Cuba and the Australian Left

Red Ant publishes the following article on an important date for socialists. The Cuban Revolution was the first socialist revolution in the Western Hemisphere. It took place right under the nose of the U.S. imperialists in country they had previously considered theirs.

July 26 is the date that Fidel Castro and a small band of revolutionaries attacked the army of the U.S. backed military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The attack was on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953.

Santiago is Cuba’s second city after Havana and was far the poorer of the two. It is also located on the Easter side of the island, close to the Sierra Maestra mountain range were the revolutionary guerrilla fighters began their military campaign.

The urban workers and poor of Santiago were an indispensable part of the underground struggle to overthrow the dictatorship. The Guerrilla campaign would have been quickly defeated if it could not generate massive popular support among the urban working class.

Since taking power in 1959, working people in Santiago have constituted the rigid backbone of the revolution that – for six decades – provided the framework for them to organise themselves and others to achieve massive and important social gains not available to working people in other parts of the Caribbean.

The date of the July 26 attack later became the name of the front bringing together revolutionary organisations willing to fight the military dictatorship – the July 26 Movement (Movimiento 26 de JulioM-26-7). The date retains special significance both in Cuba and for the international movement in solidarity with the Cuban revolution and for socialism.

Cuba, all of a sudden, is receiving global attention. Every mainstream media outlet has shown images of angry street protests and riots. The dual punch of U.S sanctions and a surge in Covid infections has made life much more difficult in the tiny island nation. On July 11, coordinated anti-government protests occurred in six of Cuba’s fourteen provinces, including the major cities, and simultaneously in the United States, the biggest being in Miami.

Later in the day, more people came out onto the streets to support the government. Since July 11, there have been no more protests against the government. However, on July 17, about 100,000 people rallied in support of the revolution and their government. Led by the Cuban Communist Party, they demanded an end to the inhuman and intensified blockade of their island by the United States.

Globally, there have been expressions of support for the Cuban people, their revolution, and their government. In the belly of the beast, the United States, organised socialist groups, such as the Party of Socialism and Liberation, have expressed support and organised solidarity actions such as public forums, vigils and banner drops. There have been many expressions of solidarity with Cuba and calls for an end to the U.S. blockade. Black Lives Matter has expressed such solidarity. So have local activist groups and centres, such as Portside and Peoples Forum in New York. Even within the Democratic Party, progressives such as Bernie Sanders has called for an end to the unilateral U.S. embargo “which only hurts the Cuban people”. There have also been many individual expressions of solidarity from within the U.S. Left on social media.

April 13, 2019 meeting of a branch of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society

Most impressively, a public letter signed by 400 intellectuals, artists, and others called for the embargo’s ending appeared on July 12 as a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.

These expressions of solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolution were not the only responses from within the Left. On virtually the same day as the anti-government protests in Cuba and Miami, a campaign by some left-wingers began supporting these protests and encouraging and hoping for more opposition to the Cuban government to develop. By July 12, a public letter was circulating already signed by 500 left-wing intellectuals and academics demanding “respect for the democratic rights of all Cuban people” and the release of “dissident Marxist” Frank Garcia Hernandez from jail after the small protests of July 11. This campaign tried to launch a narrative that the Cuban government was implementing a crackdown against a rising popular and widespread opposition that included “dissident Marxists”. Hernandez himself stated that the police had detained him by mistake amid a chaotic atmosphere – the police had mistakenly thought he was throwing stones. Hernandez was never imprisoned for being a dissident and was released even before the public letter was written. Hernandez’s comrades, connected to a blog Comunistas, while expressing their criticisms of the government (which are unconvincing to this writer), also stated explicitly that in their opinion, the majority of the Cuban people supported the government.

Of course, it is understandable that people might be concerned to hear that somebody they knew might be in a police cell somewhere, anywhere. However, more is revealed by the speed of reaction and the narrative the public letter was trying to spread: that on July 11, the Cuban government had implemented a crackdown to stop the emergence of popular resistance to an oppressive and unjust state. As their friends in Comunistas stated, the majority of the Cuban people rejected the narrative that Cuba is a repressive dictatorship.

To see the names of the people who signed this letter, or have otherwise espoused similar views over the last week, comes as no surprise. Most of them come from a background either in the Fourth International or International Socialism Tendency. Both these political currents have consistently held that the Cuban government is either a Stalinist dictatorship or, at best, a suspect left nationalist state. They believe Cuba is not socialist and needs a political or social revolution to overthrow the government; this is their starting point whenever they think about Cuba – which is a rare occurrence.

There are many origins to this outlook among these two political currents. It is not the purpose of this article to analyse them. It is enough to underline that they could quickly invent the narrative for their public letter because it already existed. This narrative existed long ago and has reappeared as a regurgitation of unchecked and un-investigated tweets.

Their outlook towards Cuba means, of course, that they have no interest in listening with any respect to the assessments of the Cuban leadership or the mass of people who support it. The rapid release of the letter is only possible because they negate any credibility of the Cuban leadership and their mass support. It is an uncontested fact that the Cuban revolutionary people, under the current leadership, have achieved a quality of life that no other low GDP per capita country in South America has achieved. Its achievements are despite starting as an American de facto colony and then suffering an increasingly intense blockade over 60 years by the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world just 90 miles to their north. It is as if these achievements, under these terrible conditions, in health, education, security of housing and culture enjoyed by the vast majority say nothing about the prevailing system and government.

Today, of course, life for the Cuban people has become more challenging. Under Trump, the blockade was savagely intensified with over 200 new sanctions, including even blocking families working in the U.S from sending money to their relatives in Cuba. On top of this, Covid has closed down Cuba’s tourist sector, which was one of its primary sources of foreign exchange. The Cuban masses, overwhelmingly, do not see the origin of their problems in their own government but in the policies of the U.S government. Thus, as even the “dissident” Comunistas blog states, the majority of people support the government. The 100,000 person rally on July 17 made this abundantly clear.

The Australian nothingness

In Australia between July 11 and now, the response to the destabilisation activity against Cuba has been characterised by a political nothingness. There is an absence of any ongoing, substantial campaigning in solidarity with Cuba.

Today there are two organisations in Australia that can trace their origins to the International Socialist Tendency (IST), namely the larger Socialist Alternative (S.A.) and the smaller Solidarity. While Socialist Alternative has its origins in the IST, there are several former members of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) also now in the S.A. They joined as a group in 2013, with the right to express differences publicly and internally.

Between July 11 and July 26, S.A. has issued no statement in response to the threats to the Cuban revolution; SA’s newspaper RED FLAG has not even published news reports. One can only assume they have assessed that it is not to their advantage at this time to discuss what is happening publicly.

Solidarity did publish a 350-word statement titled Cubans are right to protest, but U.S. sanctions must end. This article was in the same spirit as the Public Letter launched internationally but ended with a different convoluted twist: “Cuba’s ability to stand up to U.S. bullying and economic pressure for over six decades should be a source of admiration for anti-imperialists everywhere. However, this does not make Cuba a model society, and it has never been genuinely socialist or democratic. We should demand the end of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and oppose U.S. efforts to extend its influence into the country. However, workers in Cuba also have a right to dissent and to determine their future.” Cuba, a tiny, poor country, has stood up to U.S. bullying and ‘economic pressure’ (i.e. cruel, almost total blockade) for 60 years, but we are supposed to believe it is neither socialist nor democratic. So what is it about tiny, poor Cuba that has allowed it to stand up to the biggest, most prosperous, most powerful country in the world’s bullying for 60 years? In any case, this contradiction in this 350-word statement containing no facts is not the primary anomaly that arises here. “We should demand the end of U.S. sanctions on Cuba”, they say, but this is the first article in Solidarity’s magazine about Cuba for 11 years. The fact is that in both the United States and in Australia, comrades from the IST tradition have never reported or campaigned in solidarity with Cuba against the U.S. embargo or bullying – ever.

As stated above, Socialist Alternative has said nothing at all: zero. Zilch. Perhaps there is an internal discussion happening, and this has slowed any reporting or statements. Perhaps former members of the DSP/Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) are arguing for a statement supporting the Cuban revolution or government, as such support was always especially important for the DSP. The major document on Cuba by the DSP, The Cuban Revolution and its Extension, was written by a DSP member who is now a member of Socialist Alternative. Another former DSP member still in Socialist Alternative contributed a major part to the DSP’s 2000 publication, Cuba as Alternative: an introduction to Cuba’s socialist revolution. S.A. has presented positions in the past that have been hostile to the Cuban government. Because of their ideological commitment to the theory that Cuba is state-capitalist, without a reassessment of the Cuban revolution, it is unlikely that their perspectives will change.

The other socialist group with a significant presence, primarily by virtue of its Green Left website, is Socialist Alliance. The majority, perhaps all of the central leadership of the Alliance were also leaders of the DSP in the past. Solidarity with the revolutionary movements of Central America, and especially Cuba, were a high priority for the DSP.

As of July 25, two weeks after the destabilisation actions, Socialist Alliance has not issued any statement of support for the Cuban revolution and its leadership.

Green Left has published a sympathetic article partly addressing the July 11 actions by Tamara Pearson, a former DSP member based in Mexico and a freelance writer. There is also coverage of some of Cuba’s social gains by Ian Ellis-Jones. However, besides Pearson’s article and a brief news report of a solidarity action in Brisbane by the Australia Cuba Friendship Society there has been no attempt by Green Left to explain the Cuba protests or the situation in Cuba leading up to them. Individual members of the Alliance have reposted other sympathetic material on social media.

The Alliance, probably smaller than either Socialist Alternative or Solidarity but much better financially resourced, has undoubtedly adopted a political orientation of becoming a kind of ‘community left’ and extending that presence into the federal election in selected seats. This orientation and the group’s much-diminished size may have reduced its resources and energy for this kind of solidarity with the Cuban revolution. Perhaps there are unknown factors behind this at least two-week delay. Perhaps a statement of position will still eventuate.

The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the Australian Communist Party (ACP) both issued short statements supporting the Cuban government during the week following July 11. The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) has not made a statement.

RED ANT, whose resources at the moment limits its activities to publishing this blog, issued a statement of position on July 15 and more articles on July 19, and July 23 which we have tried to circulate through social media. More will follow.

Under the Nothingness: Can we go beyond nothingness?

The absence of any ongoing, substantial campaigning in solidarity with Cuba, both in response to the events of July 11 and the intensification of the blockade under Trump, continued so far under Biden, can be related directly to the change in the balance of forces on the organised Left. An internal struggle inside the DSP between 2005-2007 ended with the expulsion of a substantial minority of its members [Disclosure: including myself.] Depleted of this minority and no longer prioritising youth work, international solidarity campaigning or cadre building, the Socialist Alliance has steadily declined in size and energy. The minority, devoid of any resources, and like the Alliance itself, with no youth, also declined, with some of us joining Socialist Alternative after getting an agreement to the right to express differences publicly. Some remain in S.A., some have dropped out of organised left politics, and a few of us have left S.A. and are in RED ANT.

The Communist Party (CPA) split with the formation of the ACP. While it still has a presence in a few trade unions, they have not got either the cadre or activist base to sustain ongoing campaign work, either on the ground or through publishing.

Australia-Cuba Friendship Society branches still carry out activities but most are small and relatively inactive.

The decline of the DSP political current means that SA and Solidarity are the strongest campaigning left groups in Australia. Both share the hostile perception of Cuba as “neither socialist nor democratic”. This new balance of forces on the organised far left has also taken place in a period when the trade union-based socialist left in the ALP has all but disappeared. The hollowing out of the trade unions over almost half a century – from the early 1980s when the Prices and Incomes Accord was applied – has lowered working-class political consciousness and removed an arena for anti-imperialist and internationalist interventions.

A further change in the political environment that has weakened internationalist anti-imperialist consciousness, especially among youth, is the absence of any significant, direct Australian imperialist intervention against liberation struggles in the region. During the 1970s, the campaigns against Australian involvement with the United States in Vietnam radicalised significant sections of the population, especially youth and students. This process was sufficiently deep as to produce what became known as the Vietnam Syndrome, a strong popular sentiment against wars of intervention.

Also, in 1975, the struggle for national liberation in East Timor began. When this struggle escalated in the 1990s, and the very large East Timorese refugee communities in Australia increased their activity, this boosted internationalist solidarity campaigning in Australia. This coincided with the emergence of a left-wing pro-democracy organisation within Indonesia, and solidarity with that movement was another component of internationalist solidarity campaigning in the 1990s.

In the 1980s, the Nicaraguan revolution also attracted support for a decade or more in Australia.

Since the early 2000s, so for almost two decades, there has been no significant national liberation or socialist struggle in South-east Asia that could attract support and generate internationalist radicalisation. The Chavista process in Venezuela after 2002 and up until 2013 also attracted attention and support. As that process has become more gruelling and slow, its profile and pull for critical youth has diminished. The collapse of the DSP in 2007 as a critical campaigner for solidarity with Venezuela has not helped.

Since 2000, Australia’s direct involvement in imperialist wars has been in countries far away, such as Afghanistan. The movements they have been fighting against have not been attractive to critically-minded young people. Recently, war crimes by Australian soldiers against ordinary Afghani people have been exposed and attracted well-deserved criticism but have not been the kind of issue that deepens consciousness beyond that of moral disgust.

The hollowing out of the trade unions has meant they no longer operate on any level independently of the ALP. The disappearance of an ALP left wing is a crucial underpinning factor in the decline of the left. The Australian state has not played any overt role in suppressing liberation movements in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia’s imperialist character is not on display. Therefore there is very little development of an internationalist and anti-imperialist criticism of the Australian state.

What can be done to get beyond this situation? Whatever the difficulties, and noting that it is from little things that big things grow, one way to help re-start things is to help strengthen RED ANT. Please read the articles published here, and especially those setting out our general perspectives. Contact us and have a chat. We are still a very small group operating as friend-comrades getting out RED ANT. So, you would be talking with a group still in formation, though with clear general perspectives. How much more we can do depends on how many more people decide to work towards the same perspective with us.

Meanwhile, raise the issue of solidarity with the Cuban revolution, its people and leaders, wherever you can, in whatever way you can.

Let Cuba Live! End the U.S. Embargo! Viva Cuba!

One comment

  1. Hey there! I’ve been reading your site for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the good work!

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