History as Taught in Cuba: the Soviets vs. the Bourgeoisie and Nazis

Erasmo Calzadilla

libreta02HAVANA TIMES — During the summer break, I found a Contemporary History notebook in the trash. It had belonged to a kid in the tenth grade. In a previous post, I wrote about how the history lessons in the notebook approached the first years of the Bolshevik revolution. We can walk away with a fairly clear sense of its ideological position just by looking at the fact Lenin is mentioned fourteen times while the soviets not even once. Many students come out of Cuban high-schools believing the “Soviet” is merely a term referring to the inhabitants of a particular place.

In this post, I will yap a bit more about this student’s history notebook, analyzing how it addresses the rise of fascism and the Second World War. I will then devote a few lines to the course textbook.

The basic, doctrinaire aim of the course is to convince students that the capitalist systems of European powers and Soviet socialism were two radically different, antagonistic and irreconcilable systems. The first represented ambition and egotism as completely as the second embodied the hope of a new world free of evil and the exploitation of man by man. The other main ideological maneuver in this part of the course consists in placing fascism and Nazism (those racist, war-mongering criminals) within the capitalist family, a family that is not devoid of internal conflicts but whose members ultimately protect one another.

It doesn’t matter that the Axis Powers practiced a kind of totalitarianism very similar to that of the Soviet Union, or that Hitler should have attacked the Jews as champions of capitalist ideas (according to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion), that he called for volkgemeinschaft (“people’s community”), a struggle against the “slavery of rent” and the dismantling of the bourgeois democratic system, or that he went after capitalists and communists with the same degree of cruelty.

It doesn’t matter that social scientists cannot agree as to how to classify these systems. Those who designed the Contemporary History course taught in the tenth grade have a very simple answer: “fascism was the response of the bourgeoisie to socialism, the most inhumane and reactionary expression of the capitalist system.”

It would have been more accurate and revolutionary to point out that, during the Second World War, developed states bent on expansion were the ones that clashed. As such, all of these states, including the Soviet Union, belonged to the family of the enemies of true socialism, the one that seeks to socialize the means of production and guarantee control over society by the workers and people. Asking Cuba’s Communist Party to go that far in its presentation of world history would of course be too much.

The second big scam has to do with the non-aggression and mutual aid treaty signed by the Soviets and its “irreconcilable enemies.”

The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact is only mentioned once, in passing and, of course, without one reference to the secret clause having to do with the post-war slicing up of Poland and other European territories. Let us recall that, around 1939, when the said document was signed, Nazism was already outwardly criminal, racist and viscerally anti-socialist (in the non-perverted sense of the term).

In their advance across the territories they occupied militarily thanks to the agreement, the Soviets didn’t behave a whole lot better than the Nazis did. The Katyn massacre is a case in point. What does the history notebook say about this? What are teachers at Cuban schools telling their students this day and age?

Read it yourselves: “following Lenin’s death, Stalin proclaimed a common struggle against fascism,” “the fascist hordes lunged towards Poland,” “on June 22, 1941, fascist Germany attacked the Soviet Union, violating the non-aggression pact [the only time this pact is mentioned] and without a previous declaration of war.”

The Textbook

The textbook prepared for the Contemporary History course does explicitly refer to the non-aggression pact, but justifies it as a survival strategy: “the Soviet Union had no other choice,” “it was a way of avoiding fighting on two fronts,” “this way, it prevented the imperialist powers from creating a single, anti-Soviet front,” etc. The prestigious Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm catches the lie in those claims in his History of the 20th Century.

The textbook also mentions the additional secret clause, but describes it as a violation of Leninist principles perpetrated by Stalin and Molotov behind the Communist Party’s back. The maneuver, aimed at a very naïve audience, consists in sacrificing Stalin (who is already fairly discredited, at any rate) with a view to saving the immaculate purity of the Party and its legendary leader.

Conclusion

The Ideological Department of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee directly controls school subjects with any political content.

The tenth-grade History syllabus is aimed at convincing students about how good, dignified and legitimate Soviet socialism was. This way, it prepares the terrain for justifying the passionate romance we had with them and the fact we copied their communist-like totalitarian system.

If, to accomplish this, one has to twist history a “bit”, there will always be ministers of education, PhDs in pedagogy, education experts and even teachers willing to lie or look the other way when others do so. Are there no intellectuals and educators with enough respect for themselves and their profession to rebel against this? It doesn’t look that way. The “natural selection” process and generational indoctrination have managed to exterminate that race.

The Cuban State takes the care of children very seriously. Its admirable accomplishments in this sensitive sphere have been acknowledged by UNICEF. It’s a shame that it works just as diligently to indoctrinate them, something which, as far as I known, has never been acknowledged by UNICEF.


Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

3 thoughts on “History as Taught in Cuba: the Soviets vs. the Bourgeoisie and Nazis

  • As Molotov was purported to have said to vonRibbentrop, at the signing of the non-agression treaty in August of 1939: “Communism…fascism? It’s all a matter of taste!” Here I have to side with Tovarich Stalin. If the Soviet Union had had to fight the Nazis in September, 1939, rather than almost two years later, in June, 1941, the consequences would have been grave; hence, the non-aggression pact was a tactical delaying device to postpone the Soviet Union’s entry into the war until it was better prepared. Also, until England, France, and eventually the United States, were drawn into the war, the policies of the Western European capitalist states were calculated to have the Soviet Union fight alone, in the hopes of neutralizing and destroying it. Only after the unexpected and rapid collapse of France, at the end of the “Phony War” during the Winter and early Spring of 1939-40, prompted England (and later, the U.S.) to embrace the Soviet Union as an ally. Just as the Soviet Union sought to delay its entry into World War II, likewise, the Western allies, by their tardy establishment of a real second front, in the Spring of 1944, sought to delay their entry as long as possible, until they were better prepared. In the meantime, the Soviet Union lost 22 million of its civilians and soldiers, and much of its European territories lay in ruin.
    For more modern parallels of unsavory allies, look no further than the America’s embracing of Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran War of the1980’s, or our continuing support of any and all South- and Central-American dictators throughout the 20th Century and on into the current century (such as support of the coup in Honduras), not to mention elsewhere, such as our recent help of armaments and police weaponry to General Sisi in Egypt, our continuing support of the Saudi Royal Family, the Bahraini Royal Family, etc. etc. etc. Then again, these latter are, uh, as our intellectual appologists for American “demoKKKracy” are wont to say, “Authoritarian” regimes, not “Totalitarian” regimes, and this difference apparently forgives support of these dictators.
    Your are correct, Erasmo, in surmising that these high school texts are rather simple-minded and one-dimensional, if not an outright collection of falsehoods. Here, however, the same is true. Maybe one it ten–no, make that one in twenty, text books even approach something of the truth. For a deeper analysis of the past, the student, be s/he in secondary school, university or even graduate school, must consult many texts; even then it is difficult to arrive at any universal truths.

  • Both a superb historical analysis and a simultaneous corrective for the great unwashed who actually believe that the Soviet union was EVER socialist or communist instead of the antithetical totalitarian state capitalist that it clearly was..
    Thank you

  • I guess the Castros doesn’t want people to know about the Molotov – Von Ribbentrop pacy of “non aggression” between Nazi Germany and Stalin.
    From my own experience I know that especially in the teaching of history the text books are incorrect in many areas.

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