As Europe’s imperial powers, most notably the English, Dutch, French and Spanish, vied for control of the vast fortunes being extracted from the Americas through an emerging global economic system founded on colonization and slavery during the 16th and 17thcenturies, the predominantly European maritime workers, whose labor was employed to engage in inter-Euro-king-sponsored piracy, lived under some of the most brutal, dangerous conditions known. When the labor of these men was no longer needed by the nobility and investors many of them began to view their former employers and homeland as their enemies. Many of these weather-worn men-of-the-sea, having renounced their former homelands and Christian masters, turned to the primary enemy of their enemy, that is, Islam and the Islamic empires. The logic being: the enemy of my enemy must be my friend. Given this line of reasoning, it is not surprising that many of these European born men knew very little of Islam except that is was the enemy of Christianity for imperialistic rather than religious reasons. However, some of these men did posses a more in depth understanding of Islam finding it less dogmatic than Christianity, allowing more personal freedoms, such as a relatively progressive approach to sexuality.
Similarly, many people laboring for the interests of profiteers as value-producing commodity dissatisfied with the exploitive and alienating nature of capitalist society, a direct attack on our “species being” (Marx quoted in Allman, McLaren and Rikowski, 2005, discussed in detail below), have turned to the enemy of capitalism, that is, Marxism, anarchism and the movements and nations that claim to follow their texts in the form of socialism and communism. If the longing gaze of those critically conscious laborers, alienated by private capital, has more than once been fixated upon socialist nations, then what is it that we see and hope to see in countries such as post-1959 Cuba, which has been described as an Island of socialism in a sea of capitalism? Put another way, what can we learn from Cuba about resisting capitalism? In the following essay it is my attempt to begin to answer this question taking cues from some of the most insightful scholars in the struggle.
Given their ability to thwart nearly 50 years of US terrorism (Blum, 1995; Chávez, 2005; Chomsky, 1999), many on the international Left view Cuba as evidence that US imperialism can be successfully resisted, and therefore a source of hope for a global future without capitalism. At the same time many capitalist cheerleaders point to Cuba’s restrictions on civil liberties and the country’s relatively low standard of living as evidence against not only a “dieing” Cuba but socialism in general and Marxism in particular as “outdated” or simply “wrong.” Marxists and socialists, most notably Castro and the Cuban government in general (Báez, 2004), on the other hand, tend to point to the US’ trade sanctions and terrorism against the little-big nation explaining the Revolution’s militant policy toward counterrevolutionaries, and the poverty and lack of basic necessities rampant among Cuba’s population. One of the most common examples put forth by pro-Cuban radicals making the case for the humanitarian nature of the Revolution is that as a result of the social reforms implemented the Cuban people are more educated and healthier than before 1959. That is, Cuba went from having one of the highest illiteracy rates in the so called third world to having one of the most highly educated citizenry in the world. According to Fidel Castro (1999):
In 1961, only two years after the triumph, with the support of young students working as teachers, about 1 million people learned how to read and write. They went to the countryside, to the mountains, the remotest places and there they taught people that were even 80 years old how to read and write. Later on, there were follow-up courses and the necessary steps were taken in a constant effort to attain what we have today. A revolution can only be born from culture and ideas. (p. 5)
It is the magnitude of such humanitarian achievements, realized under the constant threat of US aggression (outlined below) that has earned Cuba the respect of almost the entire international community. In this chapter, in the spirit of maximizing what can be learned about resisting capital, I take a critical approach to the legacy of revolutionary Cuba honing in on both strengths and weaknesses situated in a larger context of neo-liberal global capitalism. Comprehending this larger capitalist context is crucial because it provides the explanatory insight necessary to fully understand Cuba’s resistance to capital and the lack thereof, and the dual role the island’s system of education plays. On one hand, Cuban education serves as an egalitarian leveler, and on the other, is implicated in socially reproducing labor power, upon which the Cuban system draws life.
However, before I outline the events that have led to Cuba’s current engagement with global capitalism and the implications for Cuban education, I look at what Noam Chomsky (1999) has repeatedly referred to as “Cuba’s trouble making in the hemisphere,” such as it is. In other words, I answer the question, “why does the US government hate Cuba?” I then explore the implications of the United States’ war against Cuba. After looking at neo-liberalism and the fall of Soviet Communism, finally, I examine Cuba’s internationally renowned education system and why it remains sheltered from the direct forces of neo-liberal privatization when other areas of the economy have been opened up for international private investment. Finally, I reflect on the lessons we can discern from Cuba about resisting capitalism.