In “Race and Sex in Cuba,” published in the International Socialist Review in 2007, Paul D’Amato maintains that the Cuban revolution is a nationalist revolution but not a socialist revolution. He finds that racial and gender oppression continues in Cuba, a consequence of the fact that it is not a truly socialist revolution (see “Who defines socialism?” 4/20/2016; “Racial inequality in Cuba” 4/21/2016).
Imperfect though it is when examined from the viewpoint of classic European socialism, the triumphant Cuban Revolution nonetheless would capture the imagination of the colonized peoples of the world, who see in it a persistent and heroic spirit of independence. It does not look like anything like the classic Marxist projection. It would be lead not by a working class vanguard, but by the son of a Spanish immigrant landholder who was educated in Catholic schools; and who believed profoundly in the vision of a free Cuba articulated by the Cuban revolutionary José Martí, a well-read and cultured political exile who had not read Marx. Fidel read on his own the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, appreciating their insights, but freely appropriating in a form adapted to the Cuban neocolonial situation. And the Cuban Revolution also would be led by a fiercely committed medical doctor from Argentina, whose sojourn of Latin American lands had taught him of the common suffering and necessary political unity of the peoples who formed La Patria Grande of Bolívar, and whose distrust of imperialist governments was as deep as his love for the suffering people. The Cuban Revolution would be formed by a humble people, whose very humility compelled them to lift up Fidel and Che, endowing them with a teaching authority surpassing even that of Lenin and Mao, and not known to humanity since Mohammed. And the Cuban Revolution would come to power, not through the patient educating and organizing practices of the Cuban communist party, but in an unconventional guerrilla war that moved from the country to the city, led by a lawyer and a doctor who were connected, in mind and soul, to the hopes and sufferings of the people.
Once in power, the Cuban revolutionary leadership took decisive steps in defense of the people and the nation and against the interests of the national bourgeoisie and foreign corporations. It nationalized agricultural and industrial properties; and it adopted measures that raised workers’ wages and reduced the costs of housing and utilities. It declared the socialist character of the revolution two years after its triumph, as it prepared for a US-backed invasion by a force formed by counterrevolutionaries who had left the country, including members of the national bourgeoisie, the military forces of the deposed dictator, and the reactionary wing of the middle class. The revolutionary leadership called upon the people to defend with arms their socialist revolution, and the people did so; the counterrevolutionary invasion force surrendered en masse in seventy-two hours.
The Cuban revolutionary people, now emancipated, would express all of the characteristics that were uniquely theirs. They would be proud of their coming together as blacks, whites and mulattos in the casting aside of old racial prejudices; but with awareness of the status designations that reign in the world, they would describe themselves as lighter than they actually are. They would affirm equality between the sexes, but they would cling to traditional gender roles. They would be inclined to be respectful toward all, but would find homosexuality difficult to understand. They would be committed to science, and they would participate in the creation of the finest medical system in the world; yet they would be persistent in believing that medical cures require the participation of African saints. They would possess a tremendous spirit of internationalism and international solidarity; yet they would wave their own Cuban flag with great patriotism, and they would listen to their national anthem with reverence. They would create symphony orchestras that would play the works of the European masters; but they would spontaneously sing and dance to their own music, in tune with their vibrant sexuality and African rhythms. They would be committed to work and study, but equally committed to family obligations and to the need for regular celebratory festivities rooted in the family and family-like friendships. Cuban women would take the lead in forging the new society, claiming for themselves positions in science, education, health, and political leadership; but these same women would teach their sons to be macho, teach their daughters to dress in sexually provocative ways, play verbal sexual games with men, and insist that the management of the home remains their particular domain.
They are a modest people, not at all arrogant. They are aware that they are a poor people of a small nation, and that they have imperfections. But they are a proud people. Informed of global dynamics, they are aware that their modest achievements have universal human significance. They see that the colonized peoples of the world are inspired by their achievements, and they are ready to provide support, when asked. They hope that the powerful nations of the North will see their good qualities and will trade with them as equals, so that they can continue to develop. They offer their modest example to the world, with love and solidarity, and with hope for the future of humanity. They see themselves as participating in a step-by-step process in which the movements formed by humanity are constructing a just, democratic and sustainable world, saving humanity from imminent self-destruction. They have absolutely no doubt that the revolution they are forging is both a nationalist and a socialist revolution.
Although the Cuban Revolution does not look like anything that Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky envisioned, it was in a sense foreseen by the great masters. For they intuitively sensed that the socialist revolution would be forged in practice by the people, and that it would be led by exceptional leaders who were sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of their own people, and who would lead them to new levels of human achievement, with the people moving in their own way, in accordance with their own rhythm and unique characteristics.
I have come to appreciate the Cuban Revolution as a gift to the world. Some would say that it is a gift from God, seeking to instruct us in the way, the truth and the light; for like the prophets Moses and Amos, it denounces the pretensions of the global powers, and it defends the rights of the poor. But it fulfills the prophetic role in an historical epoch in which the peoples of the world have demonstrated their capacity to form movements in their defense, precisely at a time when such movements are necessary to save humanity. The Cuban Revolution reveals the word of God not by being perfect, for it is full of human imperfections; but in its best sons and daughters, who today, fifty-seven years after its triumph, form an educated and committed vanguard, exemplifying the essential dignity of the human species.
We who form the peoples of the North can reject the Cuban Revolution as not consistent with a classic vision of Marxism. We can focus on its imperfections, discrediting it, in service of those powerful forces that seek to destroy this dangerous example and to preserve their privileges in the world-system, unaware that the world-system itself is unsustainable. Or we can take a different path. We can appreciate it, learn from it, and permit ourselves to be inspired by it, seeking to develop in our own nations our own versions of it, so that we can participate in what has become a great social movement formed by humanity in defense of itself.
Key words: Cuba, race, gender, socialism, revolution