Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Russian Revolution: The Facts and the Fantasies



A review of two reviews in the New York Times Book Review Section

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. We might also argue that this year marks 100 years of slander against the leaders of the Russian Revolution. We can list all the wars carried out to supposedly save the world from the so-called communist onslaught.

Fourteen nations, including the United States, joined in a war to overthrow the government in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution.
The Nazi armies of Adolf Hitler caused the deaths of about 27 million people in their invasion of the Soviet Union.
In the United States, numerous people lost their jobs and were blacklisted because of a campaign against the idea of communism. This cowardly act was advanced by Joseph McCarthy and his House on Un-American Activities Committee. The future President John F. Kennedy served on that committee.
The United States government carried out holocausts in Korea and Vietnam. Literally millions of people died because of these wars. This was also motivated as attempts to stop the spread of communism.
The United States invaded Cuba and threatened the world with nuclear warfare also, in part, to stop the spread of communism. Today the United States continues a trade blockade against Cuba in spite of worldwide condemnation of this blockade.
The New York Times has continued it’s slanders against the Russian Revolution with two reviews in it’s June 11, 2017 Book Review section.
One of the many problems with the press in any capitalist country is that they look at the events of the world through the eyes of those who have power. Rarely do we see media portrayals of the day-to-day lives of working people and farmers.
We see this tendency clearly in Gregory Feifer’s review of Sean McMeekin’s book The Russian Revolution – A New History. Feifer cites an argument by McMeekin about the state of the Russian economy before the First World War. “Russia’s economy was surging before the war, with a growth rate of 10 percent a year­—like China in the early 21st century”
Both McMeekin and Feifer ignore the reasons why the Russian and Chinese economies surged. This was because of low wages and horrendous working conditions. Today, Chinese workers might work a fourteen-hour day for ten dollars. Russian workers toiled in factories for eleven-hour days. Both Chinese and the Russian workers of the past lived in dormitories away from their families. If McMeekin and Feifer worked under those conditions, I don’t think they would have a positive outlook on the economy.
Then, Feifer quotes Richard Pipes who also wrote a history of the Russian Revolution. Pipes argued that the revolution was not a revolution, but a coup by “identifiable men pursuing their own advantages.”
When we look at the facts of the Russian Revolution, this statement appears to be totally absurd. We might consider the fact that in revolutions the ruling powers have most of the advantages. They have an army, the police, the courts, the press, vast amounts of money, and as we will see, the government.
Revolutionaries typically have ideas. These ideas can transform the dissatisfaction of the people into a force capable of replacing the government with one that has completely different priorities. As the Cuban revolutionary José Martí once said: “One just principal from the depths of a cave can be more powerful than an army.”
Then, we have Joshua Rubenstein’s review of Catherine Merridale’s book, Lenin on the Train about Vladimir Illyich Lenin’s transport from Switzerland to Russia during the First World War. Lenin along with many other revolutionaries had been in exile from Russia because of his political ideas.
In the month of February a revolution broke out in Russia. The Czar, as well as the royal family, was replaced by a provisional government. This transition enabled Lenin and other revolutionaries to return to their homeland.
Rubinstein quotes Merridale about her view of the state of affairs in Russia after the February revolution. Merridale argues that, “Russia became the freest country in the world.”
Leon Trotsky was a leader of the Russian Revolution and wrote a comprehensive three volume History of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky gave overwhelming evidence that the basic problems that led to the February Revolution were not being addressed by the Provisional Government. The one thing that did change was the fact that the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, had the opportunity to organize a mass movement to put a workers government in power.
So, at this point, I will give some facts as to why Russian workers and farmers organized to place their own government in power. I will also give a summary as to how that government was betrayed by Joseph Stalin.           
The Russian Revolution
I have worked for a living my entire life as a factory worker and as a housekeeper. One thing all of my coworkers agree on is that politicians need to do the work we do every day and live on our wages. This would give them a completely different perspective towards politics.
So, I will attempt to look at the history of the Russian Revolution, not from the views of those who had power, but from the perspectives of the workers and farmers.
Before the Russian Revolution most people who lived on the vast farmland of Czarist Russia were not farmers but serfs. These serfs were tied to the land and needed written permission to leave.
In a nation that had some of the most fertile lands in the world, the Russian serfs lived in perpetual poverty and hunger. The weapon used to enforce these conditions was the Russian knout. This was a specially designed whip used to beat, or at times, murder serfs.
Russia was only one of many nations that were ruled by the Czar. Nations like the Ukraine and Georgia were routinely discriminated against. The language of those days routinely used abusive epithets to describe individuals of non-Russian nations.
The Yiddish word pogrom was invented to describe raids into the Jewish communities. In these pogroms organizations like the Black Hundreds murdered tens of thousands of Jews. The Black Hundreds had a similar racist outlook as the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.
Before the Revolution Czarist Russia was becoming a highly industrialized nation. While most people continued to live off the land, many migrated to the cities where they worked eleven-hour days in French financed factories. These Russian factories were known to have thousands of workers in a single location.
In the cities, Russian workers learned not to question the authorities. In the United States there have been protests against police murders of civilians as well as protests against the police policy of Stop and Frisk. In the cities of Czarist Russia workers understood that police could routinely beat them and there was little they could do about it.
Vladimir Illyich Lenin was the central leader of the Bolshevik party. He was exiled and sent to the frigid climate of Siberia for merely attending a meeting that was critical of the Czar.
In the year 1905 Russian workers organized to protest against these conditions. All they wanted to do was to present the Czsar with a list of their grievances. For this supposed offense, the Russian armed forces murdered hundreds or thousands of demonstrators.  
The Russian workers responded to these assaults by organizing their Soviets or workers counsels. These Soviets represented many Russian unions and banned together to protest victimizations against workers. However, these Soviets only had limited success before the Russian Revolution. Many of the leaders of Russian workers, like Lenin, needed to live outside of Russia because of the extreme repression in their homeland.
Thinking about this history, we might also consider Sean McKeenin’s view of the czar. “Russia in 1900 was a going concern, its very size and power a source of pride to most if not all of the czar’s subjects.” So, if most if not all of the czar’s subjects were proud of his rule, why was there a revolution that removed this royal family from power for all time?  
The February and October Revolutions
McMeekin argues that the czar made a mistake in going to war against Germany. This war brought all the problems in Russia to a head and created the preconditions for revolution.
However, we might consider that at that time Russian industry was almost entirely owned by French capitalists and Germany was invading France. We might also consider that if Russia had not gone to war against Germany, that Germany might have won the First World War. The entire history of the capitalist world might be different had Germany won the war.
We might also consider that when the Provisional Government held power, they continued the war the czar started. When the Bolsheviks took power, they sued Germany for peace, even though this meant giving up large amounts of land in the Russian west.
The Soviet government and Germany signed the Brest-Litovsk agreement that ended Russian participation in the First World War. Before those negotiations, Leon Trotsky invited all the powers that were participating in the war to join in this peace conference. Trotsky argued that if those powers refused to participate in those talks, they should explain in clear language why they were continuing to spill the blood of millions of soldiers in that senseless war.
Those powers that ordered soldiers to risk their lives in this war refused to state the real reasons for the war. Those reasons were the same as the reasons for the Second World War. These wars were about which capitalist nation would dominate the world. This was why the Bolsheviks had no reason to sacrifice lives in order to serve the interests of the most affluent families in the world.
Ken Follett—Fall of the Giants (Book one of the Century Trilogy)
While I was reading the reviews in the New York Times, I also was reading Ken Follett’s novel Fall of the Giants. This is the first volume of his Century Trilogy. These three volumes are an historical fiction of families in Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States throughout the twentieth century.
Unlike the histories reviewed in the New York Times, Follett’s novel attempts to give a compelling story as to why the Russian Revolution erupted. However, Follett’s narrative has several serious flaws. Throughout most of these books, Follett looks at the world through the eyes of the capitalists and their supporters who have power.
In Fall of the Giants, Follett has a character he named Grigori. Grigori sees his parents murdered in the 1905 Russian Revolution. He then becomes a factory worker who was brutalized by the police. Grigori then is drafted to fight for Russia in the First World War. There he experienced routine hunger and a lack of proper boots because the czar’s army didn’t receive sufficient supplies.
As a soldier Grigori resists fighting the Germans because he learns that this would be an act of suicide. When a commanding officer attempts to murder retreating Russian soldiers, Grigori murders that officer. Grigori’s fellow soldiers had no problem with his actions.
Grigori was sent to St. Petersburg where he was assigned to protect the royal family. In St. Petersburg he cares for a child who is the son of his wife. He learns that his wife needed to work all day and then get on a line at midnight in the frigid cold, just so she might be able to purchase of loaf of bread in the morning.
Then, we see Grigori finding the child he cares for to be ill. He discovers that the reason for this illness is that his wife isn’t getting enough food, and has no milk in her breasts to feed the child. These were common problems before the February Revolution.
Then, Grigori sees the February Revolution erupt. A commanding officer ordered Grigori to open fire on demonstrators and Grigori refused. Among the demonstrators were people he had known throughout his life.
Although Grigori would not fire on the demonstrators, the racist, sexist, and sadistic police began murdering civilians. Grigori and the other soldiers began to arm the civilians and opened fire on the police.
Grigori is there when Lenin returns to St. Petersburg. Lenin understood that the Provisional Government was not going to make any fundamental changes and proposed that the Soviets take power. Lenin made it clear that the Soviets were the only force in Russia that would grant the demands to the people of peace, bread, and land. These were some of the reasons why the fictional character Grigori became a Bolshevik. Although Fall of the Giants is a work of fiction, we can see how Follett’s narrative at this point closely resembles the reality faced by Russian workers and soldiers.
Understanding this reality we might also consider that Russian capitalists were reaping huge profits from their war related industries. This is why Lenin argued that it wasn’t necessary to argue for socialism, but merely to expose the theft of the state.
Lenin’s return to St. Petersburg
Another character in Follett’s book is named Walter, who works for the intelligence service of Germany during the First World War. In his book, Follett has Walter give a significant amount of money to Lenin during his return to Russia. This idea that Lenin received money from Germany to advance the Russian revolution is also supported in the reviews in the New York Times. What are the facts?
First, we can clearly understand why Lenin as well as other revolutionaries allowed German officials to assist them in returning to their homeland. The Russian people had endured centuries of the despotic rule of the czar. The aspirations of the Russian workers and peasants needed to be supported. If the February Revolution failed to do this, Russia would experience more years of despotism. For these reasons, revolutionaries accepted German transport to their homeland.
After the Russian Revolution the officials of the German government were alive. Had they given money to Lenin, they could have said so. They made no such statement. Clearly these officials were no supporters of the Russian Revolution.
In the year 1950 the German archives were opened and there was no evidence that any money had been given to Lenin.
We might also look at the character of Lenin. On several occasions Lenin advanced minority points of view and eventually won a majority to his position. History has shown that almost always Lenin advanced the only course that was capable of bringing about a successful revolution. Understanding all these facts, I see no reason to think that Lenin ever received money from Germany.
Czarist Russia becomes the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
In October of 1917 another revolution led by the Bolsheviks erupted in Russia. This revolution was relatively bloodless. The Provisional Government had become so discredited that few people rallied to it’s defense.
The Bolsheviks delivered on the demands they advanced. Although there were shortages of food, bread was distributed equally to the people and hording was punished as a crime. The Bolsheviks ended Russia’s participation in the First World War. Peasants were given land they had worked on their entire lives.
Russia became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This reflected the fact that there were many nations within the old Czarist Russia that would now have the power to develop their own cultures.
The new government rigorously defended the rights of workers. Those owners of industries who were used to abusing workers might have their enterprises confiscated.
As a result, there was a cultural awakening after the revolution that flowered in the arts and sciences.
However, those who had power in the capitalist world were horrified by these developments. They had grown accustomed to accumulating vast quantities of wealth from the labor of workers. Now, there was a workers government in the largest nation in the world that was dictating the will of the people to capitalists.
So, fourteen capitalist nations carried out a war attempting to overthrow the government in the Soviet Union. In this civil war there was a tremendous loss of life. However, the Bolsheviks managed to organize an army that defended the nation that had perhaps the longest border in the world.
Stalin betrays the revolution
Here we might consider the fact that with every revolution there are also counter-revolutionary movements. Those people who had been removed from power use whatever influence they have to regain political control.
In the United States there was the Civil War. This war removed slave owners from their positions of power in this country. Because of the Civil War the United States government adopted the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. These Amendments outlawed slavery and gave former slaves full rights in this country. All men received voting rights.
However, by the year 1877 the federal government made a deal where it removed the Union Army from the former Confederate states. This deal enabled those who were hostile to the interests of former slaves to mobilize. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan went to war and put in place governments that stripped Black people of their citizenship rights. Thousands of Black people were lynched and the federal government did nothing to prosecute the murderers. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement forced the government to return many of the rights that had been taken away.  
We might consider that after the Civil War in the Soviet Union, the economy of the nation had been almost completely destroyed. Transporting food from one location to another became a challenge. The nation had lost millions of people due to the First World War and the Civil War.
Under these conditions Joseph Stalin, who was a Bolshevik, worked to betray everything the revolution fought for. Stalin recruited many individuals from the former middle class. He allowed these people to maintain their relative privileges as members of the Communist Party. He then worked to place the entire leadership of the Russian Revolution on show trials where most would be sentenced to death.
The Soviet Communist Party was in the leadership of an international movement. Under the leadership of Lenin, this movement supported the interests of workers all over the world.
Stalin reversed the political orientation of this movement. Time after time Stalin betrayed the interests of workers in the world, in order to advance his personal relationship with capitalist governments. This tendency was best illustrated when Stalin made a pact with Nazi Germany.
Today, the present Russian head of state is Vladimir Putin. Putin is openly critical of the policies of Lenin. Putin has amassed a fortune and he might be one of several billionaires in Russia. However, the standard of living for Russian workers is deteriorating. This state of affairs is merely a continuation of the betrayal of the Russian Revolution by Joseph Stalin.
Conclusion
We might consider that the union movement in the United States flowered after the Russian Revolution. Capitalists learned that they could loose everything if a workers government took power. This was a compelling reason to recognize unions and grant many of their demands.
Workers began to understand that employers were not all powerful. If employers failed to negotiate with workers, they could be forced out of power and replaced with a workers government.
Working people learned of Lenin’s pamphlet Imperialism—the highest stage of capitalism. This pamphlet explains how the economic and political domination of nations is not because of mistakes or insensitivity. No the mass poverty in the world is the inevitable result of the normal functioning of the capitalist system.
The First and Second World Wars were not wars for democracy. No, these wars were about what capitalist nation would dominate the world. The effect of these wars has been that today about one billion people in the world don’t have enough food, lack access to electricity, and running water, and are denied education, and health care.
Working people also learned that the only way for all workers to advance is to fight against all forms of discrimination. The institutionalized discrimination in the United States against Black people, women, Native Americans, and immigrants needs to be challenged by workers. This is the only way for working people to achieve the unity necessary to put in place a government where human needs are more important than profits.
We also learned that workers and farmers need a political party that works consistently to advance the interests of workers throughout the world. This organization can fight for concessions from capitalists, but it must also strive to put in place a government that represents the interests of workers and farmers.
The Russian Revolution also inspired Cuban revolutionaries. In spite the Stalinist betrayals, the Soviet Union gave significant aid to revolutionary Cuba. The Soviet Union also gave military aid to Cuba and Angola when the apartheid government of South Africa invaded Angola in an attempt to place their own government in charge of that country.

Understanding this history, we can begin to truly appreciate those who put in place the first workers government in the world. They managed to overcome the seemingly overwhelming obstacles that confront workers throughout the world. Then, for a time, they showed the world that it is possible to have a government where human needs are more important than profits.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The 2017 Cuba May Day Brigade


 The Brigade members from the United States

Recently I returned from two weeks in Cuba. I was one of 287 members of the 2017 May Day Brigade that was sponsored by the Cuban organization ICAP. ICAP has been organizing friendship brigades to Cuba for several decades. I believe there were about thirty-nine nations represented in our Brigade.

Towards the end of our time in Cuba, I asked several brigade members how they would describe their time on the island when they returned home. While everyone appeared to be inspired by our time in Cuba, many brigade members found it difficult to summarize what they found to be inspiring.

So, I’m writing this blog in an attempt to show what I found to be truly inspirational about our time in Cuba. However, in order to do this I first need to step back and look at the environment that we all came from.

While the members of the Brigade came from many different countries and spoke different languages, we all have a common experience.  We all live in nations organized by the political economic system known as capitalism.

So, I will begin this blog by outlining some of the problems with the capitalist system in the nation I’m familiar with which is the United States.

Life in the United States of America

During the years when I attended schools in this country my teachers always started the day with a ritual. We would all stand up, place our hands on our hearts, and pledge allegiance to the flag that supposedly represented “liberty and justice for all.”

Many years after my time in school, I learned that this same Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist named Francis Bellamy. The words, United States of America, were not in Bellamy’s pledge. Bellamy’s original words to his pledge were “I pledge allegiance to my flag”, and his flag represented a future socialist world that would have “liberty, justice, and equality for all.” Bellamy didn’t include the word equality because it was controversial at a time when women, Black people, and Native Americans didn’t have the right to vote.

One of the reasons why I began to question what I was learning in school was the environment at that time. While I was pledging allegiance, the United States government was carrying out a holocaust in Southeast Asia that would cost the lives of millions.

Just before my first year of high school in Newark, New Jersey, the National Guard was mobilized and went to war against the people of the city. The National Guard murdered over twenty people including several children.

Black people had justifiable grievances against the institutionalized racism of this country. These grievances came to a head with the systematic police abuse of the Black community. Hundreds of cities across the United States joined with the residents of Newark protesting these inhumane conditions.  

The teachers of Newark went on perhaps the longest teachers strike in U.S. history.

While all of this was going on, I took notice of the gross inequality in this country. Most of the students in the high school I attended were Black. The school was located in close proximity to the crowded housing projects. The school itself was run down and there was no full sized gymnasium for over 700 students.

Within a half hour drive of this school, there were other publicly funded schools that had swimming pools, tennis courts, and every convenience one could think of. There were also private schools that today cost close to $40,000 per student per year to attend.

I began to realize that this gross inequality did not happen because of a lack of sensitivity, or because of mistakes in policy. No, this inequality is a fact of life because there is something profoundly wrong with the political economic system of the United States.

Years after my time in school I read a book by James Loewen titled, Lies My Teacher Told Me. This book documented the fact that the history books I was required to study were filled with outright falsifications. Loewen argued that this is one reason why students are alienated from school.

The falsifications those history books promoted argued that the United States has a glorious history. This history was interrupted with a few problems that had been magnanimously corrected a long time ago. These falsifications are necessary in order to convince students that the government as well as corporations are worthy of their support.

The actual history of the United States is a bit different. This history includes: genocide against the Native Americans, the horrors of chattel slavery, the inhumanity of the factory system that included child labor, and the fact that women didn’t have basic human rights for most of U.S. history. The source of change in this country didn’t come from the government, but from those who organized to protest against government policy.

Working for a living

When someone leaves school and enters the workforce, that person continues their real education. On the one hand, the individuals now have money that can used as they choose. On the other hand, there is a new kind of regimentation that the worker learns she or he has no control over.

Sooner or later the worker learns that there are real problems on the job that are very difficult to rectify. While the Constitution says there is freedom of speech, workers understand that they can be fired if they attempt to organize a union.

Then, we learn that we need to plan for our retirement, our health care, as well as the education for our children. While every worker produces vast quantities of wealth, most of this wealth isn’t used for our benefit. Why do I say this?

Today, corporations as well as the government argue that cutbacks in all or most social services are necessary. However, the Apple corporation acknowledges that profits on their cell phones are about 40% to 50%. If this is the typical markup on commodities, why are prices so high?

The capitalist system gives us visual aids in answering this question. The largest cities in this country have numerous skyscrapers that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. In order to work in these skyscrapers, one must wear expensive clothes and men almost always wear ties.

Many of the enterprises housed in these buildings are: insurance companies, banks, advertising agencies, corporate headquarters, as well as corporate law firms. Now, we might think about the goods and services working people need and want. These include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, health care, education, as well as exposure to culture like music, theater, sports etc.  .  .

You might notice that the enterprises housed in those skyscrapers contribute nothing to the value of the commodities we need and want. However, when we pay for any commodity, we need to pay for all the services housed in these skyscrapers. This is one reason why prices are so high.

Another reason is that less than one percent of the population owns and controls half of the financial wealth in the United States. Again we see how this small minority takes a cut out of the sales of all commodities.

So, when workers ask ourselves: Why there is such a profound disparity in the standard of living in this country? The answer is that this is the basic nature of the capitalist system.

Other features of capitalism

When we speak of the unnecessary institution of advertising, we might mention the street named Madison Avenue in New York City. This is the center of an enterprise that uses about $200 billion every year.

One of the primary tasks of advertising is to make women feel insecure about their appearance. The image advertising agencies promote is the nineteen-year old runway model. Their goal is to convince women to purchase billions of dollars worth of clothes and jewelry to conform to this impossible image advertisers promote.

Another issue concerning women is abortion. The primary issue about abortion is whether or not women should have the right to decide if and when they will become mothers. In the United States there are powerful forces dedicated to taking away this right of women to control their own bodies.

While the government argues that discrimination is against the law, Blacks, Latinos, and women experience systematic discrimination. Anyone who lives in the U.S. has a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the world.

Trump and Obama

Today, much of the media in this country is critical of President Donald Trump. They argue that he is unfit to be President and that he has been dishonest.

One of those critics is former President Barack Obama who implies that Trump disdains facts. Well, there are a few facts that Obama isn’t too fond of.

Obama argued that he improved health care in this country with his Obama-care. The Department of Agriculture argues that about one out of every six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat. Clearly, not having enough food to eat is harmful to one’s health.

Immigrant workers are indispensable to the economy of this country. Without these workers entire enterprises would shut down. Yet Obama deported more immigrants than any other President.

Many of these immigrants have children who were born in this country. When they are deported, the children are sent into foster care and might never see their parents again. Yet Obama says he is critical of people who disdain facts.

When we look at the true history of the United States, we also see a history of struggle. Unions carried out momentous battles for decades to improve the standard of living. Black people mobilized to do away with Jim Crow segregation, so they would have citizenship rights in this country. Women also mobilized so they could have the right to vote, as well as the right to decide if and when they would become mothers.

Corporations are not in business to improve the standard of living of workers. No, corporate executives are obsessed with cutting costs.

So, when working people mobilized so we might have better lives, corporations responded. They invested massive amounts of money into nations where the prevailing wages are two dollars per day. As a result entire industries shut down, and there was a tremendous growth in the Chinese economy.

One of the reasons why the United States government doesn’t like Cuba is because that government uses its resources to support the interests of the people. Corporations would prefer that the wealth of Cuba be used to enrich the affluent as it did before the revolution.

The experiences of the rest of the world

During our time in Cuba we learned from Brigade members of problems in other parts of the world. Thinking about these problems, we all developed a greater appreciation for Cuba.

Latin America: We learned from Brigade members that the nations of Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina all experienced a similar development. These nations experienced economic upturns. The governments of those countries made modest concessions to workers during those years. Then, the economies went down and now the new governments of those countries are demanding cutbacks from the workers.

We met several Brigade members living in Chile who had been forced to leave the country because of the U.S. supported military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. They received asylum from several nations and lived outside Chile for over ten years.

Africa: We met people from Zambia and Ghana. The people from those countries were looking for ways to develop their countries. Africa has been one of the most mercilessly exploited continents in the world.

Cuba sent it’s armed forces to Angola to defend that nation from an invasion supported by the former apartheid regime of South Africa.

The developed nations of Asia and Europe: There were members of the Brigade from South Korea, Japan, The United Kingdom, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland. We discovered how workers in these countries are experiencing the same kinds of cutbacks as in the United States.

South Korean and Japanese workers have been protesting the fact that there are U.S. armed forces occupying parts of their countries. The U.S. also occupies a section of Cuba at the Guantanamo Naval Base. Our entire Brigade was united in demanding that the United States return their military base in Guantanamo to Cuba.

Turkey & Kurdistan: We learned from a Brigade member that many political activists are now serving time in prison because of the repressive policies of a dictatorial government. Most Kurdish people live in Turkey and they have been experiencing horrendous discrimination for centuries.

Haiti: Haiti is the closest neighbor to Cuba. The extreme poverty of the country as well as natural disasters have had devastating consequences. Former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton and the President of Haiti supervised how the relief money would be spent. About thirteen billion dollars was raised for earthquake relief. According to a member of the Brigade, this money did little, if anything, to improve the lives of the Haitian people.

On the other hand, Cuba has been sending doctors to Haiti for over ten years. These doctors clearly improved health care in that country. Cuba has also trained over five-hundred Haitians to become doctors. This was done free of charge.       

How is Cuba different?



During our first days in Cuba, Brigade members carried out agricultural tasks on farms. We went to our work locations on the back of a truck, and we used a ladder to climb in.

While this was basic work, we were under no compulsion to work faster or face the threat of termination. No, the Cubans told us of all the work we did and were appreciative of our efforts.

The rooms we stayed in were primitive compared to living conditions in the developed nations of the world. I shared a room with seven other Brigade members and most had similar accommodations.

So the immediate question is: What is so special about Cuba given that our living quarters clearly were not of the standards of the United States?

In order to answer this question, we need to look at facts that the capitalist media rarely considers. Today, about half of the world lives on two dollars per day or less. About one billion people in the world do not have direct access to electricity or running water. According to the United Nations, every day about 30,000 children die of preventable diseases.

These were the kinds of conditions most Cubans experienced before the revolution. What we all experienced in Cuba reflected a dramatic improvement over the extreme poverty and ignorance experienced by the Cuban people before the revolution.

We might also reflect on some of the things we didn’t encounter in our time in Cuba. There were no skyscrapers that housed banks, or insurance companies, or advertising agencies, or corporate law firms.

Yes, corporations are in Cuba invested in things like tourism and nickel mining. However, those corporations are strictly regulated by the government.

What does all this mean for the Cuban people? Today infant mortality in Cuba is lower than in the United States. Life expectancy is about the same in Cuba as the United States. The percentage of people who have AIDS in Cuba is significantly lower than in the United States. No Cuban has to worry about how they will pay astronomical medical bills because health care is a right for everyone on the island.

When thinking about these facts, we might also consider that Cuba spends significantly less on health care as the United States. Cuba has a population that is 100% Latino and about 40% Black. These communities in the United States have the least access to health care, yet in Cuba the facts show that these same communities have better standards of health.

We see a dramatic difference in Cuban health care when it comes to dentistry. About one-third of the U.S. population doesn’t have dental insurance. So, by the age of retirement, about twenty percent of the population have no teeth in their mouths. Yet, cosmetic dentistry for the affluent is booming. In Cuba everyone has the right to a lifetime of dental care.  

Because of the economic blockade against Cuba by the U.S. government, Cuba lacks in many medical supplies that would help save Cuban lives. However, when we look at the overall standard of health in Cuba, there is one inescapable conclusion. Cuba overall, has a better health care system than the United States.  



I began to see the difference in values of Cubans to the values in the United States in a discussion I had with Cuban baseball players. We visited the home of a former Cuban baseball player. He made his home into a museum documenting the history of Cuban baseball.

Investors liked what he had done and offered this person a considerable amount of money to sell his home. When he refused this offer, he was offered another considerable amount of money to rent out his home to be used as a museum. This person refused that offer as well because he wanted control over how his home was used.

This large amount of money might have made the life of the former baseball player a bit easier. However, this person argued that his family never went without food and their needs were taken care of. This person now works with children with disabilities to teach them the game of baseball.



The highpoint of our time in Cuba was the May Day event. We had the opportunity of seeing over one million people marching in the Square of the Revolution giving their enthusiastic support to the government.

Unlike in the United States, the Cuban people learn the truth about their history. They learned that they were once a nation of abject poverty and ignorance. They learned that before the revolution the only so-called job open to many women was prostitution. They learned that all of this happened so a small percentage of Cubans and the affluent from the United States could benefit. They learned that the present government is dedicated to making sure that Cuba will never live that reality again.

We visited a medical college in Cienfuegos. There the director of the college told us how the Cuban people are proud of the fact that they have trained thousands of doctors from all over the world.

After his talk we listened to a musical performance by about sixteen children aged five to about sixteen. They sang the famous song, We Are The World. Listening to those children give their outstanding performance was another high point of our time in Cuba. The words to that song, sung by those confident children, gave us the impression that yes, a better world is possible. 

We listened to many different talks about the Cuban reality concerning the relations with the United States, the Cuban economy, how Cuban women are advancing, and how Cuba organized to teach everyone on the island to read. We were all impressed by the professionalism of all these talks. We were also impressed by the honesty of what we were listening to. In the capitalist world, all ideas promoted by those who have power are tinged with the reality that the super-rich will get their cut of the action.

We viewed a film titled Behavior. This film exposed some of the real problems Cuban people have today. The story was about a troubled student who’s mother was addicted to drugs. The school this child attended was divided about the idea of expelling the student, or in aiding the student to deal with his problems. During the course of the film, some of the problems of this student had been resolved. However, at the end of the film we don’t know the ultimate result of the story.

We might ask ourselves how many films we have seen where there are good and bad characters? How many of these films even attempt to look at the reasons why the so-called bad characters became anti-social? Typically, these films end with the good characters winning. Isn’t all of this a bit silly? Doesn’t the film Behavior reflect a more realistic portrayal of reality?

I came to Cuba to learn about their reality and came away with a lot more than what I expected. With all the seeming political madness we see in the United States, I found a nation where the people and the government make rational decisions about their future.

There is a saying in the United States, “Open the door and let us in.” The late singer, song writer, and dancer James Brown had another version to this saying. He said, “Open the door and we will walk through ourselves.”


The Cuban revolution opened the door for the Cuban people so they could walk through and begin to transform their lives. I learned that it is possible for people all over the world to also force the door open, so we can walk through and make this a world where human needs are more important than profits.