Cuba 60: Hasta la victoria siempre!

Progressive humanity continues to cheer the incredible achievements of the tiny island nation, made in the teeth of the imperialists’ determined and unceasing aggression.

Proletarian writers

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Nearly one million people gather to hear Fidel in the Plaza Cívica (now José Martí’s Revolution Square), Havana, 1959.

Celebrations were held all across Cuba in the new year, marking 60 years of Cuban socialism. On 1 January 1959, after three years of guerrilla warfare, the revolutionary army led by Fidel Castro rose victorious over the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, along with a number of important provinces, causing the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee.

The people had triumphed.

From Spanish colony to US neo-colony

Cuba spent some 400 years as a Spanish colony, having been ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus in 1492. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, a fierce anticolonial struggle developed, led by José Martí and the Cuban Revolutionary party.

By 1897, the success of the independence movement seemed within reach, with the Spanish prime minister making the following statement: “After having sent 200,000 men and shed so much blood, we don’t own any more land on the island than what our soldiers are stepping on.” (Quoted in Prof J Cantón Navarro, A History of Cuba, 1996)

However, just a few months later, in February 1898, the US battleship Maine blew up in Havana Bay. It is widely believed that the attack on the battleship was actually instigated by the US itself in order to pull Spain into a war for the ‘ownership’ of Cuba, which according to the infamous Monroe Doctrine naturally ‘belonged’ to the USA – along with the rest of Latin America.

The US were the victors of that war, and so, in 1899, dominion over Cuba was transferred to the US, which granted nominal independence to the island in 1902, but retained economic control until the revolution in 1959.

Under the boot-heel of Batista

Throughout the period of US domination, progressive forces mobilised against the reactionaries who facilitated US plunder of the island. The growing strength of their movement was illustrated on 10 March 1952, when Fulgencio Batista, in a bid to prevent a communist candidate winning the elections, seized power by force.

Batista had been a military man for many years and had served the establishment well, suppressing uprisings during the 1930s and 40s. In 1940, he served a term of four years as elected president, during which time US trade relations increased and Cuba entered the second world war on the side of the allies.

Following the coup d’etat in 1952, Batista ruled Cuba with an iron fist. He abolished the constitution, dismissed the Congress of the Republic and firmly held the door open to US imperialism.

Fidel Castro, then a young revolutionary, denounced the coup and called on all Cubans to fight the dictatorship, warning: “Once again there is tyranny, but there will also be men like Mella, Trejo and Guiteras [revolutionaries who had fought Spanish and US forces]. There is oppression in the homeland, but there will be a day of liberty again.” (Quoted in A History of Cuba, op cit)

The famous US playwright Arthur Miller described Cuban society under the rule of the US’s local sidekick Fulgencio Batista as hopelessly corrupt – a mafia playground and a bordello for Americans and other foreigners. (A visit with Castro by Arthur Miller, The Nation, 24 December 2003)

Casinos had begun to develop in the 1920s, catering to the playboy rich of the island’s imperial neighbour. This industry expanded massively in the mid- to late 1950s as Batista and his cronies, working together with American mafiosi, used the resources of Cuban state development banks – and even union retirement funds – to build hotels, all of which hosted casinos, like the Riviera, the Capri, and the Havana Hilton. (Cuba before the revolution by Samuel Farber, Jacobin, 6 September 2015)

Batista’s henchmen worked with mafiosi to line their own pockets, skimming the casinos’ proceeds, cheating investors and trafficking drugs.

However, when the revolutionaries put these gangsters on trial, they did not charge them with working with mafia, stealing casino profits or trafficking drugs; they were charged with torture and murder, which had become routine under the Batista regime.

The mafia had gained a foothold in Cuba as a means to expanding their enterprise and escaping the reaches of the FBI/IRS and other US law and tax enforcement agencies. In December 1946, Havana’s Hotel Nacional hosted an important gathering of the mafia attended by the heads of the most powerful families and organised by Lucky Luciano, who had been residing on the island since October of that year. (Jacobin, ibid)

Enrique Cirules, a Cuban writer, wrote in his book Mafia in Havana that the power of the mafia, in a permanent alliance with the US intelligence services, had taken over every level of power in Cuba. Mafia in Havana won the Casa de Las Américas prize for literature in 1993 and the Literary Critic’s Award in 1994.

Moncada barracks

Meanwhile, Fidel got together with a group of revolutionaries who had fought in previous uprisings with the intention of carrying out an attack on the military regime and thus providing a catalyst for further uprisings.

The target of their attack was to be the Moncada barracks, the second-largest army base in Cuba, located on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba, where the independence movement had always been strong, as well as being a fair distance from any potential back-up forces.

During the night of 26 July 1953, a group of 131 fighters, led in three groups by Fidel Castro, Abel Santamaria and Raúl Castro, attacked the barracks. Despite extensive and secretive preparations, the first attacking column was intercepted by an unscheduled patrol of Batista’s forces, sparking a battle and alerting the rest of the barracks to the attack.

Almost all the combatants were captured, eight being killed in battle, while a handful escaped. The following day, 50 fighters were executed as a warning to the Cuban masses; the rest were tried, along with others who had been rounded up but had no involvement in the attack.

It was during the Moncada barracks trial that Fidel gave one of his most famous speeches, now recognised by his final statement: “History will absolve me.” Fidel used the speech to expose the brutality of the Batista regime, the downtrodden existence of the Cuban people and the need to fight for liberty and freedom.

He also outlined five revolutionary laws that would have been proclaimed if the attack had been successful: to “return power to the people”, to “give non-mortgageable and non-transferable ownership of land to all tenants”, to “grant workers and employees the right to share 30 percent of the profits of all large industry”, to “grant all sugar planters the right to share 55 percent of sugar production”, and to confiscate “all holdings and ill-gotten gains … of previous regimes … Half of the property recovered would be used to subsidise retirement funds for workers and the other half would be used for hospitals, asylums and charitable organisations.”

The success of the defence team, in spite of limitations imposed on them by the court, meant that only 26 were found guilty, and a large proportion of these were given lenient sentences.

History will absolve me: a call to arms

“Still there is one argument more powerful than all the others. We are Cubans and to be Cuban implies a duty; not to fulfil that duty is a crime, is treason. We are proud of the history of our country; we learned it in school and have grown up hearing of freedom, justice and human rights.

“We were taught to venerate the glorious example of our heroes and martyrs. Céspedes, Agramonte, Maceo, Gómez and Martí were the first names engraved in our minds. We were taught that the Titan once said that liberty is not begged for but won with the blade of a machete.

“We were taught that for the guidance of Cuba’s free citizens, the Apostle wrote in his book The Golden Age: ‘The man who abides by unjust laws and permits any man to trample and mistreat the country in which he was born is not an honourable man …

“‘In the world there must be a certain degree of honour just as there must be a certain amount of light. When there are many men without honour, there are always others who bear in themselves the honour of many men. These are the men who rebel with great force against those who steal the people’s freedom, that is to say, against those who steal honour itself. In those men thousands more are contained, an entire people is contained, human dignity is contained …’

“We were taught that the 10th of October and the 24th of February are glorious anniversaries of national rejoicing because they mark days on which Cubans rebelled against the yoke of infamous tyranny. We were taught to cherish and defend the beloved flag of the lone star, and to sing every afternoon the verses of our National Anthem: ‘To live in chains is to live in disgrace and in opprobrium,’ and ‘To die for one’s homeland is to live forever!’

“All this we learned and will never forget, even though today in our land there is murder and prison for the men who practice the ideas taught to them since the cradle. We were born in a free country that our parents bequeathed to us, and the Island will first sink into the sea before we consent to be the slaves of anyone.

“The guilty continue at liberty and with weapons in their hands  –  weapons which continually threaten the lives of all citizens. If all the weight of the law does not fall upon the guilty because of cowardice or because of domination of the courts, and if then all the judges do not resign, I pity your honour. And I regret the unprecedented shame that will fall upon the judicial power.

“I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” (History will absolve me, speech by Fidel Castro, 1953)

Movement of 26 July

Fidel himself, along with several other leaders of the attack, was sentenced to 15 years and imprisoned on the Isla de Pinos. Two years later, following continued protests demanding their release, and in the face of increasing unrest, Batista was forced to set them free.

On their release, they were greeted with great popular acclaim and vowed to continue the work they had started. So, in June 1955, Fidel and several other revolutionaries who had attacked the Moncada barracks held an official meeting and formed the Movement of 26 July (M 26-J).

As M 26-J increased its activity, so too did the repressive measures of the Batista regime. By July, Fidel had decided that, in order to organise effectively, he needed to leave the country and train elsewhere.

Mexico and Guevara

Having relocated to Mexico, Fidel and several others set up camp, specifically choosing remote terrain similar to Cuba’s in order to prepare themselves for the next stage of the struggle. It was here that they met Che Guevara.

Argentine-born Che had fled persecution in Guatemala and, having met some of the M 26-J comrades previously, was introduced to Fidel. Thus began his involvement in the preparations for the Cuban revolution.

M 26-J members in Mexico maintained constant communication with the workers’ and peasants’ struggles taking place in Cuba. Fidel wrote manifestos for the movement analysing the struggle and the tasks ahead, which were distributed in Cuba.

While the revolutionaries trained in Mexico, the hardships suffered by the Cuban population under Batista’s iron rule increased the support for M 26-J’s goals.

The Granma

After a year of mobilising troops and building up its forces in both Mexico and in Cuba, the M 26-J planned coordinated attacks across the country, with the Mexican contingent travelling by sea to reinforce the eastern front.

On 25 November 1956, from the Mexican port of Tupax, the Granma, only a small boat, carried 82 members of the M 26-J across the Gulf of Mexico, aiming for Cuba’s eastern coast. But the heavy load slowed the boat’s journey, delaying its landing to 2 December, two days after the attacks were supposed to be launched.

This proved almost fatal for the insurrection as, despite the forces within Cuba mounting uprisings and making some gains, they had not been the outright victors. The delay of the Granma’s arrival meant that Batista’s forces were at the boat’s landing site within an hour with all the planes and troops they could muster.

In the face of this military onslaught, a large part of the revolutionary contingent was captured and over 20 executed on the spot. Against all odds, however, 10 remaining rebels continued towards the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, moving deeper into them to regroup, ready to continue the fight against the regime.

Revolution sweeps away the exploiters

During the next two years, the 10 members of M 26-J in the Sierra Maestra recruited workers and peasants from across the Cuban countryside and towns as a fierce war ensued against the regime.

As Fidel recounted on the 40th anniversary of the revolution: “The infallible tactic of attacking the enemy when it was on the move was a key factor [to success]. The art of provoking those forces into moving out of their well-fortified and generally invulnerable positions became one of our commands’ greatest skills.” (Speech made in Céspedes Park, Santiago de Cuba, 1 January 1999)

By December 1958, the rebel army, with Fidel as commander-in-chief and Che Guevara, Camilio Cienfuegos, Raúl Castro, Juan Alemida and Celia Sánchez as leaders of the columns, led the forces across the country, taking city after city and growing in number by the day.

On 29 December, Che Guevara’s eighth column, by this time made up of 350 well-armed and experienced fighters, derailed and defeated a trainload of 3,500 of Batista’s troops in the battle of Santa Clara, paving the way for the advance on the capital city of Havana. The defeat, celebrated in Cuban popular culture to this day, was the final straw for the regime.

At 2.00am on 1 January 1959, Batista fled the country, leaving the rebel army victorious. Thus it was, five years, five months and five days after the attack on the Moncada barracks, that the programme publicised during the Moncada trial for developing a Cuba for the Cuban people was finally put into action.

A renewed and vibrant political culture

From the day the revolution won out, Fidel contributed to the resurrection of the political culture of debate, which had been kept largely in the background by US colonial domination, apart from some short periods – for example, the revolutionary upsurge in the 1930s and the approval of the 1940 constitution.

The political culture of debate, as mutually fostered since 1959 by the new leadership and the workers in favour of the latter, was captured by Che Guevara: “At the great public mass meetings one can observe something like a dialogue of two tuning forks whose vibrations interact, producing new sounds.”

Highlighting how the people participated in decision-making, Guevara referred to the “close dialectical unity between the individual and the mass in which both are interrelated”, and concluded: “The mass, as an aggregate of individuals, interacts with its leaders.” (60 years of defending Cuba against a barbarous empire by Arnold August, Telesur, 1 January 2019)

Bay of Pigs invasion

Although it was clear that the tiny island nation with a population of just 7.5 million people posed no physical threat to the world’s biggest superpower, the USA responded hysterically to a successful revolution on its doorstep.

By October 1959 it had begun bombing and strafing attacks on Cuban soil. In early 1960 there were several firebomb air raids on Cuban cane fields and sugar mills in which American pilots took part. (William Blum, Killing Hope, 2003)

In March, a French freighter unloading munitions from Belgium exploded in Havana taking 75 lives and injuring 200 more, some of whom subsequently died. The United States denied Cuba’s accusation of sabotage.

This ongoing military aggression culminated in the CIA-organised invasion of Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) in April 1961. The invasion was a total failure. Over 100 exiles died in the attack and close to 1,200 others were taken prisoner by the Cubans.

The assault relied ultimately on the mass of Cubans rising with the invaders, but the leadership of the invasion was made up of former supporters and henchmen of Fulgencio Batista, who would never have been welcomed back by the Cuban masses.

Cuba declares for socialism

The Cuban revolution had been fought on anti-imperialist and popular lines. After the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt, however, the country came out firmly for socialism.

At the huge May Day parade of 1961, which took place just weeks after the defeat of the US’s armed mercenaries, Fidel referred to the decades of sacrifice embodied in the success of the revolution: “When today we saw a happy face or a smile full of hope, we thought that each smile of today was a flower over the grave of the fallen hero.”

Referring to the incessant demands of the imperialists and their local stooges that Cuba should hold elections and stop suppressing the parties of bourgeois privilege and power, Fidel said:

“Do the people have time now for elections? No! What were the political parties? Just an expression of class interests. Here there is just one class, the humble; that class is in power, and so it is not interested in the ambition of an exploiting minority to get back in power. Those people would have no chance at all in an election.

“The revolution has no time to waste in such foolishness. There is no chance for the exploiting class to regain power. The revolution and the people know that the revolution expressed their will; the revolution does not come to power with Yankee arms. It comes to power through the will of the people fighting against arms of all kinds, Yankee arms.

“The revolution keeps in power through the people. What are the people interested in? In having the revolution go ahead without losing a minute. Can any government in America claim to have more popular support than this one? Why should democracy be the pedantic, false democracy of the others, rather than this direct expression of the will of the people?

“The people go to die fighting instead of going to a poll to scratch names on paper. The revolution has given every citizen a weapon, a weapon to every man who wanted to enter the militia. So some fool comes along to ask if, since we have a majority why don’t we hold elections? Because the people do not care to please fools and fine little gentlemen! The people are interested in moving forward.

“They have no time to waste. The people must spend tremendous amounts of energy in preparing to meet aggression, when everybody knows we want to be building schools, houses and factories. We are not warlike. The Yankees spend half of their budget on armaments; we are not warlike. We are obliged to spend that energy, because of the imperialists.

“We have no expansionist ambitions. We do not want to exploit any worker of another county. We are not interested in aggressive plans; we have been forced to have tanks, planes, machineguns, and a military force to defend ourselves.

“The recent invasion shows how right we were to arm. At Playa Giron, they came to kill peasants and workers. Imperialism forced us to arm for defence. We have been forced to put energy and material and resources into that, although we would prefer to put them into more schools, so that in future parades there can be more athletes and school children. If our people were not armed, they could not crush mercenaries coming with modern equipment.

“The imperialists would have hurled themselves on us long ago if we had not been armed. But we prefer to die rather than surrender the country we have now. They know that. They know they will meet resistance, and so the aggressive circles of imperialism have to stop and think.

“So we are forced, by the threat of aggression to proclaim to the four corners of the world: All the peoples of American should rise in indignation after the statement that a country can intervene in another just because the first is strong. Such a policy would mean that the powerful neighbour takes the right to intervene to keep a people from governing themselves according to their own choice …

“Those who promote the policy of isolating Cuba at the orders of imperialism are miserable traitors to the interests and feelings of America. These facts show us the rotten politics that prevail in many Latin American countries, and how the Cuban revolution has turned those corrupt forms upside down to establish new forms in this country.

“To those who talk to us about the 1940 [bourgeois-democratic] constitution, we say that the 1940 constitution is already too outdated and old for us. We have advanced too far for that short section of the 1940 constitution that was good for its time but which was never carried out.

“That constitution has been left behind by this revolution, which, as we have said, is a socialist revolution. We must talk of a new constitution, yes, a new constitution, but not a bourgeois constitution, not a constitution corresponding to the domination of certain classes by exploiting classes, but a constitution corresponding to a new social system without the exploitation of man by man.

“That new social system is called socialism, and this constitution will therefore be a socialist constitution.” (Cuba is a socialist nation)

This momentous occasion is marked in bourgeois history as the day in which the ‘dictator’ Castro ‘banned elections’. Such is the reaction of the bourgeois when faced with a real expression of the people’s will!

In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organisations (ORI) was formed from the merger of the 26 July Movement, the Popular Socialist Party and the student-based Revolutionary Directory. In December of the same year, explaining the need for this unity, Fidel declared himself to be a communist in a televised address to the nation.

“What is the socialism we have to apply here? Utopian socialism? We simply have to apply scientific socialism. That is why I began by saying with complete frankness that we believe in Marxism, that we believe it is the most correct, the most scientific theory, the only truly revolutionary theory. I say that here with complete satisfaction and with complete confidence: I am a Marxist Leninist, and I shall be a Marxist Leninist to the end of my life …

“Did I have prejudices about the communists? Yes. Was I ever influenced by imperialist and reactionary propaganda against the communists? Yes. What did I think about the communists? Did I think they were thieves? No, never; I always regarded the communists – at the university and elsewhere – as honourable and honest people and all that.

“But, well, that is no special merit, because almost everyone recognises these qualities in them. Did I have the idea they were sectarian? Yes. Why did I have such opinions about the communists? Simply, I am absolutely convinced that the ideas I had about the communists – not about Marxism, nor about the Communist Party – like the ideas many people have, were the product of the propaganda and prejudices instilled in us since childhood, practically from school age, in the university, in the movies and everywhere else.” (On Marxism Leninism, 2 December 1961)

In March 1962, the ORI became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURSC), which in turn became the Communist Party of Cuba on 3 October 1965. In Article 5 of the Cuban constitution of 1976, the Communist Party is recognised as “the superior guiding force of society and of the State, that organises and orients common efforts toward the high goals of the construction of socialism and the advancement toward communist society”.

Unceasing US aggression and sabotage

Despite the acute embarrassment over the Bay of Pigs fiasco for the administration of President John F Kennedy (indeed because of it) a campaign of further attacks against Cuba was initiated almost immediately.

Throughout the 1960s Cuba was subject to countless sea and air raids by exiles, often accompanied by their CIA handlers. These attackers inflicted damage on oil refineries, chemical plants, railway bridges, cane fields, sugar mills and sugar warehouses; they infiltrated spies, saboteurs and assassins – in short, they did anything and everything within their power to damage the Cuban economy, promote disaffection and make the socialist revolution look bad. (All evidence in this section is taken from William Blum, Killing Hope, 2003)

Attackers took the lives of Cuban militia members, carried out pirate attacks on Cuban fishing boats and merchant ships, bombarded Soviet vessels docked in Cuba, assaulted a Soviet army camp wounding 12 Russian soldiers, and shelled a hotel from offshore because Russians and east Europeans were supposed to be staying there.

The commando raids were accompanied by the effective removal of Cuba from the world market – an attack leveraged by the US’s primary economic weapon: the dollar.

As a result of controlling the world’s de facto reserve currency, the US could, then as now, embargo and sanction countries it didn’t like. The blockade, which has continued to this day, genuinely hurts the Cuban economy and has chipped away at the people’s standard of living.

So unyielding was this blockade that when the island was hit hard by a hurricane in October 1963 and Casa Cuba (a New York social club) raised a large quantity of clothing for relief, the US refused to grant an export licence on the grounds the shipment was “contrary to the national interest”. (John Gerrasi, The Great Fear in Latin America, 1965)

The US exerted its pressure on other countries, too, encouraging them to send damaged goods that might slow down Cuba’s independent development. As a result a succession of tainted produce made its way to the island – from broken machinery and adulterated chemicals (lubricating fluids contaminated so as to cause rapid wear to diesel engines, for example) to ball bearings and wheel gears that had been deliberately produced off-centre (their west German manufacturers having been specially commissioned to carry out this wrecking activity).

“You’re talking about big money,” said a CIA officer involved in the sabotage efforts, “when you ask a manufacturer to go along with that kind of project, because he has to reset his mould. And he is probably going to worry about the effect on future business. You might have to pay him several hundred thousand dollars.”

A manufacturer that defied the embargo was British Leyland Company, which sold a large number of buses to Cuba in 1964. Repeated criticism and protest from Washington officials and congressmen failed to stem their delivery.

Then, in October of the same year, an east German cargo ship carrying another 42 buses to Cuba collided in thick fog with a Japanese vessel in the Thames. The Japanese ship was able to continue on but the cargo ship was breached. The buses would have to be “written off” said the Leyland company. In leading British papers this was an ‘accident story’. The New York Times didn’t even bother to report on it.

A decade was to pass before American columnist Jack Anderson disclosed that the collision had been arranged by the CIA with the cooperation of British intelligence.

In August 1962 a British freighter under Soviet lease, having damaged its propeller on a reef, crept into the harbour at San Juan, Puerto Rico for repairs. It was bound for a Soviet port with 80,000 bags of Cuban sugar. The ship was put into dry dock and 14,135 sacks of sugar were unloaded to a warehouse to facilitate the repairs. While in the warehouse, the sugar was contaminated by CIA agents with a substance that was allegedly ‘harmless’ but unpalatable.

When President Kennedy learned of the operation (proving that the CIA was further off its leash than even the US president had realised) he was reportedly furious because it had taken place on US territory and, if discovered, could provoke retaliation from the Soviet Union, not to mention setting a terrible precedent for chemical sabotage in the cold war.

In the same year a Canadian agricultural technician working as an adviser to the Cuban government was paid $5,000 by an ‘American military intelligence agent’ to infect Cuban turkeys with a virus that would produce the fatal Newcastle disease. As a result, 8,000 Cuban turkeys were lost.

In 1971, the CIA turned over to Cuban exiles a virus that causes African swine fever. Six weeks later, an outbreak of the disease in Cuba forced the slaughter of 500,000 pigs to prevent a nationwide animal epidemic. The outbreak was the first ever in the western hemisphere.

The full extent of the chemical warfare visited by the US on Cuba may never be known. Over the years the Castro government blamed the US for a number of plagues that afflicted various animals and crops. Its claims were reinforced when, in 1977, newly released classified documents disclosed that the CIA had “maintained a clandestine anti-crop warfare research programme targeted during the 1960s at a number of countries throughout the world”.

Assassination attempts on Fidel were equally numerous and almost comical in their variety, including everything from exploding cigars to poison pellets. For a more complete picture of this particular avenue of attack on Cuban socialism, we advise our readers to watch the documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro to understand the fanatical desire of the United States to kill a revolutionary communist and internationalist leader of a sovereign country.

And yet, despite all this, Cuba’s leaders and people, and Cuban socialism, remained steadfast.

Onward, to communism

Cuban workers and farmers continue to debate the development of socialism in their country and to participate fully in decision-making. The country’s 1976 constitution referred to “the construction of socialism and the progress toward a communist society”. The draft of a new constitution submitted to the people for debate and input in 2018 was worded: “toward the construction of socialism”. The final revised version, which took into account the debate and will be submitted to the citizens in a referendum to be held on 24 February 2019, is worded: “toward the construction of socialism and communism”.

The revolutionary government began by addressing the poverty, hunger and illiteracy that had plagued the lives of Cubans for the past century.

The sentiment of the five revolutionary laws outlined in Fidel’s ‘History will absolve me’ speech was put into practice. In May 1959, under the Agrarian Reform Act, Cuba began expropriating land and private property for the benefit of more than 100,000 rural families.

Rental costs were reduced by 50 percent. Social security measures were extended across the entire population.

Ten thousand classrooms were created for the 10,000 teachers without jobs, so they could teach the 600,000 children not then in school. Voluntary teachers were also trained, and sent to wherever they were needed, becoming part of the campaign to rid Cuba of illiteracy.

By 1960, the government had nationalised more than $25bn worth of private property in Cuba, and on 6 August 1960, Cuba nationalised all US and foreign-owned property.

This move unsurprisingly brought the wrath of the already fuming imperialist power. The US government seized all Cuban assets abroad and tightened its embargo.

Since 1962, the US has maintained a full economic blockade on the country, enforced not only on its own businesses but on all those around the world that in any way make use of the US-controlled global banking system.

As Cuba’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla pointed out when speaking at the UN: “Incalculable human damage has been caused by the blockade, which is qualified as an act of genocide. It is also a violation of international humanitarian law, if it were a conflict.”

And yet, by every measure of real importance, despite the imperialist blockade and sabotage, and despite the loss of the Soviet and east European socialist trading bloc, Cuban workers are better off than their counterparts in most of the world, including, in certain important respects, in the working-class areas of the rich imperialist countries.

For a more detailed account of the huge advances made by Cuban workers since the revolution – from abolishing illiteracy and expanding education to raising life expectancy and lowering infant mortality; from solving the housing and unemployment questions to removing the basis for racism and the oppression of women – readers are recommended to read the article we published ten years ago at the time of the 50th anniversary of the revolution.

Cubans today can expect a longer life expectancy than the average US citizen, despite all the latter’s wealth, power and technical expertise – 79.74 versus 78.69. And that statistic fails to take account of the huge gap that exists within the US between rich and poor – a variation that is far smaller in Cuba, where the average really is indicative of the experience of ordinary workers.

Moreover, Cuba’s infant mortality rate has dropped to 3.9 deaths per thousand births, as opposed to 5.7 in the United States.

Cuban socialism has earned its right to exist. As have the Cubans earned the right to have the blockade dropped against them – a blockade that only two countries continue to support (Israel and its backer, the US).

A full 189 countries at the UN voted in favour of removing the blockade at the last UN general assembly – a vote which revealed the total isolation of US imperialism and its absolute fall from grace in the eyes of world public opinion.

The vote also underlined the impotence of the UN and its total dependence on the will of US imperialism, since it has proved utterly unable to enforce any lifting of the blockade or to stop the US trying to penalise the countries that trade with Cuba – although increasing numbers do in fact do so.

We raise a glass in comradely salute to the Cuban people, who bravely dared and won. Progressive workers everywhere stand with Cuba and its leaders and wish them every success as they continue on the path of socialist development in the teeth of continued imperialist opposition: they are showing us what can be achieved through organisation and perseverance!

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