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ISC 12. Book Review, Capitalism in Crisis, by Fidel Castro

Capitalism in crisis by Fidel Castro, published by Ocean Press, and available from Global Book Marketing, 38 King Street, London WC2E 8JT at £15.00 inc. postage.

This volume captures Fidel Castros views on globalisation and world politics today, in speeches made at international, regional and Cuban gatherings from May 1998 to April 2000. The theme of globalism and neo-liberalism runs through these speeches, but not in a repetitive way. Fidel can adapt his talk to suit his audience, without being boring or patronising. Since the earliest days of the Revolution, Fidel has been a great communicator, and he has the gift of turning complex social, economic and political issues into language that ordinary people can understand. Anyone who has read Fidels early speeches when he addressed mass crowds in Havanas revolution square on issues such as land reform and racism will remember that he constantly asked his audience Do you understand what I am saying? Fidel has always made sure that his messages are understood by the people of Cuba. One of the techniques that he employs for this purpose is that of analogy. Here is an example:

"Globalisation is an objective reality underlining the fact that we are all passengers on the same vessel this planet where we all live. But passengers on this vessel are travelling in very different conditions."

"A trifling minority is travelling in luxurious cabins, furnished with the internet, cell phones and access to global communications networks. They enjoy a nutritional, abundant and balanced diet as well as clean water supplies. They have access to sophisticated medical care and culture."

"The overwhelming and suffering majority is travelling in conditions that resemble the terrible slave trade from Africa to America in our colonial past. That is, 85 percent of the passengers on this ship are crowded together in its dirty hold, suffering hunger, disease and helplessness."

"Obviously this vessel is carrying too much injustice to remain afloat, pursuing such an irrational and senseless route It is our duty to take our rightful place at the helm and ensure that all passengers can travel in conditions of solidarity, equity and justice."

This metaphor, used in Fidels opening speech to the South Summit, 12 April 2000 is a powerful device for conveying his message.

The global economy

Fidel points out how Americas departure from the gold standard, the printing of dollars, and its ownership of the IMF and World Bank, allows the US to dominate the worlds economy. In this context he sees the Euro as a welcome development to counter the power of the dollar and those on the left who are opposed to a federal Europe should take note.

Neo-liberalism has widened the gap between rich and poor:

"In 1960, the difference of incomes between the wealthiest 20% of the worlds population living in the developed countries and those of the poorest 20% living in the Third World was 30 to one. By 1997, that ratio was 74 to oneThe OECD member countries, with 19% of the worlds population, account for 71% of the international trade in goods and services, 58% of direct foreign investment and 91% of all internet users."

Neo-liberalism has not worked:

"Economic failure is evident. Under the neo liberal policies, the world economy experienced a global growth between 1975 and 1998 which hardly amounted to half of that attained between 1945 and 1975 with Keynesian market deregulation policies and the states active participation in the economy."

Neo liberalism has created madhouse economics:

"Presently $727 billion from the worlds central banks reserves are in the United States. This leads to the paradox that with their reserves the poor countries are offering cheap long term financing to the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world while such reserves could be better invested in economic and social development"

The Soviet Union and Russia

Fidels analysis of the downfall of the Soviet Union is that this was not caused by internal contradictions, but by external forces:

"In fact, the socialist bloc and the Soviet Union were not destroyed fundamentally by their own errors; this infernal machinery of lies, deception and disinformation destroyed them. They were lead to believe the illusion that these consumer societies were the most wonderful things that could ever be imagined."

Fidel looks at the effect of neo-liberalism on Russia:

"They took their neoliberal and market recipes to the former Soviet Union, causing destruction, truly incredible destruction, dismembering nations. They brought about the economic and political dismantling of the federal republics reducing life expectancy in some cases by 14 and 15 years, multiplying infant mortality by three to four times and generating social and economic problems which not even a resurrected Dante would dare to imagine."

The Cuban Revolution

Fidel points out the achievements of the Cuban education, health and social welfare systems and the spirit of internationalism which pervades Cuban teachers and doctors who have worked, in their thousands, in many Latin American and African countries, often in the most inaccessible areas.

Fidel explains how he read Marx and Engels to make sense out of life:

"I absorbed the basic principles that I learned from those books and they helped me understand the society in which I lived For the first time in my life I realised a few truths."

He then put these ideas into practice in Cuba, but for this he needed the assistance of the Soviet Union who gave Cuba oil, raw materials, food and many other things, in return for sugar. But, above all else, the Soviet Union gave Cuba:

"time to build a consciousness; it gave us time to sow ideas; it gave us time to create a new political culture. It gave us time! Enough time to build the strength that enabled us later to resist the most incredibly hard times."

This is a reference to the US blockade (imposed on Cuba as a reaction to land reform), the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Special Period (made necessary by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the US blockade), and the many attempts on Fidels life: "In summary, do you know how many assassination plots were investigated and known about in various degrees? A total of 637."

Capitalism and Communism

The twentieth century was dominated by a global struggle between Capitalism which is

"the continuation of the slave system under an equally inhuman and merciless form of exploitation and Communism, with the distribution formula that goes From each according to their work, to each according to their needs And how wise was Marx when he spoke of two stages: one socialist, the other communist, the first governed by the formula From each according to their ability, to each according to their work For me, the socialist formula is a necessarily unjust formula, but it is far better than the repugnant capitalist society where those who really do contribute according to their work receive almost nothing, while the laziest members of society get almost everything."

Another distinction is that "they have infinite financial capital and almost zero human capital. We are doing things with zero financial capital but substantial human capital created throughout these 40 years."

As for the much vaunted two party system, the Democratic and Republican Parties "are so exactly alike that they have established a true one-party system, or better still, the most perfect single-party system in the world, through this fabulous mechanism of having two parties resembling each other like two peas in a pod."

US and UK leaders "need to tell the world something, so they say that everything they are doing is aimed at a future when the whole world is middle class." Owing to the lies, misinformation and propaganda spread about Cuba by the USA:

"for millions of people in the world we are torturers, violators of human rights, totalitarian. Yes, we are totalitarian in as much as we have established total justice and a totally true humane spiritWe prefer our socialism with all its imperfections; we prefer the totalitarianism of truth, justice, sincerity, authenticity; the totalitarianism of truly humanitarian feelings; the totalitarianism of the type of multiparty system we practice."

Yugoslavia and Iraq

Fidel condemns the attack on Yugoslavia: "During the 45 years that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia existed there was peace among all those ethnic groups." Having created thousands of refugees, America and Britain took in only a handful each: "The two countries combined assisted some 0.8 percent of the refugees a rather negligible number."

Fidel also condemns the bombing of Iraq: "The two main leaders, of course, are the United States and the United Kingdom. They are also the two countries bombing Iraq every day. Nobody remembers this, but it happens every day. It has become a habit, a daily shooting exercise to preserve their right to bomb every day." Fidel compares the cost of these wars with other uses for the money: "With $1 billion, two million children can be saved; with $2 billion, four million children; with $2.2 billion, you could save the lives of 4.4 million children. Everyone knows, including the World Health Organisation, that about 12 million children die of curable diseases."

He makes a similar point regarding the cost of US election campaigns: "The resources spent in just one of these election years would be enough to build all the schools the world needsand with a small amount of the annual figure, they could offer school meals to all the children who need it, and pay teachers a decent salary."

The Battle of Ideas

Fidel recalls how he was saved from death in his guerilla struggle against Batista, when he was captured and protected by a Lieutenant who told his men You cannot kill ideas, you cannot kill ideas:

"As that lieutenant said, ideas cannot be killed. Our ideas did not die; no one could kill them. And the ideas we sowed and developed during those 30 odd years until 1991, when the special period began, were what gave us the strength to resist. Without those years we had to educate, sow ideas, build awareness, instill feelings of solidarity and a generous internationalist spirit, our people would not have had the strength to resist."

Not all global threats are bad:

"I can certainly speak of another global threat, namely, ideas We should all help globalise ideas, help them expand. We should all work the miracle of sending them everywhere Those are indeed global threats: speaking, reasoning, explaining, demonstrating."

And so, as ever, Fidel leaves us with a positive message: that progressive ideas are worth talking about and fighting for; that taking on the IMF and World Bank can make a difference; and that there is space for all of us to live happy, successful and peaceful lives on this global ship, planet Earth.

John Pateman
November 2000


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