Why Cuba is a beacon

Some argue the revolution has not gone far enough in terms of a thoroughgoing democracy based but it

There can be no dispute that Fidel Castro’s coming to power in Cuba in 1959 was a progressive revolution – heroically led by Castro and his allies. It replaced a barbaric regime under Batista in which the island economy served the US business elite and mafia. The 26th July movement, led by Castro and Che Guevara, swept to power on a wave of popular support.

Neither can there be any dispute that there have been immense achievements in terms of healthcare, poverty reduction and education. As a poor country, Cuba now has levels of healthcare that rival some of the wealthiest countries in the world and exports its doctors across Latin America and other parts of the developing world – with over 20,000 Cuban doctors working abroad – demonstrating the internationalism of the revolution.

These achievements have been made in the most arduous circumstances – with the US embargo, invasions, acts of sabotage, assassination attempts and threats that have kept the country in a state of permanent siege.

This has almost inevitably meant a more tightly controlled society – but unlike Stalin’s Russia there have never been any Cuban gulags. The one camp in Cuba that holds political prisoners without charge or hope of a fair trial is in Guantanamo Bay – an illegally occupied part of Cuba, in which the US still holds hundreds. It is an irony that some may criticise Castro, yet forget that many countries the UK government cosies up to – from the US and Israel to Saudi Arabia and China – commit grotesque human rights abuses with barely a peep from the Government or media.

Some argue that the revolution has not yet gone far enough in terms of a thoroughgoing democracy based upon fundamental civil rights, but this revolution is a work in progress. The transfer of wealth and power from a corrupt elite to a situation in which every Cuban has the right to free healthcare and education, to secure housing, to subsidised food and travel is a massive advance in social rights. Unlike many Latin American countries, abortion in Cuba is free on demand, and maternity leave is one year on full pay.

Cuba’s achievements have also been phenomenal in democratising access to sport and the arts – the reason Cuba excels in these fields is because everyone is encouraged to develop their talents all regardless of wealth.

People rightly ask could the Cuban revolution have gone further? Of course, and undoubtedly will in a new climate in Latin America where popularly elected leaders such as Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia have bolstered the regional forces in support of socialism.

With the potential of change in Washington too, there is an opportunity for the US to reject its outdated Cold War policy towards Cuba. There is a role for the UK and European partners to mediate a new relationship between the US, Cuba and Europe.

This must not be done in a patronising way but recognising that when it comes to creating a more equal, a more environmentally sustainable, and a more engaged society, we can learn a lot from Cuba and Castro’s achievements.

Cuba serves as a beacon to many socialists because it shows in the most difficult circumstances – isolated, bullied and victimised – what can be done in a society where people’s living standards are put above the rights of a few to be filthy rich. Next time you hear a UK politician tell you that free prescriptions, free care for the elderly, free university education is all unaffordable – ask them how a poor tiny island nation can manage it, yet the fifth richest country in the world can’t.

John McDonnell MP is Chair of the Labour Representation Committee (www.l-r-c.org.uk) and author of Another World is Possible – a manifesto for 21st century socialism

Andrew Bell/Guardian (Jeremy Corbyn)
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Who’s who in Team Corbyn

Who are the key players in Jeremy Corbyn's team?

Kat Fletcher
Head of strategy and key aide

By coincidence, there are two unrelated Fletchers at the heart of the Corbyn operation (the other one is Simon: see below). Both come with experience of beating the Labour establishment – Kat was elected NUS president in 2004 against opposition from the more centrist Labour Students group. She has been close to Corbyn for close to a decade and was his agent in this year’s election. She is also a power player in Islington politics in her own right, rising to deputy mayor just two years after being elected as a councillor. Outside politics, she runs a small chain of gastropubs called Handmade Pubs.

Photo: Kat Fletcher

 

Seb Corbyn
Bag-carrier

No race for the Labour leadership would be complete without the presence of a Red Prince or two. The second of Corbyn’s three sons is a Cambridge graduate who has been pressed into service as a bag-carrier and all-purpose aide for this election. (His mother is Corbyn’s second wife, Claudia Bracchitta.) Seb, 25, was the author of a touching scene on the campaign trail when he patted his father’s hair down after both were caught in heavy winds in London. Beyond the campaign, he works for John McDonnell, another close ally of his father’s.

Photo: Carmel Nolan, Jeremy Corbyn and his son Seb

Carmel Nolan
Head of press

Corbyn’s press chief is a former radio journalist and veteran campaigner from Liverpool – and, like him, was a leading architect of the Stop the War coalition. She has described the Corbyn team as “a coalition of the willing and the available” and “like Stop the War with bells on”. Nolan, formerly known as Carmel Brown, is respected by Westminster hacks as a serious operator. In her spare time she researches the fates of Liverpool men who served in the Second World War.

Her daughter, Hope, is credited with coming up with the name for George Galloway’s anti-war party in 2004. Then aged just eight, she picked two names: one was the “Give All Your Sweeties to Hope Party”. The other was Respect.

 

Clive Lewis
MP who nominated Corbyn

Star of the distinctly left-wing clutch of 2015 Labour MPs, Lewis was one of Corbyn’s earliest and most vocal backers – Corbyn credited the new MP for Norwich South with getting his nomination “off the ground”.

Lewis, who worked for more than a decade as a journalist with the BBC, is tipped for a shadow cabinet position (Defence or Culture are rumoured briefs) if Corbyn wins the leadership. He called New Labour “dead and buried” in his victory speech in May 2015.

 

Simon Fletcher
Campaign chief

A veteran back-room operative, Fletcher spent eight years as Ken Livingstone’s chief of staff. In 2000, after Tony Blair ensured that Livingstone was not selected as Labour’s candidate for mayor of London, Fletcher took him to victory as an independent, masterminding a “Stand down, Frank” campaign against Frank Dobson.

Photo: Simon Fletcher

Fletcher originally met Livingstone through Socialist Action, the Trotskyist group, and the former mayor’s memoirs record his friend getting the highest First from City of London Poly in its history (he led a student occupation there) before working on Tony Benn’s archives. In 2009 Fletcher denounced Gordon Brown for “pandering to the BNP” over allocation of social housing. More recently, he was an aide to Ed Miliband, working as his trade union liaison officer from 2013 onwards. He is credited with renegotiating the unions’ relationship with Labour after that year’s Falkirk selection row.

 

John McDonnell
Campaign manager in the Parliamentary Labour Party

After two failed attempts at the Labour leadership (he was kept off the ballot both times), the Socialist Campaign Group chair chose not to stand again this year. Instead, having persuaded Corbyn to run, the Hayes and Harlington MP became his campaign manager. Since his election in 1997, McDonnell, 63, has been one of Corbyn’s greatest parliamentary allies – though some MPs see him as abrasive, unlike his endlessly courteous friend. It was recently reported that he has been promised the post of shadow chancellor, a claim Corbyn sources deny.

 

Jon Trickett
Ideas guru

The Yorkshireman is Jeremy Corbyn’s only supporter in the shadow cabinet. Having been a senior adviser to Ed Miliband, the 65-year-old Trickett was pressured by some to stand as the left’s candidate in the leadership contest but declined – leaving the field clear for Corbyn. Although some in Camp Corbyn regard him with suspicion because he served as a PPS to Gordon Brown, the Hemsworth MP and former Leeds City Council leader is in line for a big role in Corbyn’s front-bench team.

Photo: Jon Trickett

Richard Burgon
MP and supporter

Another high-profile left-winger in Labour’s 2015 intake, Burgon is of solid socialist stock: a trade union lawyer and nephew of the former Labour MP Colin Burgon, a long-term champion of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A dedicated Corbynite, the Leeds East MP might shadow either the Justice Secretary or Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Like Corbyn, he is a republican; he swore an oath to the Queen on taking his seat but describes himself as “someone that believes that the head of state should be elected”.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism