by Danny Haiphong
With the Left in the U.S. in such obvious disarray, it is more critical than ever to examine the experience of the Cuban revolution. “It was power in the hands of the working class and oppressed that gave Cuba the ability to assist national liberation struggles in Angola, Mozambique, and Namibia against South African apartheid.” In the U.S., however, much of the Left is completely obsessed with Donald Trump, which “ultimately distracts the movement from the need to organize a struggle against the entire state apparatus.”
Cuba and Our Common Future
by Danny Haiphong
“Trump and his cabinet have already bred significant opposition from both the establishment and the masses, but only ideological clarity can prevent opposition from getting behind figures like Corey Booker.”
These remarks were delivered by the author in the closing panel of Fidel: The Cuban Revolution and Our Common future, a conference held at the historic Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia on January 21st. For more information about the conference, visit http://www.fidelinrevolution.org/about-us.html
Hello everyone, my name is Danny Haiphong and it is an honor and a privilege to be here. I want to begin with a short narrative about who I am. I come from a working class background of so-called "mixed race" descent, my mother being Vietnamese on her side and my father Irish and German on his. There was never a day growing up where economic hardship and racism didn't shape my experience. I eventually attended a small liberal arts college. The student population was flooded with Wall Street-to-be technocrats who forever changed my worldview. Since 2010, I have been involved in a number of anti-war and socialist activities searching for the correct ideology and path to carry out the struggle to replace a system that trains the rich in elite universities and condemns the poor to lives of misery. By the end of my college experience, to paraphrase George Jackson, I was redeemed by the likes of Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and, of course, Fidel Castro. Black Agenda Report was a large component of this process and I began regularly contributing a little over three years ago. I was invited here to discuss my assessment of the current crisis of US imperialism and what we can learn from Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in the process. The question is -- how should we proceed from the particular conditions that we find ourselves in?
“Our constant struggle, it seems, is to ensure that action is guided by diligent study of theory and history, and theory and history is tested and verified in practice.”
My experience in social movements in the US has taught me that this question cannot be answered without a solid theoretical analysis of the current period. I have been involved in many activist efforts that primarily focused on "doing something" about important campaigns and problems. I have also participated in many efforts that studied theory but did not apply it to practice. Our constant struggle, it seems, is to ensure that action is guided by diligent study of theory and history, and theory and history is tested and verified in practice. However, the contradiction between theory and practice, just like all contradictions, is not a static phenomenon. One aspect of the contradiction is more developed, and the other in a state of decay. When we are first born, the contradiction between life and death usually favors life. But no matter the circumstances, death eventually becomes the principle contradiction. The cause of death possesses an antagonistic relationship to life itself. Sometimes the cause occurs at birth, other times it occurs late in life. Regardless, the contradiction reaches completion and quantitative change become qualitative.
The same could be said about political economy. Political economies undergo similar processes of transformation, whether we are talking about the transformation from feudalism to capitalism in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries or from neo-colonialism to socialism as in Cuba. The US is no different in this regard. At this moment, US imperialism is on life support, but few who proclaim to be in "the movement" have said much about it. The crisis of US imperialism is understudied and under analyzed. Thus the actions taken against the ills of the crisis have made little impact on the lives of working class and oppressed people.
“The crisis of US imperialism is understudied and under analyzed.”
What do I mean by crisis? There are many aspects to the crisis. It begins at the economic base, where every new attempt at capitalist expansion brings more joblessness and a further decline in the rate of profit. The rising costs of technology, the instability of finance capital, and the misery of working people have brought about endless economic stagnation. The crisis then extends to the realm of the military, where the US is engaged in a dangerous program of endless war to resolve the economic crisis and has destabilized much of the planet as a result. Most recently, we saw the crisis of imperialism significantly impact the 2016 elections. Millions of people voted for two candidates in Sanders and Trump who spoke to the frustrations of working people with the economy, among other things.
Each of these elements of crisis could be spoken about at length, but really it is the material conditions that should interest us the most. For at the moment, unemployment sits at 23 percent if we count those who have stopped looking for work and that number can be safely doubled for the Black community. The 1 percent has never been richer. Eight individuals own more wealth than half of the world's population. Our political prisoners Sundiata Acoli, Mumia-Abu Jamal and countless others remain behind bars within the largest prison state in the world. The Obama Administration has placed us at the precipice of World War with Russia and China and has used Russia as a scapegoat to intensify surveillance and repression at home. Yet all we can hear at this moment is the danger of Donald J. Trump. It was estimated that hundreds of thousands would descend on Washington this weekend to protest the Donald. Such a scene should be exciting, and could be an opportunity, but there are problematic aspects to this development that must be addressed first.
“The rising costs of technology, the instability of finance capital, and the misery of working people have brought about endless economic stagnation.”
I want to quote at length a speech by Fidel Castro that illuminates not just the achievements of the socialist revolution, but the potential pitfalls of a US-based movement focused solely on opposition to the orange billionaire. The speech contains a historical narrative of the Revolution, which begins with Fidel and his comrades analyzing where they would take the struggle during its embryonic stage. At first, the enthusiasm to be rid of the Batista dictatorship was evident among various members of the ruling class. But rather than ending the misery of the masses, such opposition only sought to replace Batista with another variation of the neo-colonial order.
Fidel warns that "in the final analysis, neither imperialism nor the ruling classes give a hoot who the President is, who is a representative, who is a senator. Naturally, imperialism would like to have for President, if possible, a man who is not a complete crook, that he be honest, that he spend money to advance the interests of the ruling classes. . . What is imperialism interested in? It is interested in, naturally, in a government that looks after the interests of the monopolies." In other words, a complete analysis of the function of the state is imperative and we can see this clearly in the current period.
From this assessment, Fidel and his comrades chose to wage guerrilla warfare as the means to win over the peasants to socialism. The Cuban Revolutionaries rejected collaboration with the state. This development was critical in the progression of the revolution because it represented a complete break from the existing establishment. However, the decision to base the struggle to liberate Cuba in the peasants and workers did not drop from the sky. It derived from a leadership that was guided by socialist thought and committed to bringing about its realization in the material world.
“The Obama Administration has placed us at the precipice of World War with Russia and China and has used Russia as a scapegoat to intensify surveillance and repression at home.”
Fidel gave this speech on December 2nd 1961 on the fifth anniversary of the landing of the Granma. In this speech, Fidel declares that he would be a Marxist-Lennist until the end of his life. He goes on further to say:
"Do I have any doubt about Marxism . . .? No, I do not have the slightest doubt! What occurs to me is precisely the opposite: the more experience we gain from life, the more we learn what imperialism is -- and not by word, but in the flesh and blood of our people -- the more we have to face up to that imperialism; the more we learn about imperialist policies throughout the world, in South Vietnam, in the Congo . . . everywhere in the world; the more we dig deeper and uncover the bloody claws of imperialism, the miserable exploitation . . . the more, in the first place, we feel sentimentally Marxist, emotionally Marxist, and the more we see and discover all the truths contained in the doctrine of Marxism. The more we have to race to the reality of a revolution and the class struggle, and we see what the class struggle really is, the more convinced we become . . . of the ingenious interpretations of scientific socialism Lenin made."
This is important because it is from these ideas that the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro took power and transformed the state from neo-colonial to socialist in character. The revolution's achievements in healthcare, education, and racial and gender equality should be seen as products of a state that is owned and administered by the masses, otherwise known as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without the National Assembly of People's Power, the Committees to Defend the Revolution, or the Federation of Cuban Women, things like a one hundred percent literacy rate or the fact that tens of thousands of Cuban doctors administer free healthcare abroad would be impossible. It was power in the hands of the working class and oppressed that gave Cuba the ability to assist national liberation struggles in Angola, Mozambique, and Namibia against South African apartheid. The dictatorship of the Cuban proletariat has protected a number of Black revolutionaries, from temporary asylum for Robert Williams and Huey P. Newton to the decades-long protection of Assata Shakur. Marxism was the road map that guided each and every one of these actions.
“The decision to base the struggle to liberate Cuba in the peasants and workers did not drop from the sky.”
The various movements in the United States remain without a road map. On this inauguration weekend, where thousands will protest Donald Trump, what can the words of Fidel and their actualization in the Cuban Revolution teach us? First, none of Cuba's achievements would have been possible if the movement that brought it about settled for a mere replacement of the Batista dictatorship with another political party or politician within the pre-revolutionary state. The Cuban Revolution's historic achievements are the result of the complete dissolution of the neo-colonial military, the police, and the organs of state power that sold Cuba's assets to the United States. A complete focus on Donald Trump ultimately distracts the movement from the need to organize a struggle against the entire state apparatus.
This becomes all the more important given the current state of US imperialism. The Democratic Party and many leading Republicans are currently trying to push Trump into a world war with Russia. They did not get their candidate in Hillary Clinton and are doing everything possible to ensure that Trump either toes the line or is ousted for a more savory ruling class politician. The current movement in the streets against Trump has not yet condemned the New Cold War against Russia now being used to delegitimize Trump. But the danger of a nuclear war is very real. The stop Trump movement's limited analysis only benefits an imperialist system that millions of people have expressed utter contempt for, whether through their vote for Sanders, Trump, or no one at all.
Second, and related to the first, the Cuban experience teaches us that without the working class and oppressed, revolution is impossible. It teaches us that without a theoretical road map from which to base our revolutionary movement, victory is remote. The movement within the United States right now is in possession of neither of these things. We must work to correct these errors. We must let imperialism die and take advantage of its vulnerable state under Trump. We must not caste a gaze of fear over his rule, but develop the leadership and the courage to present demands to the Trump Administration that can win over young people, workers, the unemployed, and those living under racist, neo-colonial hell in the US. And when the inevitable moment comes that neither Trump nor the Democrats can achieve such demands, we intensify the struggle and educate the masses as to why. This is how revolutions are born.
“The current movement in the streets against Trump has not yet condemned the New Cold War against Russia now being used to delegitimize Trump.”
Third, we need a road map like the Cuban Revolution had a road map. We need to develop ideology and intellectual, political debate and discussion with the oppressed. Only a higher level of political development among the people can purge Democratic Party influence over the working class and oppressed masses. Trump and his cabinet have already bred significant opposition from both the establishment and the masses, but only ideological clarity can prevent opposition from getting behind figures like Corey Booker. There is no neutrality in the course of history. Either the anti-Trump opposition will develop to reject the entire state apparatus or it will enter into the Democratic Party graveyard and dissolve into irrelevancy once a Democrat or an establishment Republican replaces Trump.
So we must be like Fidel and the Cubans and have a clear understanding that socialist revolutions are not mere copies of each other. We live inside of an empire in crisis. Our immediate task is to fight the forces of reaction wherever they are, from the ruling class all the way down to those within our ranks who are merely looking to replace Trump with a Pentagon and Wall Street Democrat. Our long-term task is to develop a party and a program of the working class and oppressed and to find the road map that will lead us to victory. The Cuban experience indicates that the road map is Marxism and the application of scientific socialism.
“The discontent of masses of people has forced the two-party system into a crisis of legitimacy that opens up the possibility for genuine social transformation.”
The road map we choose to advance the cause of workers and oppressed people in the United States will be determined in debate and in struggle. What we can conclude in this moment is that we live both in a time of peril and a time of opportunity. A time of peril because Cuba and much of the world’s people have been deemed threats to “national security” while the US wages ceaseless war and acquires no such label. It is a time of opportunity because the discontent of masses of people has forced the two-party system into a crisis of legitimacy that opens up the possibility for genuine social transformation. So I leave you with one last quote from Fidel's speech that we must unite upon before going forward, "Anyone who analyzes the state of affairs in the world will find that it is the imperialists and capitalists, who subject the word to the worst poverty, the worst backwardness, and they are simply the scourge of mankind." My dear comrades and friends, it is past time we take heed to these words and prepare for a class war that arrived far before Trump emerged onto the scene. Long live Fidel and Long Live the Cuban Revolution! Thank you.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected]