With Fidel's death, an extraordinary revolutionary has gone

[Speech at Fidel memorial meeting, Trades Hall, Melbourne, December 16, 2016.]

With Fidel's death, an extraordinary revolutionary has gone. The imperialists and their hired guns hated Fidel. There is so much utter rubbish circulating online. In 2006 Forbes business magazine listed Fidel as one of the world's richest "kings, queens and dictators"! A recent News Corp article explained that "Western observers have long suspected that 'El Comandante' . . . was siphoning off the proceeds from state-run enterprises, including a small gold mine." And so it goes on …

But even in some serious left circles, there is some frankly ridiculous stuff. I have a lot of time for Noam Chomsky as a trenchant critic of US imperialism at home and abroad but a recent interview in Jacobin left me reeling. He was asked about Cuba and Fidel:

The internationalism was incredible [he says]. There is a reason why Nelson Mandela went to Cuba to praise Castro and thank the Cuban people almost as soon as he got out of jail. That's a Third World reaction, and they understand it.

Cuba played an enormous role in the liberation of Africa and the overthrow of apartheid — sending doctors and teachers to the poorest places in the world, to Haiti, Pakistan after the earthquake, almost everywhere. The internationalism is just astonishing. I don't think there has been anything like it in history.

The health achievements were astonishing. Health statistics in Cuba were about like the United States, and take a look at the differences in wealth and power.(My emphasis)

This is spot on but unfortunately Chomsky continues: Cuba was also, he says, "a dictatorship: a lot of brutality, a lot of political prisoners, a lot of people killed." These are indeed astonishing claims. One can be critical of Fidel and Cuba over this or that but do so in the terms Chomsky does — as if Cuba was a typical Third World regime — is simply absurd and completely at odds with his positive comments.

The truth is that under Fidel's leadership the Cuban Revolution has always been marked by its democratic and humane values. Cuba has had nothing even approximating a Stalin chapter: There have been no show trials and mass repressions, no destruction of revolutionaries and ordinary citizens.

The huge national outpouring during the official period of mourning for Fidel also clearly gives the lie to Chomsky's unfortunate assertions. Such feeling can't be faked or turned on by a brutal dictatorial government.

Cuba has showed there is an alternative

On so many levels, Cuba shows that with a revolutionary leadership it is possible to defy imperialism and strike out on a non-capitalist path. From a long possible list I'll mention just two examples:

1. In 2006 the World Wildlife Fund said Cuba was the only sustainable country on the planet. Think about that: The only one! Yes, Cuba is poor in material goods but that is not the reason.

For instance, as we know, most poor countries suffer deforestation due to unscrupulous loggers, profit hungry agribusiness, corrupt politicians and desperate poor people. In Cuba things are different: In 1959 the revolution inherited a country with only 14% of forest cover; in 2015 30.6% of its land mass was covered with forest.

2. Cuba survived the "Special Period" of the 1990s when the collapse of the Soviet Union removed — almost overnight — most of Cuba's imports and exports. This would have finished off most other countries but after several very hard years Cuba came through it, thanks to the work of the revolution and Fidel's inspired leadership.

Out of necessity, the country turned to radical alternatives like permaculture for its food production. Several dozen Australians went to Cuba in the early '90s to help out. In Australia permaculture is the passion of small numbers of individuals. In Cuba the revolutionary government promoted it on a significant scale.

Cuba's future

The generation which made the 1959 revolution is inexorably passing from the scene. Fidel has gone and the others will soon follow. The imperialists hope that Cuba will succumb and capitalism will return.

Cuba undoubtedly faces some very serious problems today. I think it is important to be frank about these. Certainly, as Esteban Morales pointed out some years ago, the imperialists are counting on these weaknesses and watch them very closely.

There is a growth of the dead hand of bureaucracy (among which there are surely many would-be Yeltsins); corruption among a section of officials is a big worry; the population is divided between those who have access to dollars and those who do not; and a significant section of the youth are disengaged from the revolution. The economic situation has forced the government to rely on mass tourism: This brings in the dollars but also creates serious social problems.

But socialists should not give up on the Cuban revolution. That would be unworthy and certainly would not be in the spirit of Fidel. Cuba needs our solidarity more than ever. Without shutting our eyes to the serious problems, we should continue to spread the word about the achievements of the revolution and refute the slanders of the capitalist lie machine. Cuba shows what can be done and if humanity is to survive, eventually the whole world must take the Cuban road.

Fidel has certainly earned his rest and progressive humanity will long cherish his memory.

Long live the Cuban revolution!

Fidel presente!