Views in brief

December 1, 2016

Castro's socialism and ours

WHEN ALBERTO Kordas' inspiring image of Che Guevara led me to the speeches and commanding gestures of Fidel Castro well over a decade ago, my passion and indignation against empire far outweighed my political education and experience. Che and Fidel were communists, and I was sold. Hammer-and-sickle sketches on any clean surface I could find subsequently followed.

That was a long time ago. Since, I've come to realize that the difference between anti-capitalist sentiment and a coherent political theory rooted in Marxism is the actual possibility of victory over capitalism.

The Cuban literacy rate, universal health care, globally dispatched doctors, the unparalleled resistance to U.S. hegemony and commitment to self-determination should all be celebrated and defended, but those things that should stand as universal rights do not qualify as least not by the modern standard set by Marx.

That would require working-class self-emancipation and radical democracy, and these things are absent from the Cuban experience. Instead, patronage and decades of wartime, communism-style defense of the revolution led to an austere and repressive existence for the large majority of Cubans.

Image from

American terrorism, sabotage and invasion of the island should be aggressively condemned, but so should Castro's all-around economic, military and political dictatorship of Cuban society. It should also be pointed out that the freedom-fighting waged around the world was sponsored and overseen by the USSR in its own interest. As righteous as it may be to hack at the tentacles of capitalism, we must not forget Ethiopia and Castro's support of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979.

Castro was a titan, but not all greatness is good. He claimed to be Marxist and defined Marxism for generations of uninitiated people in the Americas, but he was nothing of the sort. So it's in the tradition of Marx, which is the tradition of Lenin, which is the tradition of Trotsky, that we must declare what Castro never did: In regards to Cuba, this is not socialism, and we must fight both capitalism and dictators, until we achieve it.

My thoughts are with the Cuban people.
Jesus Omar Hernandez, from the Internet

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Can America be great?

THE QUESTION during this election was whether America was still "great" or whether it could become "great" once again or for the first time. Of course, the first question in a rational discussion would be what constitutes national "greatness"? One faction seems to concur with the George Bush/Richard Armitage faction: "Greatness" consists of political, economic and military power, the ability to "bend others to our will." If that's the case, we certainly have an excess of those characteristics.

But I think that's a mistake. True "greatness," personally or nationally, is measured by the ability of a person or a nation to attract voluntary respect and a following by dint of others' admiration for, and appreciation of, very different personal or national characteristics.

Among those are generosity, kindness and magnanimity, consideration, helpfulness toward others, prudence, compassion, wisdom and provident husbandry of resources--"with malice toward none and charity for all," as Abraham Lincoln said. These are the characteristics that attract a voluntary following.

How are we doing on that score? Not too well, I fear. For much of the world, America has been seen--for most of my lifetime--as an international thug and bully, a nation that throws its economic, political and military might around like a schoolyard tyrant, achieving its aims by threats, intimidation and violence.

Oh, there are exceptions. The Marshall Plan after the Second World War was an extraordinarily generous and effective gesture, no doubt. But it was also exceptional, not the rule. We tend to express and use our power for our own benefit without regard for the detrimental consequences for the victims of our attentions. Fear is our principal export.

Are we a "great" nation? Not bloody likely. Could we become one? It's possible, just. But only if we were to regard the other peoples of the world as equal partners in the creation and preservation of peace and sustenance of this planet for all, not as just resources to be consumed and expended for the sole benefit of us and our cohort alone. How's that working out for us?
John Cooper, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Confused about the left

IN RESPONSE to "Now's the time for socialist organization": I certainly concur with your statement that the left has got to grow if we're ever going to accomplish anything in the U.S. However, as a socialist without a party who supports the Trotskyist version of socialist revolution, I look about and see umpteen parties claiming to represent my beliefs.

How does one choose between, say, the International Socialist Organization and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, for example, or the Socialist Workers Party, Workers World Party, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Equality Party, Spartacist League, etc., etc.? I cannot tell these organizations apart. Someone should publish a pamphlet outlining the beliefs and positions each of these organizations so people like myself can make an intelligent choice.

In the meantime, I do not envision the Trotskyist-oriented "left" growing significantly as it's all just too confusing for newly radicalizing individuals.
Matt Wyse, Orinda, California

What passes for the "center"

IN RESPONSE to "Trump creep show gets ready for the big stage": Good article. Not surprisingly, Trump has surrounded himself with opportunists of various types and hasn't strayed too far from what passes as "ideology" in today's reactionary Republican Party.

I do have a quibble though over the term "moderate Republican." Does any such creature exist in today's GOP? There was a time when a "moderate Republican" was more or less synonymous with "Rockefeller Republican," which today would fall slightly to the left of today's mainstream Democratic Party. The Republicans who opposed Trump and threw their weight to the Clinton campaign failed in their efforts, but to consider any of them as "moderates" is, I think, misleading.

I realize that the political "center," such as it is, has shifted significantly over the last two decades and what appeared reactionary once is normal now. The once-moderate sector of the GOP has long been purged, and I suggest we find a new term for the more or less establishment Republicans who, in the face of Trump's proto-fascist campaign, hoped to ally themselves with the center-right establishment that controls the Democrats.

I expect we shall be seeing a crude tragi-comedy played out as the "pragmatic" (read opportunist) sector of the new (mis-)administration goes up against the "ideological" gang.
Grant Fisher, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

Today's Stories

From the archives