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cwiCuba: Socialism and Democracy

by Peter Taaffe

chapter 2

Lenin & Castro

Both in relation to the class forces involved in the Cuban revolution as well as Castro’s political evolution Lorimer and the DSP are guilty of the most crass impressionism. They criticised my pamphlet on Cuba because it is allegedly wrong on Castro’s real political position. They dispute our contention that up to 1961 Castro "was no more than a radical, middle-class democrat, whose ideal was democratic capitalist America". The evolution of Castro’s thoughts and deeds is not an incidental or secondary question. It illustrates the processes at work in the neo-colonial areas in the period in which the revolution took place. It demonstrates how radical figures in conditions of extreme economic and social crisis can go a lot further than they at first intended. Some of them, as was the case in Cuba, went beyond the framework of capitalism itself.

The crisis in Venezuela has pushed a petty-bourgeois army officer, Chavez, towards an extremely radicalised position. How far he is prepared to go it is not possible to say with certainty in advance. A new world economic crisis will wreak even greater devastation on Latin America and could push Chavez even further towards the left. The movement on the other hand could be halted. Only the absence of a mass revolutionary party with a clear, far-sighted leadership is preventing the elimination of the hated landlord-capitalist regime in Venezuela by a social revolution. Theoretically, it is not excluded that a mass movement could develop along the lines of the Cuban revolution in the neo-colonial world in the next period. On the other hand the absence of the Stalinist states, which acted both as a model for radicalised petty-bourgeois leaders and as an economic reservoir, is an important difference between now and when the Cuban Revolution took place. Nevertheless, the example of Cuba will undoubtedly be invoked in the radicalised and revolutionary waves that impend throughout the world and particularly in the neo-colonial world. It is therefore crucial for the working class to possess a clear understanding of the Cuban Revolution, of its great achievements but also of its limitations – particularly the absence of real workers’ democracy – which arose from the way the Cuban Revolution and its main leaders evolved.

On the issue of Castro’s political outlook, Lorimer concedes that in an interview with the well-known American journalist Herbert Matthews during the struggle against Batista, Castro had said:

"You can be sure we have no animosity towards the United States and the American people…We are fighting for a democratic Cuba and an end to dictatorship".

But he then goes on to make this criticism of myself:

"Taaffe does not tell us what he expects Castro should have said to a US journalist at that time".26

We anticipated the arguments of those like the DSP who argue (in retrospect it might be added) that Castro was pursuing a course of action calculated to throw dust in the eyes of the opponents of a socialist revolution in Cuba. We wrote:

"Perhaps this was a ‘crafty ruse’ merely meant to fool the landlords and capitalists? On the contrary, all the evidence shows that Castro and his supporters never started off their struggle with a clear socialist programme and perspectives as had Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia." 27

Lorimer disputes this and incredibly tries to recruit Lenin to his position. The Stalinist idea of stages in the revolution in the neo-colonial world is advocated. Lorimer claims that,

"Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not build support among the Russian workers and peasants for the struggle against either the Tsarist autocracy or (after February 1917) the landlord-capitalist Kerensky government, on the basis of a ‘socialist programme’ (a programme for the wholesale expropriation of bourgeois property in industry)." 28

This false argumentation fits in with the repudiation by the DSP of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, which correctly anticipated the Russian Revolution and Lenin’s April Theses. Lenin, when he arrived at the Finland station in 1917, turned his back on the Social Revolutionary and Menshevik opportunist dignitaries of the Petrograd Soviet and addressed the gathering of workers with the famous phrase: "I greet you as the advanced guard of the coming world socialist revolution". A series of transitional demands was put forward by Lenin and the Bolsheviks between February and October 1917, which were absolutely incompatible with the maintenance of landlordism and capitalism in Russia.

Lenin’s pamphlet ‘The Impending Catastrophe’ was in effect a transitional programme proceeding from the day-to-day demands of the Russian workers and peasants, and linking this to the idea of the socialist revolution. In this pamphlet he comes out in favour of taking over, nationalising the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. This would have been impossible if, as Lorimer believes, Lenin was not in favour of advocating the socialist revolution before October 1917.

In the April Theses Lenin had come to the same conclusions as Trotsky. He argued that the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution could only be completed by the coming to power of the working class allied to the peasantry. The October Revolution was a socialist revolution. State power was held by the working class, through democratically elected soviets (we will return to this later).

Lorimer argues that Lenin and the Bolsheviks had just as little a worked-out perspective as Castro did in the period prior to 1960. This is because the Bolsheviks did not proceed to nationalise the bulk of industry until compelled to do so by the exigencies of the civil war and the sabotage of the capitalists in the autumn of 1918. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bolsheviks, prior to coming to power, had envisaged that they would be compelled to take over the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ in time and said so openly. But in order to give the relatively culturally deprived Russian working class the time to acquire the expertise to control and manage industry, the workers’ state left ownership in the hands of the bourgeoisie and a system of workers’ control was implemented.

A 40-year debate has taken place over the precise views of Castro prior to his coming to power. One thing is certain however is that he, unlike Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks, never professed his ‘Marxism’. On the contrary Castro went out of his way to distance himself from ‘Marxism’ and ‘Communism’. If, despite all the evidence, Castro was already a ‘Marxist’ at the time of the revolution (which the DSP claims – and which Castro claimed later) but concealed this for ‘tactical’ reasons then we believe he was wrong to do so. Could Lorimer give us one example of Lenin between February and October 1917 concealing his views from the workers and peasants of Russia? He clearly agrees that Castro was correct to hide his real views, as we shall see later. This indicates that the DSP has not only gone over to the Stalinist theory of stages in the revolution in the neo-colonial world. They have also borrowed the methods of the Stalinists of seeking to conceal their real programme from the masses for fear of ‘frightening them’. However, the evidence of those who participated with Castro in the revolution – rather than those who comment from the ‘comfort’ of Sydney 40 years later – refute Lorimer’s arguments. The same goes for the most informed commentators at the time of the revolution and since.

Carlos Franqui was a heroic participant in the 26 July Movement and in the Cuban Revolution alongside Castro and Che Guevara. In the first period of the revolution he was responsible for ‘Castroite propaganda’ and was the organiser of the ‘Congress of Intellectuals’ in Havana at the end of 1967. Given that he was driven into exile by Castro’s behaviour his criticisms are naturally sometimes subjective and personal. Nevertheless they come from a ‘socialist humanist’ standpoint. In his book ‘Family portrait with Fidel’ he maps out the bureaucratic degeneration of the revolution "almost from its outset". He makes the following comment about Castro’s ideological position before the revolution:

"The questions people were always asking and continued to ask were: Was Fidel a Communist? Had he become a Communist? Is he a Communist? What was his plan? Was it really the Cuban situation – Cuba’s economic dependence and the US blockade – that threw Cuba into the clutches of the Soviet Union? No one thought Fidel was a Communist. I mean no one. We knew that Raúl Castro was a Communist, that Che Guevara was also, and that Camilo, Ramiro, Celia, Haydée, and some comandantes and other collaborators were Communists, too. But no one knew about Fidel, including me – who saw him at quite close range – and even his most intelligent enemies." 29

He also answers Lorimer’s assertions that after the Moncada raid and his subsequent trial and imprisonment Castro had become a covert ‘Leninist’:

"At the trial of the Moncada group, one of Lenin’s books appeared among the evidence. It’s curious how history changes with time. At the trial, the allegations of Batista’s prosecutor about Communist influence were denied. Years later, the same book would be a badge of honour – the first appearance of Lenin in the context of the Cuban revolution. ‘History Will Absolve Me’ would be Fidel’s first political statement, but neither its ideas nor its language reveals a clandestine communism. There is a consistency of thought in all of Fidel’s writing and manifestos between 1953 and 1958. He talks about re-establishing the constitution of 1940, about democratic elections, and about reforms. He violently rejects the Batista regime’s charges of being a Communist, and, if that were not enough, he forms the 26 July Movement, when the Communists [read Stalinists – PT] were condemning insurrection, guerrilla warfare, and sabotage." 30

None other than Che Guevara had even written that Castro was a "left-wing bourgeois".31 Guevara’s testimony counts for a little more than Lorimer’s historical idealisations. Franqui comments further on Castro’s chequered ideological journey:

"In July 1958, out in the Sierra, Fidel made some startling statements to Jules Dubois, an American correspondent with State Department connections. Some of the young radicals from Santiago – Nilsa Espín, Rivero, and the president of the student body, Jorge Ibarra, dropped out of the 26 July Movement because of the conservatism of those remarks. In fact, Fidel’s statements were so reactionary they were suspicious. But until the end of the war and the beginning of 1959, no one believed Fidel was a Communist. Now, in 1959, when the agrarian reform had yet to take place and Fidel was more or less incommunicado, Raúl and Che began to take certain matters into their own hands – especially regarding the takeover of plantations by means of Communist peasant leaders. In a public address, Fidel severely criticised those methods, ordered the restitution of the lands, and said that the agrarian reform would be strictly legal. In his visits to the university and to the offices of ‘Bohemia’ and ‘Revolución’, he would say in a loud voice: ‘I believe only in the revolution. I will shoot anyone who opposes the revolution – including Raúl and Che’." 32

Franqui once more highlights the empiricism of Fidel Castro, how he responded to and was affected by the situation:

"Fidel wasn’t playing some game with Raúl and Che. They didn’t know what he was up to. Raúl was so fed up that he said to me one day that if things didn’t start changing soon, he was going to fight in Santo Domingo. Again, was Fidel a Communist or not? Let’s begin by trying to be objective, which means not taking Fidel seriously when he says, ‘I am not now nor have I ever been a Communist. I am and shall forever be a Marxist-Leninist.’ Let’s begin with Fidel in jail for a year and a half on the Isla de Pinos after the raid on Moncada. He seems to have spent his time reading, carrying out a serious study of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. Lenin fascinated him, but not only Lenin – Robespierre, too." 33

Castro neither had a ‘concealed’ nor explicit perspective similar to that of the Bolsheviks nor a programme like Lenin’s April Theses up to the seizure of power in Russia in October 1917. This is absolutely clear when we recount the statements of Castro, Che Guevara, and many others who participated in the military guerrilla struggle against the Batista regime. In the proclamation at the time of the attack on the Moncada barracks, and which was to be read after the capture of a radio station in 1953, Castro declared:

"The Revolution declares its firm intention to establish Cuba on a plan of welfare and economic prosperity that ensures the survival of its rich subsoil, its geographical position, diversified agriculture and industrialisation…The Revolution declares its respect for the workers…and… the establishment of total and definitive social justice, based on economic and industrial progress under a well-organised and timed national plan…The Revolution recognises and bases itself on the ideals of Martí and it adopts as its own the revolutionary programme of Joven Cuba, the ABC Radical and the PPC [Orthodoxos]…The Revolution declares its absolute and reverent respect for the Constitution which was given to the people in 1940".34

Furthermore, Castro’s five measures, which would have been proclaimed had he conquered the Moncada Barracks in 1953, were extremely modest and were in no way incompatible with the continuation of capitalism in Cuba. Hugh Thomas, the noted historian of the Cuban Revolution, comments:

"This programme could not in itself be described as supporting any single political philosophy…It concentrated on the aspects of Cuban society which Castro himself knew – farming and education, housing and social conditions. The plans must have been Castro’s own, and it seems likely that he did not consult anyone… Indeed, what seems surprising is the modesty of Castro’s approach towards the sugar problem. Workers’ shares and profits; encouragement of Cuban ownership (already increasing); guaranteed 55 percent colono participation in cane production (already normal); movement towards a colonia between 150 acres and (say) 1,000 acres – all this was scarcely radical and by itself would not have fulfilled the demand that Cuba should become internationally independent." 35

Thomas goes on:

"Castro made much of the cry of Yara and Baire, of Martí and Maceo: Castro might know something of Marx, might regard those who did not know Lenin as ignoramuses, but he evidently knew Martí much better. Like others before him, he saw himself indeed as Martí, the young man who forced the different groups opposed to Spain into a single movement, the man of heroic phrases as well as deeds, speaker and soldier, enemy of tyrants par excellence, incorruptible renewer. Castro embarked on the Moncada attack without indeed a very carefully worked-out ideology, only a desire to overthrow the ‘tyrant’ Batista and also move on to destroy the whole rotten society, the institutionalised ‘normal’ violence of old Cuba, of which Batista was a symptom not a cause." 36

During the imprisonment that followed the failure of the Moncada attack, as Franqui has pointed out, Castro read Lenin as dozens of other national liberation leaders had done before him and since. This did not mean that by the time that the guerrilla struggle had been launched that he had developed a worked out Marxist ideology with a clear programme and perspective. As mentioned before, in his interview with Herbert Matthews he declared:

"You can be sure that we have no animosity towards the United States and the American people… we are fighting for a democratic Cuba and an end to the dictatorship. We are not anti-military... for we know the men are good and so are many of the officers." 37

Hugh Thomas goes on to state:

"’Anti-imperialism’ and even ‘democratic’ might of course mean anything. It is clear that Matthews himself saw Castro as a social democrat; but it is not of course certain that this was how Castro saw himself." 38

Castro himself, ex post facto, after the seizure of power, obviously in an attempt to picture his struggle and those of the guerrillas as more consciously socialist than it actually was, maintained that he’d always been predisposed to a Marxist outlook. And the DSP accepts Castro at his word. The evidence supplied not just by capitalist historians like Hugh Thomas and others, points to the contrary. Guevara himself, an unimpeachable source, declared in October 1960:

"The principal actors of this revolution have no coherent viewpoint."

He went on to add:

"But it cannot be said that they were ignorant of the various concepts of history, society, economics, and revolution being discussed in the world today".39

In his book ‘Che Guevara’, Jon Lee Anderson makes the following comment:

"In general, Che already viewed Fidel’s July 26 colleagues [during the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra] as hopelessly bound by their middle-class upbringings and privileged educations to timid notions of what their struggle should achieve, and he was correct in thinking they held views very divergent from his own. Lacking his Marxist conception of a radical social transformation, most saw themselves as fighting to oust a corrupt dictatorship and to replace it with a conventional Western democracy. Che’s initial reaction to the urban leaders reinforced his negative presentiments. ‘Through isolated conversations,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘I discovered the evident anti-communist inclinations of most of them’".40

Anderson also comments in relation to Matthews’s famous interview with Castro:

"Defining the ‘Rebel Army’s’ political slant in almost the terms of an FDR liberal, Matthews wrote: ‘It is a revolutionary movement that calls itself socialistic. It is also nationalistic, which generally in Latin America means anti-Yankee. The programme is vague and couched in generalities, but it amounts to a new deal for Cuba, radical, democratic and therefore anticommunist. The real core of its strength is that it is fighting against the military dictatorship of President Batista…[Castro] has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore the Constitution, to hold elections’." 41

Castro’s Ideology

The views of witnesses, the considered comments of those like Anderson who have carefully weighed the evidence, counts for nothing with Lorimer and the DSP. Castro had ‘a cunning plan’ that he concealed from the majority of the 26 July fighters, from the peasants also who sustained and helped the guerrillas to victory, and from the mass of the working class of Cuba. If this is so then it shows Castro even before he came to power as a Machiavellian figure. Indeed Franqui details his Bonapartist tendencies, balancing between different groupings within the 26 July Movement, which were to be given free reign after the revolution triumphed. His programme, if the DSP is to be believed, was ‘socialism by stealth’, which social democratic leaders and the Stalinists have advocated in the past. It is not the same as the genuine ideas of Marxism, of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Che Guevara gave a fitting answer to the ‘stealthy’ arguments of Lorimer and the DSP. Replying to a member of the 26 July Movement who urged caution in order not to provoke the United States, Che told him:

"So you are one of those who think that we can make a revolution behind the back of the Americans…What a shit-eater you are! We must make the revolution into a struggle to the death against imperialism from the first moment. A true revolution cannot be disguised…" 42

This contrasts with the earlier statements of Fidel Castro recorded by Tad Szulc on his visit to the USA in 1959. Szulc is a particularly important witness. In writing his book he was given unprecedented access to Fidel Castro. He writes:

"On the issue of communism in Cuba, endlessly raised with [Castro] in Washington, he repeated time after time that ‘we are not Communists’, that if there happened to be any Communists in his government ‘their influence is nothing’, and that he did not agree with Communism. To reassure Americans during the post-victory transition period, pending ultimate consolidation, Castro announced that Cuba would not confiscate foreign-owned private property (which meant mainly American-owned concerns), and indeed would seek additional investments to provide new jobs." 43

Let us assume for a moment that Castro was employing ‘adroit tactics’ and was really concealing his programme for the socialist revolution. We believe even in this case it would be wrong, as Che Guevara argued, for a Marxist to conceal the fact that we stand for a socialist revolution or a socialist transformation of society. It may be necessary under conditions of struggle against a dictatorship or an autocracy to use skilful language in undemocratic parliaments like the Tsarist Duma, to put forward transitional demands that lead the masses to see the need for a socialist revolution without specifically mentioning socialism. The Bolsheviks, for instance, at one stage, following the defeat of the 1905-07 revolution, were compelled because of censorship to describe themselves as ‘Consistent Democrats’. It was also necessary on the eve of the October insurrection to hide from the ruling class the precise date and steps in the insurrection that overthrew landlordism and capitalism.

But these were not the conditions faced by Castro or the 26 July Movement, certainly after they had taken power in 1959. It would have been legitimate for Castro to separate himself from the Stalinists, the ‘Communists’ who played such a baleful role during the Cuban Revolution, but not to use the broad brush of ‘We are not Communists’. A conscious, socialist, Marxist leadership would have been aware before and at the time of the revolution of the need to prepare the working class in Cuba and worldwide by explaining the precise character of the revolution and the programme of its leadership. To have proclaimed the need for socialism from the beginning, to accompany this with the programme of workers’ democracy – of soviets, election of all officials and the right of recall – would have raised even higher the combativity and consciousness of the Cuban working class. It was only events, the attacks and provocations of US imperialism and the impact of this on the Cuban masses, which pushed Castro hesitatingly and empirically into breaking with landlordism and capitalism.

The leaders of the Cuban Revolution did not have the conscious programme and perspectives of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. However, Lorimer also incredibly pictures Lenin as not advocating socialism after the February Revolution of 1917! It is true that Lenin put forward a series of specific demands, land to the tillers, all power to the Soviets, an immediate peace, workers’ control in industry, etc. But the constant theme, the general overall idea that was linked to these demands throughout 1917 was the need for the socialist revolution in Russia as an overture to the world socialist revolution. In the struggle to implement a series of transitional demands the masses would come to understand, including the peasantry, that they could not be realised within the framework of landlordism and capitalism, and therefore would support the idea of a socialist overturn.

This was the essence of Lenin’s idea, which despite the arguments of the DSP, coincided with the perspectives of Trotsky in his famous theory of the permanent revolution. It is absolutely incredible to argue, on the basis of one article written in September 1917, that the Bolsheviks did not advocate socialism. This is what Lorimer writes:

"There is not a single reference to ‘socialism’ or ‘socialist revolution’ in this whole article." 44

If the Bolsheviks had not advocated the idea of a socialist revolution then why does John Reed in ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’, describe Lenin speaking at the meeting of the Second Congress of Soviets following the revolution, using the words: "We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order"? 45 Moreover, as John Reed explains, even the peasant soldiers, when challenged by Mensheviks, saw the October revolution as the beginning of the world socialist revolution.

In Lorimer’s hands Lenin is transformed from a revolutionary socialist to an insipid, liberal cardboard cutout who never openly explained to the Russian workers and peasants the need for the socialist revolution. He demonstrates thereby a complete ignorance of the real processes of the Russian Revolution. The same goes for his references to Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Programme, which he seeks to use against us. Trotsky opposed tooth and nail the Stalinists’ idea of the two stages in the revolution (something consistently advocated today by the DSP). This false idea maintains that movements in the neo-colonial world should be restricted to demands for the completion of the agrarian revolution, the liquidation of feudal heritages, national independence and the overthrow of imperialism, with socialism coming later. Their implementation, Trotsky argued, was organically linked to the idea of the coming to power of the working class in an alliance with the poor peasantry, which would constitute the socialist revolution. The fight for democratic transitional demands was linked to the idea of socialism and the socialist revolution.

Rejecting this approach the DSP advocates that radical and revolutionary movements in the neo-colonial world, as with Cuba in 1959 or in Indonesia today, should avoid proclaiming themselves as ‘socialists’ or even declare that their ultimate aim is ‘socialism’. In the case of Cuba, Lorimer declares:

"If [Castro and the 26 July Movement] had done this then it’s highly unlikely that they would have succeeded. That’s because in the minds of the overwhelming majority of Cuban workers and peasants, ‘socialism’ was identified with the Stalinist police-states in Eastern Europe (remember that Castro started his struggle at the height of the Cold War – between Stalin’s suppression of the East German workers’ uprising in 1953 and Khrushchev’s crushing of the 1956 Hungarian workers’ revolution)." 46

It is worthwhile dwelling on this astonishing idea of Lorimer and the DSP. Capitalism and its ideologists undoubtedly used the existence of the Stalinist regimes as a scarecrow with which to frighten the masses away from genuine democratic socialism, not just in the neo-colonial world but in the indusrialised countries as well. But the way to combat this, for genuine Marxists and socialists, is not to abandon or jettison the programme of socialism. It was and is necessary to separate support for the planned economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from the horrible caricature of socialism represented by the Stalinist one-party totalitarian regimes.

During the ‘Cold War’ did the DSP advocate socialism or not? If they did, then they have sinned against one of the commandments laid down by Lorimer in his unfortunate tract; the existence of Stalinist regimes means that Marxists are debarred from advocating a form of democratic, pluralistic socialism. This applies not just to the past, during the ‘Cold War’, but for the proponents of socialism today. While the one-party totalitarian regimes have largely disappeared, their ‘memory lingers on’ and undoubtedly their example will be resurrected by bourgeois ideologists once a powerful movement for socialism develops again amongst the working class. The ideology of Fidel Castro, as with most of the 26 July Movement combatants, was heterogeneous. It is undeniable that Castro, while imprisoned, like many other national liberation movement leaders, absorbed some of the ideas of Lenin, Marx, Mao Zedong (certainly this was the case with Guevara), but he did not have an ideology that corresponded to that of Lenin, of Marxism, let alone Trotsky. Nor did he seek to build a movement or party based on the collective experiences of the working class historically. The incapacity of Lorimer to understand the fundamental differences in the social forces involved in the Russian Revolution, as opposed to Cuba, also means that he does not understand the phenomena of the Chinese Revolution of 1944 to 1949, or the development of the Vietnamese revolution, if it comes to that. (Out of the Vietnam protests came the forerunner of what is the DSP today.) In the case of the Russian Revolution the working class led by a conscious Marxist party and leadership played the key role. The revolutionary overthrow of landlordism and capitalism in the neo-colonial world after 1945 largely developed in an entirely different form. It was in the main upon the struggles of the rural masses that the revolution was initially fought.

Lorimer goes to great pains to dispute our contention that the 26 July Movement’s struggle was based on the peasantry and the rural population. He does not even pause to consider the fact that the struggle of Castro and Guevara was based on a guerrilla war. Any literate Marxist understands that historically this has not been the traditional method of the working class but of the peasantry. Guevara is quite explicit on this. In 1960 he wrote:

"In underdeveloped Latin America the arena for armed struggle must be basically the countryside."

He rebuked those who

"Dogmatically assert that the struggle of the masses is centred in urban movements, totally forgetting the immense participation of the people from the countryside in the life of all the underdeveloped countries of Latin America." 47

Guevara in his criticisms of the ‘dogmatists’ had in mind, of course, the Stalinised communist parties in the Latin American continent who pursued a policy of passivity, advocated a ‘two stages’ theory, and did not link the struggles of the working class in the cities to the struggles of the rural masses. But both Castro and Guevara, and indeed all the serious writers on the Cuban Revolution understand that the struggle of the 26 July Movement was firstly located in the countryside. Lorimer on the other hand sees Castro’s struggle as straddling the rural population and the working class. Trying to fit reality into this arid schema, he disputes the conclusion of all serious accounts of the Cuban Revolution, including those of the leading combatants, that the motive force of the revolution was primarily the rural population.

Nowhere did we say in our pamphlets that Castro based himself ‘exclusively’ on the peasantry as Lorimer is forced to concede by quoting the statement from our pamphlet: "Castro and Guevara relied on the peasants and the rural population".

Hugh Thomas, when dealing with the class structure of Cuba in the mid-1950s, comments that there were 200,000 families of peasants, of which "140,000 at least were very poor, owning, renting or ’squatting’ on not much more than one caballería of land." Alongside what he called a "large peasant population", there were in Cuba some 600,000 rural workers, of whom well over half were cane cutters, only employed fully during harvests. He comments:

"Some of these naturally had a few chickens and a little land of their own. Unlike the days of slavery, these workers were clearly differentiated from the 100,000 or so workers on sugar mills, the aristocrats of the labour force, well organised and dominant in the union system, both under the communists (before 1947) and with Mujal (after 1947). Next in social status came the 400,000 families of the Cuban urban proletariat, also well organised in unions".48

The guerrilla struggle from late 1956 to the fleeing of Batista in early 1959 was based upon the population in the rural areas. The urban working class was looked towards for material, moral and sometimes industrial support, but the main focus of the struggle, as explicitly described by Castro and Guevara, was in the countryside and based on the rural population. By sleight of hand Lorimer and the DSP argue that because there was a large layer of rural wage workers then it would be wrong to say that the 26 July Movement was based on the ‘peasantry and the rural population’. Of course, the existence of a large rural ‘proletariat’ was important but it did not alter the character of the 26 July Movement being fundamentally based upon the peasantry and the rural population. As the above quote from Hugh Thomas indicates, some of these rural workers, with their chickens and their little piece of land of their own, had a half-peasant, half-working class-consciousness. Their support, moreover, as with the urban proletariat, was an auxiliary to the movement of the guerrillas who were based, we repeat, in the main, on the poor peasantry and the rural population. This put its stamp on the 26 July Movement, which was entirely different to the basis of the Bolshevik Party, which rested upon the conscious movement of the working class in the Russian Revolution.

The arguments of the DSP to the effect that Castro’s guerrilla army was based as much on the working class as the peasantry is answered conclusively many times by Guevara:

"The guerrilla fighter is above all an agrarian revolutionary. He interprets the desire of the great peasant masses to be owners of the land, of the means of production, of the livestock, of all they have yearned for over the years, of what makes up their lives and also will be their grave".49

The DSP drag in by the hair the support of the working class for the guerrillas. Of course there was support for the guerrillas. There was similar support in the Chinese Revolution too but in Cuba and in China what was dominant and what was subordinate in terms of social forces compared to the Russian Revolution was entirely different. The DSP quote but do not answer our contention in which we state:

"Lenin based himself on the working class. He anticipated the workers would lead the poor peasantry in the struggle against Tsarism. Castro and Guevara relied on the peasants and the rural population. The working class only entered the struggle through a general strike in Havana when the guerrillas had already triumphed and Batista was fleeing for his life." 50

The fact that Castro came to power through a predominantly rural movement shaped the whole character of his movement. It was only the peculiar combination of circumstances that existed which resulted in Castro – who never, to begin with, envisaged going beyond the framework of capitalist democracy – presiding over the expropriation of capitalism in Cuba.