Saturday, May 16, 2009

On Fidel Castro's May Day Address 2009

The elections this past November in the United States brought with it a great excitement. The global media suggested, and the incoming administration did little to disavow, the notion that the change of administration was essentially revolutionary in character. Out would go the Bush era, onto which was piled, like the Old Testament scapegoat, all of the evils that had befallen the United States and the world: the economic crisis, unemployment, the threat to the global system of private markets, terrorism, imperialism, torture, foreign adventurism, neo-colonialism, a lack of bonhomie with one's allies, and bad manners, especially with one's enemies. But all that was to end, ushered in by an administration grounded in a man with a talent for speaking well. The person elected was to serve as more than a man, like other men, but rather an embodiment--mixed race, well educated, loyal to the mission of the well off to be kind to the poor--that represented in his body the universalism of the American state, and more importantly, of its values. And indeed, Mr. Obama did much to advance that notion in his inaugural address. See Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XIV: “For Now We See Through A Glass, Darkly; But Then Face to Face”; On President Obama's Inauguration Speech, Law at the End of the Day Jan. 21,2009.

Among the many areas determined for change was to be policy towards Cuba. For the last half century or so, the Americans and Cubans have maintained an equilibrium of hostility. Each has measured itself by its relationship to the other--from ideology, to social, cultural and political organization. It has been a costly but fruitful relationship for both sides. That relationship, of course, has been felt more by the Cubans than by the United States. It has energized a state and its ideological formation. It has forced the state to leverage its relationship into a sort of global status, projecting Cuban power to large parts of the globe where they would have never gone, or been welcomed. Cuban influence increases as the intensity of it s adversarial relationship with the Americans grows.

Yet this stable relationship was to be changed, encouraged by the rhetoric of the Obama administration eager to establish itself as something different from its predecessor (at least in ways that fundamentally did not matter to American elites) and a media elite hungry to report on the drama of that change--unfolding like a script of a Venezuelan telenovela.
Trading their warmest words in a half-century, the United States and Cuba built momentum toward renewed ties on Friday, with President Barack Obama declaring he "seeks a new beginning" — including direct talks — with the island's communist regime. As leaders of the Americas gathered for a summit in this Caribbean nation, the head of the Organization of American States even said he'll ask his group to invite Cuba back after 47 years.
Vivian Sequera and Ben Feller, Obama Seeks 'New Beginning' with Cuba, Talks, Yahoo News April 18, 2009 ("The flurry of back-and-forth gestures began earlier this week when Obama dropped restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, challenging his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, to reciprocate. Obama noted those moves and renewed his promise for his administration to engage with the Cuban government "on a wide range of issues," including human rights, free speech, democratic reform, drugs, immigration and the economy.").

But the Cuban leadership has been wary. Fidel Castro, on the eve of the election fretted that Mr. Obama would proven more loyal to his class than to his ethnic, racial or other affiliations. See Larry Catá Backer, Fidel Castro on the American Elections: Obama's Partiality and the Perceptions of the Developing World, Law at the End of the Day, November 4, 2008.

And thus also the warning. "Nuestros principios son los de Baraguá. El imperio debe saber que nuestra Patria puede ser convertida en polvo, pero los derechos soberanos del pueblo cubano no son negociables." Id. ("Our principles are those of Baraguá. The empire should know that our country can be turned into dust, but the Cuban people's sovereign rights are not negotiable.") While Americans are preparing for "change" the Cubans appear to be preparing for "business as usual."

Larry Catá Backer, Castro on Obama: Class and Intellectual Allegiances Trump Race, Law at the End of the Day, December 9, 2008 (quoting in part, Fidel Castro Ruz, Navegar contra la marea Reflexiones Del Compañero Fidel, Granma Internacional Dec. 5, 2008 (Sailing Against the Tide)). And thus, the initial response to American overtures have not been returned in kind.

Both the misgivings about the new American President, and the power of the status quo were again reaffirmed in Fidel Castro's May Day essay. Fidel Castro Ruz, El día de los pobres del mundo, Reflexiones del compañero Fidel, Granma, May 1, 2009 (Official English version). The essay is worth some thought, both for its rhetorical construction and its political point. It represents both a door opened a crack and a door slammed hard but not completely.

Castro starts his May Day address form the expected place--the Marxist-Leninist view of the relationship between mass movements for social change and proletarian unity.

Carlos Marx convocó a la unión: "Proletarios de todos los países, uníos", aunque muchos pobres no eran proletarios. Lenin, más amplio todavía, llamó también a los campesinos y a los pueblos colonizados a luchar unidos bajo la dirección del proletariado.
Id., ("Karl Marx made a call for unity: "Workers of All Countries, Unite," although many poor people were not proletarian. Lenin called more broadly still for the peasants and colonized peoples to struggle united under the leadership of the proletariat." Id.). Thus we move from the proletariat to workers, and from workers to the poor, and from the poor to subordinated individuals. Nothing unexpected.

But the essay begins its more interesting turn when it jumps from the metastasis of struggle from ever widening circles of the oppressed--from proletariat to poor to subordinated--to the origins of the commemoration of that struggle, in the United States.

La fecha de la celebración se escogió como homenaje a los mártires de Chicago cuando el 1ro. de Mayo de 1886 iniciaron una huelga, en un país capitalista cuya masa trabajadora sufría el desempleo y otras calamidades asociadas a las crisis económicas, inseparables del sistema. Sus derechos no se reconocían y los sindicatos eran vistos por la burguesía cual si fuesen organizaciones terroristas enemigas del pueblo de Estados Unidos.

Id. ("The celebratory date was chosen as homage to the martyrs of Chicago, when on May 1, 1886, they initiated a strike in a capitalist country whose working masses suffered unemployment and other calamities associated with economic crises that are inseparable from the system. Their rights were not recognized, and the the bourgeoisie regarded the unions as if they were terrorist organizations, enemies of the people of the United States."). Here there is a nod to the past (the source of commemoration), the present (the re-occurrence of substantial economic downturn in the economic crisis of 2008-09), and the future (the inevitability of such dynamism under that system). Also pointedly noted is the utility of the terrorist device--used against both workers internally, and, from Castro's perspective, worker's states in the international arena. This is a subject on which Castro has spoken recently, and with respect to which there is great sensitivity. Fidel Castro Ruz, Cuba a Terrorist Country?, Reflexiones del compañero Fidel, Granma Internacional, May 4, 2009.

Castro pauses here to acknowledge a defeat--the extraordinary ability of the free market states to co-opt class warfare and incorporate its major elements as fundamental components of the free market global order.

Los capitalistas acudieron posteriormente a sus mejores armas: la división y el economicismo para desmontar la lucha revolucionaria. El movimiento obrero se dividió y las demandas sindicales, para muchos en medio de la pobreza reinante, eran el objetivo principal, más que el cambio de la sociedad.

Fidel Castro Ruz, El día de los pobres del mundo, supra. ("Later the capitalists resorted to their best weapons: division and economism to dismantle the revolutionary struggle. The workers’ movement divided, and for many, in the midst of reigning poverty, union demands were the principal objective, more than change in the society." Id.). In so doping, of course, the free market states were able to recast the world in its own terms. Yet, from the Cuban perspective, that recasting solidified both economic hierarchy and vertical hierarchy in the world order. But that is not the point Castro wishes to make. Instead, he focuses on the usual problem from a Marxist-Leninist perspective--the loss of revolutionary fervor and the subversion of communal social change to individual economic gain. In the process, of course, unity is broken and hierarchy established--not merely between classes within a state--but also hierarchy is solidified between states. The result is a global order based on client states and their masters. For a discussion of the differences in views, see Larry Catá Backer, Economic Globalization Ascendant: Four Perspectives on the Emerging Ideology of the State in the New Global Order, University of California, Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2006.

Thus, the United States has produced great wealth but also great disparities of wealth between its richest and poorest members. Likewise

A la sombra de su hegemonía, América Latina se convirtió, a su vez, en el área del Tercer Mundo donde las desigualdades entre ricos y pobres eran más profundas. Los ricos disfrutaban de niveles de vida, comparables con los de las burguesías de los países desarrollados de Europa.
Fidel Castro Ruz, El día de los pobres del mundo, supra. ("The United States became the imperialist country with the greatest difference in income between the rich and the poor. In the shadow of its hegemony, Latin America became, for its part, the area of the Third World where the inequalities between rich and poor were more profound. The rich enjoyed levels of life comparable with those of the bourgeoisies of the developed European countries." Id.).

Integration, on this model, produces the same relationship between great and dependent states, as between labor and capital within great states--the loss of independence. "La noción de Patria había desaparecido en las capas más ricas de la población." Id. ("The notion of Homeland had disappeared in the richest strata of the population."). An interesting post modern construction of state--grounded in class rather than in territory or ethnicity. It has its echoes elsewhere. See, e.g., Leslie Sklar, The Transnational Capitalist Class (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers 2001; ISBN 0-631-22462-9).

And thus, from out of the great schism in the path toward worker liberation--through enrichment within free market systems or through social change and the recasting of the social order--conflict is inevitable. "Era inevitable el choque de la gran potencia del Norte y la Revolución Cubana. La heroica resistencia del pueblo de nuestro pequeño país fue subestimada." Fidel Castro Ruz, El día de los pobres del mundo, supra ("A collision between the superpower of the North and the Cuban Revolution was inevitable. The heroic resistance of the people of our tiny country was underestimated.").

And now we move to the great lesson of May Day 2009--the impossible nature of truce between hegemons (for make no mistake, within its own revolutionary realm Cuba has assumed a leadership role of some distinction) on the basic terms of either. From Cuba's perspective, enfolded in the ideology of social change inimical to free market economies and its arrangements with labor and capital, the form of reconciliation with the United States requires abandonment of the ideals and principles that are symbolically expressed in the idea of May Day.

Hoy están dispuestos a perdonarnos si nos resignáramos a volver al redil cual esclavos que, después de conocer la libertad, aceptaran de nuevo el látigo y el yugo.

Hoy el planeta se debate entre crisis económicas, pandemias, cambios climáticos, peligros de guerras y otros problemas concurrentes. La tarea política se vuelve más compleja, y existen todavía los que se hacen ilusiones de que los pueblos pueden ser manejados como títeres.

Id. ("Today they are prepared to pardon us if we resign ourselves to return to the fold as slaves, who after knowing freedom, accept anew the whip and yoke. Today the planet is debating amidst economic crises, pandemics, climatic changes, dangers of war and other concurrent problems. The political task becomes more complicated, and there are still many who have illusions that the peoples can be manipulated like puppets." Id.).

And thus we round the circle. From proletarian to workers to the poor to subordinated peoples to subordinated states; from class struggle to participation in systems grounded in economic hierarchy (but which produce wealth) to participation in mass movements for social change; from empire, to state to hierarchically based state systems grounded in hierarchies that mimic class hierarchies within dominant free market states; these are the patterns which, to Cuba's mind, reconciliation presents for it. None of it is acceptable on any terms provided by the United States, because all would require abandonment of that strain of mass solidarity on which May Day celebrations are grounded.

The line is thus set. And it is quite hard. It is not for the United States to determine the timing and manner of reconciliation. Any such approach will be rejected.

But the hard slap to the United States is quickly followed by the feel of a softer and vague caress.

No somos incendiarios como algunos imaginan, pero tampoco tontos que se dejan engañar fácilmente por los que creen que lo único importante en el mundo son las leyes del mercado y el sistema capitalista de producción. Estamos todos en el deber de luchar por la paz; no existe otra alternativa. Jamás, sin embargo, el adversario debe hacerse la ilusión de que Cuba se rinda.

Id. ("We are neither incendiary as some imagine, nor dumb as to be easily fooled by those who believe that the only thing that matters in the world are the laws of the market and the capitalist system of production. We all have the duty to struggle for peace; there is no other alternative. However, the adversary should never have the illusion that Cuba will surrender." Id.).

Within Cuban analytics, class origins and allegiances are substantially more important than within the calculus of American elites. That has been critically important, for example, in Cuba's approach to Brazil in general and its President Lula da Silva in particular. See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil, Part I: Castro Lectures Lula da Silva, Law at the End of the Day, Jan. 26, 2008. The second pointed to the bases on which a mutually beneficial and strategic alignment made tremendous sense for both states. For my discussion, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil, Part II: Castro Continues his Wooing of Lula, Law at the End of the Day, Feb. 10, 2008. The third pointed to the parallel developments of Cuba and Brazil, through Castro and Lula, and more importantly, the critical role that Brazil could play in the protection of Cuba and in th safeguarding of the intellectual and political independence of Latin America form the United States, see Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part III: Cuba and Brazil in Parallel Strokes, Law at the End of the Day, February 24, 2008. In the fourth part, Castro sums up his sense of the stage of Cuban Brazilian relations, and the role each plays in the greater amalgamation of Latin America against the United States. Here we see nicely drawn the political and ideological legacy that Castro wishes to institutionalize before his passing. Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part IV: Bringing Lula Into the Cuban Orbit; Bringing Cuba Into the Brazilian Orbit?, Law at the End of the Day, March 7, 2008.

Castro continues to make this aspect of Cuban foreign policy assessment clear:

No en vano, mucho antes del Primero de Enero de 1959 habíamos proclamado que nuestra Revolución sería la Revolución de los humildes, por los humildes y para los humildes. Los éxitos de nuestra Patria en las esferas de la educación, la salud, la ciencia, la cultura y otras ramas, y en especial la fuerza y la unidad del pueblo, lo están demostrando, a pesar del bloqueo despiadado.

Fidel Castro Ruz, El día de los pobres del mundo, supra ("Not in vain, long before January 1, 1959, we had proclaimed that our Revolution would be the Revolution of the humble, by the humble, and for the humble. The successes of our Homeland in the sphere of education, health, science, culture and other branches, and especially in the strength and unity of the people, have shown this, in spite of the cruel blockade."). American arrogance tends to blind itself to metrics other than those they embrace. That has been its undoing with respect to Latin America for several generations. It is not that the Americans are wrong, or that the United States ought not to pursue policies that serve its interests, but those interests might be better served with eyes and ears open to both opportunity and to the perspectives and metrics of those with whom it must deal. And it is the United States that must act, because of the great disparities of size and the effects of any actions the Americans take. American Cuba policy has an incidental effect in the United States--Cuba policy is more profoundly felt in Cuba.

Perhaps the Americans ought to take a lesosn from Chinese policy toward Taiwan. That consists of change on two fronts. First, adoption of a "one area-two systems" policy, similar to the one state two systems policy of China. Second, the Americans ought to over-reward any movement toward reconciliation coming from Havana, much like the Chinese have done with their Taiwanese counterparts. But the United State sis not China; and Cuba is not Taiwan. And those lessons will tend to get lost in translation. That has been the message from Raul Castro. "Cuban President Raul Castro said Wednesday his country does not need to make any symbolic “gestures” as it pursues better relations with the United States. Addressing the Non Aligned Movement meeting in Havana Castro said he is still willing to talk about all issues and that it was up to the US to make the next move." Raul Castro still open to talks with US, but rejects idea of symbolic gesture, MercoPerss, April 30, 2009. It is the message of Fidel Castro's May Day Address. It is also the message from the Americans. "The new State Department human rights report criticizes two anti-U.S. countries in Latin America, Cuba and Venezuela. The report says in Cuba, suppression of freedom of speech increased last year, and that harassment of dissidents intensified, including the beating of activists. The report says at least 219 political prisoners remain behind bars in the communist-led country." US State Department Rebukes Cuba, Venezuela in Rights Report, Voice of America News, Feb. 29, 2009. That leaves us with the moment. And at the moment, neither Cuba nor the United States is quite ready change the status quo.

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