Cuban Communism: social justice, equality and real human rights

Robin Talbot, Chair of the YCL

Robin Talbot discusses the successes of the Cuban Revolution in advancing human rights and equality, and what lessons we can learn.

According to EcuRed, the Cuban Online Encyclopaedia:

“The fundamental objectives of the Communist Party of Cuba are to consolidate a new morality in Cuban society, based on the ideology of the Revolution, solidarity, equality and social justice, mutual trust, conscious discipline, modesty, honour, critical and self-critical spirit, and the security of the socialist future.

Consequently, the Party struggles resolutely against exploitation of man by man, individualism, the survival of racial and other discriminatory prejudices of any kind, cynicism, the lack of faith in Socialism, defeatism, opportunism, fakeness and double standards, indiscipline, corruption and all kinds of delinquent and antisocial behaviour.

The Party’s ideological work is based on the Marxist-Leninist theory, the teachings of Jose Marti, and in the traditions of the people’s struggles, their historical experience and that of other peoples and nations.”

Women’s rights in Cuba

According to the Marxist-Leninist conception of the Communist Party, the role of the Communist Party is to be the vanguard of the working class and the people’s interests. This means that not only should it place itself where the working people’s immediate interests are, but that it should also aim to elevate those interests, move those interests forwards, and achieve Socialism. Which we know according to the Marxist understanding of society, to be the next stage in human development and the correct way to protect and advance the working people’s interests and place them at the helm of society, doing away with the capitalist class that exploits them.

One of the interesting things about the Communist Party of Cuba’s role is how it has championed women’s rights.

It is not only the Party, but also its members, who have been active in all types of struggles during the Revolution and later in the building of Socialism, who have made this possible.

Whereas the United Nations has noted that 1/5 women and girls have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners in the last 12 months, 49 countries do not have laws against these forms of abuse, and the difference in salary between men and women remains globally at 23%, the situation is very different in Cuba – although as Cuban women will also note, work remains to be done.

Women occupy over 53% of seats in the National Assembly and constitute over 48% of the Council of State. Women make up 60.5% of graduates and over 67% of technical and professional workers.

They also make up the most significant proportion of workers in almost every sector, from the civil service, education and science, to the legal and health sectors.

This has nothing to do with quotas, but everything to do with Cuban women’s exercising of their rights and struggle, unconditionally supported by the Government.

Both laws and strategy emanating from the State, in addition to grassroots work – the most important mass organisation [1] of which is the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), which according to data from 2010, has more than 4 million members, constituted in 13,539 groups and 79,828 delegations throughout the island – have guaranteed the equality of rights, opportunities and possibilities to men and women, changed and improved their role in society and the family, and eliminated traditional sexual stereotypes.

This continues to be the focus of Cuba today. In 2015, Raul Castro noted that “we are still working to change cultural norms … so that men and women share the care of the family, and so that more women are in decision-making positions in Government, to give a few examples.”

These advances were not arrived at by magic, however. They took hard work and mobilisation of the people to fight for their interests, against a Cuba that had before the Revolution of 1959 been backwards, impoverished, shackled to U.S. neo-colonialism and without real human rights for women, girls, Black people, or most working people in general.

Why does Cuba have such a strong record on social justice and equality?

By record, we mean practice, informed by the relevant theory.

As noted above, the Cuban CP has several noble aims. Solidarity, equality and social justice, and the struggle against exploitation and discriminatory prejudices of any kind are some of them.

Many of the things that the Cuban CP fights against are called “antisocial” behaviours – in other words, behaviours that are exploitative and destructive towards other human beings, as opposed to constructive, aimed at the elevation and cooperation of the human race.

However, an important point is that the Party’s ideology “is based on Marxism-Leninism, the teachings of Jose Marti, and the historical experiences and tradition of the Cuban people and their struggles.”

Jose Marti is considered the Cuban people’s spiritual and moral father. He was a revolutionary in the wars against Spanish colonial domination of the island in the late 19th century.

His ideas were very important to the Cuban Revolution and remain important in Latin America as a whole, equal to or more so than Bolivar, because although in his time he was a “liberal”, he preached (and practised) beliefs in progressive patriotism, real sovereignty and independence of the nation, and humanism – social justice, mutual decency and human dignity.

He also foresaw the hideous role that U.S. imperialism would take in Latin America upon replacing the Spanish Empire.

One article in Granma, the paper of the Cuban CP, claims that while “the Cuban Revolution is a process, Marti is the language upon which the Cuban Revolution’s culmination is based”.

In other words, the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban working people have inherited the “moral” tradition of struggle from people such as Marti, and the “moral” cause for social justice and equality, and made the culmination of these ideas possible thanks to the uniqueness of the Communist Party and Marxism-Leninism.

Marxism-Leninism being the scientific socialist or Marxist understanding of society and its processes, and the political science of how to achieve change and liberate the working class, and the Communist Party as its vehicle.

In many ways, we can see parallels with the “moral” cause of radicals throughout our history, going back to the Peasant’s Revolt, the Levellers, English Romantics such as William Blake who railed against “dark Satanic mills” of Victorian Britain, and even the struggle for “moral” or “fairer” Socialism that we see in the labour and progressive movements today.

However, what this Socialism has always needed is scientific, Marxist-Leninist understanding and theory to go forwards and achieve.

Socialism is not just moral, it is correct and necessary for the human race to progress and survive.

Why does Cuba have such a strong record on equality for LGBT+ people today?

The struggle for LGBT+ rights in Cuba has gone hand in hand with the struggle for women’s rights. It was seen as a “multidisciplinary” issue that had a lot to do with women’s oppression, men and the education of children.

It was led by the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), who introduced the focus on issues around gender after the Revolution in order to combat the toxic masculinity that was prevalent in Cuban society. They considered this a problem for men, of all sexual orientations, as much as for women.

Consequently, this expanded to issues regarding non-heterosexual orientations and other issues.

Initially, there was a lot of resistance to talking about and working with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity that did not correspond to the “normative” and patriarchal standards of sex and gender relations. Discrimination and injustice towards people who did not fit into the box of these norms and patriarchal relations were not in fact considered to be incidents of discrimination and injustice, as they were with issues of class, race and sex.

Nonetheless, as Dr Mariela Castro notes, the struggle for LGBT+ rights began with the Cuban Revolution in 1959, “one of the principle values of which was social justice and equality”. She argues that “promoting respect for free sexual orientation, sexual diversity and gender identity” is part of the Revolution’s task.

The Cuban Revolution started a process of emancipation for the Cuban people, and opened to questioning the relations between human beings, formerly based on exploitation. Socialists began to articulate new forms of human relations.

Castro is director of CENESEX, the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, which first originated from the FMC in 1972 as the National Sex Education Working Group (GNTES). Attention to gender identity and sexual diversity started institutionally in 1979.

The work of the FMC was essential in opening the door to understanding the realities of homosexual and trans people, and combating prejudices on the basis of what ought to be human rights.

Speaking about her personal interest in LGBT+ issues, Castro notes that she “saw this as an area where not much work had been done in terms of the struggle for social justice, and I brought into this work my understanding of history and the Marxist philosophical perspective, which allowed me to deal with the issue in terms of Cuba’s socialist construction.”

CENESEX does not just address LGBT+ rights, but sexual rights and sexual diversity in Cuba in a “specialised and multidisciplinary” way, focusing on the health, livelihoods and rights of people.

With regards to LGBT+ people, this often means working to ensure that they are able to integrate into society and feel physically and mentally well, equal and visible in their lives.

However, CENESEX also focuses on the prevention and attention to gender violence, sexuality, childbirth and the family, sex education and health, therapy, young people, and sexual and reproductive rights.

In particular, the struggle against persistent masculinist ideologies and sexist stereotypes, and the prevention of teenage pregnancy and STI and HIV transmissions, with the scientific evidence demonstrating that sex education improves everybody’s health and quality of life.

Finally, CENESEX runs cultural, educational and employment workshops and trains activists on issues relating to LGBT+ and sexual rights, viewing these as part of Cuba’s commitment to civil rights and a participative democratic society.

CENESEX facilitates discussion and diagnosis of different people’s needs rather than the imposition of labels, since human sexualities “have many different aspects”, all of which “merit attention, above all in the field of human rights”.

For example, Castro notes that a person who practises transvestitism might be trans, homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual, and might practise it to varying degrees. As such, to some extent, the centre rejects the arbitrary pathologisation or medicalisation of sexuality.

Since 2007, only 39 people have changed their sex in order to fit their gender identity in Cuba, with this procedure being “rigorously evaluated” by the National Commission for Integrated Attention to Transsexuals. The first sex change was, however, performed in 1987.

Those who choose to undergo this process must be over 18 years of age, diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and have spent over a year living as the gender with which they identify. Informing them about the entire process in order to gain their consent is also essential.

Since 2018, the Commission has proven that one of the most important things about the work on LGBT+ rights was the very close link between a person’s quality of life and their social integration, at work or in their studies.

What can these experiences tell Communists about the struggle for LGBT+ rights?

Firstly, this struggle for LGBT+ rights in Cuba is based upon the ideology of the Communist Party, committed to an approach that is humanistic and interested in social justice and equality for each of its citizens, fought for on a scientific and Marxist-Leninist basis.

Logically, this approach extended to work that sought to understand sex and gender, and finally, sexual rights and sexual diversity.

In order to remove the baggage of the past, the human relations under the capitalist system as they were for LGBT+ and other people, Cuba developed means of understanding, discussing and diagnosing these people’s needs.

The pathologisation or medicalisation of LGBT+ issues and gender identity is not perceived to be “the solution”. Rather, the main aim is to ensure that LGBT+ people can live happy and productive lives as fully integrated members of society, comfortable as who they are and respected and treated equally by others.

The other, more generalised aim, which is complementary and by no means less important, is to promote the understanding of sex and gender and relevant issues. Many of these we do not talk about enough in Britain, such as gender violence, toxic masculinity, or porn culture (pornography is illegal in Cuba). The experts in Cuba argued that more understanding of these issues was shown to improve everybody’s lives.

Issues relating to LGBT+ rights or “sexual rights” are closely linked to women’s rights and significant for understanding women’s oppression. For example, the role of the family, toxic masculinity and gender violence, patriarchal relations and “normative” relationships. For this reason, the FMC played a key role.

Whereas the capitalist system has made our experiences of sex and gender oppressive and exploitative, in Cuba, the socialist system and its people, from the Government to the grassroots organisations, are working to undo that damage and defend and extend everyone’s rights to be equal, be treated justly, be free from discrimination and prejudice, and live in dignity.

Robin Talbot

[1] Mass organisations are organisations in specific areas of work that are broader than the Party while also supportive of the Party, such as the Cuban YCL, the Cuban TUC and trade unions, the FMC, the farmer’s union, the pioneers, the students’ unions and the Committees in Defence of the Revolution (CDRs).

You can read more, and find out what Dr Mariela Castro suggests for practical activities in order to promote respect for gender identity and sexual diversity, here: http://www.80grados.net/autodeterminacion-sexual-en-cuba-entrevista-con-mariela-castro-espin/

https://www.ecured.cu/Partido_Comunista_de_Cuba#Objetivos

https://www.ecured.cu/Federaci%C3%B3n_de_Mujeres_Cubanas

https://www.cubahora.cu/politica/ser-mujer-en-cuba-garantia-de-derechos

http://en.granma.cu/cuba/2020-01-20/jose-marti-our-ideal-of-good

http://en.granma.cu/cuba/2020-01-03/marti-is-always-with-us

http://www.trabajadores.cu/20180629/cuba-cuenta-ya-con-cirujanos-capaces-de-adecuar-genitales-a-transexuales/

http://www.trabajadores.cu/20180629/parlamento-cubano-en-busca-de-evidencia-cientifica-para-legislar-sobre-sexualidad/

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