By PAUL M.
HAVANA-“I was really inspired by the amount of heart and emotion that people have for the revolution,” stated Julia Wallace, a member of the Los Angeles branch of Youth for Socialist Action (YSA), who participated in that organization’s trip to Cuba last month. Many other members of the YSA delegation had similar reactions when describing their experiences at the end of the two-week trip.
The visit to Cuba was an incredible success overall and an important step in the development of the recently founded revolutionary youth group. It brought together 20 supporters of YSA from Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Minneapolis, and Ashland, Wisconsin.
The participants in the trip decided to work together in the fall to spread the word about the Cuban revolution and the U.S. government’s reactionary blockade against it. YSAers will be holding slide shows and giving presentations on campuses and in cities across the country.
If readers are interested in hosting a report-back in their community, contact the YSA national office at 3425 Cesar Chavez St., San Francisco, CA 94110.
The program in which the YSA participated was designed to give us some understanding of the Cuban revolution and the problems it faces today. For example, in a fascinating discussion with a representative of Cuba’s mass women’s organization, the Federation of Cuban Women (Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas, or FMC), YSAers learned about the struggle for women’s equality in Cuba.
While it was clear the struggle is far from over, everyone was impressed by the strides that women have made since the revolution. These include increased participation in government and the labor force, a family code established in 1975 that states that men and women should share equally in housework, and many other achievements.
People at the meeting learned how the abolition of a profit system in Cuba has allowed sexist relations to begin to break down. “That could never happen under capitalism in the U.S.,” Annette Lemmo from Los Angeles YSA stated, “because the drive behind male chauvinism is a market-they use it to sell beer.”
The group also held a discussion with a leading official in another one of Cuba’s mass organizations, the Cuban Workers Federation (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba). At its headquarters in Havana, YSAers heard about the role of this organization, whose three million members comprise close to the total work force of Cuba.
“People participate in the process”
The focus of the trip, however, was collaboration and discussion with the Young Communist League (Union de Jovenes Comunistas, or UJC), Cuba’s revolutionary youth organization, which sponsored the YSA visit.
YSAers were able to see some of the projects of the mass Cuban youth group. For example, we went to UJC’s publishing house and spoke with the director; we visited a UJC-run recreational center for university students; and we were shown one of many UJC computer clubs where young people learn computer skills for free.
Leaders of the UJC organized the program for the YSA delegation and served as guides. Each day, the YSA group was taken to the events on their itinerary by one or two of the UJC members.
On the first day, the delegation met with Juan Carlos Frometa, the head of international relations of the UJC. At the UJC national headquarters in Havana, the American youth learned about the UJC’s role in Cuban and its efforts to involve young people in the defense of the revolution.
The continuation of the revolution depends precisely on young people coming to the forefront. The UJC, which currently has 420,000 members between the ages of 14 and 30, sees itself as the leader of that process. Juan Carlos was confident that the revolution’s deep roots in the Cuban youth would ensure its success.
He rejected the phony picture painted by the capitalist press that the revolution is held together by the will of an archaic dictator rather than by the support of the masses of Cuban people, of whom half are under 30.
When asked what will happen after the death of Cuban president Fidel Castro, for example, Juan Carlos explained humorously, “Marx’s daughter once asked Marx what there will be after communism, and Marx said, ‘more communism.’ And I would like to say that after Fidel there will be more Fidels, more revolution.”
Unfortunately for the opponents of the Cuban revolution, the routine U.S. media predictions of a shift toward capitalism after Castro’s death have little to do with reality. “The Cuban revolution will last,” Juan Carlos said, “because it is authentic. Unlike in Eastern Europe, the people participate in the process of running our society.”
An important lesson can be drawn from this statement because the best assurance of the revolution’s survival-outside of the triumph of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries-is the increased participation of the Cuban people in the process of running society.
This would mean establishing institutions of workers’ democracy that give the Cuban people direct control over their society. Although this form of workers’ rule has not yet been instituted, the Cuban revolution has always been marked by its democratic tendency to involve the people in decision-making and mass mobilizations.
And since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the leaders of the Cuban revolution have once again shown their healthy instincts by turning towards the Cuban people in an attempt to deepen the level of their participation in the decision-making process.
The YSAers saw evidence of this when they visited the government headquarters in the Boyeros municipality of Havana. In a meeting with the president of the People’s Power government, they learned some very impressive facts about the functioning of the Cuban system: Delegates to a municipal assembly, who are elected from each neighborhood, for example, are recallable at any time with the approval of only 25 percent of the voters. Also, elected delegates are given no salary for their political position and thus work normal jobs like everyone else. This ensures that those who are elected are motivated by a desire to serve the people rather than their careers.
Furthermore, membership in the Cuban Communist Party is not a requirement for holding office. In Boyeros, for example, 15 percent of the delegates to the municipal assembly are not members of the Communist Party.
Many YSAers valued their encounters with average people on the streets of Havana even more than their meetings with Cuban leaders. “I got a really positive impression of the Cuban people,” stated Joey Koomas, a San Francisco YSA member. “They understand the difference between the American people and our government.”
YSAers were moved by meeting Cubans who commit great sacrifices in order to maintain the revolution. “People were poor, and you could see the effects of the embargo everywhere,” said Adam Ritscher from Minneapolis, “but the response to these things from most of the Cubans we met was continued determination to preserve and deepen their revolution.”
The Cuban people’s continued support for their revolutionary project was illustrated most clearly during our trip by a mass march on July 26. This is Cuba’s annual holiday commemorating the failed attack on the Moncada army barracks by revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro in 1953, during the period of Batista’s rule.
Marching on July 26
This year, well over a million people demonstrated in Havana-with chants of “Down with the blockade!” This militant procession, which was the largest in Cuba’s history, marched defiantly past the fenced-off American Interests Section. The YSA group was proud to have been among the demonstrators demanding an end to the blockade and supporting the continuation of the revolution.
The following day, the American youth were invited to a block party to celebrate the 26th. Each year, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution organize these festivities in neighborhoods all over Havana. It was a unique honor for the YSA delegation to have been invited to participate.
The president of the committee and other members of the community warmly welcomed the group at the beginning of the party. In a gracious gesture, they informed everyone that they had made a vegetarian version of their traditional meat stew, called cordosa, for some of their special guests. The manner in which the YSAers were welcomed into this community was a touching example of the Cuban people’s generosity.
For our part, YSAers brought several bags of toys, which were given to the committee president to be distributed equally among the children in the neighborhood. Also at the block party, the group met a number of Cuban young people who are involved in a youth project in Havana.
Through this connection, the YSAers arranged to spend their last day in Cuba with about 30 young people from the project. On the final day of the trip, the two groups met and questioned each other about topics ranging from popular culture to politics. The Cuban youth grinned and applauded when YSAers told them that we were trying to make a revolution in the United States.
Both groups spent the afternoon together doing volunteer work, cleaning one of Havana’s most littered beaches The idea of doing voluntary labor for the revolution was popularized in Cuba by the revolutionary leader Che Guevara, who is known for his example of selfless devotion to his work.
Che’s example inspired all of the participants in the trip when they visited his memorial in Santa Clara, the site of a decisive battle in the Cuban revolution led by Che. However, just being in a country where socialist ideas are widely accepted and promoted was an encouraging experience for everyone. Seeing Cuba illustrated the feasibility of oppressed and exploited people overthrowing their oppressors and running their own lives.
Rainy Demerson, from San Jose, Calif., told me, “In the U.S. you feel totally isolated advocating social change. Here, however, our ideas-which are seen as radical in the U.S.-are common. It’s really nice to be in a place where you’re not considered crazy for fighting for equality. In Cuba there is a real life example of how all of our ‘crazy’ beliefs actually work for people.”