Re: (OPE-L) Reports on the Marx conference in Havana

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Fri May 16 2003 - 00:12:01 EDT

On Tue, 13 May 2003, gerald_a_levy wrote:

> It seems that there was an unexpected participant at the Marx
> conference in Havana.  Patrick Bond gave the following report to
> the "debate" list:
> Is there anything that the listmembers who attended the conference
> (Samir,  Paul Burkett,  Allin,  Diego, Claudio, Mike L,  Stavros, Terry,
> Fred, and Alejandro V.) can add -- or take issue with?  Any other
> unexpected  and/or encouraging developments? Did  any of you have an
> opportunity to talk to the unexpected participant?

This is a few comments about Fidel's participation in the Marx conference
in Cuba, in response to Jerry's question.  He attended all of one day - a
very long day, 11 hours in all I think - and half of another day - another
5 hours or so.  And he talked for about 6 hours altogether, in four long
(very long) monologues.

It was of course an extraordinary experience to spend so much time
listening to such a world historical figure as Castro.  There were many
fascinating stories and antidotes about the revolutionary movement in the
1950s, about trying to run the economy for the last 40 years (including
purchases of everything from buses to chickens to toilets), about Chavez
(very positive) and other heads of state (mostly negative), etc.  He is
passionately proud of the educational accomplishments of the Cuban
revolution, and also the health care accomplishments.  He seemed at times
to be almost reminiscing about the past and recording his memoirs.  He is
still plenty sharp at 76, but his stream of consciousness monologues
seemed to wander at times.

He said he read Marx as a student and it had a profound effect on him ("I
learned about society from Marx, about the state from Lenin, and about
ethics from Marti").  He also said that he was a communist from early on,
contrary to the widespread belief that he "converted" to communism only
after the revolution.

However, by the end, it was almost too much.  He completely dominated the
conference and changed its nature.  It became "Fidel's show", rather than
a conference of interchange and discussion of international scholars.  The
former is probably more important and interesting than the latter, but it
seemed out of proportion.  Because Fidel took so much time, the conference
lasted 4 hours longer than scheduled his first day and 2 hours longer his
second day, and one session had to be canceled altogether.

I guess what worries me about this is that, if he is so dominant at a
scholarly conference, he would probably be even more dominant in policy
discussions, when it really mattered.   Fidel is obviously a great man and
a great socialist.  Learning more about the Cuban revolutionary movement
in the 1950s and the accomplishments since then made me realize even more
how extraordinary he is.  But I think he may have too much power to
himself, and he appears reluctant to let go of that power.

Almost everyone I met in Cuba seems to genuinely admire Fidel - even a
reactionary, racist taxi driver who drove us from the airport the first
night.  "Fidel loves Cuba," he said, "he has done a lot for Cuba."  Some
may disagree with his policies, or be tired of his long speeches, but they
all know and appreciate how much he has done for Cuba.  But I think many
are also hoping that he will retire soon, and let others assume more
decision-making power, including the general population.  However, this is
obviously a dangerous time for Cuba, and that makes it more difficult and
less likely that Fidel would give up the reins anytime soon.

I am trying to find the time to write down what I learned about Cuba -
and my further questions - and will send these to the list when I am


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