May Day 2009 in Cuba

Seventeen days after the first May Day of the revolution, May 17, 1959, Fidel Castro proclaimed the first radical land reform to an outburst of great popular joy, as well as a violent reaction from the national landowners and their ally in the United States, the latter continuing its merciless revenge against the revolutionary government of Cuba.

On May Day Havana is a melting pot of labor solidarity. Photo: Bill Hackwell

On May Day Havana is a melting pot of labor solidarity. Photo: Bill Hackwell

On that day 50 years ago, Fidel said, “A wonderful future awaits our country if we dedicate ourselves to work with all our might.”

The historic and indelible advantages Cubans earned from forging an incipient socialism following the nation’s real independence, with its ensuing products and services for all, was supported by the vast majority of the population, especially in the early years. Just to mention some benefits: free and ample health care and education for all; clothing and food for all babies and school children; free or inexpensive access to all sports and cultural events; the assurance that no resident go without minimal nutrition and a residence; the right for all to obtain work. And the spirit, the spirit of idealistic Don Quixote, and that of the thoroughly dedicated revolutionary guerrilla, El Che.

However, today, fifty years later, there is still a long ways to go to advance the interests, energies and the wisdom of Cuba’s working people. It is a sad fact of reality, which must be confronted today, that many Cubans have not worked “with all our might.”

The nation is fraught with passivity, poor production in quantity and quality. I believe this is so in large part because people lack the real power to make decisions at their work centers, schools, and even in their local governments and provincial and national legislatures.

Cuban Workers March on May Day. Photo: Bill Hackwell

Cuban Workers March on May Day. Photo: Bill Hackwell

They are not in control of their work, their production, or of product distribution. Too many people are not contributing to society’s needs; too many people are skimming off the enticing plate of foreign capitalism; too many people have lost their morality, their solidarity and have succumbed to their thirst for the tinted silver plate.

Today, half a century after the great victory, its no secret that many people are tired and discontent. The four main areas of dissatisfaction, as I see it, are: a) low salaries and the two currency system, which separates people; b) shortages of sufficient foodstuffs and other basic goods; c) perpetual lack of sufficient housing made worse by last year’s hurricane destruction; d) insufficient improvement in worker empowerment, with few exceptions.

And then, for many -especially the revolutionary conscious people who linger in the days of Che enthusiasm for creating the new man and woman- there is the crippling effect that the government continues to limit the access to ample information and real debate, hampering an exchange of ideas necessary for them to become empowered.

This has led to a sizeable segment of the population, especially youth, to be disbelievers of what they are told by the government and its mass media. They hunger for more and open information.

There are a few signs of movement, not least among some university students and professors. On this May Day 2009, let us listen carefully and join those voices.

Ron Ridenour is an anti-war activist and author of 12 books. His latest is The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert, Punto Press. Read other articles by Ron, or visit Ron's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Dave Silver said on May 1st, 2009 at 12:50pm #

    There is more Worker Empowerment -than Ron states. Constant discussion and replacement of leadership in the Party, trade unions
    and more “open information D than any bourgeois state. Sure
    there are problems caused by two currency systems, some workers
    both industrial and agricultural are producing less thsan they can/
    Rienour paints it as a systemic failure of Socialism and seems to pin his hopes on students who want to bring Perestroika and other anti-socialist changes.
    How odd that the effects of the 50 year old Blockade is never mentioned,

  2. lichen said on May 1st, 2009 at 1:05pm #

    Who are we to join in with those voices that you mentioned? And isn’t supposedly pressing for more democracy and civil liberties the facade which us imperialists hide their racist anti-communism behind these days? I don’t doubt that some students really want a more participatory socialism, but then again I don’t live there and that is up to them.

  3. bozh said on May 1st, 2009 at 3:51pm #

    i don’t know what “participatory socialism” means to you. Do you mean greater participation in governance and governing?
    do you make a distinction btwn governments [they come and go] and structure of governance which ought to stay the same if it is fair and just?
    without changing the present structure of governance and changing governments acomplishes what?
    are these students for free higher education and not just free but one that is not devised by present ruling class? Are they for healthcare, nationalization of transportation, mines, forests, power plants; a new constitution, etc? tnx

  4. bozh said on May 1st, 2009 at 4:03pm #

    david sliver,
    and not to mention that fascism had been around for millennia and socialism just for a century. And socialist lands are surrounded by lethal enemies.
    also that there are fascists in socialist lands. Also that socialists in US make 1% of its pop, while in russia perhaps half the pop was fascist.
    and there are always fake socialists, while none of the politicians inUS are fake fascists. Every US politico was true redneck; gungho war warfare and oppression.
    controling aliens by throwing at them missiles and domestics mostly via lying. tnx

  5. lichen said on May 1st, 2009 at 4:27pm #

    Well bozh, I think what I mean is the same socialism, but with more participation – one example would be how other parts of Latin America have participatory budgeting and neighborhood/community councils that legislate directly what happens in their locale. Agricultural cooperatives, democratic schools run by the students, and of course workers cooperatives are also an example. In venezuala even local infrastructure has been handed back to the community and functions as a cooperative. But then again the point of my message above was that the future should really be left up to the Cubans themselves (and those who still live in cuba; not the right wing rich cuban exile scum in miami, or the US government.)

  6. Josie Michel-Brüning said on May 2nd, 2009 at 9:32am #

    As William Blum already wrote in 1999 in his Brief History of U.S. Interventions at the end of his comment about Cuba:
    “The saddest part of this is that the world will never know what kind of society Cuba could have produced if left alone, if not constantly under the gun and the threat of invasion, if allowed to relax its control at home. The idealism, the vision, the talent, the internationalism were all there. But we’ll never know. And that of course was the idea.”
    Meanwhile, the Cuban Five are kept as hostages in U.S. prisons being punished for the resistance of their homeland against the greed of the U.S. policy, while confessed terrorists as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch enjoy their impunity.
    The case of the Cuban Five is the topical peak of the iceberg.
    Please, tie in with it. This would be a point of contact for change in my opinion.

  7. ron ridenour said on May 2nd, 2009 at 10:52am #

    To my critics,

    Glad for the response.
    I did not intend for this short piece to go into all the advantages of the partial socialist society in Cuba, nor to denounce yet again all the US does to undermine its adversary. I did, however, start the first paragraph with the ongoing aggression of US imperialism–
    “a violent reaction from the national landowners and their ally in the United States, the latter continuing its merciless revenge against the revolutionary government of Cuba.”

    Lichen has some good point of what participatory democracy a la socialism should mean. Unlike Silver, I do not see much worker empowerment. Simply because there are discussions, once the Communist party and government establishes them, and just because there is one union–albeit its virtures not mentioned by Silver–which, more than not does not address the needs and desire of the workers, but rather acts as employers, does not mean that real participatory democracy involving decision-making actually exists in practice.

    Yes, Josie’s citing Bill Blum is true. We will never know. But, I do believe that Cuba could have developed a more truly people power revolution had the US not been there. But, we must know that the US, or its surrogate, will always be there to thwart the will of the people anywhere on earth. That is capitalism’s nature.

    And, yes, it is true that it is up to Cubans to determine their destiny. I wrote using the “we” because I identity with the Cuban revolution, and have lived and worked with it on its soil for eight years and abroad for nearly 50. And, no, a few university students and professors will not be the force to make the necessary changes, but they can–just like many of us students in the US, Europe and much of Latin America acted to place an alternative on the agenda–start the process for the entire population to forge a more truly proletarian-student vanguard-led socialist society from the bottom.

    Socialists, communists, anarchists, solidarity-workers all have a place, all should have a voice in shaping the international revolution against capitalism-imperialism sickness.
    Abrazos, Ron