Why I Write Personally and Plainly About Democratic Socialism
Note: This is an excerpt from a lengthy essay on Cuba I wrote around eighteen months ago when, without my knowledge, the U.S. and Cuba entered secret negotiations to reestablish relations. It was part of my political coming of age pamphlet I published later that summer, which can be obtained in English or Spanish at gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com. (To read about my Cuban American ancestors, including my radical ancestor tío Pancho and his sobrina, my very own wonderful Cuban American Granma, mi abuela Laura, please go to the pamphlet!) I republish now the parts of the essay that most relate to Cuba’s future and the future of socialism–in celebration of this historic moment, and also in hope that the future will not be an end to the socialist revolution, much less a capitalist takeover, but a new glorious phase in Cuba’s history that can be an example of deep democracy to the entire world. I dedicate this republication to the revolution my Cuban American ancestors dreamed of, and helped pay for twice, and to my dear close Cuban-born friend mentioned in the essay.
The Granma was invincible, like the spirit that moved within its deck! There were forces at work in addition to purely physical ones, and they too withstood the storms and drove the boat onward to its destination. One thought, one common ideal, one single desire, was projected in a single direction: the soil of the enslaved homeland.
I have no doubt that the voyage of that nearly sinking yacht, grossly overloaded with filthy and seasick would-be liberators, represented the dream for Cuba of my ancestors and hundreds of other forgotten families like them who came to the U.S. during the 19th century to provide workers for the newly-established domestic cigar industry. That is why the year before the voyage Fidel Castro came to Hillsborough County, Florida for several days to raise money. By then most of my West Tampa ancestors were only in the memory of mi abuela and a few other scattered relatives, their gravesites long since placed beneath a highway by the City of Tampa. All Granma-related propaganda and superstition aside, it is nice to think that they were part of a universal spirit of deep democracy that “moved within its deck!”
As we cautiously begin to improvise the next voyage of our Granma, this one to provide deep democracy to the whole earth, it is important to search for this spirit. One way to find it is to remember that the roots of the Cuban revolution extended beneath the Florida Straits to poor Cuban-American working families who were socialized to believe that they were part of something that included more than them and their own serious crises. They were militant labor people, and many of them were also socialists, communists, anarchists, and various mixed versions of these uniting in anti-capitalist views.
Their dream was not the hollow U.S. corporate version of freedom still ruling Cuba when the 82 revolutionaries set their feet on Cuban soil. That version of freedom had repressed them just as it continued to repress those in Cuba when Castro and his comrades came ashore. That version of freedom, in typical reckless boom-and-bust circumstances discussed by Marx generations before, had caused the Depression that variously put them out of work. Then that version of freedom became cozy with Franco. When Castro came to town, that version of freedom was Batista’s. Thus, by the time Castro got there to solicit funds, generations of cigar workers and their families in West Tampa and Ybor City had never hesitated to collect from what little they had in mutual aid to each other and to the causes of true freedom in Cuba and Spain.
Some of my family probably walked to and from the factory not only dreaming of a better day but also whistling the Internationale. Over a century of demagoguery and repression in the U.S. repels most of its inhabitants at the mere mention of the name Karl Marx. Capitalists who Marx aptly described snicker at their own cleverness. They thank mammon that Stalin, Mao, and other exemplars of totalitarianism practiced their inhumanity as “communists” and “socialists” with some words twisted from Marx and inverted to their own ends. I do not agree with some of the things I have learned about Marx’s beliefs, and he certainly failed to work out a mature system for socialism. But he was a humanitarian and not a promoter of cruelty or totalitarianism.
Under the combined daily influences of the corporate media, the pressures of consumerism, and a host of opiates, literal and figurative, good people can be unconsciously converted into forces of reaction. They are kept in debt, in fear of layoffs, and quick to consciously or unconsciously do their masters’ bidding—which include avoiding any rational discussion of the pros and cons of capitalism, socialism, or some reasonable blend thereof. The daily pornography of giveaways to transnational corporations, global financial gamesmanship, economic injustice, the defense industrial complex, cow-towing to dictators who control dwindling supplies of irreplaceable resources, and global warming escape notice.
In the streets of West Tampa and Ybor City beginning more than a hundred years ago, the working people were taking keen note of the world near and far and were not repelled by Marx or other leftist intellectuals. They were politically-oriented, actively participated in electioneering when political institutions were open to them, and wanted to learn the alternatives to capital exploitation. They saw capitalism as a system that potentially fed them but also one of racism, oppression, and imminent abandonment, the deeply flawed heir to imperialism.
Capitalism wanted to treat them like things—just like other things such as Cuban tobacco, but ideally more expendable. Tobacco leaves were not hated, beaten, and fired for striking. Tobacco was a valuable commodity always desired. Skilled cigar makers had some clout for a time, but this only incited greater rage on behalf of the capitalists who hated having to treat workers as human beings. Always vulnerable to oppression, unredeemable union people to the end, by the 1930’s many of them were out-of-work and completely destitute, forced to piece together one meal at time before moving on, if they were lucky, to low paying jobs outside the cigar industry, locally or in other cities like New York, or in the case of mi abuela, Miami. Vicious anti-labor firings and repression, machine production of cigars, consumer shifts to smoking cigarettes, and for the lectors, replacement by radios emitting non-confrontational advertising-fueled pablum—all of these contributed to the end of a now forgotten major portion of Florida history. This history was a major part of the great labor struggle in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries, which for the most part capital won, using any means necessary.
In the early 21st century and still in the southeastern U.S., at least one of the descendants of the losing side is now a socialist. I have learned of and will not forget their lives and values—and the U.S. roots of the Cuban revolution, which is in turn a continuing inspiration to the desperate throughout Latin America and the world. Continue reading