Cuban Links: No Tolerance For Disorganizing Chauvinism

Cuban Links: No Tolerance For Disorganizing Chauvinism

Late last year, the International Committee organized a DSA delegation to Cuba consisting of members of our national leadership and rank-and-file DSA members. The delegation to Cuba came in the context of a particularly harsh period of repression by the United States. Cuba was placed back on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list by Donald Trump, amongst hundreds of additional sanctions. Joe Biden has decided, twice now, to retain the designation for Cuba. These additional sanctions have had a brutal impact on Cuba. People are suffering more than ever from US meddling on the island. The Cuban government has openly acknowledged that additional US sanctions are causing a new migrant wave and recently was forced to ask the United Nations for nutritional assistance. DSA’s delegation to Cuba was envisioned by the DSA International Committee as US socialists consciously rejecting our government’s imperial moves against the Cuban revolution.

This delegation represented a positive development for DSA’s internationalist work, opening up delegations to membership and allowing more broad participation in DSA’s diplomacy. However, this new development means a new set of questions for DSA to struggle through.

The International Committee presented a noticeable lack of infrastructure to the delegation outside of planning the trip itself. Few requirements or expectations were placed on delegates while on the trip. Multiple delegates chose to skip out on parts of the programming, including declining to meet with the president of Cuba, who held a frank conversation with the delegates who did attend for more than two hours. This sort of disrespectful behavior toward our hosts could have been curbed by setting expectations for the trip ahead of time.

After returning from the trip, the only follow-up the International Committee facilitated was one sparsely-attended presentation in which most delegates were allowed only a short reportback. Beyond this, delegates were not organized into presenting DSA or the broader community with any trip summary, political perspective, or call to action. The International Committee did not create a way to frame the trip to DSA or educate the membership on what delegates had learned, nor a way to roll the momentum over into any further action that could engage broader membership in our ongoing international solidarity efforts.

This left an unfortunate void in public and internal discussion of the trip, a void that was not subsequently filled by a synthesized discussion representing DSA’s democratically decided-upon internationalist positions. Instead, it was filled by loud minority voices espousing opinions for regime reform – a posture that has not only been consistently voted down across multiple national conventions but also actively contradicts and harms the anti-imperialist work our organization is engaged in. This disorganizing behavior runs contrary to the goals of the trip, which was to defend Cuba against U.S. imperialism, not to advocate for reforms in the Cuban regime.

Throughout the trip, members of the delegation from the Reform & Revolution Caucus (R&R) and the Socialist Majority Caucus (SMC) criticized the Cuban government both to our Cuban hosts and other DSA members, and skipped out on multiple delegation events. Most shamefully, both Maria (representing R&R) and Renée (representing SMC, and a member of the current NPC) skipped out on meeting with President Díaz-Canel, who spent more than 2 hours in a frank discussion specifically addressing the critiques these very same DSA members brought up to their Cuban hosts earlier on the trip. This means that the Cuban hosts were listening thoughtfully to the critiques and relayed them back to the President. That our Cuban comrades would care this deeply and thoroughly about our critiques is a sign that they honor us as equals and truly want to make ties with U.S. socialists, as relatively powerless as we are.

Maria in particular met with anti-government opposition groups while on delegation, which when taken together with the fact of her skipping the meeting with the comrade President suggests a goal of undermining the Cuban socialist state, not defending it against U.S. imperialism. Furthermore, R&R declined to follow what few guidelines the International Committee offered around discussion of the trip after returning. Delegates were instructed to keep news of the conversation with President Díaz-Canel private until an official reportback; R&R decided instead to discuss this at their caucus panel, pre-empting the official reportback.

This behavior from the R&R and SMC delegates is anti-democratic, disorganizing, and chauvinistic. For a resident of the imperial core to go to a socialist state that has survived a U.S. blockade for multiple generations and critique its achievements as incomplete is the height of chauvinism. To reject the democratically-decided purpose of the delegation – which was to support Cuba against the U.S. blockade – and instead insert their individual political goals of making connections with opposition groups and advocate for Cuban government reform is anti-democratic. If the delegates from R&R and SMC wanted to make connections with government opposition groups and advocate for liberalization they should have applied to other delegations instead of the socialist one. Or they could have stayed at home; many other applicants who were aligned with the delegation's goals were not able to attend due to limited seats on the delegation. Finally, to speak publicly out of turn and undermine the message of the delegation is disorganizing. We sent a delegation to Cuba for a simple purpose, and the debate when the delegation came back centered on whether Cuba needed reform or liberalization, which in no way helps educate the general public on the damage that the U.S. blockade has done to Cuba or why they should oppose it.

Members selected for international delegations represent more than themselves on their trip, and their public speech about their experiences also reflects upon the delegation as a whole and the organization it represents. Members of this delegation were selected as leaders of DSA to represent our organization. When we speak of discipline for Socialists in Office, we expect members of DSA elected to public office to uphold the principles of the organization, selected as they are to represent DSA and its interests to the public of the United States. Likewise, we should expect members selected to represent DSA to international audiences to uphold the will of DSA’s democracy similarly.

These shortcomings are all symptoms of underdevelopment in DSA’s diplomatic work, stemming from a lack of structure, standards, and norms about how members should conduct themselves when representing the organization to foreign parties and governments, especially those much more developed in their practice of socialism than us.

In an effort to have a generative political conflict out of this situation, and to encourage positive change in how we engage in member-driven diplomatic work, we propose the following guidelines for structuring delegations and the work that follows them in the future as a way to maximize these principles and ensure that our delegations are beneficial for delegates and DSA alike.

First, the IC should set up an all-delegation panel shortly after the trip. This will provide members the opportunity to learn about the trip from a variety of perspectives, directly from delegates’ experiences. The Cuba delegation did arrange a delegate panel; the IC should continue this practice and institutionalize it as part of all delegations, as well as widely publicize the panel as a way for DSA members to learn about the trip and the country in question.

Second, the delegation should be responsible for jointly writing an official reportback synthesizing the experience. This reportback should have input from all delegation members and adhere to DSA’s democratically decided-upon internationalist principles. It should then be published in the Democratic Left magazine for distribution to membership.

Third, delegates should commit to attending all events scheduled by the delegation’s hosts to the best of their abilities. This is a baseline for respectful engagement as delegates representing DSA to our international allies.

Finally, delegates should commit to avoiding public commentary on the trip until after the panel is concluded and the reportback is published. When the internal and public conversation about the delegation is initially set, it should be set collectively by the delegation in accordance with DSA’s official positions. While individual delegates may add their voices on top of this, the position of DSA as a whole will always be clear. In this way we can retain the big ideological tent while still ensuring that the loudest voices are not prioritized over the majority’s will – a democratic principle we believe will help DSA achieve its goals as a mass political party.

The discourse around DSA’s delegation and our relationship with the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) ultimately distracts us from the central duty of socialists who live inside the belly of the US imperial beast: to dismantle the embargo imposed on the Cuban people for pursuing a socialist anti-colonial revolution. The US seeks to shatter the Cuban Revolution because it serves as a bulwark against Washington’s Monroe Doctrine by supporting anti-imperialist movements across the Western Hemisphere and the rest of the globe. Any critical assessment of Cuba and the PCC must be understood in this geopolitical context and cannot be engaged independently of it.

While one of the richest countries in the world exports arms to fascists to commit genocides, Cuba sends tens of thousands of doctors to provide medical care to some of the poorest and most marginalized peoples on the planet. When the US supported white supremacist governments in southern Africa during the Cold War, the PCC sent Cuban troops to defeat Apartheid South Africa’s invasion of Angola. Whereas the US financed right-wing military coups that toppled democratically-elected governments from Guatemala to Argentina and massacred their supporters, Cuba stood in solidarity with progressive movements that sought to build just and equitable societies, such as the Allende government in Chile and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

It is also in this context that we must celebrate and learn from Cuba’s achievements in human development, which easily outshines the contemporary accomplishments of the US Left. When Fidel Castro and his fellow militants sailed aboard Granma in 1956 to ignite a revolution, Cuba was ruled as a colonial fiefdom by a racist ruling class descended from slave owners and treated as a playground by US-based organized crime outfits. Half a century later, and despite the punishing effects of the embargo, the PCC has built a society independent from foreign rule that guarantees the rights to universal healthcare and literacy. The Cuban revolution has been so successful that, despite being under US embargo for generations, it has independently invented vaccines for COVID-19 and treatments for lung cancer. The US, however, continues to run a torture camp on Cuban soil at Guantanamo Bay against the will of the Cuban people.

Furthermore, US policies have killed over a million of its own people from COVID-19 alone while de facto segregation continues to largely determine one’s educational and economic prospects in a violently stratified society. As its neoliberal capitalist model continues to face a legitimacy crisis, the US electorate is presented with the option to vote for either Biden, who is responsible for the holocaust in Gaza, or Trump, who promises to further roll back human rights that are already being eroded under a Democratic administration. By contrast, Cuba has some of the most progressive LGBTQ and reproductive rights and one of the most pro-Palestine governments in the Western Hemisphere. In an era when fascist movements are gaining momentum in the Western world again, Cuba remains a bastion of the international socialist cause in the global south. 

The right to shape the future of the Cuban Revolution belongs to the Cuban people and the PCC, and to them alone. Our foremost priority as US socialists, as organizers, is to materially intervene against our government’s imperialist aggression by dismantling the embargo. Combatting the US imperial machine is necessary so that Cuba can determine its own sovereign destiny in solidarity with peoples around the world resisting Western colonialism. DSA must continue to prioritize our duty of conducting anti-imperialist resistance from inside the heart of the empire as long as the blockade is sustained and the US continues to point its gun against popular revolutions in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The historical moment we find ourselves in demands it, and we can either match the gravity of the task that lies before us or fall short — with grave consequences for our comrades fighting on the front lines of the global anti-colonial struggle.

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