by Derrel Meyers / April 2005 issue of Socialist Action
“CUBA—A Revolution in Motion,” by Isaac Saney.
Fernwood Press and Zed Press, 240 pages, $20.
On a visit to Cuba in 1996 I was asked by Segundo Piñan, a representative of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People (ICAP), what changes I
might have seen in Cuba since my first trip there in 1969. I responded, “Given the current crisis [the devastating result of the 1989-1991 collapse of Cuba’s
East European trading partners and the escalation of U.S. aggression], I’m amazed at what Cuba is accomplishing now with fewer resources than it had
Segundo corrected me: “We actually have more resources now than ever. They are the human resources developed over the last 37 years by our revolution through education, participation, and greater equality. These
human resources are the main reasons for our current successes, for our very survival.”
Although I have been a student and supporter of the Cuban Revolution since 1961, it required a reading of Isaac Saney’s book, “Cuba–A Revolution in Motion,” for me to fully appreciate what Segundo meant.
As the title implies, Saney insists that the Cuban Revolution not be viewed as a finished product, but rather as an ongoing social, political, economic, and
historical process that is still in motion.
In the introduction to his book Saney writes, “This book, intended as an introduction for students and the general reader, explores Cuba as it enters the
twenty-first century, a lone island of anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism and socialism in the so-called ‘age of globalization.’ This work seeks to explain what some have called the ‘miracle’ of the Cuban Revolution’s survival in the face of an unprecedented economic contraction.”
He further explains, “This book does not portray Cuba as a perfect society, a paradise. Nor does it present the island’s revolutionary process as a universal
model for Third World development. But, as an example, the Cuban experience has much to offer.”
The first chapter offers an excellent overview of Cuban history that highlights a century of struggle for independence and social justice, and how that struggle and its leaders influenced the ethos and strategies of the leaders of the current revolutionary process.
Saney details the most important revolutionary political and economic events since 1959 and the reactions to them by various U.S. administrations,
contextualizing the current hostility. He further provides a comprehensive picture of the early 1990s economic crash and the responses to it, which itself
merits an entire book.
Governance in Cuba
Not only does Saney reject the charge that the Cuban Revolution is a one-man show backed by an elite bureaucracy. He presents convincing evidence to the
contrary, showing that Cuban decision-making is at a minimum far more democratic than ever before in its history and, moreover, that it continues to evolve to more interactive and broadly participatory processes and institutions.
It is no less than amazing that this process was accelerated in response to the catastrophic economic collapse of the early 1990s. Cuba’s response to this
crisis was the opposite of what her opponents expected from a “totalitarian regime.” It’s astonishing how little credit the Cubans get for their handling of
what in many countries would have resulted in riots, government repression, ethnic cleansing, or even civil war.
The Cuban political response, according to Saney, was “an extensive and comprehensive period of national consultation, transforming Cuba into an island-wide parliament. Poignantly, from 1989 to 1997, the Cuban military budget declined 4.7 times, reducing the size of the armed forces from an estimated 300,000 to 55,000, a mere fraction of its Cold War strength.”
It was the exact opposite of the behavior of the East European politicians, generals, and bureaucrats, who hid behind smokescreens of parliamentary reform as they privatized and looted what was left of the social wealth of those countries. Those thieving and still repressive bureaucracies enjoy the enthusiastic blessing of the same capitalist “democracies” that are so hostile to Cuba. Today, for example, there are 27 billionaires in Russia, and one in five Russians now live below the official poverty line of $38 a month. “Bravo!” says Wall Street.
Therein lies the truth of Fidel Castro’s assertion that the miracle “was not economic but political.” Saney elaborates, “…the ‘explanation’ for the Cuban
‘miracle’ is to be found in the Cuban political system, in its own unique democracy.”
Saney further contrasts Cuba’s revolutionary democratic ethos to the dominant model of democracy in the capitalist world, which “marginalizes the right to
economic security, employment, healthcare, education, housing, livable environment, etc.” He argues, “The illusion of participation is created through the ballot box, obscuring the wider and systemic disenfranchisement. Democratic rights are reduced to the exercise of the vote every few years.”
Race, inequality, and crime
Saney makes an important and enlightening exploration into the successes, shortcomings, and even regressions in the struggles against racism, sexism, inequality, and crime in Cuba. Rather than a taking a measurement of how much or little progress has been made (there’s been much progress and some regression), he looks for the social, political, economic factors that accelerate, retard, or even reverse the struggle against these social ills.
Perhaps the most important truth to emerge from his investigation is that these ills do not automatically disappear because of good socialist intentions or even strong laws, and they can take years to overcome in a country burdened with a legacy of class, racial, and sexual elitism and limited economic resources.
He describes how these ills were made worse not only by the crisis of the “Special Period” but also, in some cases, by measures taken to ease the crisis. Thus, while the economic collapse worsened the already poor conditions of the marginalized poor, tourism and foreign investment increased inequality in Cuba, rekindled elitist attitudes, and brought an increase in crime, including prostitution.
It is a valuable investigation into social problems that exist globally. Even with the setbacks, Cuba is in the forefront of attacking and overcoming these ills. We have much to learn in what Saney describes as a “veritable laboratory” of social dynamics.
The United States and Cuba
This segment is especially valuable for all North Americans, and especially Cuba-solidarity activists, because we are ultimately responsible for ending the
45-year war our government is waging against the people of Cuba, and it may become necessary to stop military escalation of this war.
Saney writes, “Cubans keenly understand, as they have their history as a guide, that the unrelenting U.S. hostility is not simply a product of misguided
policies: the tactical approach to the ‘Cuba problem’ may change from U.S. administration to administration—from military assault of a Kennedy to
the rapproachment of a Carter back again to the hyper-aggressiveness of George W. Bush—but the underlying logic driving the imperialist system
remains the same, a lust for expansion and domination.”
Saney concludes with these thoughts: “Since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, discussions on the pertinence and viability of socialism have dominated
the discourses that endeavor to banish the socialist project from any emancipatory agenda. Cuba offers profound insights on the issue of the viability of socialism as a counter-project to the neoliberal triumphalism. Nevertheless, even on the left, the Cuban socialist project remains neglected and maligned….
“Washington’s hostility to the revolutionary project continues unabated, with the singular objective of the overthrow of the Revolution, the elimination of socialism and the restoration of capitalism and U.S. tutelage.
“As a counter, Cubans have heeded Lenin’s call to erect the most durable barriers to capitalist restoration by carrying out the Revolution ‘in the
most far reaching, consistent and determined manner possible. The more far reaching the revolution the more difficult will it be to restore the old order.’
“In Havana, there is a well known billboard, based on a quote taken from the 1996 address to the UN General Assembly by Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage, that simply stated: Each day in the world 200 million children sleep in the streets. Not one is Cuban. Perhaps, this best sums up what Cubans are—in the face of immense obstacles—building and defending.”
Isaac Saney is a member of the faculty at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and regularly lectures on, writes about, and conducts research in