Today brings the interment of Fidel Castro’s ashes following the triumph of the urn around Cuba. Those who mourned and those who celebrated his death had one point of agreement, that Castro’s legacy is socialism.
As has been repeatedly stated in the media, Castro denied communism in the early days of the revolution. It was in the face of US hostility that he turned to the Soviet Union and publicly embraced Marxism/Leninism.
As history shows he had allied himself with losing side in the Cold War, a choice that left Cuba bankrupt and isolated by America’s insistence on maintaining the economic blockade. So, is Cuba a bastion of socialism defying its imperialist near neighbour?
From 1st January 1959 when the 26th July Movement vanquished the Batista regime and entered Havana there have been significant advances. The mafia economy based on gambling and prostitution was swept away.
Unfortunately, that removed lucrative sources of income and the aggressive opposition of the USA pushed Castro towards Moscow. In 1960, the USSR agreed to buy Cuban sugar at a high price. This was followed by interest free loans that Castro hoped would finance development.
This was merely a loss leader, as the USSR soon began imposing 2.5% interest on the loans and demanding that 80% of any aid money was spent on commodities from the Soviet Union. These were priced at between 10% and 50% more than equivalents on western markets.
There followed economic plans, mainly centred around sugar, with increased production targets that were never met. By the 1970s the plans had failed leaving a $6 billion debt to the USSR. At the same time Soviet Union support for Cuba was running at approximately $3 million a day.
Undoubtedly, the health and education systems developed in Cuba were exemplary, but both were, and remain, expensive, even more so with the demise of the USSR and its financial aid. The Cuban economy inevitably struggled.
Tourism has become a major source of income with the added benefit that Cuba is so well visited it has become very difficult for the USA to maintain the island’s pariah status. An ironic effect of tourism has been the return of prostitution, an indication of dire economic circumstances.
Cuba may continue to declare itself socialist, no doubt this will be the proclaimed legacy of Fidel. Except Cuba is not socialist, it is economically, and therefore socially, divided. Since the mid-1990s holding hard currency has been legal, placing those few Cubans who’ve acquired it in a different class to the rest.
The sources of that hard currency are dubiously obscure. But what exacerbates the situation is that most Cubans receive their rations via ration cards while the “comandantes” such as Fidel and brother Raul were not so constrained.
Foreign firms hiring Cuban labour do not pay their workers directly, paying the state instead. The workers themselves receive only a portion of those payments. This is hardly socialism, but rather the arrangements of capitalism.
It may well be the Fidel and his comrades sincerely thought they could build socialism in Cuba, there may be those who consider Cuba to be in some sort of transitory state on the way to socialism. However, the economic arrangements are purely capitalist with the state acting as a capitalist state whatever it intends or believes about itself.
China has become the new sugar-daddy without whose patronage Cuba would have become utterly bankrupt and the regime passed away long before Fidel. To insist otherwise is to deny reality, turning socialism into a faith celebrating its Messiahs while the workers remain exploited.
The progression of the relic around Cuba is over. It seems that Fidel has asked that no memorial be erected in his honour. So now is the time to realise there are no single country easy routes to socialism, nor can it be delivered by inspired leaders. It is for workers to accept responsibility for acting on their own behalf.