Socialist Cuba has many friends in the world, but it also has powerful enemies. One of the strategies of Cuba’s enemies is to try to discredit Cuba with claims that the revolution denies the rights of Afro-Cubans or continues to be a racist or white-dominated society. It is hard for me to imagine that such a campaign could sow division between blacks and whites in Cuba, because Cubans understand and appreciate the full commitment of the revolution to the full rights of Afro-Cubans, African-Americans, and the peoples and nations of Africa. But it seems to me that the campaign is having some success in sowing doubts about the Cuban Revolution among African-Americans in the United States, who of course are not intimately familiar with the Cuban situation, and who may have a tendency to look at Cuba from the lens of their experiences in the United States and the model of white racism (see “Black political organizations in Cuba” 4/18/2016).
The discrediting campaign focuses on two issues. The first is that of independent black agency in the form of separate black institutions. This issue is not debated in Cuba. It was debated at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, as Abdul Alkalimat observes (see “Black political organizations in Cuba” 4/18/2016). But it is by now a resolved issue, because the Cuban popular revolution accomplished the taking of power through a strategy of multiracial organizations (see “Black political organizations in Cuba” 4/18/2016). But one of the strengths of the Cuban Revolution is its ability to listen to the voices of the people. Accordingly, if this issue were to reemerge in the breast of the people, or of Afro-Cubans, the revolution would certainly seek to address it. It would do so in a form that would ensure the unity of the people, for it is widely believed in Cuba that the unity of the people is necessary for the continued survival of the revolution.
The second issue of the discrediting campaign is that of racial inequality, both income inequality and inequality in political power. In Cuba today, it is well-understood that socialism is a process, and its goals cannot be fully attained overnight. And there are some goals that are still not attained, fifty-seven years after the triumph of the revolution. No one in Cuba thinks that socialist Cuba is, or can be, heaven on earth.
There can be no reasonable doubt that the Cuban Revolution has taken decisive steps in support of the rights of Afro-Cubans. The education of each Cuban child proceeds on basis of equal funding for all, regardless of race, class or gender; regardless of which urban neighborhood the child lives in; or whether he or she lives in the city or the country. The historic invidious distinction between private and public education was abolished when the revolutionary government nationalized the Catholic schools, overwhelmingly white upper and middle class, and incorporated them into the public school system. Moreover, the difference that exists in the United States between poorly funded central city schools and suburban schools with higher tax bases does not exist in socialist Cuba. I repeat, the Cuban revolution invests the same amount in the education of every Cuban child, from pre-school day care center to university graduate programs. In addition, its system of education at the higher levels is integrally connected to structures of employment, so that as young Cubans earn diplomas and degrees, they can proceed to translate their education into professions and occupations. And since 1959, there has been a full-fledged campaign calling upon employment without racial or gender discrimination. No one thinks that old prejudices have completely disappeared, so this may not be fully realized in practice. But to the extent that discrimination occurs, it is not systemic.
With respect to home ownership, the revolution nationalized privately-owned income-generating buildings and converted renters into property owners, allowing payments for the property at low prices and low rates of interest and with favorable terms. Today, more than 90% of Cubans are home owners. Some enemies of the revolution have tried to make an issue of the fact that, until recently, Cubans were prohibited from buying and selling property, omitting that most Cubans were homeowners as a result of a home distribution program, and the program was not undertaken with the intention that the beneficiaries sell the properties, thus facilitating the accumulation of property by a few.
With respect to political power, the entire country is organized into voting districts, and the people nominate and elect candidates for the municipal assemblies, which in turn elect the deputies of the national assembly, which elects the executive branch. The people also are organized in mass organizations of urban workers and professionals, agricultural workers, students, women and neighborhoods, the leadership of which is elected by the people. To be sure, there is no black caucusing in this process. Blacks, whites and mixed-race all participate with one another in this overlapping process of popular organization. The mass organizations were organized on a multiracial basis in the 1960s, as a result of the overwhelming popular sentiment that this is the most effective strategy for empowering the people.
All of these decisive revolutionary measures were “color blind.” They were undertaken to benefit the people, without consideration of the race or color of the beneficiaries. They clearly benefitted Afro-Cubans more than whites, since at the time of the triumph of the revolution, blacks were disproportionately represented among the poor, the marginally employed, the illiterate and the powerless.
Fifty-seven years later, the success of this emancipatory educational-economic-political program is clear. Exactly how successful is hard to measure, in part because racial classification is complex in Cuba, as a result of a high level of biological and cultural mixing. But some have noted that the revolution perhaps has been more successful with respect to women than with respect to blacks. As a result, there is beginning to emerge a discussion of the issue of racial inequality. It may lead to an analysis of the reasons why the approach has not been more successful, and the identification of steps that should be taken to improve the situation. Such analysis could possibly include reflection on appropriate pedagogical strategies for Afro-Cuban children and youth, perhaps giving even more emphasis to the role of Afro-Cubans in the revolutionary struggles and greater emphasis to African history and culture.
But such discussion of racial inequality has not attained a high priority among the Cuban people. They are more concerned with bread and butter issues, and they do not tend to see these issues in racial terms. Certain adjustment policies since the collapse of the Soviet Union have created more racial inequality, but it is also the case that they have created more inequality across the board, and that is how Cubans tend to perceive the problem. Cubans speak of the need to ensure that the state continues to act decisively to protect the social and economic rights of all, and not permit that anyone be abandoned to his or her fate, as occurs in capitalist societies. My sense is that any social program that supports blacks in need, but excludes whites equally in need, would be perceived in Cuba as unfair, and as therefore undermining the legitimacy of the revolution.
The survival of the Cuban Revolution is in no sense guaranteed. It continues to be under attack by powerful forces, including the Obama administration, which is undertaking a strategy of undermining the Cuban Revolution by creating a Cuban middle class with an interest in political change (see “Obama seeks to expand Cuban middle class” 3/24/2016). The Obama administration also is attacking, using “soft power” imperialist strategies, Latin American revolutionary governments that have come to power in recent years and that have proclaimed “socialism for the twenty-first century” (see various posts in the category Venezuela and the new imperialist strategy).
The social movements of the various peoples of the United States should be in solidarity with socialist Cuba and with progressive and socialist governments of Latin America and in opposition to US imperialist policies, as an important dimension of a struggle to create of a more just, democratic and sustainable world. It seems to me that our solidarity could be more effective if, instead of focusing on the imperfections of these revolutions in the South, we were to seek to learn from them, appreciating that the peoples of Latin America are doing something that we in the United States have never been able to do, in that they have taken political power from the elite and have formed governments committed to the protection of the rights and needs of the people. Inspired by their example, perhaps we could envision a popular coalition in the United States that takes political power and that adopts decisive steps in defense of our peoples, who have been exploited and abused in different ways, but whose dehumanization, in one form or another, is a generalized phenomenon.
Key words: race, Cuba, racism, racial inequality, socialism, imperialism