No workers’ paradise

Cuba's not my idea of socialism, says Dave Osler in his retort to Diana Raby

July 11, 2008
4 min read

Seen some of the news stories coming out of Havana lately, Diana? Here’s a taster: Carlos Mateu, vice-minister of labour and social security, has announced a radical shake-up of the pay structure in the public sector, which comprises 90 per cent of the Cuban economy.

‘Egalitarianism is not convenient,’ announces one government newspaper – not that there are any other kinds of newspaper in Cuba, of course. So while workers are to be eligible for a bonus of up to 5 per cent on their meagre £10-a-month salaries, managers are set for pay rises of 30 per cent.

Meanwhile, many analysts – including some of those on the spot – are predicting moves towards the reintroduction of capitalism in the contemporary Chinese or Vietnamese variant of authoritarian Market-Leninism. You insist this isn’t happening; we shall see.

I guess that, at bottom, the point of my objections to your starry-eyed support for Cuba is that I am not convinced that the government is pursuing a socialist project. As the genuine left used to point out to Communist Party fellow travellers after the rise of the Berlin Wall, a country cannot be a workers’ paradise if so many workers are prepared to risk their lives to get the hell out.

Of course the affluence of Miami accounts for a lot. But it is not the main reason for discontent on Havana’s streets, as you will know if you talk to many ordinary Cubans. The desire for greater political freedom is very real.

I don’t know whether or not you consider yourself a Marxist, Diana. But as the Cuban leadership applies that designation to itself, let’s consider Cuba from the standpoint of the Marxist theory of the state.

For a start, the working class played no central role in the 1959 revolution. That was entirely by design; it was not accorded any significant part in the plans of the 12 members of the 26 July Movement who survived the Granma landing, who did not at that point consider the revolution socialist in conception.

At no subsequent point did workers and peasants gain control over Cuba’s economy or society. A small strata – and yes, I would call them a ruling class – exercises this instead. It is this elite that directs the nationalised industries and runs the collective farms.

If Cuba has not degenerated into a family business, how come it is in the gift of a sickly Fidel simply to announce that kid brother is taking over?

Nor is the Cuban state in any sense withering away, as the continued influence of the armed forces underlines. Far from being some sort of souped-up revolutionary militia, as you seem to believe, the Cuban military – which was quick to move onto the streets when Fidel announced he was standing down – remains a body of armed men that in the last resort guarantees the rule of the elite over the subordinate classes. That’s not my idea of socialism.

‘Poder popular’ is anything but people’s power. It represents essentially a devolution to the local level of the detailed implementation of government plans and strategies. It is a top-down exercise, a transmission belt for a ruling party, in which all candidates for local office come pre-approved by that ruling party. The ‘limitations’ Diana cites are actually the entire point of the system.

None of this is to apologise for the neoliberalism of the British state. But let’s not put scare quotes around ‘democracy’ in reference to the UK, either. As a university lecturer, Ms Raby tables her criticisms of the political system from the safety of a reasonably well-paid public sector job. In Cuba, this would put her behind bars.

And while I would allow that Chavez deserves a certain degree of credit for his brand of populist petro-social democracy, the model is simply not transferable to countries that lack Venezuela’s oil endowment, with or without Cuban inspiration.

But to speak of some sort of new radical axis in Latin America is to miss the point. Apologetics on behalf of illusory workers’ fatherlands should not inform the British left’s current thinking. The tasks we face are rather closer to home.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill