The revolutionary struggle, and conquest of power in January 1959, transformed Cuban working people. They took charge of the country and their own destiny. Workers and farmers in Cuba began taking control of factories, tens of thousands were mobilized to teach peasants to read and write, landed estates were broken up and distributed to landless farmers.
The Second Declaration of Havana, read by Fidel Castro and adopted at an assembly of more than a million on Feb. 4, 1962, asked, “What is it that is hidden behind the Yankees’ hatred of the Cuban Revolution?”
“What unifies them and incites them is fear,” it says. “Not fear of the Cuban Revolution, but fear of the Latin American revolution … that the plundered people of the continent will seize the arms from their oppressors and, like Cuba, declare themselves free peoples of the Americas.”
Just like the period after the Russian Revolution in 1917, when revolutionary-minded workers worldwide formed communist parties, looking to emulate the example of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the Cuban Revolution won a new generation to revolutionary action in Latin America and around the world. That included the United States, where many joined the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance.
Three giants rising up
For more than two decades, workers and farmers in Latin America sought to follow the example of the Cuban Revolution. Che Guevara, who fell in combat leading revolutionaries in Bolivia in the fight to overthrow the dictatorship of René Barrientos, became an inspiration for millions.
In March 1979 workers and farmers took power in the Caribbean island of Grenada, led by Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement. It was the first revolution in a predominantly black, English-speaking country.
In July 1979 the Sandinista National Liberation Front led toilers in Nicaragua to victory against the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship.
Inspired by what Castro called the “three giants” — Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada — “rising up to defend their rights to independence, sovereignty, and justice on the very threshold of imperialism,” new forces joined the fight.
But this rising movement was short-circuited. In Grenada, a Stalinist clique headed by Bernard Coard murdered Bishop and other New Jewel Movement leaders in October 1983, put the entire population under house arrest, and destroyed the revolution, handing U.S. imperialism a pretext to invade.
In Nicaragua, the leadership of the FSLN, after winning the war against U.S.-backed contras by 1988, threw away the historic opportunity and gave up the fight to overturn capitalist exploitation and oppression, instead turning to an alliance with “patriotic producers.”
“The opportunity to extend the socialist revolution, the opportunity to join with Cuba in constructing socialism, is being lost,” SWP leader Larry Seigle said in a report to a 1989 party conference.
These defeats, coupled with the murder of Thomas Sankara and fall of his popular revolutionary government in Burkina Faso in 1987, and the counterrevolution that prevented the workers and farmers of Iran from coming to power after their mighty overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah in 1979, marked a turning point.
The more than two decades of revolutionary-minded workers and youth seeking to emulate Cuba had come to a close — not because workers and farmers were incapable of defeating imperialism, but because of a lack of revolutionary leaderships seeking to do what the Cubans have done.
Hugo Chávez and Venezuela
It’s within this retreat that Hugo Chávez won election as president of Venezuela in December 1998, gaining support of workers looking for an alternative to the swamp of the main bourgeois parties. Chávez was explicit in rejecting the road of the Cuban Revolution and workers power, saying he was “neither for savage capitalism, nor socialism, nor communism.” He talked of a Bolivarian Revolution or 21st Century Socialism, an alternative to Cuba.
Chávez — and after his death his successor Nicolás Maduro — used the profits from the oil industry to fund social programs and to try to administer and regulate capitalism to lessen its negative impact on working people.
And he gained the undying hatred of U.S. imperialism by providing Cuba with low-priced oil and collaborating with Cuba’s revolutionary leadership in building anti-imperialist alliances in Latin America and the Caribbean. These moves increasingly isolated Washington, ultimately leading the U.S. rulers to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015 and seek new tactics in their unending effort to overthrow the revolution.
Venezuela’s oil shipments played an important role in helping Cuba overcome the “special period” that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Cuba lost some 85 percent of its trade virtually overnight.
Tens of thousands of Cuban volunteers joined international missions in Venezuela that continue today to provide health care, carry out literacy campaigns and other popular social programs.
Workers and farmers took advantage of the election of Chávez to advance their own demands, including struggles for land, for greater workers control over safety and conditions of work, for access to education, health care, water, electricity and housing.
None of this was to the liking of the propertied rulers in Venezuela or in Washington, which backed a coup against Chávez in 2002. When thousands of workers and farmers took to the streets, the coup leaders backed down and Chávez returned to power.
The most committed of the revolutionary-minded fighters in Venezuela were thirsty for broader knowledge of the Cuban Revolution and the modern history of popular revolutionary movements.
One reflection of that thirst was the forum organized during the 2007 Venezuela International Book Fair in Caracas on “The United States: A Possible Revolution,” to which Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, was invited to kick off the discussion.
Many questions came up during the five-day rolling exchange, including whether a socialist revolution is necessary, or is there a way to make capitalism serve the interest of the working class; and whether the Cuban Revolution has been superseded by a “third road” between socialist revolution and capitalist rule. Waters noted that Cuba was “the only free territory of the Americas.” It was indisputable, she said, that “Venezuela’s equivalent of the mass insurrection of the toilers of Cuba that culminated in the Jan. 1, 1959, revolution lies ahead of us, not behind.” That remains the case today.
But the contradictions of trying to administer capitalism became starkly exposed as the worldwide capitalist crisis broke in 2008 and further when the price of oil dropped from $100 a barrel to less than $50. Attempts by the Maduro government to impose price controls and stamp out the black market have backfired. Inflation skyrocketed, now estimated at more than 700 percent a year. Food and medicine shortages are at crisis levels. Corruption is rampant.
Many workers have become demoralized, or backed away from politics because of the lack of perspective offered by the government coupled with the all-consuming need to find ways to survive in the crisis conditions.
The pro-imperialist opposition, grouped in the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) — which won the majority in the Legislative Assembly in December 2015 — has taken advantage of the crisis to accelerate efforts to oust Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Since April MUD has stepped up provocative demonstrations, which are often met by tear gas and rubber bullets by the police and National Guard. More than 120 people have been killed, including opponents and supporters of the government. But the opposition remains divided. It has no program in the face of the impact of the economic crisis that wouldn’t make working people in Venezuela pay the price.
Maduro has responded by using presidential decrees and the Supreme Court, which was appointed by Chávez, to bypass the legislature. And despite a boycott by the Roundtable, Maduro went ahead with the July 30 vote for a 545-member Constituent Assembly. It held its first meeting Aug. 4, electing Foreign Minister Delsy Rodríguez as its president.
None of these moves point a road forward for workers to take power and do away with capitalist exploitation and oppression.
“There is no hunger in Venezuela,” Rodríguez told the new assembly, denying a reality every worker knows. “There is no humanitarian crisis.” What Venezuela faces, she said “is an economic war” at the hands of the opposition-dominated legislature, promising that “justice will come to them.”
The next day the Constituent Assembly ordered the dismissal of Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who was appointed by Chávez. Ortega opposed the election for the assembly, denouncing it as a violation of the Constitution, and has begun collaborating with Roundtable leaders.
Rodríguez says the opposition legislature has to go.
Meanwhile, the Roundtable has managed to split a handful of legislators from the ruling party to their side, including Ortega’s husband who was a member of the PSUV.
Small groups of ex-military officers have mounted attacks on government outposts, but the army remains loyal to Maduro.
Washington has imposed sanctions on more than a dozen high-ranking government, military and state-owned oil company officials, and, after his government carried through the Constituent Assembly election, on Maduro.
The Socialist Workers Party opposes Washington’s interference with the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people. We say: U.S. hands off Venezuela!
The biggest danger for working people in Venezuela today is not an imminent U.S. invasion, but that the battle between the Maduro government and the pro-imperialist opposition could spiral out of control causing an even bloodier conflict.
Che brigade is opportunity for youth, workers to ‘see Cuba for yourselves’
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