Editor’s note: This article by Paul Sweeney was published in our third edition of Critical Mass almost exactly a year ago. Unfortunately, so much of it is still true today and, at times, the propaganda feels more insidious than ever. And of course it is still the case that capitalism not only does not work for ordinary people, it puts us at a huge disadvantage and leads to a shameful degree of suffering.
We all know the power of propaganda in our western world of supposed freedom. It really means a rubber stamp for those with the cards loaded in their favour to hoard wealth and have others accept it as something to be respected for. It’s a society that has massive differences in the quality of life.
We are all told that we have that wonderful freedom to rise above the norm and live the dream of owning a huge estate, property abroad, a fleet of luxury cars, and then to be adored by those around you, to be a person of talent, with a marvellous head for business, to be looked up to. Our society is one with as few state restrictions as possible to interfere with you getting more than your fair share. Is that freedom?
TRASHING THE ALTERNATIVES
The revolutionary struggle of people throughout the world to look for fairer ways to live in a more equal society has gathered pace inspired by the work of Karl Marx. In 1917 the Russian Revolution changed the world as we knew it.
Immediately the propaganda started. With one aim: to stop working people considering such action. The establishment were deep rooted and the status quo was to be maintained no matter what.
The established order had a taste of something similar with the French revolution in 1789, and, by 1799, with the forming of the French consulate, England was seriously worried about the spread of such ideas. But the Russian Revolution was far more serious. The Russian Revolution was inspired by Marxism, a new way forward. It was an inspiration to others, China 1949 and Cuba, right on America’s doorstep, in 1959.
We hear these places described as communist dictatorships, secret police, suppression of human rights etc. something to be afraid of, an evil society of lost souls. Such descriptions are never used against even the most right wing military dictatorships as they are not a threat to capitalism.
This propaganda war is permanent: “the evil of communism”, “the freedom and bright lights of capitalism”. We often hear, “It sounds great in theory but it doesn’t work”. So while there is some truth that socialism really does need to be a worldwide situation, particularly now with climate change, are there really no socialist examples of a better society? What constitutes a better society?
THE BAROMETER OF A FAIR SOCIETY
Knockers of all socialistic alternative societies would suggest it is individual freedom, fewer restrictions from the nanny state, the ability to consume whatever you want. For the few able to afford everything they desire of course that would be nirvana. But, what about the masses? What do working people really want from a fair society? For most it is likely to be just the basics in life: healthcare, shelter, education and employment at a job they could be proud of doing.
So, let’s take these and look at who can provide them best for the whole of society. Firstly, we know that providing shelter and healthcare for all uses much labour. Most countries have plenty of this, and even poor countries, once understanding how wealth is really created, can begin making big changes. So let’s take a couple of contenders to fight for the best creator of healthcare and shelter for their people.
In the blue corner who else but the richest country in the world, the shining example of capitalism, the good ol’ US of A and in the red (of course) corner, a very near neighbour, little Cuba, struggling under sanctions put on them by their rival, just for rejecting capitalism.
They are the perfect two contenders given that pre-revolution Cuba was run by American multinationals and gangster owned casinos, who had literally bought the Batista government. It was this corruption that led to the success of the uprising and the start of a new way of living for the people of Cuba. For this insolence in 1961 America hatched plans to invade Cuba using Cuban exiles but were thrown back into the sea at the Bay of Pigs. America had already put an embargo and sanctions on Cuba aimed to starve them to submission, which are still in place today. So how would it work out 50 years on?
In the US, healthcare is provided through a mix of private insurance and public health coverage. There is no universal healthcare, the majority are required to take out health insurance, and of course that allows private companies to make a profit on the deal. But that is capitalism’s life blood. The government relies on employers to provide health insurance coverage to their employees and dependents and the coverage differs markedly. This system leaves millions without cover. These people receive fewer, less co-ordinated services through public clinics and hospitals, and sometimes rely on charity services. As for housing projects and subsidised rental assistance programmes, they have a complicated and often notorious history and have become the housing of last resort, leading to concentrated poverty and very high figures of homelessness. Nearly 1 in every 106 New Yorkers is homeless and upwards of 4000 sleep on the subway system each night. We all remember the 2 by 3 yard oblong boxes drawn on a Los Angeles car park to give the homeless social distancing, with the richest country in the world unable or unwilling to provide beds.
In Cuba health care is universal and considered a human right. When coming to power the Castro regime overhauled the ‘for profit’ health system. A total commitment to a full and free service was born. As for housing , it receives a very high priority. Early in the 1960s legislation was passed to provide security of tenure. Today many own their homes outright or pay only around 10% of their income, more like hire purchase than mortgage. It is illegal to buy and sell housing for profit, but they can exchange with others. In the sixties a massive building programme began with microbrigades of workers given leave from their usual occupation, so they were able to contribute. The result is a figure for homelessness of nil, yes nil, and all achieved while under strict sanctions. Cuba does not get any of the aid that is available to other countries.
So today what do the figures tell us about the achievements of these two countries to provide healthcare and housing for their people?
LIFE expectancy:- Cuba 72.5 USA 71.9 Infant mortality:- Cuba 4 in 1000, USA 5.9. This equates to an official statistic that an American infant is nearly 50% more likely to die than a Cuban infant.
Malnutrition incidence amount in Cuba 1 to 15 year olds is 0.7% compared with 5% for America, an astonishing comparison. All research taken on the comparisons come to the same conclusion, this is not a win on points but a total knock out.
Comparing these two countries figures is interesting enough in itself but bear in mind that, but for the socialist revolution, Cuban figures today would be similar to Puerto Rico’s, which is a territory of the USA, and those figures are disastrous.
One thing we can say for sure is that the system that doesn’t work for ordinary people is capitalism. Once the masses are mobilised, anything can be achieved. The example of Cuba may not be the brand of socialism that suits every country but the basic idea is sound. One can envisage a world federation of socialist states working in harmony and cooperation. Is it a dream? I hope not; our planet may depend upon it.
So, if one day you are enjoying a pint or doing a spot of shopping and overhear that oft uttered cliche “it sounds alright in theory but…”, just give them a wistful glance, and ponder on
The one thing capitalism can sure do well is propaganda!