May Day 2009 in Cuba

By Ron Ridenour

May Day in Cuba: A Retrospective.  Pie de foto: 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

HAVANA TIMES, April 30 – 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 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.



8 thoughts on “May Day 2009 in Cuba

  • Ron Ridenour’s commentary leaves out any mention of the most important obstacle to advancing Cuba’s revolutionary process: Washington’s blockade of the island. That remains in virtually EVERY respect in full force and effect.

    Just today, to cite only the latest example, Washington announced that it is keeping Cuba on its list of terrorist states. The impression which Ron Ridenour gives is that the island’s population is utterly demoralized and the problem is that the government is holding the people back. Cuba has any number of problems, some of which Ridenour aludes to, but is the principal source of Cuba’s problems its own government? I think not.

    Reply
  • Dear Walter,
    You know that I have written hundreds of articles and five books about Cuba in which th US war-blockade against Cuba is always a key theme. One book, “Backfire”, is totally about the US aggression. And in this short piece about Mayday, the very first paragraph does bring in this point”…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.”

    I don’t think it is always necessary to talk about United States imperialism when assessing Cuba’s internal problems, as though one has to always “prove” one is anti-imperialist and pro-Cuba. I speak with my brothers and sisters in Cuba and not against them, and I know that socialism must replace capitalism if the human race and the planet are to survive, and that is precisely why I point out that socialism must be created and fomented by the populations from their bases and if the socialist governments don’t facilitate that we will end up as have the Russians et. al.

    Reply
  • Blaming the embargo and the unremitting hostility of the U.S. government over the past fifty years for all its problems is the Revolutionary Government’s default button; it can only be pressed so many times before it fails to produce results. Ron Ridenour’s assessment of the internal shortcomings of the Revolution reflect the realities on the ground. If solutions to these problems are not applied–and applied soon–then the Cuban Revolution will go the way of so many revolutions before it. We who love the Revolution desire that this will not be the case, and actually have reason to hope that a new generation, schooled in the ideals of the Revolution, will now apply these solutions. To allow inertia to continue only increases apathy, discouragement and alienation of the generation now arriving at maturity.

    Reply
  • Ron thank you for your insightful article on the struggle taking place within the grassroots to save and move forward the socialist revolution not only in Cuba but that is developing in Venezuela and Latin America.

    I agree with this analysis being put forward by some.

    Long Live the ideas of Celia Hart, Che and Leon Trotsky

    Reply
  • Is the main problem facing Cuba today its repressive, democracy-limiting government? Not in my opinion.

    Washington’s blockade of Cuba, remains 99+% in full force and effect after President Obama lifted the Bush-imposed 2004 restrictions. Yet Ron Ridenour writes that Cuba’s MAIN problem is its lack of democracy.
    There ARE limits to political democracy in Cuba, as is evident from the fact that it has a one-party political system. But is there something wrong, in principle with Cuba defining for itself what political system suits the country?

    The PRINCIPAL obstacle to Cuban democracy’s deeper development is that blockade, against which the Cuban government must take defensive measures to protect the island’s independence. To omit the blockade, and to place the blame for Cuba’s problems on its government and leadership, is to miss the central thing. The complaint that Cuba lacks sufficient democracy is one we’ve been hearing for about fifty years, from various voices on the left and on the right.

    The blockade’s aim is to either starve and isolate the Cuban population so it will overthrow the revolution and bring capitalism back there, or else to make the island so difficult a place to live, and also a very unattractive model of what a socialist society could be. That is the framework and context for everything which takes place on the island, including the various mistakes which Cuba’s leadership has made, many acknowledged.

    Criticizing Cuba is simple. Anyone can do that. To read the Letters to the Editor column in GRANMA, or the opinion columns in Juventud Rebelde indicates a genuine lleadership awareness of the country’s problems. But literally putting food on the table for eleven million people, and resolving other challenging problems aren’t as simple as “more information” or “more democracy” and blaming Cuba’s government, as Ron Ridenour essentially goes here.

    While it is possible to hide behind the blockade, or use it as an excuse for one thing or another, it cannot EVER be omitted as it is the context for everything. And until and unless US-Cuban relations are normalized,
    and Washington accepts Cuban sovereignty, the blockade will continue to challenge and deform Cuban life at every level.

    Walter Lippmann
    ====================================================
    RON RIDENOUR writes:
    “I don’t think it is always necessary to talk about United States imperialism when assessing Cuba’s internal problems, as though one has to always “prove” one is anti-imperialist and pro-Cuba.

    Reply
  • The blockade is the main *external* factor affecting the Cuban Revolution. However, the residual stalinist bureaucracy in Cuba is certainly *a* main *internal* factor affecting the Revolution also. So this is not an ‘either/or’ proposition we have here. Maintaining that claim would in fact be applying inappropriate bourgeois logic to a situation which requires dialectical finesse. Perspective. I think Ron Ridenour is handling a description of the whole situation on the island quite well here — so what that the ‘dinosaurs’ is the U.S. can use some of the same words or concepts to mean completely different things? Do we allow ourselves to be defined by their poisonous, narrow mentalities..? I think not. Lighten up, Walter — one communist to another talking here.

    Abd one thing about a long-standing revolution like the cuban one: no one could be expected to maintain for decades the revolutionary ardor of those who are just beginning the process of finally freeing themselves after centuries of oppression. Better that cuban socialism — like so many cuban socialists in fact appear to be doing — proceeds now on the basis of most cubans being perhaps less overtly ‘militant’ about their beliefs and their praxis, and instead a bit more reflective — solid and concrete — about it all. There’s little need to prove anything anymore, with mannerisms and symbolism that evoke bygone revolutionary moments — which are in fact now part of our collective shared history, and no longer of any immediate import. Better that cubans now more demonstrate to the world’s beleaguered socialists how to live a full socialist life, if possible. To give us shared hope that what we are struggling for really has meaning for our future, if not our present.

    And so it becomes more and more important and pressing that the democratic praxis of socialist society now be put into full effect at the earlist opportunity, theuout cuban society. The World not only demands it: but it will be the very demise of the Revolution if it doesn’t happen, and soon. And so it is very much time to devolve real power all the way down to the grassroots of the mass of the people. Which means the beginning of the end to the bureaucracy and its privileged gate-keeping status.

    What true socialist could be against this..?

    Reply
  • I agree with those who describe problems as due to anything other than the blockade. The blockade has cost the Cuban people immeasurably. However, in spite of the bloickade, Cuba has sent doctors all over the world. No other country has given so generously of the litle they have to help improve medical care in other countries. They hav also helped spread literacy to other countries, even to New Zealand, an imperialist country. They offered to send doctors to help after Katrina. Bush arrogantly refused the Cuban offer of assistance. To speak of a “residual stalinist bureacracy” flies in the face of reality. Who are these residual stalinists? Fidel, Raul or who? Those who have read about the fight against bureaucracy would remember that Anibal Escalante left Cuba after an attempt to use the aid from the Soviet Union as a club against the revolutionary communists leading Cuba. I am a communist and have been active in the defense of Cuba for many years. Instead of looking for “residual stalinists”, think your efforts would be better spent defending the Revolution against the very real US imperialists. A good place to start would be to work towards freedom for the five Cuban communists jailed in the USA for the crime of defending the revolution agaisnt agents of US imperialism.

    Reply
  • Ron Ridenour identifies what he sees as “four main areas of dissatisfaction” in Cuba today. These 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.”

    He then tries to blame these problems on the Cuban leadership, which supposedly withholds…

    Reply

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