Dear Fidel Castro…
I believe that you were a great man – whatever you did, you did because of passion and integrity, not because of a thirst for money or power. But you had the wrong plan.
In 1959, you liberated Cubans from US-imposed dictatorship that had existed since the beginning of the century. You delivered a health service so good that people in your poor little island had a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality than the US. You sent your brave troops to fight fascism in Africa.
When I read Che Guevara’s biography by John Lee Anderson, I was enthralled by your band of 24 revolutionaries who landed on Cuba’s southern coast in a rickety little boat and fought your way to the capital to eventually defeat the US-supported government. It was an adventure, and I was willing you on – the alternative was much worse. If there’s one thing you definitely were, it was brave. Even your enemies must admit that.
But you had the wrong plan – the same wrong plan that has failed everywhere it’s been tried.
I understand that you were constantly harassed, blockaded, invaded and slandered by your giant neighbour, and that under those circumstances, a tight grip on the reins of power may be needed. But if that pressure had been removed, would you have given the Cuban people the right to choose a different leader? It’s never happened anywhere after a violent revolution, and I don’t think you would have been the exception.
Americans might have expected you to adopt ‘liberal democracy’ with opposing parties, but I wouldn’t – that system is too easily bought. I would have expected you to hand power to neighbourhood committees, to soviets. But you didn’t do that either. No-one who has ever seized power under the influence of Karl Marx has ever actually done what he suggested. The first part, the seizing of power, you achieved with aplomb, but the second part, the distribution of power, you conveniently forgot, like all the rest.
I have friends who believe that your plan is still the best one – fight, win, then impose your will. But you can’t have real socialism when you are ruled, however benignly, by someone who gives you no chance to remove them from power. It’s frustrating that so many good people are still advocating this plan. I don’t want to see history repeat itself – we don’t have much time, in terms of ecology.
But then I have other friends who don’t think we should have a plan at all, which is equally frustrating. More so, in fact.
I wish I could have worked with you, and helped find people to build a better economy and society – a way to hand it over to a self-supporting system rather than control it and steer it in a direction you decided was best. I would have had more chance of persuading you than persuading capitalists, that’s for sure. Capitalists are doing it for money and power, so wouldn’t even be interested in the discussion.
Goodbye, and thanks for trying. I’m not sure whether you made the world a better place, but I do believe that that’s what you were genuinely trying to do. And I’m being genuine too when I say, let’s not go down that path again. We can come up with a better plan. In Rojava, the plan didn’t involve the centralisation of power in the first place, and this is key I think. There, a more anarchistic approach has involved a network of local democratic and economic units that I would love to see applied on a bigger scale (how about it, Brazil?). This is something that we can start to build immediately, and some are indeed doing that, without going through a period of centralised control – that never ends well.
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1ASS-fan December 8th, 2016
“I understand that you were constantly harassed, blockaded, invaded and slandered by your giant neighbour, and that under those circumstances, a tight grip on the reins of power may be needed. But if that pressure had been removed, would you have given the Cuban people the right to choose a different leader? It’s never happened anywhere after a violent revolution, and I don’t think you would have been the exception.”
There has never been an exception, all revolutions have faced violence, seige, sabotage and assasination. The Soviet union had elections during the cold war, as does the chinese communist party – stating that it’s never happened is a-historical. We can of course criticise the nature of those democracies, that they didnt reflect class struggle – but the same can be said (and with much more clout) of liberal democracies in the west.
“No-one who has ever seized power under the influence of Karl Marx has ever actually done what he suggested. The first part, the seizing of power, you achieved with aplomb, but the second part, the distribution of power, you conveniently forgot, like all the rest.”
That’s because there hasn’t been any successful revolutions by anyone other than marxist-leninists, lenin recognised a need for a vanguard party that would be dynamic enough to defend revolution from the violence that is visited upon them (or any group that is actually successful in challenging capitalism) so it is not that they are ‘forgetting marx’ at all. You do not decentralise power as soon as you win it, or you will get crushed. If socialism could develop undisturbed you might, but that has never happened in history and likely never will. But in historical excamples the party is hardly keeping all the power to itself, to say this is ahistorical, the chinese and russian political systems had work place democracy, street level representatives and the structures of power were actually accessible to the normal people. The problem was that the people stopped pushing for power (class struggle) once they had achieved the revolution (with the notable exception of the cultural revolution in which millions of students overthrew Deng’s communist party in the 60s) In other revolutionary countries, class struggle stopped, and so socialism was derailed and turned back towards capitalism and liberalism by the germs of the old ruling classes. This is why we have to ideologically struggle against liberalism and ensure class struggle continues after the revolution.
2James bate December 8th, 2016
You ask if there could be widespread change in Brazil, there is in one corner and don’t think it was mentioned in your link to mutualism, it doesn’t go as far as you’d like but the organisation has made incredible progress in moving from family owned big business, though it looks from the outside now as even more capitalist, they call themselves venture catalysts and are very successful but do have a flat co op structure.
The company is Semco, the only english wiki is mainly on the family member who instigated change -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricardo_Semler
his book Maverick is worth a read.
3Dave Darby December 8th, 2016
‘You do not decentralise power as soon as you win it, or you will get crushed.’ – but none of the ‘centralised’ attempts were successful anyway, so you may as well try a decentralised approach. Millions of people have been displaced, killed and imprisoned (btw, I’m not overly interested in the argument that says that didn’t happen – you’d be going so much against the grain that you’d have to provide extraordinary evidence that it didn’t) for a giant experiment that failed every time it was attempted. Why try again? What’s different?
As you say, socialist experiments of that kind will always come under attack from capitalism. So it’s not going to work, is it?
Meanwhile, in Rojava, their decentralised experiment remains uncrushed as we write.
‘But in historical excamples the party is hardly keeping all the power to itself, to say this is ahistorical, the chinese and russian political systems had work place democracy, street level representatives and the structures of power were actually accessible to the normal people.’ And they never, ever decided to change the leadership? It just doesn’t ring true. I’ll look at (reliable) evidence though.
4Dave Darby December 8th, 2016
Interesting. It did sort of jar to see ‘majority owner’ and ‘industrial democracy’ in the same sentence though!
The reason I mentioned Brazil is because Porto Alegre was a pioneer of participatory budgeting – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_budgeting.
5Dave Darby December 8th, 2016
‘but the same can be said (and with much more clout) of liberal democracies in the west.’ – definitely – that we agree on.