Critical reading

A SocialistWorker.org blog
  • How capitalism undermines social justice

    The scandal at Thinx illustrates why capitalism and social responsibility don't mix. --PG

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    What a Start-Up’s Scandal Says About Your Workplace

    Source: New York Times

    By MIYA TOKUMITSU MARCH 23, 2017

    “Integrating feminism into our marketing is not a ploy, and it’s not exploitative; it’s a reclamation of how brands treat and speak to women,” proclaimed Miki Agrawal, a founder of Thinx, in a Medium post last year.

    But last week, Thinx, the “period-proof” underwear and feminine hygiene company based in New York, entered the growing canon of employers that have been accused of failing to live up to their socially conscious branding. Former Thinx employees, many of them women in their 20s and 30s, allege some very un-feminist practices, including substandard pay, verbal abuse and sexual harassment. Thinx has denied the harassment allegations, made by a former employee in a legal complaint, and says other allegations about the company’s culture are inaccurate. Still, the story of Thinx has broader implications for all workers.

  • iPhones aren't why we can't afford healthcare

    "This insistence that people would not be poor if only they would try harder defines the thinking behind the signature welfare restructuring law of the Clinton era, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act." --PG

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    Laziness isn’t why people are poor

    Source: Washington Post

    And iPhones aren’t why they lack health care

    The real reasons people suffer poverty don't reflect well on the United States.

    By Stephen Pimpare March 8 at 4:20 PM

    In response to a question about his party’s plan to increase the cost of health insurance, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) suggested that people should “invest in their own health care” instead of “getting that new iPhone.” He doubled-down on the point in a later interview: “People need to make a conscious choice, and I believe in self-reliance.” Of course, Chaffetz is wrong. But he isn’t alone.

  • Women workers began the Russian Revolution

    How the revolution broke out in Russia at the beginning of 1917. --PG

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    Russia’s February Revolution Was Led by Women on the March

    Source: Smithsonian.com

    How the downfall of the Romanovs finally came about 100 years ago

    By Carolyn Harris
    SMITHSONIAN.COM
    FEBRUARY 17, 2017

    “I can’t remember a single day when I didn’t go hungry…I’ve been afraid, waking, eating and sleeping…all my life I’ve trembled-afraid I wouldn’t get another bite…all my life I’ve been in rags-all through my wretched life – and why?”- Anna, wife of a locksmith in The Lower Depths (1903), Maxim Gorky

  • What's behind Trump's Muslim ban

    Glenn Greenwald on the roots of Trump's extremism and the urgent need to fight it. --PG

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    Trump’s Muslim Ban Is Culmination of War on Terror Mentality but Still Uniquely Shameful

    Source: The Intercept

    Glenn Greenwald
    January 28 2017, 7:31 a.m.

    IT IS NOT difficult for any decent human being to immediately apprehend why and how Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries is inhumane, bigoted, and shameful. During the campaign, the evil of the policy was recognized even by Mike Pence (“offensive and unconstitutional”) and Paul Ryan (violative of America’s “fundamental values”), who are far too craven and cowardly to object now.

    Trump’s own defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, said when Trump first advocated his Muslim ban back in August that “we have lost faith in reason,” adding: “This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through this international system.”

  • Africa: The myth of the "resource curse"

    Lee Wengraf debunks an explanation for Africa's underdevelopment popular amongst policy makers. --PG

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    The Pillage Continues: Debunking the Resource Curse

    Source: Review of African Political Economy

    By Lee Wengraf

    A tidal wave of change has been unleashed on African economies and worldwide: a sharp dive in primary commodity prices globally, including oil, and a decline in the strength of the Chinese economy have produced major budget crises in oil-producing nations. African governments have imposed devastating budget cuts: Nigeria reported a N3 trillion (US$15 billion) budget shortfall in early 2016, in the face of the weakest GDP growth – 2.8 percent – since 1999. Angola cut its budget for 2016 by approximately US$15 billion, with a 2016 GDP forecast of 3.3 percent, its lowest since 2009, prompting job cuts and postponing of government projects. Despite promises in early 2017 of a rebound, a crisis of over-production plagues the global system, fueled by a glut in the capacity of raw materials, particularly in the world’s largest economy, China.[1]

  • The crisis in Venezuela

    Mike Gonzalez analyzes the crisis in Venezuela in the first of a new series of longer pieces at the rs21 website. Go to the website for the full article. --PG

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    Venezuela: for sale to the highest bidder?

    Source: rs21

    rs21onOctober 14, 2016/0 comments

    The theory of state capitalism has played a critical role in the International Socialist tradition’s critique of regimes claiming to be socialist. In the first of the new Revolutionary Reflections articles, Mike Gonzalez presents an account of the latest developments in Venezuela which draw on that tradition to make sense of changes that are taking place. His article explores changes to the system, and the growth of a new ruling class around President Maduro following the death of Hugo Chavez.

    A PDF of this article can be downloaded here

    Introduction

  • Extreme racial inequality in Wisconsin

    This report, issued just over a week ago, provides some background for the uprising that erupted in Milwaukee this weekend, following yet another fatal police shooting of a young African-American man. --PG

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    Wisconsin named worst state for black Americans

    Source: Milwaukee Business Journal

    Aug 5, 2016

    Dan Shafer Reporter Milwaukee Business Journal

    A new report says that with lower median annual income, higher unemployment and lower college graduation rates, Wisconsin is the worst state for black Americans with the country's biggest gap between black and white Americans.

    In a new report, financial news and opinion website 24/7 Wall St. listed all 50 states on metrics of black and white inequality. Wisconsin topped the list, joining other Midwest states Iowa (#10), Illinois (#5) and Minnesota (#2) in the top 10.

    Milwaukee County is home to more than 240,000 African-Americans, which is 69 percent of Wisconsin's total African-American population. Nearly 90 percent of Wisconsin's black population lives in six Wisconsin counties: Milwaukee, Dane, Racine, Kenosha, Rock and Waukesha, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

  • How Hillary Clinton Promotes Islamophobia

    Arun Kundnani on Hillary Clinton's record of imperialist intervention and how this strengthens discrimination against Muslims. --PG

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    Why Hillary's Neoconservative Foreign Policy Will Make The Problem of Islamophobia Worse

    Source: Alternet

    Clinton's neoconservative backers understand what her liberal supporters do not.

    By Arun Kundnani / AlterNet August 7, 2016

    In Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Democratic Party seems to have found the perfect counter to Donald Trump. Since Trump proposed banning Muslims from the US, his campaign has sought to exploit the fear that Muslims are dangerous and disloyal. But who could think that of the patriotic, constitution-waving Khans, whose son died fighting for the U.S.?

    Trump suggested that Ghazala Khan did not speak for Islamic reasons. But this backfired and the episode appears to have hurt him in the polls. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton has been able to establish herself as the candidate of tolerance and liberal progress.

    But take a closer look and things are not that straightforward. It is easy to lose sight of why the Khans lost their son in the first place. Humayun Khan died fighting in the illegal war in Iraq, which was launched on the basis of Islamophobic lies, and supported by Hillary Clinton, as senator for New York.

  • Owen Jones on the #Brexit vote in the UK

    Left-wing journalist Owen Jones on what led to the UK's vote to leave the European Union and what the left needs to do after the political earthquake. --PG

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    Grieve now if you must – but prepare for the great challenges ahead

    Source: The Guardian

    A working-class revolt has taken place, and frustration is spilling out in all sorts of directions. If Britain is to have a future, the escalating culture wars have to stop

    Owen Jones

    Britain has voted to leave the European Union: here is a statement that continues to shock leavers and remainers alike. Earlier this month I wrote that “unless a working-class Britain that feels betrayed by the political elite can be persuaded, then Britain will vote to leave the European Union in less than two weeks”. And this – perhaps the most dramatic event in Britain since the war – was, above all else, a working-class revolt. It may not have been the working-class revolt against the political establishment that many of us favoured, but it is undeniable that this result was achieved off the back of furious, alienated working-class votes.

  • What is neoliberalism?

    Very clear explanation of neoliberalism by Neil Davidson in response to a letter by Dr. Jim Walker (Chief Economist, Asianomics, Hong Kong). --PG

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    Debate on the detail of neoliberal thought rages on ...

    Source: The National

    June 6th, 2016

    ... and an academic weighs in on the topic

    WRITING in Saturday’s National (Fry Will Contribute Common Sense and Clear Thinking), Jim Walker writes: “As an economist, I have no clue what a neoliberal is.” In Jim’s view we should therefore stop using the term, because “there is no such thing and you don’t have a clue how to define it.” Actually, there is and I can.

    The term neoliberalism can be used in three ways. First, it is an ideology which emerged in Central Europe during the 1930s in opposition to what was mistakenly called “socialism” (ie state planning and ownership) and which later migrated to the economics department at the University of Chicago. The adherents of this conception of neoliberalism actually adopted the term as a self-description; indeed, Milton Friedman wrote a paper in 1951 called Neoliberalism and Its Prospects.

  • The Torturing of Mentally Ill Prisoners

    The horrific realities of the American gulag. There is a follow-up report here. --PG

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    Madness

    Source: The New Yorker

    May 2, 2016

    In Florida prisons, mentally ill inmates have been tortured, driven to suicide, and killed by guards.

    By Eyal Press

  • Joel Geier explains the global economy

    Why the world economy is headed for a new recession. --PG

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    Pigs at the trough of the economic crisis: an interview with Joel Geier

    Source: Red Flag

    Ben Hillier
    11 March 2016

    Red Flag editor Ben Hillier speaks with US socialist Joel Geier, associate editor of the International Socialist Review, about the causes of the ongoing economic stagnation in Western economies, and the potential for a new world recession.

    ­“You want to know what people are like in there? They’re pigs. No matter how much money they make, they want to steal some more. [The impulse] comes out of their class background.”

    Joel Geier is explaining to me the finer points of economics and the moral character of those at the centre of US capital-trading markets. “They think that entitlements – social welfare, Medicare, pensions – should be cut, taxes should be cut, the government should be small. It’s just more money in their pockets. And it is presented by good chunks of capitalist economists as a solution to the crisis facing everyone else”, he says.

  • Why the Democrats don't deserve your support

    Sarah Grey on why we should put our energies into building grassroots movements, not the Democratic Party. --PG

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    To Move Forward, We Must Stop Enabling The Democratic Party

    Source: The Establishment

    OP-ED February 23, 2016

    by Sarah Grey

    This story is part of The Establishment’s ongoing series exploring the political dialogue surrounding the democratic presidential candidates, progressivism, and feminism.

    ***

    Just say you’ll vote for the Democratic nominee. Just SAY it.

    Why do you have to rock the boat in an election year? This election is too important.

    Just help us get Democrats into office, and THEN you can call them out on their problems.

    I know the system is messed up, but we have to be realistic.

    If you don’t shut up, we’ll end up with President Trump!

    ***

    If you’ve ever criticized the Democratic Party from the left, as I recently did, chances are good you’ve heard all of this and more. It’s everywhere. It’s unavoidable.

    And it’s wrong.

  • Middle East crisis not due to religious divisions

    Corey Oakley refutes the claim that the Middle East's descent into chaos is the result of long-standing religious divisions, rather than imperialist interventions. --PG

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    Sectarianism not the root cause of Middle East chaos

    Source: Red Flag

    17 January 2016 | Corey Oakley

    For the vast majority of commentators and politicians, who neither anticipated nor wanted the unruly democratic uprising of the masses that was the 2011 Arab revolt, the region’s subsequent descent into sectarian violence has been a welcome relief.

    It appears to them a vindication of all the stale orientalist tropes with which they deny the possibility of a Middle East ruled by its people rather than colonialists or vicious local despots.

    “See?”, they say. “The Arabs were never cut out for democracy. Their archaic religion is the antithesis of the revolutionary demands of equality and self-rule that animated the protests from Tahrir Square to Damascus in 2011. The Arab world is wracked by ancient prejudices that if not held in check by a strong state will lead to the complete collapse of social order.”

  • In memory of Ellen Meiksins Wood

    Vivek Chibber outlines the significant contributions of the Marxist scholar Ellen Meiksins Wood, who died of cancer at the age of 73 on January 14. For an excellent collection of Wood's writings, check out The Ellen Meiksins Wood Reader (Haymarket Books, 2013). --PG

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    Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood

    Source: Jacobin

    1.15.16

    Ellen Meiksins Wood showed so many of us what it means to be a committed intellectual.

    by Vivek Chibber

    Ellen Meiksins Wood passed away yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. Wood was a thinker of extraordinary range, writing with authority on ancient Greece, early modern political thought, contemporary political theory, Marxism, and the structure and evolution of modern capitalism.

    But even more importantly, she was one of those enchanted few from the New Left who never relented in their commitment to socialist politics. In fact, it was with her 1986 book The Retreat from Class that she burst onto the stage as a major presence on the intellectual left.

  • Donna Murch on the real MLK

    Rutgers history professor Donna Murch refutes some myths about MLK. More on the real MLK here and here. --PG

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    Five myths about Martin Luther King

    Source: Washington Post

    By Donna Murch January 15

    The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is a historical figure every school child knows, one of the few from American history sculpted into a monument on the Mall. Yet much of his activism is misunderstood, even by some who seek to honor him. In the midst of protests by young African Americans in cities and on campuses across the country, King’s life and legacy remain profoundly relevant. As the holiday bearing his name approaches, here are five myths about the civil rights icon.

    1. King believed in a color-blind society.

  • Chris Williams on the fight to save the Gila River

    Must-read essay by ecosocialist Chris Williams on the fight to stop a $1billion river diversion project in the upper reaches of the last free-running river in New Mexico. Just including the opening paragraphs here, because you need to visit the original to see the accompanying photos. --PG

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    The Battle to Save New Mexico's Last Wild River

    Source: Truthout

    Thursday, 07 January 2016 00:00

    By Chris Williams

    "Somehow the watercourse is to dry country what the face is to human beauty. Mutilate it and the whole is gone."—Aldo Leopold, Conservationist in Mexico, 1937

    "… these subsidized water projects, they're not really intended to serve growth, or to meet growth, they're intended to create it."—interview with M.H. "Dutch" Salmon, author of ¡Gila Libre!, August 2015

    New Mexico's Gila is not a big river. At least, once it has left the state, along its lower reaches, it's not a big river anymore: Once it wends its dammed and diverted way through Arizona, it becomes a dry, sandy-bottomed reminder of a once living, powerful water course several miles wide - the epicenter of human cultures stretching back millennia. But now a new threat, closer to its source in New Mexico, has returned.

  • Why the Paris Talks Won't Stop Climate Disaster

    To keep global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius would require leaving most fossil fuels in the ground. That means taking on the immense power of the fossil fuel corporations, something that the United States and the governments of other major economies are not willing to do. Unless we are able to build a mass climate justice movement that can force them to take meaningful action, we are going off the climate cliff. --PG

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    Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of ‘Carbon Budget’

    Source: New York Times

    By JUSTIN GILLIS NOV. 28, 2015

    After two decades of talks that failed to slow the relentless pace of global warming, negotiators from almost 200 countries are widely expected to sign a deal in the next two weeks to take concrete steps to cut emissions.

    The prospect of progress, any progress, has elicited cheers in many quarters. The pledges that have already been announced “represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a statement a month ago.

    Yet the negotiators gathering in Paris will not be discussing any plan that comes close to meeting their own stated goal of limiting the increase of global temperatures to a reasonably safe level.

  • Understanding Trump's right-wing bigotry

    Good analysis of Donald Trump's politics. It is not accurate to call Trump a fascist, but his toxic brew of xenophobia, racism, and bigotry is nonetheless extremely dangerous. --PG

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    Corporate Press Fails to Trump Bigotry

    Source: FAIR

    Sep 17, 2015

    By Chip Berlet

    The outlandish rhetoric of Republican presidential wildcard Donald Trump has left many journalists at a loss for words—words such as bigotry, xenophobia, racism, sexism and demagoguery.

    Some media outlets raised these issues. Yet many reporters (or perhaps their editors) still seem reluctant to move past the aphasic and simplistic sports-reporting model, in which ideological content analysis is renounced.

    An example of a typical article is the piece on Trump’s stump speech by Michael Finnegan and Kurtis Lee in the Los Angeles Times (9/15/15). It is well-written, colorful and even includes the obligatory single sentence from an anti-Trump protester. Yet there is little serious political or historic context.

  • Lessons from Alabama Communists in the 1930s

    Fascinating interview with historian Robin Kelley on the 25th anniversary of Hammer and Hoe, his classic study of Communists in the U.S. South during the Great Depression. More from Kelley here. --PG

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    What a Band of 20th-Century Alabama Communists Can Teach Black Lives Matter and the Offspring of Occupy

    Source: The Nation

    On the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking history, Hammer and Hoe, author Robin D.G. Kelley discusses the lessons Alabama’s forgotten black communists can offer today’s activists.

    By Sarah Jaffe
    August 31, 2015

    When historian Robin D. G. Kelley began work in the 1980s on what would become his classic work of radical history, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, he was surrounded by activism. There was an uprising against police violence in Liberty City, Florida; multiracial coalitions propelled Harold Washington to the mayor’s office in Chicago; and the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson was gathering steam. As a young activist and campus organizer, Kelley was part of the movement that pushed the University of California system to divest from its holdings in South Africa, but he was also discovering a tradition of black radical organizing closer to home—that of the Communist Party in Alabama.

  • Why racism and specieism can't be equated

    Very good article by Sarah Grey and Joe Cleffie. A lot of critics misrepresent Singer's views—they take on what he actually says and show what's wrong with it. --PG

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    Peter Singer’s Race Problem

    Source: Jacobin

    8.6.15

    We can’t equate the horrendous treatment of animals with the oppression of people.

    by Sarah Grey & Joe Cleffie

    On May 27, 2015, as the US Supreme Court deliberated about the marriage rights of same-sex couples and the legacy of the Voting Rights Act, a New York Times interview with utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer, famous for his philosophical work on animal liberation, asked us to consider another kind of bias: speciesism.

    Speciesism, as Singer defines it, is “an attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it “belongs” — in short, discrimination against nonhuman animals. “Humans show speciesism,” he explains, “when they give less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings.”

    Singer does not think it is speciesist to think human life is more important than that of nonhuman animals in some instances. It is only speciesist to say human life is always more important.

  • Greece: the struggle continues

    After pushing brutal austerity measures through parliament on Wednesday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has now sacked left-wing members of the cabinet who opposed him. But the fight against the new Memorandum imposed by Greece's European creditors is continuing both inside and outside parliament. --PG

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    New battle lines drawn in Greece

    Source: Red Flag

    17 July 2015 | Colleen Bolger

    The post-referendum political turmoil has reset the political situation in Greece.

    On one hand, the betrayal of the 61 percent who voted against the 26 June draft agreement has undone the pre-referendum momentum. The working class again has been demobilised.

    On the other, the beleaguered Tsipras now faces a revolt inside Syriza – precisely the situation he called the referendum to avoid. The mutiny began last weekend, when two MPs, Ioanna Gaitani and Elena Psarea from the Red Network in the Left Platform of Syriza, voted against giving the prime minister the authority to broker a capitulation to the country’s creditors. More than half a dozen others abstained, including parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou. By doing so, they laid down the gauntlet; from there, opposition hardened among Left Platform MPs.

  • Unraveling the Greek crisis

    Very helpful analysis of the latest developments in Greece from Red Flag, newspaper of Socialist Alternative in Australia. --PG

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    Ruptures in Syriza, Greece and Europe

    Source: Red Flag

    12 July 2015 | Colleen Bolger

    In the early hours of Friday morning, the prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, won the consent of the Hellenic Parliament to pay off the blackmailers.

    He gave up the pensioners. He gave up the public servants still with jobs. He gave up the people who will not be able to afford food and coffee when the VAT is increased to 23 percent. He has given in and when he did, he gave up 61 percent of the population who resoundingly voted no to austerity in the 5 July referendum to an agreement that arguably is better than what he has proposed this weekend.

    German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker were livid after the no vote. They moved to tighten the strangulation of the Greek banking system and threaten Grexit – to punish the Greek people and to increase the pressure on Tsipras to buckle. It has worked.

    However, it is not clear that the European establishment will accept a Greek surrender. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has called for a “time out”, a temporary Grexit.

  • The fight for water rights in Kenya

    Analysis of an environmental struggle in Kenya by Chris Williams. Go to the original for the accompanying photo essay by Maria Davis. --PG

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    Damming the future

    Source: Truthout

    The struggle to protect Kenya's Ewaso Ngiro river

    Wednesday, 17 June 2015 00:00
    By Chris Williams, Truthout | News Analysis

    "Had the local district officer not had a swimming pool filled with clean water, maybe there would have been more for us to drink."

    - Bildad Kaggia, Kenyan trade union leader and Central Committee member of the Mau Mau. Prisoner, 1952-61, Lokitaung, British isolation camp for political prisoners convicted of using, "their power and influence over the less educated Africans [to implement] this foul scheme of driving Europeans from Kenya." (1)

    "The future of Kenya is entirely in the hands of the indigenous people."

    - Kaunga, indigenous rights activist, organizer of the Camel Caravan

  • Sam Farber assesses the Cuban revolution

    Sam Farber on the accomplishments and limitations of the Cuban revolution. Also see Sam's recent reflections on whether Cuba should remain a one-party state. --PG

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    Cuba's Challenge

    Source: Jacobin

    6.10.15

    What did the Cuban Revolution accomplish and where can it go from here?

    by Samuel Farber

    When in the 1950s, along with many of my high school classmates, I became involved in the struggle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, one of our teachers remarked that we had no real reason to criticize the state of our country because so many other nations in the region — such as Bolivia and Haiti — were much worse off than us.

    His description of Cuba’s comparative position was accurate, but incomplete. On the eve of the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had the fourth highest per capita income in Latin America, after Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina.

    And although average per capita income is an insufficient, and sometimes misleading, indicator of general economic development, other indicators support his picture of the pre-revolutionary Cuban economy: in 1953, Cuba also ranked fourth in Latin America according to an average of twelve indexes covering such items as percentage of labor force employed in mining, manufacturing, and construction, percentage of literate persons, per capita electric power, newsprint, and caloric food consumption.

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