Cuba Venezuela and 21st Century Socialism
Written in 2009
By Doug Lorimer
“If we do not change the world now, there may be no 22nd century for humanity. Capitalism has destroyed the ecological equilibrium of the earth. It is now or never!”
-Hugo Chavez, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Never before in world history has there been a social crisis like that of the capitalist system we live in today. Not even the bloodbath of the first and second world wars or the great Depression were as severe as the current crisis. As Venezuela’s socialist president puts it, the choice is stark: between socialism and barbarism. If we do not make the right choice, there may be no 22nd century - the devastating impact of capitalist industry on the world environment today threatens the very existence of human society.
On top of the environment crisis, the United States is caught in the quicksand of two un-winnable wars on the Third World. The same superpower has now led the world into the greatest economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The frenetic pursuit of profit before all else has led all of humanity down this dangerous path to extinction. But there is another path.
Socialism is that other path, a social system that puts human need before capitalist profits. A social system that places human beings at the centre of social life and organises production and distribution according to rational plan.
The 21st century has placed the responsibility for destroying capitalism and building socialism on our shoulders. “ It is now or never!” - we must build a 21st century socialism to save the planet, and to open a higher phase of historical development.
But 21st century socialism, first popularised by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's speech to the world social Forum in 2005, is not the socialism (or “communism”) of the 20th century.
That perversion of socialism of the USSR and the Eastern bloc - i.e. Stalinism - was a deformed, distorted, bureaucratic result of the violent overthrow of the Russian revolution of 1917 and all its progressive ideals.
21st century socialism, by contrast, must be both democratic and humane.
In reinventing socialism, we are not starting from scratch. Fifty years of the heroic Cuban revolution and the newborn Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela have already blazed the trail. Both these revolutions are linking up in providing socialist leadership to oppressed working people all around the world. In Latin America, a continent-wide rebellion is under way with Cuba and Venezuela at its head. Other countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and El Salvador are also heading in a progressive direction. Not only is socialism more necessary than ever, it is also becoming more possible.
To understand 21st century socialism, it is essential to study the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions, their history, achievements and lessons.
History of the Cuban revolution
The Cuban revolution has continued advancing for 50 years and has passed through several stages of development. The pre-history of the movement that brought about the socialist transformation of Cuba has its origins in a mass popular struggle of the workers and peasants of Cuba against the brutal US backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Batista ruled for the big Cuban landlords and the American transnational corporations. As a puppet government of the US, the Batista regime turned Cuba into a playground for the rich. It became a holiday resort for the Yankee elite. Casinos, prostitution, gambling and drug abuse were the gifts of civilisation Uncle Sam brought the Cuban people. And it meant deepening poverty for the average Cuban.
Batista was a former president of Cuba, who realised in 1952 that he was not going to be re-elected. So he staged a military coup on March to the 10th ushering in a brutal dictatorship that put down any opposition with ferocious violence.
The young student rebel, Fidel Castro, was disgusted by the Batista coup. He was already an anti-government activist as a student member of the anticorruption Orthodox Party. He had already gathered around him the rebellious youth of that party. He was training them to be revolutionaries.
Batista's coup accelerated Fidel's preparations for revolutionary action and by July 1953, he had recruited 1500 young rebels. The rebels concluded that now only the military road to power was open - Batista's coup and the dictatorship he established had anulled all bourgeois democracy and legality. As Fidel put it in 1955: “no people would follow a group of adventurers who sought to plunge the country into civil strife, unless injustice held sway, unless there were no peaceful, legal means provided to all the citizens in the civic battle of ideas. We agree with [Cuban independence hero Jose] Marti that ‘he who starts a war that can be avoided is a criminal, and so is he who fails to start a war that is inevitable’”.
On the 26th of July 1953, Fidel led around 120 student rebels in a military attack on the Moncada barracks, the second-largest garrison in Cuba. The aim was to seize the barracks and topple Batista. As Fidel's brother Raul later put it, “it was a surprise action to disarm the enemy and arm the people."
The attack on the heavily fortified garrison was a military failure, but it was a political victory. Five of Castro's combatants were killed in the battle and 56 were murdered by Batista's troops later. Many captives were tortured. Fidel was sent to Boniato prison where he gave his own defence testimony to a military tribunal. The speech was later published in pamphlet form as History will absolve me. It went on to become the official program of the July 26 Movement, Fidel's rebel movement named in honour of the Moncada attack.
Fidel's History will absolve me speech called for the restoration of basic democratic rights and proposed solutions to some of Cuba's gravest problems, including the lack of access to land, the low level of industrialisation and the drastically under-funded housing, education and health systems. It also proposed a land reform programme, a profit-sharing scheme for the working class, confiscation of property of corrupt officials and the opening of the books of big corporations and banks.
After release from prison, Fidel found asylum in Mexico. It was there he first met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Che was also a student rebel with sympathy for the oppressed. In the middle of his medical degree he dropped his studies and took off by motorbike to travel throughout Latin America. It was on this journey, that Che got first-hand experience of the terrible poverty crushing the people of the continent (this episode of Che's life was beautifully portrayed in the 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries).
While travelling through Guatemala, Che saw first-hand the influence of US imperialism. The country's left-wing president Jacobo Arbenz had carried out a progressive land reform expropriating 84,000 ha of land occupied by the US United Fruit Company. In response, in June 1954 the CIA supported an invasion of Guatemala by carrying out an aerial bombing campaign. Che instinctively joined the workers’ resistance, helping to organise militias against the invasion. The resistance was defeated and thousands of workers were massacred. Che fled to Mexico.
In July 1955, Che met Fidel for the first time. Fidel was in Mexico, preparing an armed invasion of Cuba to topple Batista. Che joined the rebel force as its doctor. On the 25th of November 1956, Che, Fidel and 80 other fighters left Mexico for Cuba, aboard a yacht called the ‘Granma’. They landed in Cuba on 5 December, but were surprised by a Batista ambush. Most of the guerrilla forces were destroyed or disbursed in the attack but the remaining 15 rebels continued on. A new stage had opened in the struggle - the revolutionary war.
After the devastating ambush, the remaining fighters were able to re-unite. In mid-January, they had their first victory capturing a small military barracks. Days later, they had another victory defeating a column of Batista's troops.
The guerrillas did more than just fight. In between battles, the July 26 guerrilla forces trained, studied and produced propaganda. They will always conscious about educating the public about their political aims and sought to convince them of their revolutionary-democratic program. They produced pamphlets and newspapers and established a rebel radio station, broadcasting from high in the Sierra Mountains. In February 1957, Fidel Castro gave an interview with Herbert Matthews from the New York Times. The rebels understood the importance of spreading their message to the outside world.
A division of labour was established between the July 26 Movement leaders in the Sierra Maestra mountains and their counterparts in the cities. They tried to coordinate their actions as much as possible. The urban July 26 leaders organised the distribution of propaganda, the recruitment of new members, the distribution of food and supplies to the guerrillas and tried to organise strike action timed to coincide with the military attacks of the guerrillas.
In May, the guerrillas carried out more successful attacks, capturing the enemy's barracks in El Uvero. In August, Fidel's column liberated the town of Palma Mocha. Through November and December 1957, the Batista regime launched a “winter offensive” but was stopped in his tracks by the Rebel Army. In February, the rebels had another victory at Pino del Agua, and on March 1 the guerrilla army was divided up into nine columns leaving the Sierra Maestra to create more battlefronts in the mountains.
Another Batista offensive in May 1958 lasting 74 days was defeated by the rebel army, and in August Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos lead separate Rebel Army forces to take Cuba's Central provinces, cutting the country in half.
After carrying out the rebel army's final victorious offensive in Santiago de Cuba, Fidel left Santiago on a long victory march back to Havana. On January 1 1959, facing military defeat, Batista fled Cuba, leaving the rebels in power.
Arriving victorious in Havana on January 8, Fidel established a new popular government with Manuel Urrutia as Prime Minister and Fidel as the commander in chief of the Rebel Army and Jose Mira Cardona as Prime Minister.
Applying the Moncada Program
The first tasks of the new revolutionary regime were to settle accounts with the dictatorship, and to institute the first revolutionary reforms.
Throughout January and February of 1959, public trials of Batista's henchmen and police criminals, who had tortured and murdered revolutionary workers and peasants were carried out. Some of the trials were held in sports stadiums in Havana before crowds of thousands. While the trials were criticised in the United States, the Cuban revolutionaries defended their rights to revolutionary justice. On XXX the July 26 movement called a mass demonstration of the people of Cuba, to show their support for the trials. XXX thousands attended in a show of force in defence of revolutionary justice.
In his 2006 biography, My Life, Fidel expressed regret for having held the trials publicly, recognizing that doing so gave the US weapon to attack Cuba with. But the trials themselves and the justice they meted out were not regretted.
While the trials were taking place, the government was moving to institute its first political reforms, in line with the Moncada program. On February 7, the new government reinstated the 1940 Constitution that had been quashed by general Batista after his 1952 coup.
The revolutionaries also undertook their first company nationalisations in this period. On March 3, for example, the Cuban government nationalised the Cuban telephone company, reducing telephone rates for Cuban workers.
The most significant reform of this period however was the Agrarian Reform Act. Agrarian reform was a key part of the Moncada program outlined in History will absolve me. It was a comprehensive land reform programme aimed at dismantling the latifundios - enormous tracts of land that had been in the hands of rich Cuban landowners. Allotments of over 1000 acres were expropriated and foreign-owned land seized. Agricultural cooperatives were formed to help the Cuban campesinos organise to work the land.
But it was not all smooth sailing. The government was facing its first resignations as some government offices started to chaffe at the left-wing direction of the revolution. By the end of the first year of the revolution, 29 ministers had left.
The problems were not just within the revolutionary camp. Hostilities from the United States and Cuban exiles in Miami began. In March 1960, US President Dwight Eisenhower proposed a secret plan against Cuba, aiming to end sugar purchases and oil supply, block arms trade and organise the counter-revolutionary exiles into a paramilitary invasion force. By this time, there were already five counter-revolutionary groups of exiles operating in Miami.
The months of June and July of 1960 mark the opening of the socialist stage of the Cuban revolution. This process was precipitated by attacks from US. On June 7, 1960 three big US petroleum companies, Shell and Esso and Texaco, encouraged by the US government, refused to sell fuel to Cuba or to refine the Soviet supplied oil.
The Cuban government hit back on June 29 by nationalising the Texaco refinery. Two days later, it nationalised the Esso and Shell refineries.
The economic tit-for-tat accelerated. On July 3, the US eliminated Cuba's remaining sugar quota. Again Cuba hit back by this time nationalising all US businesses on the island.
Cuba was left economically isolated. The Soviet Union and China announced that they would purchase over 1,000,000 tonnes of Cuban sugar and would no longer be buying from the US.
The programme of socialisation continued in September. All American banks were nationalised. And in October, the urban reform law, nationalised almost 400 Cuban owned big businesses, including sugar mills and banks.
In the same month, the US imposed a partial economic embargo, hitting Cuba's supplies of food and medicine.
In the meantime, US government officials and the CIA were working closely with the Cuban exile community to organise ongoing terror attacks on Cuba. These included invasions by boat and plane. On one day alone in March 1961 more than 10 US air planes invaded Cuban airspace. Local counterrevolutionary groups carried out bombing attacks. In one case a seven storey department store building was completely destroyed.
Bay of Pigs
On April 15 1961, a fleet of B26 bombers with Cuban insignia unleashed a massive attack on Cuban airfields in Havana, San Antonio de Los Banos and Santiago de Cuba destroying almost a third of Cuba's fighter planes. The air strikes were designed to wipe out Cuba's defensive capabilities so as to enable an invasion. This began the famous Bay of Pigs invasion.
The historic significance of the Bay of Pigs cannot be overstated. The people of the tiny socialist island of Cuba militarily and politically defeated the superpower empire of the United States of America.
On April 15, 1961, backed by US President John Kennedy and the CIA, 1200 CIA-trained mercenaries invaded Cuba, landing at Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba. A few kilometres out to sea US marines waited on board the USS Essex.
Seventy-two hours later, the invasion had been crushed. Almost the entire invasion force was taken prisoner and traded back to the US for medicines and food. It was a massive defeat of the empire and a moral vindication of the Cuban revolution.
The next day, in a speech at a Havana Cemetery, where Castro was burying fallen Cuban comrades, he declared the Cuban revolution socialist:
“Yes, this is a socialist regime. It is here, but the fault is not ours, the blame belongs to Columbus, the English colonisers, the Spanish colonisers. The people of the United States, too, will someday get tired [of capitalism.]”.
Humiliated by their defeat at the Bay of Pigs, the US sought revenge. On November 30, JFK launched “Operation Mongoose”. Its aim was nothing less than the overthrow of the socialist government of Cuba and the assassination of Fidel Castro. It's deadly intent was belied by its ridiculous name and Clouseau-esque attempts to knock off Castro - poisoned cigars; a bacteria laced wetsuit; a poison pen; and even poisoned ice cream were among the many clumsy attempts to murder Fidel. (To date, 638 attempts on Fidel's life have been made by successive US administrations.)
In January 1962, the US-dominated Organisation of American States suspended Cuba's membership. Fidel hit back with his classic speech, the Second Declaration of Havana on February 4. The speech was a declaration of rebellion, calling on the people's of Latin America to make revolution against imperialism.
The October Missile Crisis
Throughout 1962, the struggle between the US and Cuba accelerated, culminating in the “Cuban missile crisis” in October.
Immediately after their defeat at the Bay of Pigs, the US began a full-scale operation in preparation for war on Cuba. In its desperation to rid world capitalism of this tiny socialist state, the United States brought the world to the brink of thermonuclear war.
While the US had steadily increased sanctions on Cuba since 1959, the Cuban government had sought political and economic solidarity with the Soviet union. The Soviet Union was the “cold war” enemy of the US and a natural socialist ally of Cuba. The Cubans welcomed the military support of the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles on the island. The Soviet Union had its own reasons to install the missiles, but for Cuba, the missiles were purely a self-defence measure against the growing military threat from the US.
The scale of the military buildup in the US was revealed during the crisis itself. One hundred and eighty three warships were mobilised to blockade the island, carrying 40,000 US marines. Five army divisions and almost 600 combat aircraft waited on high alert in Florida.
When the US found out about the missiles on the 14th of October, it brought the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation. By October 25 October crisis was over. Behind the backs of the Cubans, the US and the Soviets had reached an agreement. The Soviet union would remove all of its nuclear missiles from Cuba.
Despite Soviet leader Khrushchev's underhanded agreement with the US, the Cuban people and the revolutionary government mobilised en masse. 300,000 Cubans took to arms in a massive display of revolutionary combativity.
The end of the missile crisis was not the end of US hostilities. The Kennedy administration tightened the screws on Cuba still further. Prohibiting travel to Cuba, outlawing the exchange of money or commodities between US and Cuban citizens, encouraging the CIA to increase its support of the Cuban exile terrorists in Miami and freezing all Cuban assets in the United States.
The Cuban revolution has always prided itself on its internationalism. It has never seen its revolution as an endpoint but as a beginning for the world socialist revolution. It has offered material aid, human capital and political solidarity to a whole range of Third World countries on innumerable occasions. This, despite being a Third World country itself and under the cruel US blockade.
One of the best examples of Cuba's international solidarity was Cuba's successful intervention in the African continent in the 1960s. Cuba assisted 17 national liberation movements or revolutionary governments in Africa.
Its most successful intervention was Angola. Angolan revolutionaries requested assistance from the Cuban government for help in the struggle to liberate Angola from the colonial rule of Portugal. In 1975, Portugal withdrew. The racist apartheid state of South Africa invaded, trying to take advantage of the political vacuum left by Portugal's withdrawal. The Cubans carried out Operation Carlota, an offensive alongside the Angolan revolutionaries. Cuba's role was decisive. The South African regime was defeated and a new left-wing government installed in Angola. Tensions flared up again in 1987, and South Africa again attacked Angola. Cuba defended Angola at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The outcome of the battle was an agreement in December 1988 between Angola, Cuba and South Africa that South African troops would withdraw leaving Angola free. This defeat for South Africa, signalled the beginning for the end of the racist regime in South Africa.
Cuba also assisted newly independent Algeria in fending off attacks from its neighbour Morocco in October 1963.
In 1965, Cuba sent volunteer militants to aid the Simba Rebellion in the Congo. This mission was led by Che Guevara. The mission was a failure, and Che returned to Cuba briefly before leading a column of Cuban troops to Bolivia. It was in Bolivia that Che was murdered by the CIA-backed Bolivian military in October 1967.
The blockade and the ‘Special Period’
The second half of the 1980s brought new conditions to Cuba. Cuban productivity was weakening and economic management was distorted. Inefficiency, outdated technology, the lack of labour force regulation and an oversized bureaucracy and managerial layer led to an economic imbalance. A lot of these problems had been inherited from the Soviet Union.
The Cuban leadership began to address these problems in mid 1986. It began to carry out a social political and economic programme it called `rectification". Rectification involved a rationalisation of production and a tightening of distribution. Hard work was rewarded by better pay and labour discipline was increased.
Just a few years after the rectification period began, Cuba was dealt a terrific blow -the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991. The collapse had a devastating impact on the Cuban economy. These countries had been Cuba's principal trading partners.
The consequences of this new crisis was severe. In one harsh blow Cuba lost around 85% of its trade. Oil imports fell by almost half. In the worst year – 1993 - Cuba's gross domestic product decreased by 14.9%, ringing an overall decrease in GDP since 1989 to 34.8%. Cuba was importing almost twice as much as it was exporting and the country's key industry - sugar production - was producing 3,000,000 tonnes less in relation to its 1991 harvest.
The devastating economic impact of the collapse of `communism" was further aggravated by a sudden fall on the world market of the price of sugar in 1992. The price of another of Cuba's exports, nickel, also fell in the same year. In the same period Cuba was also hit by a devastating cyclone.
Taking advantage of Cuba's crippled status, US imperialism tightened the blockade. For the people of Cuba, living standards went into freefall. Goods and services were hard to come by, and inflation was rife. Access to fuel was reduced, blackouts were frequent, public transport almost vanished and unemployment rose.
The Cuban leadership responded to the crisis by initiating a programme of measures called the “Special Period in Times of War”. The special period program, starting in 1991, undertook legal, economic and political changes to resist the worst impacts of the collapse of communism and the US blockade. Reforms were made in the economy and in the apparatus of state. Many market reforms were also introduced, such as the decentralisation of foreign trade, and opening up to foreign investment in joint ventures with foreign capital. A dual currency system was also introduced.
These reforms, while aimed at stimulating the economy, also carried inherent dangers. Concessions to the capitalist market increased inequality and individualism.
But the measures of the special period were nothing like the economic “shock packages” introduced by neoliberalism in Latin America. They were carried out by a workers’ government, defending the interests of the working people. There were no attacks on health, education and social services. Where workers were made unemployed, they were relocated to useful and necessary jobs. And the basic food ration, the libreta, did not change. The costs of essential services like housing, water and electricity stayed the same.
The market reforms were not an attempt to reintroduce capitalism. They were measures to save socialism in conditions of extreme adversity.
The measures soon began to work. By 1994, the Cuban economy was recovering, and in 1995 the government was able to introduce incentives for labour. The rest of the 1990s were years of economic improvement.
The devastating impact of the special period has not yet been completely overcome. But Cuba's economy continues to improve, and today is growing by more than 6.5%. The Cuban government has been able to roll back, many of the market reforms introduced during the special period. High metal prices in recent years have boosted Cuba's exports sector, and the deepening relationship with Venezuela since 2000 has also boosted Cuba's economy.
Achievements of the Cuban revolution
The Cuban revolution has notched up a long list of social, political and economic achievements that place it far ahead of any other third world country and in some cases first world countries. These achievements were only made possible by carrying out a revolution that first placed working people in power and then ran the economy in the interests of the people. Cuba’s achievements have included a genuine revolution in education, a healthcare program that has produced near miracles, and social and political achievements for women, blacks, gays and lesbians
A real education revolution
Since 1959, Cuba has carried out a genuine education revolution. Illiteracy and educational backwardness were chronic social problems prior to 1959. But after taking power, the Cuban revolution changed things rapidly.
The first and greatest of revolutionary Cuba's achievements in education was the abolition of illiteracy, which stood at 23% in 1958. A mass literacy campaign, led by 280,000 volunteers teaching some 100,000 students, eliminated illiteracy in just one year.
Not long after, free education was established for all Cubans. From preschool to PhD, free education was guaranteed in both the Cuban Constitution and in practice, with the socialisation of the costs of tuition, books, pencils and pens. Cuba now has more teachers per capita than any other country in the world.
The Cuban education system aims to develop rounded individuals. Educational areas such as sports and arts, chronically underfunded in the capitalist West, are promoted and assisted by the government. Sixteen thousand students in Cuba are currently enrolled in arts courses.
600,000 students are currently studying at Cuban universities. Not only is the education free, but the students also receive a stipend to keep them focused on their studies. There are 100,000 higher education teachers at some 958 university centres around the country. Some of these university centres have been established in former jails and sugar plants. There are now more than 30 times the number of university graduates in Cuba than there were before the revolution.
Special consideration is made for disabled students. The government makes it a priority to reach out to the students, going into the neighbourhoods to seek out and enrol the disabled in school. Even in rural areas disabled students are enrolled into the special schools for the disabled.
In case of workers being laid off, owing to the production needs of Cuba's planned economy, they are encouraged to take up paid study. The philosophy of the Cuban revolution is “study as work” - both are considered important for the all-round development of the economy and the individual. Those who aren't studying are working; those who aren't working should be studying.
On September 2001, Cuba entered a new stage in its education revolution. As far as possible, higher education was encouraged for all Cubans. Those Cuban youth who had reached ninth grade were encouraged to continue their studies. Curriculum was modified to make material more relevant to their lives and financial assistance measures were implemented, to encourage students to stay on. By 2005, 45,000 of these people had entered university.
Cuba's great strides in education were motivated by more than just goodwill on behalf of the government. The Cuban revolutionaries understand the great importance of education. They have had a genuine concern for the ability of individuals to develop all of his or her potentialities so that they can contribute to the life of the country as best they can. But education has also been a way to increase social equality. Even in a society where class inequalities have been largely overcome, professional and educational inequality persists. By making education as accessible as possible to all people, a certain social levelling can take place.
The Cuban revolution is also engaged in what Fidel Castro calls “the battle of ideas”. This is a battle of humanitarian, socialist ideas against individualist capitalist ideas on the world stage. It is also a battle within Cuba to maintain the revolution’s support base among the new generations of youth who missed the experience the revolutionary 60s, and need to be convinced of the correctness of Cuban socialism. Cuba's education system allows its citizens to engage in this battle.
Cuba is rightfully proud of its educational achievements. After 50 years of revolution, beginning with the eradication of illiteracy and the extension of education to all Cuban citizens, the Cuban revolution shows what's possible under socialism.
As Fidel put it in My Life, “in no other country in the world has such a colossal educational and cultural revolution taken place, making Cuba, by a wide margin, the country with the highest knowledge level and highest cultural level in the world - a manifestation of Marti’s profound conviction that `without culture, freedom is not possible’"
Miracles in health care
As with education, healthcare in Cuba is completely free - from the cradle to the grave. And not only as it free, but Cuba's health system is among the best in the world. It has been ranked 51st in the world, out of 177 countries on the human development index of United Nations, putting it in the high development category.
Before 1959, the vast majority of Cubans had very limited access to health care. The capitalist elite had their private physicians but the poor had only a handful of rundown hospitals, and medicines were mostly unaffordable. In the countryside it was even worse; health care was virtually non-existent.
The revolution established health as a basic right of all Cuban citizens. It got to work by establishing the Ministry of public health in 1960. It also established a new ethic in healthcare – not for profit, but for service to the people. Cuba’s 1976 constitution states: “The state guarantees this right by providing free medical and hospital care by means of the installations of the rural medical service network, polyclinics, hospitals, preventative and specialized treatment centres; by providing free dental care; by promoting the health publicity campaigns, health education, regular medical examinations, general vaccinations and other measures to prevent the outbreak of disease.” It is a healthcare system that emphasises preventative focus and popular participation. All Cuban citizens are encouraged to take responsibility for their own and others' healthcare.
The revolution quickly obliterated so-called Third World diseases such as tuberculosis polio and diphtheria.
The emphasis on health is a basic right was not compromised, even during the “special period” of the 1990s. Life expectancy, during the “special period” was as high as it is today.
According to the Word Health Organization, life expectancy in Cuba is now 78 years — 76 years for men and 80 years for women. In comparison, the US life expectancy at birth is 75 and 80 years for males and females respectively. In 1959, average life expectancy in Cuba was just 58 years.
Cuba has one of the lowest AIDS rates in the world. The next best country in Latin America has an AIDS rate eight times that of Cuba.
In 2008, infant mortality in Cuba was 5.9 deaths per 1000 live births. In 1959 it was 10 times that. Many other countries in Latin America still have an infant mortality rate more than 10 times that of Cuba. Infant mortality in the US is 7 deaths per 1000 live births.
According to the WHO, Cuba has nearly twice as many physicians per capita as the US — 5.91 doctors per 1000 people compared to 2.56 doctors per 1000. In fact, Cuba also has more doctors per capita than any other country in the world. In 1959 there were only 6300 doctors, most of whom soon left for the US. Today Cuba has 70,000 doctors; 30,000 abroad and 40,000 resident in Cuba. There are some 90,000 Cuban students currently studying to work in health care. Cuba is also training — free of charge — 76,000 foreign students in medicine. xCuba also has a flourishing biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry. It has developed a vaccine for meningitis B and exports the world’s best hepatitis B vaccine. It also developed the first synthetic vaccine for pneumonia prevention.
Health research and development is also a priority. Cuba has a flourishing biotech and medical industry. It has developed a vaccine for meningitis B and exports. The world's best hepatitis B vaccine. It has also developed the first synthetic vaccine for pneumonia prevention.
Not only does it look after its own people, but the Cuban revolution exports its world-class health-care to other poor countries. In 2008, 36,500 Cuban doctors were sent to 81 Third World to provide health care to people who would otherwise not have received any. This is a greater number of doctors than is provided by the WHO or by all of the rich countires to the Third World. Not only does it send its doctors to where they are needed in the Third World, but it helps Third World countries establish health systems themselves country such as East Timor.
The Cuban government has entered a health care “joint-venture” with the Venezuelan government, called Mission Miracle. The aim of Mission Miracle is to eliminate blindness. Patients fly free of charge to Cuba, where they receive a free eye operation. The vision of more than one million Latin American and Caribbean people has been restored through this program.
Housing, nutrition, recreation
In the first years of the Cuban revolution housing was nationalised by the socialist government. Rent payments were slashed in half, and idle buildings were opened to the homeless, making housing a right for all Cubans.
Rent payments, which are never more than 10% of monthly wages, go not to enrich a landlord, but towards ownership of the house itself. Home ownership is therefore widespread in Cuba with over 84% of Cubans owning their own homes.
Solving the problem of hunger [insert hunger stats] was one of the first aims of the revolution. Guaranteeing a sufficient diet with adequate calories and proteins became the government's objective. This was achieved through the establishment of the libreta (notebook of supply) a kind of ration system. With the libreta, about 10 to 20 days per month of basic foods is provided at subsidised prices. Any extra foods can be put purchased at market prices.
High on the list of Cuba's priorities and achievements are sport, recreation and culture. Far from being the domain of a privileged elite, these are considered essential to the individual development of each Cuban.
Originally free, the Special Period of hardship forced the government to introduce a small entry fee for Cubans to visit the zoos, the cinema, ballet, sporting events, etc. But many world-class events are still free, such as regular performances by the National Symphony Orchestra.
On the cultural front, Cuba is well-known for its triumphs of ballet. The Cuban Royal Ballet is world renowned, as is Carlos Acosta, Cuba's most famous ballet dancer. Cuba is also a sporting powerhouse. From chess to baseball, it ranks among the world’s best. Cuba finished 11th in the 2004 Olympic Games, just one place behind the United Kingdom. In 2008, Cuba finished 28th, taking two gold medals.
Centuries of colonialism in Cuba left behind an environmental nightmare. The Spanish conquistadors razed forests and mountainsides to turn Cuba into a sugar, coffee and tobacco export zone. Sugar plantations and cattle ranches replaced most of Cuba’s lush tropical forests. After the Spanish, came the North American imperialists, who continued the same practice for most of the 20th century.
The Cuban Revolution inherited this mess and immediately set about cleaning it up, drawing on the thought of Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti, who stressed the dependence of human society on the natural world. Today, Cuba has the world’s best environmental record, having increased its forest coverage by over 50%, drastically reducing electricity used for lighting, and implementing a revolution in organic agriculture. Today it stands as the only country in the world designated by the Word Wildlife Fund to be developing sustainability.
Centuries of deforestation started to be turned around. In 1959 forest coverage in Cuba was 14 percent. By 1997, it was 21.5%, a 7.5% increase since 1959. By 2006 24.3% of Cuba's land area was forested - an increase of more than 50%.
Cuba's commitment to environmental preservation has been institutionalised with the establishment of a number of environment protection agencies such as the National Commission of Environmental Protection and Rational use of Natural Resources, the National Environmental Education Program, and the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment and for Conservation of Natural Resources.
The Cuban revolution faced some difficulties in the 1970s however, as it struggled against under-development. Many of these problems were the result of the US economic blockade and the retardation of Cuba's economy by the colonial focus on sugar exports. The blockade, in particular, forced the Cuban government to depend upon some environmentally unsound production techniques of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Cuban government did attempt at this time to develop alternatives to the mechanised agricultural system adopted from the USSR. It also invested billions of dollars in the biotech and health science sciences industries.
The 1990s brought new challenges. Cuba's political and economic lifeline the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1989, resulting in a disastrous slump in trade. This was the so-called Special Period, the hardest time for Cuba since the revolution.
Nevertheless, Cuba responded to the harsh Special Period in a very positive way. The enormous production units, the heavy reliance on imported chemicals and machinery of the Soviet method of agriculture had to be disbanded. The country was wracked by a food crisis. A new way had to be found.
In this situation, the only thing that Cuba could do was rely on its own resources. It turned toward small-scale, self-reliant farming to feed the country. By 1997, the food crisis was over and Cuba had developed an organic farming sector that has inspired many environmentalists around the world.
In place of large-scale production units, they went with “small is beautiful”. Tobacco and sugarcane plantations were turned over to food crops. City dwellers were encouraged to go and work on the land, tractors were replaced by oxen, and organic pest management, soil conservation and composting were introduced.
The Cuban government established research institutes to develop environmentally friendly agricultural techniques and bio pesticides. More than 200 bio pesticide centres were established.
Cuba is well-known for its contribution to the thought and practice of organic farming. Forced to produce the bulk of its own food after the collapse of the USSR left it without imports, Cuba carried out a real revolution in food production. The agricultural revolution was not limited to the countryside.
Havana, with 20% of Cuba’s population, became a focus for an urban food production experiment. Anyone who was willing was given land to cultivate. An urban agriculture ministry was established to give support to the new urban gardeners. By the mid-90s, there were more than 28,000 urban gardens in Havana, cultivated by 50-100,000 people. Urban community gardens are also commonly found attached to factories, colleges and hospitals, producing food for the employees’ lunches. So successful was the urban gardening experiment that organic agricultural methods for food production was made Havana law. Today most of Havana’s food is produced in the city itself.
Cuba is also leading the way in the global struggle to overcome fossil fuel reliance. The government agency, the Development Program of National Energy Sources, continues to develop alternative, renewable sources of energy, such as hydroelectricity, wind farms and solar power. Cuba is also well-known for its widespread use of bicycles for urban transport. It also uses the waste products of its sugarcane industry — bagasse — as an alternative source of fuel.
Alternative forms of housing are also on the government's agenda, such as mudbrick and bamboo.
Defeating racism and sexism
Cuba is also a world leader in overcoming the scourge is of racism and sexism and homophobia. The revolution inherited all these problems from the colonial and neocolonial periods. It has made great strides in overcoming them.
From the arrival of the Spanish in 1492, centuries of racial prejudice have existed in Cuba. The Spanish colonisation was only made possible by the massacre of Cuba's indigenous peoples. To justify this brutality, the Spaniards utilised racism. Racism was also used to justify more than three centuries of enslavement of African-Cubans working the sugar and tobacco plantations. According to a common racist expression of the time, “children are born to be happy; blacks are born to steal chickens”.
Cuba was the last country in the Americas to formally abolish slavery, doing so only in 1886. But its official abolition, and the end of Spanish colonial rule in Cuba, made little difference. A succession of US-backed Cuban governments imposed discriminatory legislation, marginalising black Cubans.
Life for blacks in Cuba in the first half of the 20th century was brutal. While the abolition of slavery ended whites-only bars and schools, there were still unofficial whites-only areas. In one province for example, blacks were expected to walk on one side of the Plaza and whites on the other. In another province, there were different benches for blacks and whites. Blacks tended to be concentrated in shanty towns and whites in the rich areas of cities. Whites-only private clubs, bars, restaurants, beaches and even hospitals were the norm. And of course blacks occupied all of the menial and lower paid jobs.
The victory of the revolution in 1959 was a great triumph for race relations. It raised up Cuba’s most downtrodden. The radical redistribution of land from May 1959 and the reduction of housing rents — to a maximum of 10% of a person’s income — were the among the most important measures in undermining racism. They gave livelihood, security and dignity where before there was none. Black Cubans were also assisted with affirmative action programs, and the discriminatory private health and education systems were abolished. Free health care and free education benefited blacks the most.
Not limiting itself to economic and social reforms, the Cuban government as early as March 1959 began an ideological campaign against racism. Fidel Castro acknowledged Cuba's black population as an integral part of the Cuban nation, pointing out “the blood of Africa runs deep in our veins”. He said, “we are going to end racial discrimination in the workplace. We will be carrying out a campaign to end that hateful and repulsive system, with one motto: work opportunities for all Cubans, without discrimination of race or sex… let white and black unite to end racial discrimination. And thus we shall proceed, step by step, to create our new homeland". The government went on to issue an official Proclamation Against Racism.
Cuba is well known for its African cultural influence. This influence is most deep in Cuba because racism was abolished so late in Cuba's history. Cuban Rumba music, poetry, African proverbs and daily speech, African cultural traditions and folklore. Great black sports, sports people, especially boxes and runners.
The revolutionary leadership is also well-known internationally for its antiracist attitude. Castro was a well-known supporter of the 1960s, Black Power movement and in the United States.
Cuba’s revolution is well known internationally for its anti-racist stance. Most impressive was Cuba’s role in the helping end the racist South African apartheid regime. From late 1975 to 1988, 300,000 Cuban internationalist volunteers participated in the war in Angola, routing the invading South African armed forces, thereby hammering a final nail in the coffin of apartheid.
Racism has been eliminated from the law books and has been mostly disposed of in the country's economy. However, while great strides have been made in overcoming racial prejudice it still continues in…
Like Cuba’s black population, Cuban women were also at the bottom of the social pyramid in pre-revolution Cuba. They made up the majority of illiterates and the unemployed. Today the situation of Cuban women is worlds apart. By 2002, 62% of university graduates were women, many of whom were studying in non-traditional areas, such as the sciences and economics. Women constitute 65% of Cuba’s professional and technical workers, while 51% of scientific researchers and 72% of doctors are women.
Life expectancy has increased dramatically for women. In 1954 a woman could expect to live to the age of 64; today, she can expect to live to 80.
All of these changes were made possible because from the beginning, the Cuban revolution has consciously pursued a feminist politics.
The Cuban revolutionaries have always included women in their leadership. Women such as Haydee Santamaria in Melba Hernandez, who joined Fidel Castro in the July 26 attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Both went on to become leaders of the revolutionary government. Other women such as Celia Sanchez joined the revolutionaries fighting in the Sierra Maestra. Eventually there were enough women guerrillas to form a whole platoon of women fighters, the Mariana Grajales platoon.
In 1960, just one year after the revolutionary insurrection, the Federation of Cuban women, was established. It is a non-government organisation, established by women for women, which now has XXX million women members, representing XXX percentage of the population over 14 years of age. The FMC is a powerful organisation that defends and promotes women's rights in Cuba, and also offers services such as training courses to help women get into non-traditional trades such as carpentry, electronics and computers. It plays an important role in fighting for equal rights, equal pay and equal access to employment for women.
In the early days of the revolution, it carried out a war against prostitution, provided education for maids to get non-domestic work; and was heavily involved in the literacy campaign of 1961, providing many of the teachers and a majority of the students.
Aside from education and economic independence, women were also encouraged to join the armed forces. Since 1984 there has been an all-women battalion.
The Cuban government, has the most advanced legislation regarding marriage and the family. The Cuban constitution enshrines gender equality in the family, calling on both men and women to give equally in terms of childcare and housework, saying that the couple has “absolute equality of rights and duties” (article 35). Divorce is inexpensive and easy to attain. And both partners must take responsibility for the children.
Collective laundries and canteens have also lightened women's load. Cuba also provides generous paid maternity leave and job security. Sexist advertising, so prevalent in the capitalist West, has been virtually eliminated.
Despite these great strides for women's liberation in Cuba, there are also many challenges. While women are now well integrated into the economy, they are still underrepresented in the political system. There are also many prevailing sexist ideas in Cuban society, summed up in the concept of machismo, which still need to be overcome.
However, this will not be possible while Cuba remains a poor and isolated socialist country in a sea of capitalism. The oppression of women has its basis in the family system. Cuba has not been able to develop enough to supplant the family system with higher forms of social relations.
Gay and transgender rights
Before 1959, to be gay in Cuba was to be a social outcast. Homosexuality was illegal and police harassment of gays was rife. While the Cuban Revolution improved life for most Cubans, it unfortunately inherited some of the homophobic attitudes of its machismo history as well some anti-gay attitudes picked up from its close relationship with the Soviet Union.
But beginning in 1986 with the “rectification process”, the Cuban government began a conscious campaign to combat homophobia. Homosexuality was made legal and the government sponsored attempts to eradicate homophobic ideas in the broader Cuban society. The sharp turnaround in the revolution’s attitude to homosexuality was most clearly symbolised by the 1995 May Day procession, which was led by Cuban drag queens. The Cuban National Assembly is currently discussing legislation that would recognise same-sex unions, along with inheritance rights. It would also give transsexuals the right to free sex-change operations and allow them to switch the gender on their ID cards, with or without surgery.
The social gains of Cuba's revolution have only been possible because Cuba has followed a socialist path of development. This means that despite the many difficulties Cuban socialism has gone through, the priorities of the Cuban government have always been the best interests of the Cuban population rather than the interests of a small minority of capitalists.
Before Cuba's 1959 revolution, the Cuban economy was retarded by colonialism and neo-colonialism. Instead of being developed as a rounded capitalist economy, it was twisted around the export of sugar. It was dominated by US investment, with much of the sugar industry, land ownership and electricity in US hands.
The first steps of the revolutionary government and was to overcome this under-development. An Agrarian Law Reform was introduced to solve land hunger, and some of the biggest, most monopolised industries were nationalised.
Che Guevara, as Finance Minister, engaged in a debate in the early 60s against the pro-Soviet economists in Cuba. They argued that material incentives, privileges, were enough to stimulate Cuba's growth and leave behind under-development. By contrast, Che argued that material incentives needed to be combined with moral incentives and political motivation. It wasn't just about developing the productive forces, but about developing a new kind of human being.
The US economic blockade, and the failure of the 1970 sugar harvest, introduced two new obstacles to Cuba's development plans. This left Cuba dependent on its relationship with the Soviet union. It joined the COMECON, the Communist economic community. This was a lifeline to the Cuban economy, but it came with a price. Some of the bureaucratic and materialistic practices of the Soviet economic system began to appear in the Cuban economy.
A period of economic stagnation and the emergent bureaucratic tendencies of the Comecon period provoked the Cuban leadership to introduce a period of rectification. This was a plan to deepen the democratic process and practices within the Cuban economy by mobilising the people to take more responsibility for the economy and production. The rectification period started to show progress in overcoming some of the bureaucratic distortions that had appeared. But just as it did so, Cuba was hit by a “second blockade”.
The collapse of Soviet Stalinism and the Eastern bloc dealt a major blow to the Cuban economy. Cuba's economic lifeline, the USSR, disappeared, leaving Cuba to fend for itself. In these difficult circumstances, the Cuban government introduced the “Special Period in Time of Peace”. This Special Period, a “ relinking to the capitalist world” opened Cuba up to foreign investment and the partial privatisation of agricultural production. It was also a period of “socialist austerity”.
Nevertheless, the special period did not forego any of the fundamentals of the Cuban revolution, such as its free healthcare and education. It was an emergency measure - designed to stimulate the economy - not a retreat from the socialist system. Even during this difficult time, Cuba's democratic system was strengthened. Workers parliaments were introduced and the People's Power system was strengthened.
The difficulties of the special period left many people wondering: would Cuba survive the collapse of the Soviet Union? In recent years, Cuba has begun to emerge from the special period. It has received great material assistance from the new socialist revolution in Venezuela. But more importantly, Venezuelan has provided Cuba's population with the inspiration of the renewal of the socialist ideal in Latin America. It has given Cubans the confidence that they are no longer alone.
Cuba's socialist economic principles, its ability to put Cuba’s factories, farms and offices at the service of the Cuban working people, have only been possible because the Cuban people are in power. To get to power, Cuban workers had to overthrow the power of Cuba's capitalist class, smash its government, police, and armed forces and build a new political power.
Before the 20th century, Cuba was dominated by a creole elite who rested on the power of Spanish colonial military. With Spain's defeat in the Spanish American War in 1898, Cuba became a republic, but in name only. In reality, the United States dominated Cuba's political and economic systems. It guaranteed the right for itself - with the Platt Amendment - to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs whenever it felt it necessary. Cuba had the democratic show of parliamentary elections before the backdrop of military dictatorship. Corruption and parasitism were rampant.
The essence of Cuban democracy has been the mobilisation and active participation of the working people.
Even before the revolution in 1959, the Cuban revolutionaries under Castro's leadership were already carrying out a democratic revolution. In the rural areas that the rebel army controlled in the late 1950s, a radical democracy was established. Illiteracy and land hunger were abolished and workers and peasants congresses established.
After the revolutionary victory, a series of mass assemblies, attracting millions of people voted on reforms proposed by the provisional government. The first such mass mobilisation on January 17, 1959 voted on how to mete out justice to Batista's henchmen. The next one on January 22, also attracting over a million people, voted down the need for a general election. In September 1960, another mass assembly adopted the First Declaration of Havana, again voting down the need for it an election. And again attracting more than one million people.
In the face of US threats of military action, the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution were created in 1960. They now organise and mobilise some 70% of the Cuban people.
Cuba's democratic model was further revised in the 1970s. The sugar harvest failure of 1970 and the US economic blockade forced a rethink of Cuba's democratic practice, criticism was made of the heavy role of the Cuban Communist Party and the need for more and better grassroots democracy.
In May 1970, a proposed new Constitution was discussed in workplaces and mass organisations across the country. The Constitution was adopted at a referendum, with 97.7% approval.
The way forward
The importance to humanity of these social gains in 50 years of the Cuban Revolution cannot be overstated. Cuba shows what is possible — even in a blockaded Third World country that had inherited deep poverty and an economy distorted by colonialism and imperialist exploitation.
Perhaps the greatest achievement if the Cuban Revolution is that it demonstrates that it possible to build a society that is motivated principally by human solidarity rather than personal greed. The health care in Cuba is based on solidarity with its own people and with other communities in the world. Indeed, all of revolutionary Cuba’s social achievements would have been impossible without its adherence to the fundamental socialist principle that the advancement of each working person is only possible through the advancement of all working people.
Humanity today stands at the same crossroads as Cuba stood on January 1, 1959. Either we continue down the capitalist path, into a new century of growing social inequality, poverty, disease, war and irreversible environmental damage, or we take a radically different path, bury the capitalist system and rescue the future of humanity by building socialism.
History of the Venezuelan revolution
Venezuela has long been a rich country with a poor population. After the discovery of massive oil resources in the country in the 1920s, Venezuela's economy began to be strangled by imperialism.
On the basis of this distorted, oil economy arose political superstructure that was also distorted. A deep culture of clientelism and corruption thrived. While the masses went hungry, the super rich local elite drank at the trough. They were joined there by big US corporations.
The political system, like those in the Western “democracies”, was the political two-party straitjacket. An official agreement between the two big parties in Venezuela - the Christian Democrats (COPEI) and Accion Democratica (AD) to pass power back and forth between themselves was instituted. Both parties based themselves on the corrupt oil elite and subservience to US interests.
It was in this context that Hugo Chavez in 1982, then a low ranking officer in the Venezuelan military, began to organise resistance movement within the military. He dreamed of creating a new, Bolivarian military, that would end to corruption in the country and defend the interests of the poor. He established the nucleus of this new rebel organisation and called it the MBR-200 - Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement. He began to secretly recruit members within the military.
The corruption and inequality in Venezuela was not just being felt in the military. On February 27, 1989, a mass popular uprising took place, known as the Caracazo. The previous day the Venezuelan government of Carlos Andres Perez had introduced a savage neoliberal “shock” package, designed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), of price rises in petrol and public transport. This was like a match to the tinderbox. On top of the corruption and inequality, this was going too far. People began to rebel.
Starting in bus stops and market places, and spreading all around the country, the Caracazo spread like wildfire. It was a spontaneous rebellion and involved several days of rioting and looting. In some places political protests also took place against a government. At first, the government didn't know what to do. But then, it sent in the military to repress the rebellion. Even tanks were sent into the heavily populated hillside barrios (poor neighbourhoods). At the end of the savage repression, up to 2000 people had been killed.
It seemed like the rebellion was finished; but it had only just started. The Caracazo had a significant impact on Venezuelan politics -- it signified the end of 40 years of the neoliberal consensus between the two big capitalist parties AD and COPEI. And it ushered on to centre stage the impoverished, radicalised.
The Caracazo also had a radicalising effect on the military. Most of the rank and file, and even some of the officers of the Venezuelan military were from the same poor neighbourhoods and poor families as those hit hardest by the military repression. They resented being ordered in to their own neighbourhoods to put down the rebellion. They recalled Simon Bolivar’s words: “cursed is the soldier who fires on his own people”.
For Hugo Chavez and his comrades in the military, the social radicalisation unleashed by the Caracazo inspired them to redouble their efforts. Chavez accelerated his recruitment drive in the military and trained and educated his MBR-200 team. They felt that the time was coming to take power from the old, corrupt elite.
On February 4, 1992, Chavez and his MBR-200 and its civilians supporters carried out a military rebellion, attempting to overthrow the AD government of President Carlos Andres Perez and install a civilian government. The rebellion was defeated. Fourteen soldiers were killed, and the rebels were jailed.
But while the rebellion was a military defeat, it ended up being a political victory that paved the way for the movement’s later rise to power. In the dying hours of the rebellion, after having been captured, Chavez requested from his captors one minute on television to call on the rest of his troops to surrender. While short, this speech went down in Venezuelan history. By humbly accepting responsibility for the rebellion's failure, Chavez demonstrated an honesty, unprecedented in Venezuelan politics. And in declaring that the rebellion had been defeated “for now”, he implied that the rebels would not give up. The speech electrified the country. Chavez became an overnight folk hero in the Venezuelan political culture of dishonesty, corruption, irresponsibility and cowardice; Chavez had displayed responsibility, honesty, and determination to fight for the poor.
After being released from Yare prison on March 26th 1994, Chavez took his movement to the streets, using his new-found fame to build up a civilian movement against the government - the Movement for a fifth Republic (MVR).
The MVR decided to put Chavez up to contest the 1998 presidential elections. Chavez used the presidential election campaign as an opportunity to tour the country and further consolidate the MVR.
He campaigned on a platform of antipoverty, anticorruption and a commitment to dismantle the two-party system. This was the same platform that the young officers of the MBR-200 had already developed while within the Venezuelan military. The goal of their movement was “a democratic change, where the people participate, where the people give their opinion, where the needs of the people are satisfied through the public policies of the government”. It meant “the retailing of Venezuela, based on a new democratic constitution”. Or as Chavez put it "a humanist self-government - a more democratic model that would resolve the basic needs of the people”. An essential part of the MVR program was the convening of a constituent assembly as a means to break with the the old two-party system.
The world of official politics and the mainstream media discounted Chavez’s presidential candidacy. Initial polls placed him out of the running. The elite had failed to understand the depth of the popular unrest and the popularity of Chavez. Chavez began to rise in the polls.
Chavez won the election with 56.2% of the vote, being sworn in as president on 6 December 1998.
Chavez immediately moved to convene the promised constituent assembly, in order to draft a new constitution. In July 1999, Chavez and his political alliance, the Polo Patriotico, led by the MVR, won a majority in the constituent assembly. The assembly began drafting the new Constitution with consultation with Venezuelans. Seventy percent of the new Constitution was drafted by Venezuelans. The constitution was a radical, democratic enshrining of human rights, indigenous and environment rights. Far in advance of Western constitutions, it enshrined housewives as workers, with the same rights as workers, including the right to social security. In December 1999, the new Constitution was overwhelmingly approved by public referendum with 71% of the vote.
The new Constitution established public selection of judges in order to break down the old undemocratic appointment of corrupt judges. Even more important was the new provision for the recall of public officials, including the president, halfway through their terms if they had not been performing satisfactorily.
The new Constitution was more than just a government document; it was a popular programme of action. It became a Venezuelan bestseller, available from market stalls all over Venezuela. People carried it around with them in their pockets, studied it, discussed and quoted it whenever they thought their rights were being impinged. Chavez himself continually referred to it, brandishing his “little blue book”, and reading from it on television and in public appearances. In the hillside barrios, illiterates began learning to read just so they could read their Constitution.
Plan Bolivar 2000
Despite taking the presidency, Hugo Chavez was blocked from pursuing many of the reforms that he was elected to carry out by Congress. On February 27, 1999, Chavez launched his ambitious plan Bolivar 2000. The plan aims to mobilise the only social force that was available to Chavez -- the military -- to meet the people's needs despite the obstacles in Congress.
The plan also aimed to aimed to redeem the position of the military in Venezuelan society, particularly after the repression of the Caracazo in 1989. The significance of the launch date of February 27, 1999 was that it was 10 years after the Caracazo. As Chavez put it: "Ten years ago, we came out to massacre the people; now we're going to fill them with love. Go and comb the land, search out and destroy poverty and death. We are going to fill them with love, instead of lead".
The army, air force and navy, and even the National Guard were mobilised to "search out and destroy poverty and death". They did everything from running medical clinics, dental surgeries, providing vaccinations to children, helping agricultural workers form cooperatives, providing transport for people in remote areas and policing the streets in dangerous neighbourhoods. They even repared fishing boats and gave hair cuts. In other words, the military was mobilised to provide all the short-term needs of the poor while Chavez battled it away in Congress to provide a more long-term political solution.
The poor warmly welcomed Plan Bolivar 2000. Distrust of the military declined. Chavez aimed to create a civic-military alliance, the basis for an entirely new political state. In carrying out its social role, the military would be civilised and the civilian population would come to see themselves as responsible for defence -- even military defence if it came to it -- of Venezuela’ss national sovereignty.
Ley Habilitante – the enabling law
More radical changes soon followed. In November 2000, Chavez used the Ley Habilitante, or enabling law. This law allows for the presidential decree of 49 laws without congressional approval. It has long been a part of Venezuela’s legal system. Chavez used the enabling law to decree 49 new laws, including a land reform law, a law to the benefit of small and medium-sized businesses, and most significantly, the hydrocarbons law aimed at reorganising the massive state oil company -- and Latin America's largest corporation -- PDVSA.
Chavez was not content to rely on his efforts in the Congress or his support base in the military. He sought to organise his impoverished support base in the poor neighbourhoods. In June 2001, he called on his supporters, workers, students, women and peasants to form Bolivarian Circles. The circles would defend the gains of the revolutionary process and organised to advance it. They were to be the basis of a new form of participatory democracy, unlike the representative “democracy” of the two-party system.
The circles were small neighbourhood groups of around 7 to 10 people. They formed cooperatives, organised neighbourhood works, cleaned the streets, ran literacy classes, studied the new Constitution, provided training to job seekers, and solicited government funds for bigger projects such as fixing roads and bridges or buying playground equipment for local parks. Almost 10% of Venezuelans joined a Bolivarian Circle. They were the first form of grassroots democracy of the Bolivarian revolution.
The Chavez government knew that it needed a steady supply of funds to continue to build up its social missions. The primary source of those funds would be the oil profits that Venezuela makes on the international market. It was therefore essential for Chavez to work out a plan for Venezuela’s oil industry.
In August 2000, Chavez began his plan to revive the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Venezuela was a member. Designed to facilitate collaboration between the oil exporting countries, and as a means of stabilising and increasing the price of oil incomes, OPEC had weakened over recent years.
Chavez set out on a world tour to visit OPEC members. Visiting all 10 member countries - Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – he invited them to send representatives to an OPEC summit in Caracas. Chavez's aims for OPEC went beyond mere price-setting. He aimed for OPEC to play a role in helping developing nations climb out of poverty. The meeting was a success, and a Declaration of Caracas was adopted? calling on developed nations to confront world poverty.
On November 13, 2001, Chavez issued another enabling law, issuing 49 decrees. One of the most important decrees was aimed at the oil industry. It was an attempt of the government to gain greater control of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state oil monopoly, already nominally state-owned. The new law aimed at preventing privatisation of PDVSA and guaranteeing the company a controlling stake in any joint ventures with foreign multinationals.
The significance of the measure was that it indicated an encroachment into capitalist private property rights, an inroad the capitalists would not tolerate. The ruling class raged against the 49 decrees. The big capitalist landowners were also disgruntled. The enabling law had begun to carry out the land reform so that Venezuela could achieve food security (it was then importing 70% of its food). Taxes were introduced on the big idle latifundios, and restrictions on the size of farms were also introduced. Where land was confiscated, the owners would be compensated. It was only a small inroad on the right of private property in land, but it was enough to fire the anger of the capitalist landowners.
The coup begins
The ruling class set out to destabilise and overthrow the Chavez government. On December 10, Venezuela's business Council, Fedecameras, and the largest union confederation (CTV) called a 12-hour “general strike” against the decrees. Actually, the “strike” was mostly a lockout by bosses who refused to let workers into plants, aided and abetted by a corrupt, conservitised bosses’ union. Sections of the bourgeois elite began calling for military action to topple Chavez. In February, some members of the military brass publicly came out in opposition to the president.
The US political establishment came on board the growing conspiracy to overthrow the Chavez government. Then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, publicly criticised Chavez’s democratic credentials. Even the CIA expressed “concern” about the direction of the Chavez government. The opposition in Venezuela didn't need to read between the lines. The statements were a permission slip from their political masters in Washington to go ahead with the coup that they were preparing.
The secret conservatives within Chavez's camp began to show their true colours. In late January, Chavez's closest political confidant, Luis Miquilena, tried to convince Chavez to turn back on his 49 decrees. Chavez refused. Advancing the revolution was what he was elected for. Miquilena resigned and joined the opposition.
Chavez also met resistance within PDVSA, as he attempted to carry out the reform of the company. The company had a rich upper management, who had parasiticly siphoned off the profits of the company to feather their own nests. As Chavez's foreign Minister of the time, Luis Davila put it, “PDVSA has long been the hen that lays the golden egg, but today it is eating more than half of the eggs it is producing”.
Chavez began firing some of these corrupt oilmen, appointing people who would faithfully implement the decree. The PDVSA managers hit back, implementing a series of strikes, slowdowns and walkouts.
Both sides tested their strength in the streets, calling mass demonstrations. The counterrevolutionary coup plotters were in constant contact with the US government and the CIA. They met with Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams, both key officials in the Reagan government who had repressed uprisings and revolutions in Latin America before.
The mainstream media went full throttle, pouring out a torrent of anti-Chavez propaganda.
The rising struggle between classes, between rich and poor, was about to hit its peak. The counterrevolutionaries called a general strike on April 9 and 10. On April the 11th, they issued an indefinite general strike. They were now calling for Chavez's resignation. A demonstration of the opposition of around 200,000 people converged at the PDVSA offices.
Unknown to most rally participants, they had already been pre-figured in a plan of confrontation. The march was urged to go towards the Miraflores presidential Palace in a pre-meditated confrontation with the pro-Chavez rally.
Alerted to the oncoming march, government officials and Chavez supporters started mobilising their support base. Chavez supporters from the teeming mountainside barrios converged at the front of Miraflores. Workers downed tools to attend.
As the anti-Chavez march arrived at the presidential palace at 2:30 p.m., gunshots rang out. People from both sides started dropping to the ground with bullet wounds to their heads. Somewhere above snipers were taking aim. Immediately the private media blamed Chavez for the murders.
In fact, the sniper fire was part of the premeditated coup plot. The plan was to pin the bloodshed on Chavez, and in the resulting confusion overthrow his government and install a pro-US, neoliberal government for the rich. The plan seemed to be working.
At four o'clock in the morning on the 12th of April, members of the military high command, obeying the orders of the coup plotters, entered Miraflores. They demanded Chavez's resignation; he refused, so they kidnapped him from the presidential palace and flew him by helicopter to a nearby island, La Orchila.
The coup had been planned in fine detail, with close collaboration with the United States. Pedro Carmona, the head of the Fedecameras, big business Association, was sworn in as president. Just days before the coup he had visited Spain where he had a presidential sash tailor-made. In his inauguration speech from Miraflores, he tore up the Constitution, reinstalled the sacked governors and mayors, and decreed the end of oil exports to Cuba. The assembled supporters cheered in applause.
Over a hundred supporters of the Chavez government were imprisoned by the new “transitional government”. Many officials went into hiding, fearing their lives. The Cuban embassy was attacked. Staff escaped with their lives.
While the coup plotters congratulated themselves, the US and European Union came out in support of the new unelected government and condemned Chavez, blaming him for the crisis.
While Chavez was detained on la Orchila, the revolutionary masses began to rise. Word started getting around that Chavez had not resigned. The media had been lying. Chavistas from all around Caracas and surrounding suburbs started descending from the hillsides, amassing out the front of the presidential Palace. They demanded Chavez's return.
While most of the military high command had betrayed Chavez, participating in the coup, most of the military rank and file supported Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution. Taking courage from the mass demonstrations in favour of the Chavez government, they decided to mobilise.
Breaking with the officers of the high command, the presidential guard took control of the Palace. As quickly as it had begun, the coup plot had been smashed. A helicopter was sent from Maracay barracks to rescue the president from la Orchila.
In just 47 hours, the revolution had been overthrown and restored. A fundamental change had taken place in Venezuelan society. The Venezuelan military had undergone an earth shattering split. Most of the big brass, themselves from well-to-do families, had gone with the coup plotters, while most of the rank and file, those with the closest links to the working class, had demonstrated their loyalty to the revolutionary process and its main leader, president Chavez. Some army commanders, who had participated in the coup were later kicked out of the military. Many of those who remained loyal to the revolution were promoted. In other words, the military had been remade from top to bottom. It no longer represented the rich elite; it now operated in defence of the working people and their government.
Having tried the political road to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution, the counterrevolutionaries turned to sabotage. In December 2002, the rich elite launched another strike. Some shops were closed down, the administrative employees and executives at PDVSA tried to shut down. The industry, the oil industry. Anti-government protests as paraded out the front PDVSA offices. While the strike was having a mixed success, the national electoral Council proposed to opposition leaders that a referendum be held to ratify Chavez as president. Knowing their likelihood of losing such a referendum. They refused, and pressed on with the strike.
The captains of a fleet of PDVSA oil tankers, also joined the strike. The aim of course was to shut down the oil industry, bringing the country into chaos. With that achieved, it would be easy to topple Chavez. The plan seemed to be working, massive damage was being inflicted on the Venezuelan economy. Almost half of Venezuela's Supreme Court judges joined the strike. Under the slogan “ 2002 without Christmas, 2003 without Chavez”, the opposition called on Venezuelans to postpone Christmas and topple the Chavez government. The middle-class opposition marched on the street, banging pots and pans for days on end. As always, the corporate media continue to promote the counterrevolution, running pro-strike propaganda, 20 47.
The corporate lead in Venezuela, and the imperialists in the US, confident “strike” would spend the end of Chavez. They were wrong. They hadn't reckoned on the fundamental changes that had taken place during and after the April coup. Before April, they were dealing with a radical government; after April workers government had informed resting on the power base of a revolutionary armed forces.
Chavez mobilised these loyal forces, along with his civilian support base to retake PDVSA. Troops were dispatched to oil wells refineries and service stations. The workers were called to stand by the military and form human chains around installations. At the same time, Chavez fired for a the coup plotting PDVSA managers. By early January, around 300 had investors managers and executives had been fired. It was just the beginning - in the end, Chavez cleaned out the whole corrupt edifice of PDVSA. Thousands were fired.
Troops were ordered to take over the shut down oil tankers. And a number of retired captains were called upon to run the retake and ships. In some cases, they had to deal with dangerously sabotaged electronic systems on board.
The bosses lockout was a test of the newly reconstituted Armed Forces of Venezuelan. A test, they passed with flying colours, confirming that the political power in Venezuelan had firmly passed over into the hands of the working people, headed by the revolutionary Chavez government.
But it wasn't the end of the right wing's attempts to oust Chavez. In August 2004, utilising a clause in the Venezuelan Constitution that allows for a referendum on the tenure of public officials, the opposition collected signatures calling for a recall referendum. The recall was defeated. Chavez won the rights to remain president, with 59% of the vote.
Achievements of the Venezuelan revolution
The coming to power of the Chavez government in 1998, and more rapidly after 2002, signified a great change in lives of Venezuela’s poor majority. Before the April 2002 insurrection, Chavez was obstructed at every turn by opposition in Congress. At the crying need of Venezuelans poor amended, quick solutions. Chavez carried out a program called plan Bolivar 2000, which aimed to immediately solve the most pressing problems. After the revolutionary conquest of state power in 2002, the reform process accelerated. Many significant achievements have since been made in education, housing, health, employment and social security. All of these areas were enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as guaranteed rights of Venezuelan citizens. Unlike in the West, where most democratic rights are meaningless without the economic means, in Venezuela the economic means are also provided so that rights can be exercised.
Before the arrival of Chavez's government Venezuelan had experienced 20 years of increasing poverty and neo-liberalism under the governments of Carlos Andres Perez and Rafael Caldera. These neoliberal governments cut back social spending, increased the cost of public services, and privatised industries. Even the middle class were hit by poverty, and the poor had next to no social services. Poverty, which embraced around 33% of the population in 1975, rose to 70% by 1995. Extreme poverty rose from 15% to 45% of population. Statistics show that in that period, labour lost 11% of GDP to capital. Inequality grew to extreme levels. And social spending was almost halved in the ‘90s.
One of the most significant measures of Chavez's government in overcoming poverty and inequality was land reform. Unlike the Latin American land reform projects that failed in the 60s and 70s owing to incomplete government assistance, Venezuela’s land reform had the full commitment of the Chavez government. It was also an urban land reform project. Only 12% of Venezuelans live in the country, and Venezuela is a net importer of agricultural produce.
The land reform program was introduced in November 2001 as part of the enabling law. It establishes the right of Venezuelans to own their own piece of land.
Land reform aims to overcome inequality in land ownership, with 75% of farm land belonging to 5% of landowners, while 75% of small landowners own only 6% of land. It is this latifundio regime the Chavez government aims to eliminate by granting land to those willing to work it.
The land reform law, operating through the newly-created National Land Institute, can expropriate large land holdings and redistribute them to poor farmers and agricultural workers. By 2005 the land reform had redistributed 3,000,000 ha of state owned land to 200,000 families, benefiting around one million people.
The first step in the land reform process was redistributing state-owned land. After 2005, Chavez moved on private-owned land. Much of this private-owned land was illegally-occupied state land. Peasant leaders themselves had already petitioned the government to take over these illegally-occupied state lands.
Struggle over land reform remains one of the most difficult struggles of the revolution. Dozens of peasant leaders have been assassinated by right-wing land owners in the process.
Urban land reform.
Almost 90% of Venezuela’s population is in the cities. More than half of these people live in the crowded urban slums, known as the barrios. Most of these barrios were built on unsafe land by the inhabitants themselves on the steep hillsides of Caracas. The question of land reform is a fundamental question for these barrios. Even before Chavez’s coming to power, workers in the barrios had been organising to demand legal recognition of their right to live in the barrios.
In February 2002, Chavez announced a decree to transfer publicly-owned land to the inhabitants of the barrios. But the barrios inhabitants themselves have to organise themselves in land committees and submit applications and plans for the development of the barrios. By 2005, some 800,000 families or 4 million individuals had organised themselves into such committees and received titles to their homes. In fact, the urban reform committee movement is the largest social movement in Venezuela.
For those barrio dwellers whose homes were built on on safe land can be moved to a government-built home in a new location.
One of the most well known aspects of Venezuela’s revolution has been its revolution in education. Education has been made free for all Venezuelans. Prior to the Chavez government, education had become increasingly the domain of the elite. During the 1990s, school enrolments decreased. Funding for education was on the decline and cash-strapped schools introduced registration fees to survive. But such fees became a barrier to the poor receiving an education.
A thorough revolution in education has been carried out by the Chavez government. By 2001, Government expenditure on education was twice that in 1996 and enrolments increased by 18%.
The education revolution goes from preschool, all the way up to the tertiary level, and involves several different programs. Preschool, with children aged up to six years, has enrolment has gradually increased across the Chavez presidency by 2004, around one third of children aged not six were enrolled in preschools. The preschool program called Simoncito also acts as a day-care centre so that parents of young children. And both work.
From ages six and up, students can enter into one of the new Bolivarian schools. The Bolivarian schools program includes the old public schools, as well as newly built schools (approximately 18%). Ultimately, all schools will become Bolivarian schools. The Bolivarian schools emphasise social values in schooling breaking out of the neoliberal, individualist, educational model. They encourage co-operation among students and attempt to integrate the school into the local community. As for today's schools. They also enable both parents to work and act as a kind of day-care. This can help families overcome poverty. The schools also provide three meals per day -- meals that the children might not otherwise receive. While school enrolment and dropout rates were a problem before Chavez, the Bolivarian elementary schools have begun to overcome these problems. In 10 years primary school enrolment rates have increased by more than 10%. Junior high school enrolments increased by more than 11%. The dropout rate had decreased by around 7% in 2003. Enrolment fees have been eliminated.
The government has also introduced Bolivarian high schools. These schools differ from traditional high schools, as their curriculum is based on more practical subjects and projects that can be carried out in the local community. There is also less artificial subject divisions, as in Western high schools.
Among the Chavez government's most well known reforms was the introduction of the adult literacy mission, Mission Robinson, introduced in July 2003. The Mission's aim to educate and empower Venezuelans. It also aims to defeat poverty.
Mission Robinson is an adult literacy program, based on the Cuban “yes, I can” literacy program. Thousands of literacy teachers travelled from Cuba to Venezuela to train Venezuelan teachers. By 2000 more than 1.3 million Venezuelans had participated in the program, assisted by 100,000 teachers. By late 2005, Venezuela –which had a pre-Chavez illiteracy rate of 7% - was the illiteracy free.
Mission Robinson II is a primary school program for adults. It completes in two years what would take six years in high school. In the first year of its operation, more than one million students had participated. Most classes take place under the tutoring of volunteers, who host the classes in their own homes. They teach the course with the aid of TV and video equipment provided free by the government.
Mission Ribas was introduced in 2003. It's aimed at adults who did not complete high school and allows them to graduate within two years. In the second year of operation, more than 700 people had enrolled in this free program. Like Mission Robinson, the classes are conducted by facilitators who use video equipment. In the early years, most of the funding for the program was provided by PDVSA and the electric company cadafe. These companies also provide job openings for graduates.
At the University level, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) and Mission Sucre are essential components of the education revolution. The UBV prioritises admissions towards the poor. Tens of thousands of students have enrolled, and the government aims to eventually enroll 100,000 students. Campuses are relocated all around the country, many in buildings belonging to PDVSA. Like the Bolivarian high schools, the Bolivarian University, also emphasises practical projects and close work with the poor communities. The aim of these universities is also to provide training for a new layer of professionals. This is an important priority, because most skilled professionals are opponents of the revolution. The revolution needs its own highly skilled professionals to help in public administration.
Another mission that aims to bring higher education to the country's poor is Mission Sucre. The mission aims to prepare poor students for university, to find them a place at university, and provide a uni scholarship. The program is primarily for those who, while meeting the requirements of university education, have not secured the University place. By July 2004, 40,000 students received scholarships.
Like other measures of Venezuela’s well-being, health care care also was degraded in the last 20 years before Chavez election in 1989. In just four years to 1996, for example, healthcare spending declined by over 50%.
The Chavez government has continued to make steady advances in overcoming these problems endemic to the health care system. In the first seven years of Chavez's presidency, life expectancy, for example, increased by almost 1 year, from 72.4 years to 73.2 years. Likewise, infant mortality declined from 21.4 deaths per 1000 live births to 13.7 in 2007.
While the health system that the Chavez government inherited from the Fourth Republic had been drastically run down, the 1990 Constitution guaranteed that all Venezuelans had a right to free healthcare. This was a significant reform as Venezuelans healthcare system had become increasingly exclusive. This was because of the growth of the informal economy of up to 55% of Venezuelan workers in informal workplaces, and therefore left without public health insurance.
The revolution's most significant health program is the Mision Barrio Adentro (inside the neighbourhood), introduced in 2003. The mission places health care within the reach of many formerly- marginalised Venezuelans for the first time in their lives. It is a system of doctors’ surgeries providing general healthcare, dental care, and even sports training. Originally, the doctor's consultations were carried out in people's homes, but from 2004 the government began building small two-storey clinics to house the mission. The government spends roughly 1 $.5 billion a year on the mission.
As most Venezuelan doctors are from the middle class and the rich elite, very few refused to work in the impoverished barrios. The government had to rely on on Cuban doctors. By November 2004 some 13,000 Cuban doctors will working in the mission. By 2007, more than 45 million consultations had taken place. The lives of 25,000 children are saved every year by the mission. Nevertheless, in order to overcome the shortfall in Venezuelan doctors, medical students have been recruited from the barrios themselves to study in Cuba or in the Bolivarian University.
In 2005, the government also began funding the existing hospital system, a system that had previously been run down.
Massive housing shortfall is a chronic problem in Venezuela, driven by a doubling in the population in the last 30 years, coupled with rapid urbanisation has bred this problem. There are simply not enough houses. Chavez began to tackle this problem in 2004 with the launch of Mission Habitat. The mission aims to construct thousands of new units for the poor and to make a dignified environment and housing available to all. Recognizing the enormity of the project, the he government has set a deadline of 2021. Adding the 1,800,000 homes needed, to those thousands of homes that are on unsafe land or have insufficient access to infrastructure, the overall deficit exceeds 2,500,000 homes.
The mission also looks at building up social infrastructure so that the new housing developments are not left isolated.
The Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions have had to constantly fight against the danger of bureaucratism. Bureaucratism is an ever present danger in the transition period between capitalism and socialism. It is the same bureaucratism that developed like a cancer in the former Soviet Union, and eventually strangled the Russian revolution.
In the transition period to socialism, revolutionary leaderships must contend with a very difficult problem: the contradiction between the beginnings of a socialised and planned economy and the old capitalist methods of distribution of consumer commodities. This is because the level of productivity has not developed enough to provide commodities to workers based on their needs. This contradiction is made worse when the new socialist revolution is isolated or impoverished.
The Cuban revolution has learnt well to deal with this danger. It has learnt the lessons of the degeneration of socialism under Stalin, and it has learnt from its own experience.
The Escalante affairs
The most significant bureaucratic challenge to the Cuban revolution were the Escalante affairs of the 1960s. Anibal Escalante was the “ Cuban Stalin”. He tried to turn a position of power into a position of privilege. In 1962 Escalante, and his personal clique attempted to use their position in the Integrated Revolutionary Organisations (ORI), which was the precursor to the Cuban Communist Party, as a means of dispensing favours and privileges and appointing and removing officials on this basis and not on political and revolutionary ability.
Learning from this experience, the Cuban leadership developed a unique method of selecting party members. Party members were to be nominated by their co-workers in mass assemblies.
Cuba's revolutionary leadership also moved to restrict the number of administrators and functionaries that were allowed to join the Communist Party. They attempted to maintain and strengthen the working class composition of the party.
They also set about theoretically combating the danger of bureaucratism, publishing a series of articles in the daily newspaper Granma, analysing the danger. Emphasising the seriousness of the bureaucratic threat, Granma announced a struggle against bureaucracy as a “revolution within the revolution”.
The danger of bureaucratism arose again at the beginning of 1968. Demoralised by the economic problems of building socialism under the strain of imperialist blockade and military threat, a pro-Soviet “micro faction” formed around Anibal Escalante.
Again the Cuban leaders responded to this outbreak of bureaucracy, with a program of democracy. Distribution of scarce consumer goods would now be overseen by public assemblies, reducing the ability of officials to gain privileged access. Mass organisations such as the Committees in Defence of the Revolution were also beefed up so as to monitor distribution and police against corruption.
While the capitalist media still attempts to describe Fidel Castro, as a kind of Caribbean Stalin, no bureaucratic system of privileged officials exists in Cuba. There is no Stalinist totalitarianism in Cuba. As Fidel himself put it once, “If I'm Stalin, my dead are enjoying good health”.
The Cuban revolutionaries fight bureaucracy in the only ways possible: by increasing production and democracy.
Cuba and Venezuela – an axis of hope
For Cuba, the victory of the Venezuelan revolution has provided an essential lifeline. For Venezuela, the inspiration of the Cuban revolution and its human capital have provided the basis for growing regional integration.
Even before Chavez was elected president of Venezuela, Castro recognized Chavez as a fellow revolutionary. In 1994, after his release from prison for his role in the failed 1992 rebellion, Chavez's first action was to visit Cuba. Much to Chavez's surprise, Fidel met him at the airport. From that day forward, close collaboration and solidarity has typified the relations between these two countries.
Hugo Chavez's political project was motivated by a vision of regional integration. The Venezuelan revolutionaries recognize that to really break with imperialism and to build socialism you cannot stop at the borders of your own country. This aim was even enshrined in the Venezuelan constitution.
Internationally, Venezuela has sought various political, economic and trade agreements with other countries. Not only has the revolution aimed at regional integration in Latin America, it has also fostered an anti-imperialist bloc that aims to undermine the power of the US empire in world politics.
Where Venezuela's foreign policy has been most exciting has been the growing integration between Venezuelan Cuba. The solidarity exchange between each country provides the other with what resources it has and receives from the other what resources it needs.
The first such agreement in October 2000 was an agreement for Venezuela to send Cuba 53,000 barrels of oil per day. In return, Cuba would send its principal resource -- human capital. Sugar industry specialists, medical professionals, tourism advisers and educational experts were sent to Venezuela to help build up Venezuelan industry and social programs. Likewise Cuba would provide free medical treatment for Venezuelans flown free of charge to Cuba, including heart surgery, eye operations, and organ transplants. By 2006, some 13,000 Venezuelans had been treated. Cuba also provided medical training for Venezuelan students.
The most significant and well-known agreement between the two countries is ALBA -- the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. First proposed by president Chavez, and signed into being on December 14, 2004, ALBA lays the basis for social, political and economic integration between Latin American and Caribbean countries. It was devised as an alternative to the US-imposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), which demanded that member countries impose neoliberal free trade. ALBA is the opposite; the agreement prioritises solidarity and co-operation, not competition.
ALBA deepens the solidarity exchange agreement of 2000 that traded oil for human capital. Remarkably it even aims to transition Cuba and Venezuela towards being integrated nations. It holds the promise no less of a new socialist federation of nations under a single revolutionary socialist state.
The ALBA agreement also commits both countries to extend their socialist practices to other countries. For example, Article 5 calls for Cuba and Venezuela to work together with other Latin American countries to eradicate illiteracy and cooperate on health care programmes, as they have done already in Cuba and Venezuelan.
The agreement also guarantees Cuba will pay a fixed price of $27 per barrel of Venezuelans oil, to help buffer Venezuela from the volatility of the international oil market. Furthermore, both countries are committed to abolishing tariffs to the imports of each other country.
According to Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader, ALBA is the kind of agreement exactly as was called for by the World Social Forum many years: “Each country supplies what the other lacks”.
April 2005 saw a third solidarity agreement between Cuba and Venezuela. It almost doubled Venezuelan oil exports to Cuba, and increased healthcare cooperation between the two countries, allowing 10,000 Venezuelans students to be trained as doctors in Cuba. Also, 30,000 Cuban doctors and medical staff would be sent to Venezuela.
The 2005 agreement also aimed to extend the literacy program to other countries in Latin America using the Cuban method ‘yo si puedo’ (yes I can) that had so successfully been applied in Venezuela.
The same agreement allowed Venezuela to open a PDVSA office in Cuba to act as the headquarters of its Caribbean Operations. Venezuela's state bank, also open up an office in Havana, while Cuba's state bank opened an office in Caracas.
The solidarity exchanges and regional cooperation were deepened in April 2006 when Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia signed on to a ‘ people's trade agreement’ treaty, which committed the governments of those three countries to develop a “strategic plan … to guarantee complimentary products that can be mutually beneficial based on the rational exploitation of the countries’ existing assets, the preservation of resources, the expansion of employment, market access and other aspects inspired in the true solidarity fostered by peoples”.
How to build 21st century socialism?
Studying the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions is an important way to draw general conclusions for how to go about building 21st century socialism. Two of the most important lessons are that a social revolution is necessary, resulting in a truly democratic government. The other is that no victorious revolutiona can be made and advanced without the leadership of an organisation of revolutionaries.
“The only way to overcome poverty is to give power to the poor” - Hugo Chavez
The first lesson of the Cuban and Venezuelan revolution is it clear: to overcome the problems endemic to capitalism -- poverty, inequality, racism, sexism and homophobia – means giving power to the poor. Ultimately, this means establishing an entirely new kind of government. It cannot be government of rich white men in suits, who know nothing of the ordinary daily struggles of workers. It must be the workers themselves organised as the government. Cuba has provided a great example of such a government. And while Venezuela has a long way to go in further developing people's power, the establishment of a people's government in the National Assembly resting on the Venezuelan armed forces. The workers victories, there is a firm basis for the extension of workers democracy. Bolivarian circles, community councils, cooperatives and the social missions are just some of the forms that the new people’s democracy has taken so far.
History shows that the capitalist ruling class does not give up its privileges easily. It always fights to win back what it has lost, to reverse the reforms wrested from it by the workers.
The only way to achieve lasting, fundamental changes is to replace capitalist governments with governments of the working people. But to get a working people's government isn't easy. Nothing short of a social revolution can attain people's power. The contradictions and antagonisms under capitalism need to reach fever pitch. The working people themselves must be mobilised and politicised by engaging in class struggle. Such was the example of Cuba, in the years before 1959, and so it was in Venezuela, leading up to 2002.
An organisation of revolutionaries
Large-scale social mobilisation can be easily defused why the ruling class if its energies are not united and focused. The Caracazo in Venezuela was an example of this. The people rebelled spontaneously against neo-liberalism paralysing the country were several days. But the rebellion lacked leadership and political direction. In the end, the rebellion was crushed with severe repression.
The lack of leadership was a problem that began to be overcome with the emergence of Chavez in 1992. But Chavez wasn't alone. He’d set out on the path of creating a revolutionary leadership in 1982 – a full 20 years before the 2002 revolution. He had consciously, consistently, and constantly built up a team of revolutionary militants that would form the core of the later revolutionary leadership. Without this disciplined and organised core of revolutionaries at the head of the mass movement, the victory of the revolution would not have been attained.
The same goes for the Cuba. Without Fidel Castro's July 26 Movement cadre force, and the patient training of militants during the Revolutionary War, the otherwise-dispersed anger of the Cuban working class might not have been directed toward revolutionary victory.
Such tightly-knit teams of revolutionaries were absolutely essential to both revolutions. But they weren't entirely sufficient. Having taken power, both revolutions were faced with the enormous task of re-constituting society at large. Social control of the economy and centralised planning are the essence of socialist construction. To carry out these tasks requires the establishment of mass-based, grassroots socialist parties, able to inspire, educate, and mobilise the entire working class in building the new society.
The need for a mass socialist party was recognized in Cuba, with the foundation of the Cuban Communist party in XXX. Likewise in Venezuela, where a process to establish a mass socialist party is underway, with the formation of of the United Socilaist party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Marshall,P. (1987) Cuba Libre – Breaking the Chains? Gollancz, London
Anderson, J. L. (1998) Che Guevara – A revolutionary life Bantam Books, New York
Barrio, H. and Jenkins, G. (2003) The Che Handbook MQ Publications, London
Galloway, G. (2006) Fidel Castro Handbook MQ Publications, London
Harnecker, M. (1987) Fidel Castro’s Political Strategy – From Moncada to victory Pathfinder, Sydney
Resistance Books (2000) Cuba as Alternative – An Introduction to Cuba’s Socialist Revolution Resistance books, Chippendale
SWP (1984) The Cuban Revolution and its Extension – Resolution of the Socialist Workers Party Pathfinder Press, Chippendale
Martinez Puentes, S. (2004) Cuba – Beyond Our Dreams Editorial Jose Marti, La Habana
Castro, F. (Ed. Ramonet, I) (2007) My Life Penguin, Victoria, Australia
Castro, F. (Eds. Deutschmann, D & Shnookal, D) (2007) Fidel Castro Reader Ocean Press, Melbourne
Sanchez, G. (2007) Cuba and Venezuela – An insight into two revolutions Ocean Press, Melbourne
McCaughan, M. (2005) The Battle of Venezuela Seven Stories Press, New York
Jones, B. (2007) Hugo! – The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution Steerforth Press, New Hampshire
Wilpert, G. (2007) Changing Venezuela by taking Power – The history and policies of the Chavez government Verso, London
Gott, R. (2005) Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution Verso, London
Bonilla-Molina, L. and El Troudi, H. (2004) Historia de la Revolucion Bolivariana – Pequena Cronica 1948-2004 MINCI, Caracas