Thursday 30th June was the start of the annual 5-day Marxism event, organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), which I attended for the first time.
Having signed up for membership of the SWP in early March of this year, I was convinced by many friendly and enthusiastic fellow members that ‘this year would be the biggest and best ever and not to be missed!’. It certainly was the largest attended in over a decade (approximately 4,500 people according to the SWP) but I for one was left underwhelmed.
I arrived at the Friends House venue in Euston, London for a talk entitled ‘Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution’. The listed speaker was Dave Sewell, billed as a Latin America expert. He spoke for 20 minutes with wave after wave of negative connotation and shallow rhetoric.
A few remarks that stuck were: ‘Che suffered with asthma from an early age’, ‘Granma landing...an abject failure, poorly prepared & executed’ and my favourite, ‘Cuba, was no more than a sugar plantation...who’s type of revolution conducted by a few guerrillas in the mountains, hardly made any noticeable difference on the world stage’. I kid you not!
Following this historical assassination, the floor was opened to questions and contributions. Each person was given a limit of 3 minutes, within a total of 20-25 mins for contributions. To correct so much of what was so wrong in so short a space of time required a Herculean effort.
Thankfully a few of members of the audience were from the group Rock Around the Blockade and were able to pursue a vigorous line of redress when called upon and, when not called, a bit of required heckling. Seasoned SWP members also took the microphone to reply. If only there had been a critical view instead of simply the critic’s view (very different in my opinion) that seems to be held in perfect unison by members of the SWP.
Regrettably, in this case, the format of the session allowed the tabled speaker to come back and address the questions and comments with even more turgidity for a further 10mins. He went on to link his seemingly pointless reference to Che’s asthma with a description of him as a vulnerable ‘romantic revolutionary’ who died unnecessarily, abandoned and as an emaciated figure for the world to see, “a tragic waste”.
I have to admit I can be a bit naive at times as I had actually been looking forward to the session on a subject I’ve been personally studying for the last couple of months. I was more than disappointed, frustrated and angry. So much that could have been said wasn’t, and there was definitely a discernible bias. Too much energy seemed to be invested in portraying the Cuban revolution, along with the outstanding figures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in a purely negative way, and I ask why?
A nod to the prescience of said members of RATB who were handing out leaflets headed ‘Socialist Cuba: The Facts’, which also asks, ‘The poor and oppressed of the world support Cuba, why doesn’t the SWP?’ It also lays out the first two inaccuracies of the slant in the session being:
• The working class played no role in the revolution and have hardly benefited from it.
• Che Guevara knew nothing about Marxism and left Cuba because Fidel kicked him out.
These claims were indeed made during the talk session and are easily swatted aside with any basic level of reading.
My main reason for being angry is that I feel guilty I didn’t take the microphone and make the plea to everyone in that room to do the research for themselves! There are plenty of films and books that provide the facts and required critical analysis. A fair few people in that audience will I’m sure, have only that particular afternoon session as their most informed and detailed insight into arguably the modern world’s most impressive revolutionary process. What a shame!
Cuba makes no claim to be perfect and nor should anyone, but surely they can offer us hope if we look with clear sight.
‘On Jan 1st 1959, with a firm base of workers & peasants, we began to storm the heavens.’ - Raul Castro (1961)
‘The working people of Cuba have resisted & continue to resist. By doing so we have given an example to the world that revolution is possible, that working people can struggle & win.’ - Luis Alfonso Zayas (a soldier of the Cuban revolution).
Trying to close with a positive, I realized the SWP as a political entity is not for me and I cancelled my monthly subscription.