by Danny Haiphong
There have been many revolutionaries, and many revolutionary thinkers, but few revolutionary societies have survived as long as Cuba’s. The genius of Frantz Fanon, the Black revolutionary doctor from Martinique, strives to become social reality in Cuba, where “national law enforced strict policies against racism and the Federation of Cuban Women was created to lead the charge to eradicate the sexism.”
Cuba is Fanon in the Flesh: A Living Example of A New Humanity
by Danny Haiphong
“Fanon explains that ‘after the struggle [against colonialism] is over, there is not only a demise of colonialism, but also the demise of the colonized.’"
Frantz Fanon's seminal text, Wretched of the Earth has inspired entire nations of people over the last century in their struggle against colonial occupation, especially on the African continent. Fanon’s direct participation in the mid-twentieth century Algerian war for national liberation informed his analysis of colonialism. It was in his time working for the national liberation front (FLN) that he asserted the primacy of colonialism, stating "It is not the factories, estates, or bank accounts that characterize the 'ruling class.' The ruling species is first and foremost the outsider from elsewhere, different from the indigenous population, 'the others.'" Cuban president Raul Castro recently traveled to Algeria to join in the celebration of the nation’s independence from French occupation. This small act of solidarity symbolizes a larger story of Cuba's importance in the fight for a world free of exploitation of man-by-man, nation-by-nation.
In 1965, Cuba's revolutionary leader Che Guevara wrote an essay entitled Socialism and Man in Cuba. Che wrote this essay during his travels throughout the African continent, which included a time in Algeria. Fanon's anti-colonial influence is evident throughout the essay. In Wretched of the Earth, Fanon explores the transformation that occurs within a colonized individual over the course of the collective struggle for national liberation. Fanon explains that "after the struggle [against colonialism] is over, there is not only a demise of colonialism, but also the demise of the colonized." Similarly, Che explains the centrality of individual transformation within the particular context of Cuba's socialist revolution. He criticizes the reactionary nature of those who characterize Cuba’s revolution as one that places the state’s interests above those of the individual.
Contrary to such imperialist and capitalist logic, Che concluded that a new state based in socialist principles does not erase the individual's essential role in the development of society. Rather, the eradication of private property and colonialism creates the conditions where an individual can truly participate in building society in a self-determined manner. This allows for a real struggle to occur between individual ambitions and the collective welfare of humanity. In short, both Che and Fanon focused much of their energy in these particular works on how new people are born in the struggle for human emancipation. Under the rule of the capitalist class, individual development is stunted by the sheer brutality and alienation of exploitation, racism, capitalist ideology, and mass robbery. Only through the participation in, and the victory of, a revolution for a new social system can an individual truly develop their full personal potential.
“Under the rule of the capitalist class, individual development is stunted by the sheer brutality and alienation of exploitation, racism, capitalist ideology, and mass robbery.”
Cuba's revolution created a nation of new people from the misery of imperialist domination. In 1959, the Cuban people overthrew the yoke of colonialism and capitalism after nearly five centuries of Spanish and US imperialist rule. Under the rule of imperialism, Cuban society was dominated by the African chattel slave trade and the system of white supremacy. US imperialism, in its quest to take over Spain’s Caribbean colonies, maneuvered constantly to establish influence in Cuba as a means to strengthen the profits of the slave trade. In fact, US capitalists continued to smuggle and trade slaves to and from Cuba after the US Civil War and took part in the wholesale "whitening" of the island after wrestling control of Cuba from Spain in 1898. By 1959, US corporations controlled 75 percent of arable land, 100 percent of oil refineries, and 90 percent of all telecommunications. These conditions produced mass destitution, illiteracy, and malnutrition as well as the brutal oppression of racism and sexism enforced by compliant US backed regimes. Corporate interest subdued national interests completely.
The Cuban revolution overthrew neo-colonialism and capitalism and liberated the island nation. This extraordinary feat began with the efforts of less than a hundred Cubans who decided to wage guerrilla warfare in the countryside to destabilize the rule of the Batista dictatorship. Cuban revolutionary guerillas served the people with necessary medical treatment and literacy training. These efforts were critical toward winning support of workers and peasants eager to find a way out of the squalor imposed by the ruling system. There was only one hospital of ten beds in the countryside and over a quarter of the population was illiterate prior to the revolution. The combination of service to the people and militant revolutionary organization won many Cubans to the side of socialism, culminating in a general strike days before the revolution that once and for all ousted the US-backed Batista government from the nation.
Workers and peasants took power of the state under the leadership of Fidel Castro and immediately began a program of socialist redistribution. Employment, healthcare, education, and housing were made rights enjoyed by all. Workers parliaments, mass organizations, and municipal assemblies were but a few new institutions that placed the direction of the nation in the hands of the working class. National law enforced strict policies against racism and the Federation of Cuban Women was created to lead the charge to eradicate the sexism inherent under the old order. And despite numerous threats of US-backed invasion, terrorism, and sabotage, Cuba's revolutionary process has maintained its resolve and continued forward with achievement.
“By 1959, US corporations controlled 75 percent of arable land, 100 percent of oil refineries, and 90 percent of all telecommunications.”
Cuba’s revolutionary progress would be impossible were it not for the support of the Cuban majority. Since 1959, Cuba's revolution has brought unprecedented social gains. Cuba has over 80,000 doctors and arguably one of the best healthcare systems in the world, complete with free healthcare and large investments in biotechnology and medicine. Cuba’s commitment to socialized healthcare has brought the infant mortality rate down from 60 per thousand births to 4.2 per thousand births since the revolution. Additionally, UNESCO's 2014 report cited that nearly 100 percent of the population is educated and literate. In 2014, the unemployment rate was just under three percent.
Despite crippling US sanctions, Cuba has never forgotten the words of Che Guevara when he exclaimed "create two, three, many Vietnams." Cuba's internationalism remains unparalleled in the world. The nation has over 30,000 doctors deployed in 100 nations and has been first to respond to crises such as Hurricane Katrina and Pakistan's 2005 earthquake with an extension of aid. Furthermore, Cuba's revolution has historically come to the political aid of nations all over the world struggling against colonialism and imperialism. A great example of this is Cuba's selfless solidarity with the anti-colonial struggle in Africa. In 1987, Fidel Castro and the Cuban government ordered Cuban troops to defeat an Apartheid South African invasion of Angola's Cuito Cuanavale. Cuba's support helped Angola launch an offensive that defeated the South African apartheid state and solidified the independence of neighboring Namibia. Cuba’s support ultimately served as a dagger in the heart of white minority rule in South Africa. Overall, over 400,000 Cuban volunteers volunteered in Angola from 1975-1991 to protect the sovereignty of African people.
Cuba's achievements are a testament to the transformation of the Cuban people. The self-determination of Cuba's revolutionary masses has actualized Che and Fanon's concept of a new humanity. This is critical to understand as resistance to Empire heightens here in the US. In the US, hundreds of millions live in poverty, Black Americans are murdered daily by police, austerity measures and trade deals rule official conversation, and trillions continue to be spent on bailing out banks and waging endless wars at the expense of nations all over the world, Cuba included. The Black Lives Matter mobilization signifies a sea change in the consciousness of US imperialism's most exploited section of the oppressed in Black America. As this movement develops, one can look to Cuba's example for inspiration and guidance in the struggle to develop a new humanity in the US and around the world.
FIST is traveling to Cuba on June 9th as part of an invitation from the Cuban Women’s Federation. We seek to learn lessons from revolutionary Cuban Women in their historic leadership role in the achievements of the Cuban revolution. FIST runs totally on our supporters and member funds similar to the great work of Black Agenda Report. Please check out our crowd funding campaign for more details and please consider giving a donation. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/learning-from-revolutionary-women-us-to-cuba--2/x/9372048
Danny Haiphong is an organizer for Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) in Boston. He is also a regular contributor to Black Agenda Report. Danny can be reached at [email protected] and FIST can be reached at [email protected]