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Thursday, August 20, 2015


To the same post, "Old Men Forget," Wallace Stevens offers the following comment:

"I wonder whether any of those artists and academics are still around." Indeed. The regime has not been kind to independent academic inquiry and thought, or to free creative expression, although in those early days, and given how bad the previous regime was, you can understand their initial enthusiasm. I never supported the embargo and I think that the Castro regime was ridiculously demonised. There are lots worse places--Iraq under Saddam, when he was a US ally against Iran, for just one example. But still. The good things that the regime did in health and education were transformative, but really no more "progressive" than what any middle of the road liberal democratic (or even 1960s Republican) government would have done. And the rest of it, I think the Cuban people could have done without.

I ask only one question:  Suppose, when Castro and his comrades overthrew the Batista regime, that the United States government had responded not by assembling a ragtag collection of die-hards for an invasion, but instead had offered the new government massive aid and support for their professed aim of turning Cuba into a socialist paradise.  What would Cuba look like today?

Impossible, of course.  It was the Cold War.  The United States was totally committed to undermining and if necessary overthrowing every government that embraced socialist ideals.  But suppose we had done precisely that.  And suppose we had combined that with a program of vigorous economic and political support for every progressive government in Latin America.

In those circumstances, what would have been the fate of "independent academic inquiry and thought" or "free creative expression."  I simply do not know, but I would give a great deal to have watched that scenario play out, as they say in the War College.


Jerry Fresia said...

I would take issue with the claim that the "regime's" health and education programs were no more " 'progressive' than what any middle of the road liberal democratic (or even 1960s Republican) government would have done" given that that the achievements of liberal Democrats and 1960s Republicans (who mostly resisted) in these areas pale in comparison. Instead of imagining what life on the island would have been had the US offered massive aid, I would like to imagine what the life chances, not to mention socialist successes, of Cubans would have been if the US simply had not waged war on the island for 50 years. Cuba can be faulted on the protection of its citizen's civil rights but let's keep in mind that that the civil rights of dissidents in the US have been severely compromised during both World Wars, certainly the post-war period up through Vietnam and beyond, and have been shredded since 9/11. In contrast, the "regime" in tiny, relatively defenseless Cuba, despite US invasion, the threat of invasion, sabotage, chemical warfare, endless propaganda, an embargo, and occupation, has not only managed to survive, but it has provided the health and educational access as noted and has exported healthcare on a level relatively incomparable for the nation's size and wealth. The recent sending of doctors and nurses to western Africa to fight ebola exceeded the US effort, for example. And all the while the US propped up South African apartheid, Cuba's military intervention in the region dealt apartheid a serious if not fatal blow. A regime such as this, we should be so lucky to have.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well said, Jerry!

Wallace Stevens said...

I have been away on a canoe trip the last few days, so am just catching up now. First, I see that I let rhetorical excess spoil the point that I was making when I referred to “Republicans.” I agree, the US, to this day, lacks a universally accessible, quality healthcare system. But my point still stands that whatever can be placed on the “good” side of the Cuban ledger—particularly education and healthcare—can and has been accomplished by democratic left and centre governments in Europe and Canada. The repression was not a necessary condition for success in those areas. Nor do I believe that US opposition to Cuba, in its various forms, necessitated the intellectual “lock down” that Cuba forced on its people. What is the link? To engage in my own counterfactual, what might have happened if the Cubans had adopted a model of democratic, popular control of the government, combined with lively debate and encouragement of free artistic expression? It is hard to believe that its position vis-à-vis the US would have been weakened. Indeed, to say so suggests that the only answer to US hegemony is dictatorship--that if people are free to debate and choose their governments, then socialism doesn’t have a chance. But I really don’t think that is the case.

The Cuban regime was based on the discredited Soviet model that was also imposed on Eastern Europe, with the same results. This model was rejected in massive popular uprisings, and, whatever the failings of the societies and governance that replaced them, there is only tiny support for parties that want to stage a return. I predict that the removal of the embargo will lead to the same collapse in Cuba as we saw in Russia and Eastern Europe. The embargo was the excuse that maintained Castro’s credibility. Ironically, I believe that it is US policy that has propped Castro up all these years.

And Professor Wolff, I am feeling a bit of a letdown hearing you defend a regime in which the kind of free intellectual work that you do would not be possible. I think of your course on Marx that you described for us and of your recent exchange with Class Struggle. You come out as a strong advocate of ENGAGING with thinkers like Marx and not dogmatically reciting every precious word the master wrote—including the footnotes! You also believe that in order to understand Marx, or to think about what socialism would look like today, you need to read widely and bring to bear on the problem as many influences as possible. In Cuba, your very question “What would socialism look like?” is counter revolutionary and subversive, because, of course, the regime has already answered it. So what’s with all the questions, already! (There seems to be a fatal attraction between intellectuals and strong men. Milton Friedman, the man who wrote the book “Freedom to Choose” had Pinochet. And the Left has Castro. I’ve never really understood this.)

On Jerry Fresia’s point that post-9/11 civil liberties in the US are no better than Cuba, a simple perusal of the Amnesty International country reports over the last few years will refute that quite easily.