Impressions from Havana

As the news came out about Castro not standing again for president, the comrades manning the Frederick Engels Foundation at the Havana Book Fair sent us their impressions of how people are reacting and what situation is opening up in Cuba.

GranmaWe learnt the news about Fidel not standing again for president in the morning of February 19th, when we were close to the stairs of the Havana University, from where so many student demonstrations against the Batista dictatorship started. It was 8am and we were seeking transport, like every day since the beginning of the Book Fair, to go to the Cabaña fortress where it is being held.

When we arrived at the stand of the Frederick Engels Foundation, we broke the news to the social worker who has been helping us. She has the features of a young woman from the class of the oppressed: humble, bright and proud of her country and its revolution. When we told her she had not heard the news. She ran away and came back shortly afterwards with a copy of Granma, which had Fidel's message printed on the front page. We realized she had tears in her eyes. She embraced all four of us, showing deep sadness.

Fidel's decision has had a massive emotional impact in Cuba, even though for more than a year now everyone has been aware of the fact that after his illness he was no longer able to play the role of the main leader of the Cuban revolution.

Fidel belongs to a generation of very young men and women, courageous and bold, who in the 1950s decided to give meaning to their lives devoting them fully to the cause of the liberation of the Cuban people from national oppression and the struggle for social justice. After the revolution succeeded, when imperialism and the local oligarchy were sabotaging and using terrorist methods against it, Fidel did not hesitate and pushed the revolution forward by nationalizing all multinational and national companies in the country. The nationalized economy, the abolition of capitalism, allowed the population of this tiny Caribbean island to reach levels of healthcare and education which to this day are unthinkable in any capitalist country of Latin America (despite the blockade and later the blow of the fall of the USSR), and which even compare favourably with those of advanced capitalist countries.

Under extremely difficult conditions, Fidel maintained an iron opposition to the restoration of capitalism, at the time when the Soviet bureaucracy had destroyed the planned economy and restored capitalism in the countries of the former USSR.

For millions of people around the world, Fidel symbolizes a revolution, which has been able to resist, for nearly 50 years and under conditions of extreme duress, the most destructive military machine on Earth. The Cuban revolution has given the Cuban people a deeply felt sense of pride and dignity never achieved before in the modern history of the country, marked by slavery and the most insulting social inequality.

It is therefore understandable that Fidel's figure as a representative of the Cuban revolution arouses the greatest hostility and hatred amongst the representatives of the ruling class around the world. For this reason we must defend the revolution against imperialism and capitalism.

Fidel's announcement that he will not stand again for president takes place in the context of tremendous political ferment, in which wide layers of the population are aware that the country faces a turning point. Will the Cuban revolution survive Fidel? Will the social gains be preserved? How can the economic problems be solved and the purchasing power of wages be increased? This is the political background of all the opinions and feelings expressed about the future of Cuba, though they are not always expressed in a clear and conscious manner.

We have perceived that since last year, the introduction of market measures (in reality, the introduction of more market measures) is seen as something reasonable in order to "improve socialism". We have heard such ideas even from those who genuinely want to preserve the revolution, take it forward and who are firmly opposed to the restoration of capitalism. Taxi drivers always make conversation, and it is surprising to see how unanimous they are in thinking that "the good elements of capitalism must be introduced, without giving away socialism". Where do these ideas come from? Once asked directly what they think are the "positive aspects of socialism" which should be preserved, the answer is clear: free healthcare and education for all. And the "good aspects of capitalism"? To be able to give everybody high living standards and purchasing power. In reality, the reintroduction of capitalism would mean precisely the opposite. These are the ideas of the so-called "Chinese road", which have penetrated amongst important layers of society and its leadership, and which are also supported, promoted and applauded by the ruling class internationally.

The Cuban revolution has enormous reserves of social and political support, but it is clear that this, in and of itself is not a guarantee to prevent the gradual restoration of capitalism. Amongst certain layers of the population there is a large element of naivety in relation to what the "market economy", that is, capitalism, really is. The restoration of capitalism would have devastating effects in Cuba and Cuban society would be thrown back decades.

We have also seen how a section of those who are committed to the revolution, many of them from a younger generation which did not live the revolution, perceive this problem and are attempting to look for answers in the historical experience of the world working class and Marxist theory, which are one and the same, in order to defend the revolution and to push it forward. The spreading of the revolution to other countries and the conscious participation of the working class in all aspects of social, economic and political life is the key for the future of the Cuban revolution. It is not by chance that the figure of Leon Trotsky has aroused so much interest in the Book Fair, as shown by the book launch meeting of Revolution Betrayed.

Many Cubans have felt that the resignation of Fidel symbolizes the end of an historical period, but our duty is not to cry but to understand. The future is not cast in stone and the preservation and deepening of the historical conquests of the Cuban revolution will depend on the theoretical clarity and boldness of the most advanced layers of the Cuban workers and youth.

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