers, an avowedly Marxist-Leninist organisation which put into action Malcolm’s slogan of black self-defence. But overall this is an excellent introduction to the place of Malcolm X in the struggle for black liberation as part of the socialist revolution in the key citadel of world imperialism – a struggle that has lost nothing in urgency through the installation of a black front man for the capitalist rulers in the White House.

Mike Webber

Revolutionary Cuba: saving lives across the globe / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

cuban_medical_internationalism_origins_evolution_and_goals Cuban medical internationalism, origins, evolution and goals

John M Kirk and H Michael Erisman, Palgrave Macmillan 2009, £57

‘The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth . . . Far more important than good remuneration is the pride of serving one’s neighbour.’

(Che Guevara, 1960, On Revolutionary Medicine)

The phenomenal achievements of Cuba’s health system are recognised throughout the world, even by critics of the socialist island. What is perhaps less discussed is the impact of Cuba’s health interventions throughout the underdeveloped world. With a population of just 11.3 million, Cuba punches above its weight in the international health arena: it has 40,000 medical staff engaged abroad and the largest international medical school in the world; since 2004, 1.5 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have had their eyesight restored for free by Cuba. As Wayne Smith, director of the Cuba Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington put it: ‘Cuba is credited with saving more lives in the developing countries than all the G8 countries together. How has it done this?’ It is both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ that Erisman and Kirk have set out to explore here, bringing together four years of research to begin to provide the answers.

This book brings together data covering the 50 years since the 1959 Revolution to show the extent to which Cuba’s health programmes have resulted in ‘better life and indeed life itself for dispossessed people all over the world’.

Cuba’s health initiatives, they show, outstrip the contribution of the World Health Organisation and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Cuba’s medical teams are working in 80 countries, caring for approximately 70 million people.

Cuba sent its first international health brigade to Algeria in 1963. Since then, over 124,000 health professionals have worked in 103 countries. As well as Comprehensive Medical Programmes set up at the request of the home country, Cuba continues to send emergency brigades, for example to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to Haiti after Hurricane George in the same year, despite aid groups saying it was too dangerous.

Haiti is a good example of the impact of Cuban medical intervention. By 2004, Cubans were providing health care to 75% of its 8.3 million people, contributing to a fall in infant mortality from 80 per 1,000 live births to 28; 247 students were studying at a medical school founded by the Cubans. By 2005, 600 Haitian students were studying medicine in Cuba, and the first group of Cuban-trained Haitian doctors had returned to work in Haiti. The president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, told US president George Bush in 2007 that ‘if Cuba were to withdraw their doctors from Haiti, their health system would collapse’. Since the book’s publication we have of course witnessed the vital role played by Cuban doctors in Haiti in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in January 2010.

The authors detail the many countries, from Gambia to East Timor, where Cuban health professionals have worked and continue to work, underpinned by many useful tables. But they also examine the rationale for Cuba’s approach, and compare it with what they call the ‘First World’. In the first place, the aid they offer actually arrives, unlike most of the developed countries, which are quick to promise much and slow to deliver anything.

Cuba’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM) provides free education to international students from poor countries, who then return home to practise. Cuba also trains medical staff in the countries where it operates. For example, by 2007, there were 20,000 Venezuelan medical students being trained by Cubans in Venezuela and 2,400 Venezuelan medical students in Cuba. Over the next decade, Cuba and Venezuela intend to train 200,000 doctors. Cuba is contributing to the ‘brain gain’ rather than the brain drain through which developed countries poach doctors trained in oppressed nations.

Kirk and Erisman contrast the overall ethos that underpins Cuba’s attitude with that of, specifically, the United States. While recognising that Cuba’s efforts have ‘brought tremendous diplomatic benefits for the island’, they stress that ‘Cuban medical internationalism is not used solely to score political points abroad’ (p181, authors’ emphasis) and dismiss accusations that Cuba’s approach is selfish or cynically motivated by a wish to promote its pharmaceutical products abroad. They cite instead, the Cuban Constitution’s commitment to ‘proletarian internationalism…cooperation and solidarity with the peoples of this world, especially those of Latin America and the Caribbean’ (p182). Their book, they say, illustrates the application of that ideological framework. By contrast, they mention a 2005 US medical diplomacy effort in Panama which had one simple objective: ‘Challenging the socialist campaigns of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and winning over people’. ‘“Too little, too late”’ would appear a fitting commentary on the US approach to gaining regional support through medical aid’, they conclude. They condemn, too, the US’s ‘Cuban Medical Professional Parole’ programme, which seeks to persuade health professionals on international missions to defect to the US. However, only some 500 have ever taken up the offer.

Cuba’s ethos of providing help is detailed: training people to do it for themselves, supported by a literacy campaign; involving the community; what they call the Cuban model of ‘doing more with less’. ‘The secret lies in the development of a totally new form of revolutionary physician, ably described by [former] Cuban vice president Carlos Lage (himself a paediatric cardiologist), “A revolutionary physician is a person for whom a sick person is not a client, but a patient…The objective of a revolutionary physician is not to earn money but to save lives”.’

The authors are of course writing as academics rather than Marxists, and fall down a little when trying to label Cuba’s approach to international health. They categorise it as an example of ‘soft power’, popularised by Joseph Nye – the idea that rather than using carrots and sticks to exert power, a country can use the ‘attraction’ of its culture, geography or ideas to influence others. But readers of FRFI can recognise socialism when we see it, and what Kirk and Erisman have produced, overall, is a excellent handbook on the nature of a socialist and revolutionary approach to medical internationalism – get your library to order it now.

Hannah Caller and Cat Wiener

The limits to opportunism / FRFI 216 Aug/Sep 2010

FRFI 216 August/September 2010

The limits to opportunism

Kautskyism past and present, Alec Abbott

Kautskyism past and present is a three-volume study of the nature, origins, growth and spread of Kautskyism. Volume 2 will be posted on the internet towards the end of summer 2010, and Volume 3 in 2011. The following review focuses on Volume 1, ‘Modern-day Kautskyism’.[1]

Abbott begins with a brief account of Kautsky’s 1914 standpoint, his prediction that the world’s finance capitalists will resolve their differences by uniting in a gigantic, all-embracing trust. Abbott then turns his attention to current debates by examining the standpoints of Antonio Negri, a prominent anarchist in the anti-capitalist movement, and Alex Callinicos, the SWP’s leading theoretician. Whereas Negri and his followers maintain that capitalism has evolved along the lines indicated by Kautsky, the SWP insists that a single world trust is a fallacy. Capital, as Callinicos never tires of telling us, can only exist as many capitals.

And so Abbott goes on, for some ten pages, leaving readers wondering what the connection is between Kautsky’s theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ and the SWP’s ‘many capitals’ argument. Does Abbott reject the SWP’s criticism of Kautskyism, or does he simply look upon it as inadequate? It is at this point that Abbott makes an important contribution to our understanding of Kautskyism. Kautsky, he informs us, held to a number of theories of ‘ultra-imperialism’, including the ‘single world trust’ and ‘many capitals’ variants. This may well come as a surprise to many readers.

By now readers are back on track, eager to learn more of Kautsky’s different theories of ‘ultra-imperialism’. Abbott takes us through them briefly, providing us with enough information to arrive at an important conclusion, which is this: by associating Kautsky exclusively with the ‘single world trust’ idea, the SWP is able to smuggle in its own brand of Kautskyism on a seemingly anti-Kautskyite platform. Though supposedly critical of Kautskyism, the SWP leaders are actually the purveyors of Kautsky’s pre-war theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’.

From this point on, the Negriites and SWP opportunists are as putty in Abbott’s hands. He demonstrates how each set of opportunists adopts the other’s standpoint whenever the need arises. Thus Callinicos, the man who prattles on about competition among ‘many capitals’, asserts that Cuban socialism is not viable because it faces a unified and indivisible global bourgeoisie. Similarly, Negri, in a desperate attempt to obliterate the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations, maintains that international capitalism is an essentially competitive system, one that has eliminated nationally differentiated profit rates.

In the second chapter, Abbott gives an account of yet another variant of the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’, that of ‘hegemonic ultra-imperialism’. I would urge readers to pay close attention to this chapter, as it reveals the fundamentally social-chauvinist content of the writings of such erudite luminaries as Perry Anderson, Leo Panitch and Robert Brenner. These opportunists view the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq as an expression of capitalism’s historically progressive character. Abbott scathingly dubs them ‘hegemonists’.

All too often, socialists hurl epithets at one another, using labels as a substitute for analysis. But there is nothing crude or simplistic about Chapter 2. With analytical precision, Abbott reveals the connection between the hegemonists’ theory of imperialism and their social-chauvinist practice. When the hegemonists declare that the US acts, not in its own, predatory interests, but in the interests of capital in general, they give strength and succour to the American neo-conservatives. Yet these are the ‘Marxists’, the ever so nuanced and refined ‘Marxists’, who condescendingly dismiss the RCG as Stalinists. The RCG, of course, is not a Stalinist organisation.

In Chapter 3, Abbott drops another of his ideological bombshells. The proponents of the theory of ‘hegemonic ultra-imperialism’ pride themselves on their critical prowess, going so far as to chide Kautsky for not recognising that a ‘hegemonic’ power like the US can fulfil the same function globally as states fulfil domestically. Unmasking their pseudo-critical posturing, Abbott explains that the theory of ‘hegemonic ultra-imperialism’ was devised by JA Hobson as long ago as 1911. No less importantly, he shows that Hobson’s 1911 theory was adopted by Kautsky, who continually shifted his allegiance from one ‘hegemon’ to another, as the circumstances required. Abbott predicts that our modern-day opportunists will undergo similar shifts.

In Chapters 4 and 5, Abbott swings his analytical scythe in the direction of the SWP once more. He does so in order to bring into the open the affinity between the SWP opportunists and the hegemonists. This is no mean feat, since the SWP opportunists dabble in the language of Leninism, so detested by the hegemonists. First Abbott shows that the SWP’s core theories – notably those of ‘state capitalism’ and ‘the permanent arms economy’ – are founded on shifting sands, utterly devoid of consistency and coherence. Then he demonstrates, step by step, how the SWP has adapted its standpoint to accommodate the hegemonists’ anti-Leninist sensibilities.

By the end of Chapter 5, readers will have little difficulty grasping what the above opportunists have in common. Without exception, they believe a) that capitalism has yet to exhaust its progressive potential, b) that parasitism is no longer a feature of imperialism, and c) that the US has, in the words of Callinicos, ‘creatively knitted together’ the world’s many capitals. The following editorial comment by the SWP sums up the opportunists’ outlook: ‘though a “supremely good theory in its day”, [Lenin’s] analysis is no longer tenable... [T]he politically enforced transfer of wealth from a dependency to an “imperialist” power... is no longer central to the survival of capitalism, nor is the export of capital from advanced to backward countries.’[2]

It is certainly true that colonialism is now the exception rather than the rule; but so too is it true that ‘usury imperialism’ has supplanted ‘colonial imperialism’ as the dominant form of super-exploitation. Since both the hegemonists and SWP opportunists deny the prevalence of parasitism, they have nothing worthwhile to say about imperialism in general or British imperialism in particular.

In Chapter 6, Abbott explains how Britain underwent the transformation from ‘colonial imperialism’ to ‘usury imperialism’, a transformation that has profoundly affected all aspects of British life. He further argues that, this side of socialism, British ‘usury imperialism’ is as irreversible as it is unsustainable. In the near future, as Europe and the US square up for a war over the redistribution of the global loot, Britain’s financial oligarchy will be faced by a thorny choice, that of integrating itself into Europe or becoming a financial-military outpost of the US.

Chapter 6, with its stark predications about the future of British imperialism, is likely to be highly controversial. Yet whatever socialists conclude about Britain’s standing in the world, the reality of British ‘usury imperialism’ must never be denied. By incorporating the Leninist concept of different imperialist types into his analysis, Abbott has made an important contribution to our understanding of the evolution of British imperialism. Ever since its inception in the 1970s, the RCG has been virtually alone in this country in bringing to light the parasitism in which British imperialism is necessarily steeped.

Finally, in Chapter 7, Abbott tackles David Harvey, one of the few opportunists to acknowledge the existence of parasitism. According to Harvey, Marx’s ‘falling rate of profit argument’ is a convincing one, since it explains the tendency towards the ‘overaccumulation of capital’. His ‘Marxist’ credentials thus established, Harvey goes on to argue that profit rates may fall for a variety of reasons, including a rise in the organic composition of capital, working class combativity (which ‘squeezes’ profits) and declining living standards.

Having reduced Marx’s crisis theory to a medley of disjointed assertions, Harvey turns his attention to imperialism. He uses fiery expressions such as ‘predation’, ‘fraud’ and ‘thievery’ to describe the financiers’ conduct, but then hastens to cleanse his work of any radical content. He does this in the classical Kautskyite manner, by drawing a false dichotomy between ‘vulture capital’ and ‘productive capital’. The former, he insists, though ‘dialectically’ related to the latter, is not a necessary feature of imperialism. On the basis of an ongoing alliance with capitalism’s progressive supporters (including the likes of George Soros, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz), the workers will be able to clear the way for ‘a far less violent and far more benevolent imperial trajectory than the raw militaristic imperialism currently offered up by the new-conservative movement in the United States’ (quoted in Abbott, p233).

As always when unmasking the modern-day opportunists, Abbott delves deeply into the past, this time drawing our attention to the writings of William Clarke, an early Fabian. Like Harvey, Clarke railed against the nasty financiers who, he claimed, were recklessly imperilling the real economy through their self-seeking, profiteering activities. The only difference between Clarke and Harvey is that the latter sweetens his reformism with Marxist phrases.

Since Abbott wrote his work, Harvey has continued to proffer a heady brew of eclectic formulations. In his latest offering, The Enigma of Capital, he reiterates that the limits to capital are many and varied. Heading his list are capital scarcities, labour problems, mismanagement, disproportionalities, natural limits, indiscipline in the labour process and lack of effective demand.[3] There is method in Harvey’s eclecticism. In the 1970s, when the workers’ were fighting to preserve their living standards, he advanced the reactionary ‘profit squeeze’ argument. Later, following the neo-liberals’ triumph, he opted for a milder version of opportunism, attributing declining profits to the workers’ underconsumption. The instant the workers begin to recover lost ground, we can expect Harvey to switch theories again (in a ‘dialectical’ manner, of course).

In marked contrast to many opportunists, Harvey holds to the view that economic recessions are not only inevitable in the capitalist system but also ‘necessary to the evolution of capitalism’.[4] Actually, there is nothing particularly radical about such a perspective. Even avowed Thatcherites acknowledge the crisis prone nature of capitalism. Thus Ian Grigg-Spall, writing of the current global crisis, stated: ‘A crisis in capitalism serves an essential purpose. It wipes out the least healthy companies allowing the most healthy to thrive.’ (The Guardian, 24 November 2008)

Marx’s Capital is more than just an explanation of the necessity of booms and slumps. As Abbott reminds us, Marx’s great work is an analysis of ‘the origin, existence, development, and death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher organism’ (Abbott, p256). The immanent laws of accumulation and the recessions they repeatedly engender necessarily gave rise to imperialism, the epoch of dying capitalism. This is something that neither the crude Thatcherites nor the refined ‘Marxists’ will ever acknowledge. Like all opportunists, Harvey denies that imperialism is the highest and final stage of capitalism.

Few books have dissected Anglo-American opportunism as systematically and thoroughly as Abbott’s has. He not only demonstrates the many different ways in which an adherence to Kautskyism leads to the undermining of proletarian and anti-imperialist struggles, but also penetrates to the core of opportunist ‘theories’, revealing what the parallels and non-parallels between them are. In the coming years, as crises deepen and revolutionary struggles intensify, opportunists are likely to shift their allegiance from one brand of opportunism to another, in an attempt to maintain a semblance of ideological coherence. With the aid of Abbott’s work, reviewers will be able to swat the opportunist flies as they flit from one rotten ‘theory’ to another.

Peter Howell

1 Volume 1 was completed in July 2007 and posted on the internet in May 2010.

2 Introduction to the second edition of Michael Kidron’s ‘Imperialism: Highest Stage but One’, International Socialism, No 61, 1973, p1.

3 The Enigma of Capital, David Harvey, Profile Books, 2010, p117.

4 ibid.

Strangeways protest dramatised / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

Crying in the Chapel by Stafford, Clarke and Coghill, produced by Fink On Theatre company at the Contact Theatre, Manchester 26 April-9 May 2010

On 1 April 1990, when over one thousand men in Strangeways Prison in Manchester decided that they had suffered enough mental and physical brutality at the hands of the prison system, it is unlikely that any of the prisoners involved would have predicted that their actions would still be of such great interest, intrigue and inspiration 20 years later. Although probably unexpected, it is not at all surprising that Crying in the Chapel received standing ovations from audiences and was sold out by its second week. This story of an uprising that started within an institution designed to represent complete control over the working classes shows concretely what can be achieved.

Crying in the Chapel tells the story of the Strangeways revolt of 1990 from the perspective of the prisoners involved and the ex-sufferers of the abusive penal system.  Refreshing in its accuracy and attitude, the play captures the spirit of the prisoners with compassion and honesty. Instead of simply presenting the revolt as an abstract occurrence of anger and violence, Crying in the Chapel manages to give a concrete insight into the conditions suffered by Strangeways inmates who went on to cause the uprising.

The Strangeways that is described by most ex-prisoners was a jail of overcrowding and severe brutality. 1,647 men in a prison built for a maximum of 970, constant beatings, the liquid cosh (a drug used to sedate inmates who weren’t easily ‘controllable’), 23 hours in a cell and the list goes on. A ‘screws nick’ where even the governors had no control, with everyone that worked within the prison colluding with this system of abuse. For those aware of the conditions it was less a shock to see the prisoners protesting on the roof and more of a shock that it had taken so long.

The script for Crying in the Chapel was partly devised by actors at workshops preceding the original performances of the play in 2000 and partly based on the Larkin Publications book Strangeways 1990: a serious disturbance by Nicki Jameson and Eric Allison. The recent production differs from the original by putting an actor portraying Eric Allison on stage as a narrator of the events that unfold. He ends the performance by describing today’s prison system, where although conditions have improved as a result of the 1990 protests, overcrowding and mistreatment of people with mental health problems continue to be rife, and warns that it is only a matter of time before protests on the scale of Strangeways shake the system once again.

Rebecca Rensten

Sons of Cuba / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

sons of cuba poster

Sons of Cuba - Fighters for socialism

Sons of Cuba, film directed by Andrew Lang, released March 2010. For details of screenings go to:

Cuba has won 62 Olympic Medals in boxing in the last 40 years. British director Andrew Lang was inspired to make this film about young Cuban boxers after reading double Olympic winner Mario Kindelan’s explanation of their success: ‘Cubans are fighters in all walks of life. Ours is a small country, but we live to fight’.

The US-imposed blockade, the millions of dollars spent yearly on attempts to sabotage the Revolution, and the ever-present military threat, have indeed turned the Cuban people into fighters. Sons of Cuba focuses on three young boxers training for the Under-12s National Championships at the Havana Boxing Academy. The academy is a boarding school for gifted young boxers, who combine school work with training. It is a significant achievement that a poor country, suffering immensely from the blockade, can offer all its young people equal access to sport and culture.

In Cuba, personal ambition combines with that of the whole nation. The film observes the boys attend a May Day Parade, watch a televised address by Fidel Castro after he is taken ill during filming in 2006, and talk about their feelings about the national situation. It is heart-warming that young people have such a strong awareness of the importance of the whole nation working towards a common goal. The boys express surprising maturity by considering the feelings of their opponents, and shedding tears for team mates who do not qualify for the National Championships. This solidarity, encouraged by enthusiastic coach Yosvani Bonachea, shows the consciousness fostered by growing up in a socialist society. Reassuringly, the ill-health of Fidel Castro, the ‘Champion of Champions’, is met with sadness and concern, but not the kind of alarm, or expectation of change, that the right-wing media would have you imagine. The training goes on, life goes on, socialism continues to be constructed.

Training is demanding. The boys rise early to practise before school. They are motivated by the dream of becoming international champions and bringing honour to their small island. In a world dominated by economic, military and cultural hegemonies, amateur sporting victories can inspire the entire nation. An ex-champion lives in the same way as the rest of the population, a fact much derided in the western media – yet this only makes the astronomical salaries of European football stars seem more outrageous. A few individuals may be tempted by the fortunes offered to them as professionals in the US, but the majority decline these bribes in favour of inspiring the next generation of champions in the country of fighters they are so proud of.

Saija Lukkaroinen

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