written for Rock Around The Blockade (RATB), 01 December 2010.
In a recent interview with US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, (national correspondent for Atlantic magazine), Fidel Castro responding to a question about whether Cuba's economic system was still worth exporting was quoted as saying that "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore". Goldberg and Julia Sweig, a 'Cuba expert' from the Council on Foreign Relations, who was also present, made statements to the press after the interview claiming that this 'nine-word confession' was a clear admission by the former president that the so-called 'model' for Cuban socialism didn't work.
This news came as an early Christmas present to the US and British corporate media, intent on distorting and demonising Cuban political and economic affairs, and they wasted no time in latching onto it. Headlines and statements such as 'Fidel Castro says economic system is failing' (Rory Carroll, Guardian, 9 September 2010), Fidel's 'Nine word confession undercuts half a century of thundering revolutionary certitude about Cuban socialism'(Carroll, Guardian, 9 September 2010) and 'Fidel Castro says communism doesn't work'(which Carroll, the Guardian's Latin American correspondent, was forced to retract from his article the next day due to the invalidity of the heading) were heard and spread across the radio, TV, tabloids and broadsheets.
When Fidel tried to explain the meaning of his comment, pointing out that it had been misinterpreted by Goldberg, Sweig and the bourgeois media (to make it look like he was renouncing socialism in Cuba), he was accused of trying to take attention away from his comments, i.e. to 'dampen the story'. Fidel commenting on the affair in a speech at the University of Havana on 10 September, said:
‘The truth is that the meaning of my response was exactly the opposite of the interpretation made by both American journalists of the Cuban model. My idea, as everybody knows, is that the capitalist system does not work anymore either for the United States or the world, which jumps from one crisis into the next, and these are ever more serious, global and frequent and there is no way the world could escape from them. How could such a system work for a socialist country like Cuba?’
This so-called controversy prepared the ground for a full ideological onslaught on the Revolution a few days later when the 5-year plan to reorganise the Cuban economy and workforce was attacked by the corporate press (Rory Carroll's article 'Capitalist storm clouds loom over Havana after state cuts 1m jobs' Guardian, 15 September 2010, is a prime example). It would have been more disconcerting if Fidel's response to Goldberg and Sweig had asserted the 'perfection' of Cuban socialism on the eve of such significant measures to improve the country's economic management. In fact, it was Fidel Castro himself he initiated the campaign to improve the efficiency of the Cuban system in the mid-2000s (See 'Cuba: stirring society at its roots' FRFI, February 2006). It is the healthy dose of self-reflection and criticism which has helped to constantly invigorate the Cuban Revolution. Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez has said: ‘The explanation of Cuba is that Fidel is at the same time the head of government and the leader of the opposition.’
To overcome the easily confusing manner of this war-of-words, we must challenge the assumption within the original question 'whether the Cuban model is still worth exporting?', that there is such a thing as a 'Cuban model' for socialism.
In 1982 Fidel Castro stated:
‘In their ravings they pretend that Cuba is an exporter of revolutions. In their sleepless business and usurers minds they believe that revolutions can be sold and bought, rent and lent, export or import as one more merchandise’.In 1989 he said:
‘we maintain that a revolution cannot be imported or exported. A socialist state cannot be established through artificial insemination or by the transplant of embryos. Revolution required the proper conditions developed within the very society and only the people of the country can be its own creator’.
Nelson P. Valdes in an article titled 'What is the Cuban model?' questions bourgeois commentators use of the term. While pointing out that Cuban socialism has a number of fairly consistent features and characteristics e.g. in it's approach to national, political, economic and social matters, he argues that these in no way equate to the rigid and dogmatic model that Cuba is portrayed as adopting by the capitalist press. Valdes comments that 'the Cuban revolution has followed a fairly practical, pragmatic and result-orientated approach in the economy' and that for this reason 'there is no such thing as the Cuban model. The Revolutionary regime has been pragmatic and changed over time, whenever circumstance required it, which is why it is possible to speak of different periods since 1959.’
In conclusion it is clear that our understanding of the term 'the Cuban model' shapes not only how we perceive Fidel's comments but also the corporate media's reaction to them. To those who believe that the Cuban Revolution is based on a rigid, inflexible and dogmatic programme, Fidel's comments would have come as proof of the ‘failure of socialism’ in Cuba, and the media's exaggerated reaction would have been viewed as perfectly legitimate.
To socialists however Fidel's comment was a reflection of the ‘practical, pragmatic and result-orientated approach’ to the economy which the Revolutionary government has always followed (the 5-year plan to reorganise the economy and workforce is a product of this approach) and the media’s overblown reaction was the product of the ongoing propaganda war against Socialist Cuba. Valdes draws his own conclusion by stating that ‘Only those who are ill acquainted with the Cuban reality could come up with the assertion that there is an all encompassing, never changing Cuban model'.
RATB asserts that the European, British and Yankee imperialists will do all in their power to maintain and deepen an ignorance of the Cuban reality. The huge resources spent everyday (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) on distorting the image of life in Cuba is evidence of the scale of threat that the truth represents.
For those who claim to be socialists/communists, it is their task and duty to expose these corporate lies and to reveal the true reality of Cuban socialism. Challenge the common held perceptions and emphasize the Revolutions success in meeting the educational, medical and basic needs of its people, not to mention the fact that it has defied the might of the world's biggest imperialist power, the US, for over 50 years!