Fidel Castro’s death has split the mainstream media in their coverage of the revolutionary character. CNN and the BBC characterise him as a dictator. He is accused of installing a single party system in Cuba and invidiously crushing his political opposition. In Miami, Cubans are accusing Fidel of splitting their families and forcing them to live abroad. These odious descriptions of Fidel on the mainstream media only have a modicum of truth about Fidel and his revolution. What is true however, is that Fidel Castro was able to transform Cuba politically and economically, in a concrete and material way, improving the lives of generations of Cubans. Although the Cuban economy did not deliver on the fundamentals of socialist economy, namely the elimination of wage slavery, it did however become a beacon of stability and strength for all other revolutions in Latin America. Also, Fidel’s Cuba became a small, but important, glimpse into an alternative economy, a partial remedial solution to the misery that plagues global capitalism.
The moral authority, or the legitimacy of the Cuban governing body, the humanist integrity of socialism is in part actualized and demonstrated through the standard of living of the Cuban people. Anyone who boasts about having an alternative system to capitalism and a solution to capital’s perpetual misery for the working class, must prove it through the wellbeing of their citizens in a concrete and material way. The quality of institutions such as healthcare and education are some of the many important indicators of the standing and status of a human being in the Cuban society. It speaks volumes about the diminishing value of a human being in a capitalist economy when inordinate amount of resources are spent to build weapons for foreign and domestic conquest rather than ensuring basic housing and social care for its citizens. In this way, the achievements of Cuban people under the Cuban planned economy can be a small glimpse of truly unbridled human potential in a world without private capital.
Cuba’s education system
Cuba has the highest investment in education worldwide (13% of the economy). Cuba currently has 99.8% literacy rate (56% before Castro’s revolution), and is currently ranked 9th in the world, according to UNESCO. The student to teacher ratio in Cuba stands at 12-1, which is half of Latin America ratio. Youth illiteracy rate in Cuba stands nearly at 0%. The World Bank has ranked the fully subsidized education system of Cuba as the best in Latin America, with a high level of teaching faculty, with 47 universities and 400,000 enrolments. Cuba provides more medical professionals to the “developing” world than the G8 countries put together (over 50,000 doctors and nurses in 60 “developing” countries).
Cuba’s medical internationalism
The Cuban revolution, despite the crippling U.S. economic embargo, has the highest doctor to patient ratio in the world with more than 80,000 medical doctors. Cuba has sent emergency support teams to countries that have been affected by earthquakes including Chile, Pakistan (Kashmir), Haiti, Nicaragua and Iran. Medical support was also sent to countries affected by hurricanes such as Honduras, Haiti and Guatemala. At home, Cuba provides long-term support for victims of Chernobyl. Cuban doctors are also credited with supporting the Ebola outbreak, sending a large number of doctors to Africa in 2014.
Cuba’s international involvement in conflict
Under Castro, Cuba was able to provide large scale military support for the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), against combined forces of South Africa, CIA financed Angolan fighters, mercenaries, UNITA (National Union for the Total independence of Angola), and FALA (Armed forces for the Liberation of Angola). Cuba also supported the fight against apartheid in South Africa which Mandela labelled as “defeating the invincibility of the White Oppressor and aggressive apartheid forces (in Angola)”.
The planned economy and the one party system
There are distinct differences and important similarities between the current neoliberal economy in the US and the planned economy of Cuba. The main difference remains as the freedom of capital to circulate. The Cuban economy has restricted the process of capital by the state ownership of the means of production. This simply means that there isn’t as many independent capitalists to bring together raw materials, labour and an organizational form to produce commodities in order for the capitalist to sell for profit. In Cuba, the state owns the means of production, such as the sugarcane and zinc industries, and the workers produce commodities that are sold by the state for profit. The difference between the two are also how the surplus is consumed. Private capital and State capital will both consume some of the surplus in order to maintain the process of production. However, the excess surplus (after the costs of reproduction are removed) is used to by state capital to support the needs of the greater society (for example to pay for education and healthcare in Cuba) where as private capital does not have this social responsibility (only whatever is deducted through state taxation).
As an organization form, the planned economy functions to organize the resources in society to support the needs of the people in society. These needs are satisfied through the allocation of state resources in the form of use-values such as healthcare, subsidized education and food subsidies. “Free” market economies use the market place as an access point for workers to satisfy their basic needs. Workers can only satisfy their needs by using the exchange-value system i.e. they trade their work for money and that money is exchanged for use-values such as food, housing and education. However, the similarity between the planned economy, such as that of Cuba, and the “free” market neoliberal economy, such as that of the U.S., is that wage slavery exists in both. Although the labour of worker in Cuba is by far less exploited than the workers in the U.S, they nevertheless still do not function within a system of pure use-values. Money capital is still circulated as an exchange form, and recently the U.S dollar is now accepted as a form of currency as well. Although a large majority of use-values of the Cuban workers are guaranteed by the state, the revolution did not detach itself from the most fundamental central contradiction in capital, that of money (as a store of social wealth) and wage slavery. This shortcoming is an important reason why, as I will explain, that Cuban economy is vulnerable to a complete U-turn back to a “free” market economy.
Money has many important characteristics, such as being the medium of exchange. It can also represent something non-material, i.e. social labour. Further, money can do something else - it can store social labour, and it can be accumulated. In this way, money that is accumulated can create and maintain social power! In Cuba, the revolution did not eliminate wage slavery, and with this it did not remove or attempt to remove money capital. The Cuban economy did not give workers direct access to use-values in society, instead it mediated human needs through the exchange of money for work (via the process of production), followed by the exchange of the money procured from work for human needs, through state controlled markets (with state controlled prices). With increasing corruption at the state level, money capital, with the power of being accumulated, gave central officials within the Cuban revolutionary party immense power and influence. This is partly why, if and when the day the political party of Cuba implodes, it will be easy for the corrupt higher ranking party members to simply switch hats and become large asset owning capitalists overnight. If true economic power was procured by the working class in the Cuban revolution and all contradictions of capital, especially central contradictions such as wage slavery and money capital, were solved, then millions of Cuban people would never be exchanging one controller of resources for another, but would be fighting to protect their economic emancipation.
The case for worker-communism
The above arguments for the unresolved contradiction in capital within the Cuban revolution, and the inexorable trek back to the “free” market, culminates in to an argument for worker-communism. The only way capital, both as a thing and as a process (the circulation of capital), can survive, is through wage slavery. The idea that Castro’s revolution was an “incomplete revolution”, for not fulfilling its promise of true emancipation of the working class from wage slavery falls into realm of speculation at best. However, a working class party that puts in its forefront the aim of eliminating capital by removing all traces of wage slavery, can have the potential to be truly emancipatory. This must be the premise and promise of all future revolutions. Today, if a revolution in any country labels itself as “socialist”, and only promises and delivers a high standard of living (such as through universal healthcare and education), it will be reactionary in comparison to what the working class is demanding now. Today, the working class demand a world without capital, and for worker-communism. Any society that doesn’t resolve the fundamental and central contradictions of capital, especially at the point of production, will be doomed to a gruelling inexorable trek back to the neoliberal capitalism order. Fidel Castro wore his revolutionary green uniform at every moment of his life. This is a small metaphor representing the constant defence of a failed revolution. This continued state defence will be superfluous when the working-class, the creative group of society, is truly emancipated and empowered to take charge of its own faith.