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 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…

  • 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.

  • 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..?

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