Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’


Fidel Castro

 

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

It’s time to speak ill of the dead.  It’s been time for nearly a century. Since 1918, the left in both the U.S. and Europe has had a dictator-worship problem. First it was Lenin; then it was (yes) Stalin; then Mao; most recently the dictator of choice has been Fidel Castro.

To illustrate the depth and nature of this problem, let me recount an incident from Cuba in the 1960s. In the 1970s, a maoist friend told me about his experiences there as part of a Venceremos Brigade a decade earlier. (Venceremos Brigades were bands of American leftists who traveled to Cuba to work in the cane fields in support of “the revolution.”) At one point, Fidel himself showed up where they were working in the fields. My friend told me that the reaction of his fellow brigadistas was like that of 14-year-olds at a Beatles concert.

Anarcho-Syndicalist ReviewSince then, the American left in large part has continued to idolize Castro and his Stalin-admirer cohort, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, overlooking their  crimes. We’ll get to those crimes shortly, but let’s first speak of Castro’s, and his “revolution’s,” achievements. During his half-century reign, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party achieved the following:

  • The literacy rate in Cuba in Cuba went from approximately 70% (figures vary) in 1959 to an estimated 96% today, thanks to the Cuban government’s literacy campaigns and universal education for those aged 6 to 16.
  • Cuba has universal, free medical care. One example of its success is that infant mortality in Cuba fell from 37.3 per 1,000 live births in 1959 to 4.3 per thousand today. (In contrast, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is 5.8 per 1,000 live births today.)
  • Higher education in Cuba is free for most Cubans.
  • There is remarkably little street crime in Cuba.
  • Every Cuban adult is guaranteed a low paying job, with pay averaging about $20 a month.
  • The Castro regime did show that a Latin American regime can defy the United States government (and the corporations it serves) and survive.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, consider this:

  • Freedom of speech does not exist in Cuba, nor do the other freedoms listed in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Since its inception, the “revolutionary” Castro regime has jailed opponents for exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly. Human Rights Watch notes: “Many of the abusive tactics developed during his [Fidel Castro’s] time in power – including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation – are still used by the Cuban government.”
  • All media outlets (newspapers, magazines, book publishers, radio stations, television stations) are controlled by the Castro regime, and access to the Internet is tightly restricted.
  • Cuba is a one-party state.
  • In its first four-plus decades in power (ending in 2003), the Castro regime executed hundreds if not thousands of its political opponents. Amnesty International estimates that that regime executed 216 political opponents between 1959 and 1987. Other estimates run up well into the thousands.
  • The Cuban government maintains a surveillance network in every neighborhood in Cuba, the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs — more accurately, Committees for the Defense of the Regime), which not only spy upon residents, but have considerable control over their lives. As an example, The CDRs can ban political dissidents from even applying to institutions of higher learning.
  • One of the first things the Castro regime did when it took power was to destroy independent unions, either jailing or driving into exile unionists who opposed its takeover. For over half a century, all unions in Cuba have been controlled by the government. (See Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Frank Fernández. Full disclosure: I translated and edited the book.)
  • There is no workers’ control, no workplace democracy in Cuba. All workplaces are tightly controlled by government apparatchiks.
  • The Cuban government denies its citizens the right to travel, the right to emigrate. Since 1959, over 1.5 million Cubans have fled the country (current population 11 to 12 million). At least hundreds of thousands fled on rickety boats and rafts, and at absolute minimum thousands of men, women, and children died in the crossing. The actual figure is likely well up into the tens of thousands. No one really knows.

Since Castro’s death last week, the American left has, by and large, continued to sing Fidel Castro’s praises. To cite but one example, a few days ago Amy Goodman, on her generally excellent “Democracy Now” broadcast, devoted a full hour (bar the first few minutes devoted to news) to Castro. There were a few seconds (considerably under a minute) near the start devoted  to generalized mention of the repressive nature of the regime, but there was no mention whatsoever in the rest of the hour of any of the crimes listed above. It was largely a love letter to Castro.

One might mention that many antiauthoritarian Latin American leftists and anarchists deeply resent the largely uncritical support given Castro (and until his death Hugo Chávez in Venezuela) by the American left. They see it as a betrayal of principles — and themselves — and consider it utterly hypocritical, especially when coming from those who loudly proclaim their allegiance to human freedom, human rights — in the United States, but not Cuba (or Venezuela). They believe that the typical leftist refrain, “Well, we wouldn’t want that repressive system here, but the Cuban people are better off for it,” is grossly patronizing to those who are the victims of repression and those who struggle against it.

They have a point. If you believe in human freedom, in civil liberties, you believe in them everywhere, and you support all those struggling against repression. You’re either for freedom of speech or against it. You don’t make excuses for repressive regimes because you know “what’s best” for the people in those countries, because you know better than the Cubans (or Venezuelans) struggling against repression. If you make excuses for authoritarian regimes, if you don’t stand against repression everywhere, please don’t pretend that you have principles, please don’t pretend that you’re anything but a political apologist, a political hack.

If you think a one-party state, suppression of civil liberties, government control of the media, suppression of independent unions, replacement of capitalist bosses by “Communist” bosses, secret police, prisons, executions, a network of neighborhood informers, militarism, and a personality cult are a good tradeoff for the Cuban people in exchange for free health care, free higher education, and a guaranteed low-paying job, by all means support the Cuban dictatorship, and continue to sing Fidel Castro’s praises.

 

 


REVOLUTIONARY LEADER, phr. The only proper term of respect for a dictator admired by the left, the term “dictator” being an offense against good taste and an unpleasant reminder of reality.

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front coverDev

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Today’s definition seems apropos given the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. We’ll put up another pertinent definition tomorrow and, we hope, a fairly lengthy post on Castro and his counter-revolutionary regime on Wednesday or Thursday.


Chomsky & Chabez

Here you go. Noam Chomsky palling around with Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez. Chomsky. The “anarchist.” The supposed perpetual challenger to power.

Several years ago I sent Chomsky a book  which I translated (Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle, by Rafael Uzcategui), challenging Chomsky on his betrayal of anarchist principles, through his endorsement of the Venezuelan regime.

Chomsky’s reply? Personal insult, telling me that he “knows where this kind of publishing” comes from, implying that it was from personal malice or envy. This conveniently sidesteps Chomsky’s betrayal of the Venezuelan anarchists and anarchist principles.

This is all too reminiscent of the betrayal of the Cuban anarchists in the ’60s and ’70s by Dave Dellinger and the other pro-Castro “anarchists.”

Here, as there, you have white academics figuring that “We wouldn’t want it here, but it’s fine for those brown folks down there.”

And, yes I am imputing racism (or at least condescension) to both Dellinger and Chomsky.

Deal with it. And deal with your betrayal of anarchist principals. Deal with your endorsement of authoritarian regimes.

Chomsky should be ashamed of himself.

Don’t trust him. Don’t trust anyone implicitly. Including me.


REVOLUTION, n. As used by apologists for the Castro dynasty, “regime.” As in “protecting the revolution” and “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.” As regards the latter, and as is obvious, nothing is more revolutionary than networks of neighborhood informers reporting to government police agencies.

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

 


Anarchist Cookbook front cover

(from The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, Introduction by Chris Hedges, scheduled for October 2015)

Vanguard parties (i.e., any of the 57 varieties of leninist parties–marxist-leninist, maoist, stalinist, trotskyist, etc., etc.) have a long and sordid history. Their goal is always the same: seizure of the state apparatus in the name of the people. The leninist term for this is the oxymoronic “dictatorship of the proletariat”–as if an entire class of people could somehow be a dictator. But no, the dictator is, of course, the ultra-hierarchical vanguard party itself, as the expression, somehow, of the “will of the people.” (Transubstantiation perhaps?)

The Bolsheviks provide the most prominent early example of a vanguard party. The results of their power seizure are well known: over a hundred thousand prisoners murdered by the Cheka (secret police) under Lenin, over ten million more murdered or starved to death under Stalin, a one-party state, suppression of civil liberties, elimination of independent unions, dictatorial control of workplaces by the party/state apparatus, tens of millions in gulags, purges, show trials, secret police, personality cults, and the rise of a new party/government elite–a “new class” that took the place and the privileges of the old elite.lenin-small

Where vanguard parties have taken power since the Bolsheviks, the results invariably have been bleak, from the surveillance state of Honecker’s DDR (East Germany), to the mass murder in Mao’s China (among other things, the murder of three million landlords–although, sad to say, that does have a certain appeal) and the subsequent transformation of the leninist state there into a fascist state, to the nightmare of North Korea, where millions starve while the state lavishes the proceeds of their labor on a bloated military, nuclear weapons, and grotesque spectacles–all in the context of a “people’s state” that is in effect a hereditary monarchy.

In fact, the record of vanguard parties that have seized power is so uniformly awful that there’s little point in examining them at length. They’re simply failures–all of them. Examining their ideologies, structures, and theories is of interest only as an exercise in forensic pathology.

At this point, some readers will say, “What about Cuba?” Well, what about it? Even after over half a century of dictatorship, many American leftists still have a soft spot for the Cuban Communists. They’ve bought into a false dichotomy: that the only choice is between U.S. imperialism and the “Communist” dictatorship. Their attitude seems to be, “Well, we wouldn’t want that here, but it’s for the best there, so, we support Fidel (now his brother Raul).” To put it mildly, this is paternalistic and smacks disturbingly of what one might charitably call hero worship.

Decades ago, a maoist friend told me about his experiences in Cuba as part of a Venceremos Brigade in the 1970s. (Venceremos Brigades were bands of American leftists who traveled to Cuba to work in the cane fields in support of “the revolution.”) At one point, Fidel himself showed up where they were working in the fields. My friend told me that he found the reaction of his fellow brigadistas sickening, that their reaction was like that of 14-year-olds at a Beatles concert. And this at a time when the Castro regime was still executing political prisoners in droves. (That regime is, of course, secretive about this; as a result, estimates of the number of those executed vary widely, from a low of a few hundred to a high of over 30,000.)

If you think a one-party state, suppression of civil liberties, government control of the media, suppression of independent unions, replacement of capitalist bosses by “Communist” bosses, secret police, prisons, executions, a network of neighborhood informers, militarism, and a personality cult are a good tradeoff for the Cuban people in exchange for good health care, free higher education, and a guaranteed low-paying job, by all means support the Cuban dictatorship–and support a vanguard party here.

But if you want individual freedom, democratic control of communities and workplaces, voluntary cooperation instead of coercion, and equality in place of domination and submission, vanguard parties are an absolutely terrible idea. On a personal level, they’re a bottomless pit of self-sacrifice, and on a societal level their results are invariably catastrophic.
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Over the coming weeks we’ll look at other possible means of social change, from the worse than useless to those that show real promise. They’ll include personal lifestyle/consumption changes, urban guerrillaism, traditional street demonstrations, educational work, utopian communities, union organizing, public space occupations, housing occupations, and workplace occupations.