A Marxist analysis of Cuba

The text below consists of major excerpts from a resolution, “Death Agony of World Capitalism and the Crisis of Proletarian Leadership” that was approved by Socialist Action’s national convention in August 1998.The Cuban revolution of 1959 profoundly changed economic and social life on the island. Within two years after the revolution, the capitalist system had been replaced by what we call a “workers state.”

Cuba created a planned economy, with virtually all industry, large commerce, and land holdings removed from private ownership and run for the common welfare instead of for private profit.

In selecting the terms to describe Cuba, we have consistently rejected use of the terms “deformed” or “degenerated” workers state.

There certainly are deformations of workers democracy in Cuba. But in our terminology the term “deformed workers state” is both descriptive and programmatic. It is politically equivalent to the view that the state is controlled by a crystallized bureaucratic caste that must be overthrown by political revolution.

As Joe Hansen put it in his article, “What the Discussion on Cuba Is About,” we qualify the designation of Cuba as a workers state by adding that it is “‘one lacking as yet the forms of democratic proletarian rule,’ meaning that while it is not ‘deformed’ in the sense of having Stalinists in power, the state is not under the democratic control of the workers and peasants….” (From “Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution.”)

From the beginning, moreover, Cuba’s revolutionists of action have resisted counter-revolutionary pressures by Soviet and Cuban Stalinism.

Fidel Castro in 1962, when he was first secretary of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) and prime minister of the revolutionary Cuban government, led the first big open fight against Stalinist bureaucracy and right-wing sectarianism.

The first confrontation occurred when Anibal Escalante, a leader of the Stalinist faction of the ORI(which resulted from a fusion of Castro’s July 26th Movement and allied groupings with Escalante’s Popular Socialist Party) attempted a bureaucratic takeover of the ORI and state apparatus. Fidel Castro took the Stalinists head on in his March 26, 1962, speech and dealt them a blow from which they never recovered.

And even now, in its current critical stage of existence, the Castroist leadership has continued its efforts to block the formation of a crystallized bureaucratic caste. At the most recent congress of the Cuban Communist Party (October 1997), the Castroist left wing of the CCP were reported to have dealt their right wing a major setback.

And in Fidel Castro’s July 26, 1998, speech-carried by all of Cuba’s electronic and printed media-he reaffirmed his party’s and government’s commitment to their goal of world socialism.

Cuba’s revolutionary leaders have from the outset demonstrated their loyalty to the class interests of Cuba’s workers in factory and field and to all of the proletariat’s natural allies. But in regard to the need for institutionalization of soviet-type workers’ democracy, they have established what they call “people’s power,” which is far short of true workers’ democracy.

True workers’ democracy, modeled after the institutions created by Russia’s workers to carry through the October Revolution and serve as the political embodiment of the dictatorship of the proletariat-not the eviscerated version imposed by Stalin after his bloody political counterrevolution-is vital to Cuba’s socialist future.

But that does not mean that “peoples’ power” is, or is designed to become, a form of bourgeois parliamentary “democracy,” such as Gorbachev instituted in 1985 to mobilize non-proletarian social forces behind the bureaucratic caste’s attempt to make a transition to capitalism and transform itself into a capitalist class.

Parliamentary democracy, better-known as dollar-democracy, gives “everyone” the right to vote, but the power to mold and manufacture “public opinion” is restricted to those few individuals with enough dollars to maintain a veritable monopoly over the media of communication as well as the means for purchasing politicians and state officials.

People’s power, in short, is not the institutionalization of workers’ democracy that Joe Hansen spoke of. But it’s not bourgeois parliamentarianism either.

Of course, in the course of events, backward and counter-revolutionary forces active in Cuba may well attempt to give a bourgeois-parliamentary content to people’s power. And on the other side, the revolutionary forces in Cuban society may also seek to transform this ambiguous electoral institution into a genuine democratic agency of the political dictatorship of the working class.

These opposing tendencies are implicit in the current relationship of forces in Cuba and in the world.

The revolutionary component of the Cuban party and government is certainly aware of the very real danger attendant to opening its economy to the penetration of foreign capital. The revolutionaries inCuba are fully aware that it is second nature for imperialist capitalism to infiltrate the democratic institutions of the workers, their unions,and their parties to corrupt and transform workers’ leaders into their labor and/or “socialist” lieutenants.

Thus, this fully justified fear may have caused them to underweigh the potentially decisive contribution workers’ democracy can make to the defense of the revolution.

That, in our view, may or may not be a lack of confidence in the working class and its historic role as the agency of world socialist revolution. After all, the predominant policies followed by these exemplary revolutionists of action are an expression of their confidence in the working class and the historic alternatives facing the human race: either forward to socialism, or barbarism, or worse will be its fate.

Moreover, we should not be so arrogant as to oversimplify the very difficult position of this country of 11 million people, isolated and blockaded by history’s most ruthless and most powerful imperialist behemoth just 90 miles from its shores.

This is an enemy with a destructive power capable of destroying all life on earth many times over. And one that has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not hesitate when it believes that the raining of death and destruction on cities and nations is necessary for the defense of its perceived right to kill any and all who threaten its class interests.

Cuba’s revolutionists of action are fully aware of the responsibility they bear and will think more than twice before moving faster and further than they believe that the current objective relation of class forces will permit.

We should continue to remain in solidarity with the Cuban socialist revolution and in critical support of its Castroist/Guevaraist leadership, which, at almost every key historical juncture, has chosen the road of revolutionary action.

The character of the Cuban leadership has a content closer to revolutionary Marxism than many of the currents which describe themselves as such. Moreover, the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party has shown a highly unusual capacity to learn from its own and others’ mistakes, and has also shown, most importantly, that it has the courage to act according to its convictions.

Cuba remains the only workers’ state that has not come under the domination of a crystallized bureaucracy and which has not made other than essentially tactical concessions to foreign capitalist investors in Cuba in order to survive in a world dominated by a ruthless imperialist colossus 90 miles away.

Their current focus on breaking through four decades of blockade and economic sabotage by Yankee imperialism is indispensable to defending the conquests of their socialist revolution. All indications are that revolutionary Cuba has learned from the collapse of Stalinism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union that there is no hope for Cuba within the framework of a capitalist world economic order.

Paradoxically, the developing global economic crisis has impelled some of the world’s capitalist countries to invest in Cuba, essentially on terms acceptable to Cuba under the given circumstances. And that, in turn, contributes to identical pressures on American big business to oppose Helms-Burton, albeit, half-heartedly.

American capitalists are also driven by their own narrow economic interests to take advantage of a potentially lucrative Cuban market for their own surplus goods and capital.

To be sure, this includes great risks for Cuba. The presence of hordes of capitalist entrepreneurs with plenty of dollars to invest will have contradictory effects. On the one hand, it can serve to ameliorate the extreme hardships of the “special period.” And on the other, investors loaded with dollars and seeking to gain friends in positions of influence can also have very harmful effects on Cuban society.

That’s the rationale of the growing sector of American capitalists who are in favor of trading with Cuba. They also know that from their viewpoint this is also a risk, but the blockade hasn’t worked anyway, they argue, and they point out that once inside they have a fighting chance of corrupting a large portion of the Cuban people.

The record of the Castroists, however, suggests that they are well aware of the risks. But they have every right and a duty to their revolution to try to break through the American imperialist blockade.

Workers’ democracy, to be sure, is vital to the defense of the Cuban revolution. But in and of itself it cannot solve the problem of an isolated workers state in a hostile capitalist world. And everything we know about Cuba’s revolutionaries, everything that has been said above, indicates that they understand that their current trade policy is only a temporary expedient but no solution.

Castro’s July 26, 1998, speech mentioned above indicates that Cuba’s perspective remains as it was from the first days of their revolution-the extension of their socialist revolution to the world. But experience has taught them that their earlier strategy was deeply flawed. And we have every reason to believe that when the unfolding global economic crisis erupts, it will precipitate a pre-revolutionary period of class struggle in the strongholds of world capitalism.

When the world crisis breaks out into the open, it could with surprising speed bring masses of the world’s revolutionary workers onto Cuba’s side in the global struggle between capitalist barbarism and a socialist world order.

No one can predict what the Cubans, or for that matter any other current in the world working class, will do when world capitalist equilibrium collapses-including the many currents claiming to be Trotskyist or quasi-Trotskyist. In any event, we cannot discount the capacity of the Castroist leadership of the CCP to rise up to meet that fateful challenge to the future of their revolution as well as the very future of the human race.

In the early 1960s, the Castro/Guevaraist leaders of the Cuban Revolution sought to extend their revolution primarily to Latin America. This perspective made eminent sense to them because the Latin American workers and peasants, inspired by the Cuban Revolution, were in pre-revolutionary ferment.

The Cuban revolutionists of action, however, missed that opportunity because of their mistaken guerrillaist strategy and their failure to come to grips with counter-revolutionary Stalinism in Latin America.

This time it promises to be different. Besides having learned from their mistakes, the dynamics of rising class struggle in the world of imperialism promises to make it easier for Cuba’s revolutionary leaders to embrace the revolutionary proletarian strategy of class struggle based on the method of the “Transitional Program.”

And as small as our world movement is at this moment, we can play a key role in helping the Cuban Communist Party draw the right lessons in the course of the coming struggles. But only if we remain on the solid foundation of the historic theory and program of the Fourth International.