Cuba: Socialism and Democracy
by Peter Taaffe
The World Balance of Forces
Lorimer, with laboured irony, makes much of our phrase "peculiar combination of circumstances" and ridicules the idea that a "radical middle-class democrat whose ideal was democratic capitalist America" led a social revolution. For him the political spectrum amounts to simply black and white. Shades of grey, the complex processes that developed in the neo-colonial world in particular, are lost on him. He is therefore incapable not only of understanding the Cuban Revolution, but the earlier Chinese Revolution, the real motive force of the Vietnamese Revolution, events in Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere. These revolutions were ‘unique’ and had no parallel with previous ‘classical’ revolutions, above all in Russia. They arose because of the "peculiar combination of circumstances" which obtained then.
What were these circumstances? They arose from the relationship of class forces worldwide that emerged after the Second World War. Contrary to what Trotsky expected, Stalinism together with US imperialism emerged strengthened. Because of the political betrayal of the revolutionary wave of 1943 to 1947 in Europe by the communist parties and the social democracy, the political preconditions were laid for the long boom of 1950 to 1973 throughout world capitalism. At the same time, for the majority of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America the bourgeois democratic revolution remained incomplete. Also, as we have seen, Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution holds that the only class capable of rallying the majority of the ‘nation’ – the poor peasant masses and the urban petty bourgeois – is the organised working class. Having carried through the bourgeois democratic revolution it would then use the power that it wields to go over to the socialist tasks of the revolution within a national framework but also internationally as well.
If the Russian Revolution is viewed as a purely national event then the Mensheviks were correct against Lenin, Trotsky, the Bolsheviks and Rosa Luxemburg. Russia, a predominantly agrarian industrially backward country, with 80 per cent of the population in the countryside, was not ready for socialism. Marx himself had pointed out that the beginning of socialism would necessitate a higher level of technique and productivity of labour than that reached by the highest capitalist country in the world, which today is capitalist America. Russia was much removed from this position. But, in the words of Lenin, Russia was the ‘weakest link in the chain of world capitalism’ which by taking to the road of revolution could also be the spark for a world revolution.
Lenin had this perception, even when his programme was for a ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ (which he subsequently abandoned in favour of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, that is a democratic workers’ state or a workers and peasants’ government). Lenin’s idea was that an alliance of the working class and the peasantry could begin the process of completing the bourgeois revolution in Russia. This in turn would provoke the socialist revolution in the West, in Germany for instance, which would then feed back into Russia itself where the socialist tasks would be posed. There is nothing of Lenin’s internationalism, of seeing revolution in one country as a link in a process of world revolution, and of understanding that only the working class is capable of developing a consistently internationalist outlook, in the writings of Lorimer and the DSP. The essence of the situation at the time of the Cuban revolution is that these classical conditions for permanent revolution, which were realised in the Russian Revolution, could not develop in the same way in the neo-colonial world in the post-1945 period.
On the one side there was, and is, the complete bankruptcy of landlordism and capitalism in the neo-colonial world. This was the case even during the economic upswing of 1950-1973 when some of the countries in the neo-colonial world benefited from the few crumbs which fell from the table of the industrialised countries. The national bourgeoisie in these countries were weak and incapable of taking society forward. The ‘Tigers’ in South East Asia were an exception. Ironically it was the US – in Japan – or the US client regime in Taiwan, which carried through from above one of the main tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution, the expropriation of the landlords. This was necessary because of the challenge posed by the newly victorious Stalinist regime in China. This was a key factor, together with access to the US market, in clearing the way for the development of capitalism and the spectacular growth rates that the Tigers enjoyed up to the 1990s. The working class, on the other hand, because of the false policies of the leaders of the mass communist parties in many countries under the sway of Stalinism and reformist leaders, were blocked from playing the role that the Russian working class played in October 1917. The impasse in society, at the same time, affected the middle layers in society including the petty bourgeois officer caste who felt keenly the backwardness of their societies, their incapacity to go forward on the basis of outmoded landlordism and capitalism, and looked for a way out.
Some of these radicalised petty bourgeois elements came from a Stalinist or ex-Stalinist background. Thus Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, following the defeat of the 1925-27 Chinese Revolution, retreated to the countryside and formed the Red Army. This army was largely based upon the peasantry, which in turn shaped the outlook of its leaders, in the words of Trotsky "the ex-leaders" of a workers’ party. The embryo of a new state and with it a bureaucracy existed in the areas under the control of the Red Army during the second world war. The end of that war, with the complete discrediting of the landlord-capitalist regime of the Kuo Min Tang under Chiang Kai Shek opened up a huge vacuum in Chinese society. When the Red Army entered the cities the outline of a bureaucracy already existed, which was hostile to the organised working class and the idea of workers’ democracy. However, there was no way forward on the basis of the old society. Therefore Mao and the Red Army balancing between different sections of society, the peasantry, the working class and sections of the bourgeois gradually expropriated landlordism and capitalism, carried through the nationalisation of land and most of industry, and thereby established right from the outset a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state. This bore out the main lines of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, although in a caricatured form. Of course, the conscious role of the working class as the leader of the revolution was a vital ingredient of Trotsky’s theory. This was absent in China and in Cuba. Therefore, in a certain sense, there is here a partial negation of Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution. A social revolution, the elimination of landlordism and capitalism, takes place but without the working class playing a directly leading role. Nevertheless, because of the peculiar balance of forces nationally and internationally, above all because of the complete blind alley for these societies on the basis of capitalism, a Bonapartist elite resting on a peasant army balances between the classes and presides over a social revolution. However, what emerges is a deformed workers’ state rather than a state in which the working class and poor peasantry exercise direct control and management of industry and society through democratically elected soviets or councils.
Khrushchev and the Cuban Revolution
In the schema defended by Lorimer such a development is impossible. How did the Chinese Stalinist regime, a planned nationalised economy but with a one-party totalitarian regime, come into existence other than by the ‘peculiar balance of forces’ that arose from the second world war, which were not completely foreseen by Trotsky? Moreover, what does Lorimer and the DSP have to say about events in Eastern Europe where a similar process developed, this time through the agency of Russian Stalinism, which presided over the expropriation of the factories and the land from the indigenous capitalists and landlords who had fled? Trotsky said: "Against a lion you use a gun, against a flea you use your forefinger and thumb." This was all that was required in Eastern Europe in order to snuff out the last vestiges of capitalism and landlordism. This led to the establishment of societies and states in the image of Moscow, that is, planned economies with Stalinist political regimes. Right from the beginning there was not the slightest element of workers’ control or management which would have been a mortal threat to the political monopoly of the Stalinists.
The Cuban Revolution both in the character of its leading figures and in the way in which it unfolded did differ from what happened in China or Eastern Europe. Castro, Guevara and the other leaders of the 26 July Movement came from outside of the Stalinist tradition, were initially open and showed exemplary revolutionary courage and daring in the military and political struggle against the Batista regime and afterwards. There were also other important differences, which we will come to later on, with what happened in Eastern Europe and China. But, nevertheless, the same general fundamental conditions existed: the bankruptcy of Cuban landlordism and capitalism, the relative political paralysis of the working class due to the perfidious role of the leadership of the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP), Cuba’s pre-revolution Communist party, the massive discontent of an increasingly radicalised middle layer, from which Castro came, and the blunders of the Eisenhower administration in the USA.
Lorimer derides the idea that the ‘mistakes’ of US imperialism helped to radicalise Castro and Cuba and forced them into a break with landlordism and capitalism. However, observers, by no means sympathetic to Castro, on the scene at the time bear out our original analysis that Nixon and Eisenhower were crude in their handling of Castro and Cuba and made a number of ‘mistakes’. Philip W Bonsal, the US ambassador in Havana at the time, wrote afterwards that in the spring of 1959:
"Castro’s scenario at this time did not contemplate the massive help in the form of economic aid and weapons that he later received from the Soviet Union…[he] became oriented towards dependence on the Soviet Union only when the United States, by its actions in the spring and summer of 1960, gave the Russians no choice other than to come to Castro’s rescue."
Tad Szulc also underlines Bonsal’s impressions:
"It is certainly arguable that if the United States had not threatened his survival Castro might have chosen domestic Marxist solutions without becoming wholly dependent on the Russians economically and militarily – Yugoslavia and China are not such far-fetched analogies. Moreover, at least a year elapsed before Soviet assistance began arriving on the island, and before that Washington need not have closed off all the alternatives." 51
How far Castro would have moved towards ‘domestic Marxist solutions’ and whether this would have resulted in a break with landlordism and capitalism is open to debate. What is indisputable is that the crude, threatening blunders of the US administration at the time speeded up the process of the elimination of capitalism and drove Castro into the arms of Moscow. The Russia Stalinists for their part had no prior knowledge of the main figures in the Cuban Revolution, or of where the Cuban Revolution was going. Like most other observers their conclusion, correct as it happens, despite what Lorimer says, was that the leaders of the 26 July Movement were pretty typical of Latin American revolutionaries in the past. Alexander Alexiev, a KGB agent, who was instructed to make contact with Castro and Guevara, wrote that he was originally
"Suspicious about Fidel’s true political inclinations and, as he admitted later, had not given Cuba his full attention. ‘I didn’t think much about the Cuban revolution. I thought it would be like any other (bourgeois) Latin American revolution…and I wasn’t sure it was a very serious thing’. " 52
Giorgi Kornienko, another ‘high-ranking Soviet official’, wrote about the Kremlin’s attitude following Castro’s victory:
"I remember in January 1959 when Castro proclaimed a new regime Khrushchev asked the department: ‘What kind of guys are these? Who are they?’ But nobody knew how to answer his question… not the Intelligence Services, not the Foreign Relations Ministry, not the International Department of the Central Committee. In reality, we didn’t know who these guys in Havana were. We sent a telegram to our office abroad, later to Intelligence and others. A few days later, we received a telegram from one of the Latin American capitals – I think Mexico – with some information about Castro and his people. And there was information to the effect that, if not Fidel himself, maybe Raúl… very possibly Che… and some other people close to Fidel had Marxist points of view. I was present when this information was given to Khrushchev. ‘If it’s really like this,’ he said, ‘if these Cubans are Marxist and if they develop some sort of socialist movement there in Cuba, it would be fantastic! It would be the first place in the Western Hemisphere with a socialist or pro-socialist government. That would be very good, very good for the socialist cause!’" 53
Anderson goes on to comment:
"There was certainly lingering scepticism about Castro’s revolution in the Kremlin, for what had happened in Cuba was not in the Soviet playbook… The party was not in control, Fidel Castro was still an unknown quality. Even if signs were promising – Fidel had allowed the party to play a role and the men closest to him (Che and his brother Raúl) were Marxists - the jury was still out".54
Khrushchev, a shrewd representative of Russian Stalinism, understood what happened. Szulc again comments:
"Khrushchev said that the United States was trying to drive Castro to the wall instead of establishing normal relations with him, adding: ‘That’s stupid, and it’s the result of the howls of zealous anti-communists in the United States who see red everywhere, when possibly some things are only rose-coloured or even white… Castro will have to gravitate to us like an iron filing to a magnet’." 55
There was a yearning in Cuba for the overthrow of the Batista regime and for solutions to the accumulated problems of an incomplete capitalist democratic revolution.
The struggle of the guerrillas, initially actively supported by the peasant and rural masses, and passively so by the working class, managed to defeat the Batista regime because of the growing hostility of the mass of the population to what this regime represented and the blind alley into which Cuban society had landed. There are many examples in history of individual leaders, with equal daring, tenacity and flair as Castro and Guevara. Both Mao and Tito led genuine mass struggles, demonstrated considerable initiative, in the struggle against the old regime. In this sense they were different to Stalin, a mediocre character, who played no independent role but was rather a grey figure in the Russian Revolution. The same could not be said for Mao or Tito. Nevertheless their regimes, despite the independent evolution of their leaders, and the national antagonisms and clashes with Stalinist Russia were basically states similar to what existed in Russia. Despite their national hostility to Stalin, they started where Stalin finished in 1937, with the construction of Stalinist regimes in China and Yugoslavia.
The precise way that the revolution developed in Cuba took a somewhat different form. Lorimer and the DSP argue that the views of Castro and Guevara evolved in the course of the struggle before the revolution. Yes, they did evolve but they did not have a conscious programme and plan to carry through the socialist revolution. Lorimer uses quotes from the works of Maurice Zeitlin on the issue of ‘privileges’, which we will comment on later. Yet the same author in his book ‘Cuba – an American Tragedy’ shows Castro’s limits in one of his interviews in 1958:
"Let me say for the record that we have no plans for the expropriation or nationalisation of foreign investments. True, the extension of government ownership to certain public utilities – some of them, such as the power companies, US-owned – was a point of our earliest programmes; but we have currently suspended all planning on this matter. I personally have come to feel that nationalisation is, at best, a cumbersome instrument. It does not seem to make the State any stronger, yet it enfeebles private enterprise. Even more important, any attempt at wholesale nationalisation would obviously hamper the principal point of our economic platform – industrialisation at the fastest possible rate. For this purpose, foreign investment will always be welcome and secure here." 56
The hesitation, the lack of conscious foresight and the confusion as to where precisely they were heading was evident in the statements of even the boldest of the leaders of the revolution in the first period. Thus in a discussion with Jean-Paul Sartre in 1960 Che Guevara declared:
"They ask us for ideas, a doctrine, forecasts. But they forget that we are a rebound revolution." 57
In an interview with Laura Berquist from ‘Look’ magazine in November 1960 he explained:
"What lies ahead depends greatly on the United States. With the exception of the agrarian reform, which the people of Cuba desired and initiated themselves, all of our radical measures have been a direct response to direct aggressions to powerful monopolists of which your country is chief exponent. US pressure on Cuba has made necessary the ‘radicalisation’ of the revolution. To know how much further Cuba will go, it will be easier to ask the US government how far it plans to go." 58
Castro, Lorimer argues, on the basis of the evidence of his prison diary and having read Lenin, had become a conscious Marxist who all along was secretly preparing for the socialist revolution. Yet, as we have pointed out, very authoritative witnesses and commentators contradict the thesis of the DSP. Jon Lee Anderson reports a conversation between Che Guevara and David Mitrani (a friend and colleague of Guevara’s in Mexico prior to the 1956 Granma landing). He comments:
"Eventually, Che spoke candidly with Mitrani about the revolution, telling him: ‘By the first days of August, we’re going to transform this country into a socialist state.’ At least that was what he hoped and expected, Che said, explaining that Fidel himself was not yet totally convinced because he wasn’t himself a socialist; Che was still trying to convince him." 59
This was not before the revolution but in 1960 after the expropriation of domestic and foreign capital had begun. Guevara was clearly a heroic figure with socialist and communist inclinations but was without a clear Marxist perspective and programme. The same could not be said of Castro. He was pushed and shaped by his experiences in the war against Batista, by the enormously aroused expectations of the masses in the revolution and, yes, by the ‘mistakes’ of US imperialism in its threats, blackmail and eventual armed counter-revolutionary invasion in the ‘Bay of Pigs’, in order to overthrow the Castro regime.
The prevarication and the hesitation of Castro as to which road he would take is testified by those who closely collaborated with him soon after the overthrow of Batista. For instance, one of the Cuban delegates attending an Inter-American conference in Argentina in 1959 said of Castro’s views then:
"My impression then was that he was contemplating the possibility of staying on the American side of the fence… as the leader of a Nasser-type revolution in Cuba and Latin America".
However, this source quite correctly comments:
"I do not think the United States would have been willing to pay the price at that moment… As a matter of fact, the Cuban people still don’t know the type of social revolution, if any, with which Washington would be willing to negotiate." 60
In fact Washington believed that by a combination of pressure, support for military incursions, threats of an economic blockade and backed up by the threat of invasion Castro could be brought to heel. Such methods had worked previously, for instance in the case of Guatemala, and the Eisenhower-Nixon White House believed that they would be successful in Cuba. But they only succeeded in pushing Castro into a more and more radical stance, whipping up mass opposition amongst the Cuban population as a whole to US imperialism and compelling Castro to look for alternative means of military and financial support. This he found in the Russian Stalinist regime of Khrushchev. We have described in our pamphlet how the events leading to a break with capitalism unfolded so we will not repeat them here.
Once US capitalism embarked on the steps towards an embargo Khrushchev, representing Russian Stalinism, stepped in. They supplied the market for Cuban sugar and provided the oil that kept the Cuban economy afloat, as well as some of the arms for use against an expected US-financed invasion. The masses acquired arms and were encouraged to do so by Castro and his regime. Lorimer states that this action is conclusive proof of democratic involvement of the masses and the genuine socialist and Marxist consciousness of Castro. He also contends that these are indications that Cuba was a relatively healthy workers’ state, as does the fact that Castro initiated and encouraged on 28 September 1960 the formation of the Committees to Defend the Revolution (CDRs). These committees were to be a
"Network of civic organisations, with the inhabitants of each block in every town and city of Cuba forming a committee to ensure the implementation of revolutionary decrees and to provide a grassroots vigilante network for the State Security apparatus". 61
But this was not the first time in history that the masses or a section of them at least, had been armed to eliminate landlordism and capitalism by forces that were anything but consciously socialist or democratic. The Stalinists in Czechoslovakia in 1948 created ‘militias’, called a general strike and based themselves, formally at least, on the working class. This was enough to eliminate the weak remains of capitalism in Czechoslovakia. However, no sooner had this been completed than the masses were disarmed. Subsequently any independent individual let alone a conscious Marxist or revolutionary was arrested or liquidated by the Stalinists Czechoslovakia.
The process did not develop like this in Cuba. The Castro government felt its way forward in a situation of extreme social and political flux and undoubtedly had a much greater mass popular base than did the ‘Communist’ parties in Eastern Europe in the late 1940s. Nevertheless there was no conscious control or management of the state and society. For instance, on May Day 1960 Castro spoke to a Plaza de la Revolución packed with armed Cubans marching past his podium. According to Jon Lee Anderson he praised the new militias, warned of an impending US invasion but
"He also took the opportunity to make two important points clear: If he died Raúl [Castro’s brother] would take his place as prime minister. What’s more, there were not going to be any elections; since the ‘people’ ruled Cuba already, there was no need to cast votes. The crowd cheered, repeating the catchphrase ‘Revolución Sí, Elecciones No!’ and a new slogan: ‘Cuba Sí! Yanqui No!’" 62
In the circumstances of 1960 it was correct for Castro and his government to act quickly against native and foreign capital. But in this episode there is a striking illustration of the lack of conscious collective control and management by the masses through their own democratic organisations. It also indicates the plebiscitary character of the government. Plebiscites are the usual methods of Bonapartist regimes. The masses are there to shout ‘Yes!’ or ‘No!’ but not to debate, to discuss and above all to decide on the measures proposed by the government, nor to elect and control officials at every level of the state.
Carlos Franqui makes the following illuminating comment about the formation of the militias:
"On May Day, 1959, the militia paraded through all the streets of Cuba. A new instrument of the revolution made its debut: the blue shirts and trousers of the militia, whose uniform – once that of common labourers – became the symbol of the new revolutionaries. They were volunteers, they were hard workers, and they were somewhere between soldiers and civilians. They represented spontaneity and organisation. The militiaman was the third hero of 1959. He was the collective hero, the true ‘Party of the Revolution.’ Men, women, young, old, black, mulatto, workers, peasants, students, professional people, intellectuals, middle-class people, the poor. The militia was the new revolution that gave an identity to all, without prejudice. It asked only for volunteers; it gave military training, it provided care for factories, and it endowed all with political and human awareness. It was armed democracy and came to have a million members.
"Who created it? It was in the air, but it was the unions and the 26 July Movement that provided the impetus. But it was rapidly taken over by those who were in just the right place to do so: the army, with Raúl and the Communists63 right behind it. But there were conflicts from the outset, because the militia represented egalitarian freedom, and the army demanded obedience to higher authority. An armed people are not an army. And this populist spirit showed just what it could do in the sugar-cane campaigns, in the literacy campaign, and in the fighting that took place in the Escambray Mountains against the anti-Castro rebels. The militia never had the repressive character of the Security Police or the Defense Committees, and the army. The militia was an instrument of revolutionary democracy, the libertarian phase of the Cuban Revolution.
"The militia was used, but no one [in the government] had any confidence in it. That would have required those in power to share power with a revolutionary institution at the popular level. This would be the second time the Cuban Revolution would lose an opportunity to have a people’s organisation. First the 26 July Movement was discarded, later it would be the militia. The Russo-Castroite concept that began to take shape and control created an elitist power structure: the people were organised into cadres, watched over and administered by Security, the army, and the bureaucracy. There was only one chief who held all the power." 64
Role of Stalinism and "Trotskyists"
It does not even occur to Lorimer to ask why the Khrushchev Stalinist regime was prepared to extend both political and material support to the Castro regime, while in the case of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 there was no compromise. The Stalinists then had no alternative from their standpoint but to drown that political revolution, the Hungarian Commune, in blood.
Moreover, in Spain between 1936 and 1938 the Stalinists acted as the most counter-revolutionary force in suppressing and annihilating the Spanish Revolution. Trotsky explained that the hot flames of the Spanish Revolution with the conscious organisation and mobilisation of the working class terrified the Russian Stalinist regime. This was one of the factors, which led to Stalin’s purge trials, which represented a one-sided civil war against the remnants of the Bolshevik party. It was a pre-emptive strike by Stalin and the bureaucracy to prevent a political revolution in Russia that would have followed a successful socialist revolution in Spain.
If the Castro regime had been a healthy or relatively healthy workers’ state, with mild bureaucratic ‘deformations’, as the DSP argue, why is it that Khrushchev and the Stalinist regime in Russia could come to terms with it? They did not see Castro and even Guevara, their government and state, in the process of formation, as constituting a huge threat. It is quite clear from all the accounts from the time that they perceived the establishment of a ‘socialist’ Cuba in the ‘jaws of US imperialism’ as adding considerably to their power and prestige. There were later clashes between Castro and the representatives of Russian Stalinism. But at bottom this was a clash between the different national bureaucratic regimes they rested on: one, which was consolidated in Russia, the other in the process of formation. A socialist Cuba based upon workers’ and peasants’ councils, with the right of recall of all officials, clear limitations on differentials and power clearly vested in the working class and its allies would have constituted a colossal danger to the Stalinist bureaucracy. In this situation there would have been no possibility of a compromise.
And there was the possibility of establishing such a democratic regime in Cuba at the beginning. Che Guevara was searching for an answer to the increased bureaucratism but finally left Cuba after his struggle had failed. The tragedy was that there was no genuine Trotskyist organisation in Cuba which could have helped those Cuban revolutionaries, like Guevara, to discover the real ideas of Leon Trotsky and particularly his analysis and programme for combating bureaucratism in a workers’ state. The main Trotskyist organisation, the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers Party (Posadist) was completely ultra-left in their approach towards the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban government. They were the other side – ultra-leftism – of the coin to the DSP’s opportunist adaptation towards the Cuban Revolution and its main figures.
Che Guevara was vaguely aware of Trotskyism. He had read some of Trotsky’s works. Yet, in an interview with Maurice Zeitlin he shows his hostility to the Cuban ‘Trotskyists’ because of their approach. Zeitlin asks Guevara:
"What about the Trotskyists, for example? Carleton Beals pointed out recently that their press here has been smashed and they were unable to complete printing copies of Trotsky’s ‘The Permanent Revolution’."
The Partido Socialista Popular, the Cuban Stalinist party, had attacked and smashed the presses that printed the Trotskyist journal ‘Voz Proletaria’ in April 1961. Only a mimeographed publication was published after this. Guevara’s response was:
"That did happen. It was an error. It was an error committed by a functionary of second rank. They smashed the plates. It should not have been done. However, we consider the Trotskyist party to be acting against the revolution. For example, they were taking the line that the Revolutionary Government is petty bourgeois, and were calling on the proletariat to exert pressure on the government and even to carry out another revolution in which the proletariat would come to power. This was prejudicing the discipline necessary at this stage."
When asked about Trotskyists in general Guevara replied:
"Here in Cuba – let me give an example. They have one of their principle centres in the town of Guantánamo near the US base. And they agitated there for the Cuban people to march on the base – something that cannot be permitted. Something else. Some time ago when we had just created the workers’ technical committees the Trotskyists characterised them as a crumb given to the workers because the workers were calling for the direction of the factories."
In answer to other questions Guevara stated:
"What is to be condemned is that after free discussion and a majority decision, a defeated minority works outside of and against the party – as Trotsky did, for example. To do so is counter-revolutionary." 65
Che Guevara was entirely wrong in this criticism of Trotsky, who went to great lengths in the beginning to remain within the Russian Communist Party; but was expelled because he symbolised the workers’ opposition to the rise and crystallisation of the bureaucracy. This exchange illustrates a number of things. On the one side the completely ultra-left position of the Cuban ‘Trotskyists’ who were calling for the overthrow of Castro and Guevara while these two enjoyed the mass support of the workers and peasants of Cuba. At no time did we advocate such a crude position as this, as Lorimer implies in his attack on us. We adopted a friendly positive attitude to the revolution and its leading figures. We advocated for Cuba in 1959 and the early 1960s the establishment of workers’ and peasants’ committees and the programme of workers’ democracy. A genuine Marxist approach was to positively support all the progressive measures of Castro and Guevara and the leaders of the revolution, while offering friendly suggestions as to how to create a workers’ democracy to ensure the gains and advance the revolution. To propose a march on the Guantánamo base, which Guevara claimed was the proposal of the Cuban ‘Trotskyists’, would easily be perceived as a provocation and give US imperialism the excuse to intervene against the revolution. The limitations in Guevara’s own ideology at this stage and the negative impression made on him by the Cuban ‘Trotskyists’ were factors in him being unable to work out a rounded-out analysis of the process of bureaucratisation that was taking place in Cuba and which he instinctively opposed. His consciousness of the growing bureaucratisation of the revolution was undoubtedly a major factor in his decision to leave.
Workers’ Democracy – Did it Exist?
Carlos Franqui wrote about the possibilities at the beginning and his disappointment at the growth in power of the elite:
"The fact of the matter is that we had the possibility of establishing our own Cuban socialism because the working class, the peasants, the youth of the nation, and a goodly sector of the middle classes were with us. The nation was coming into its own because it had taken back its wealth, had recovered its dignity, and was both free and independent.
"This was the moment to have confidence in the people and to create new ways of life. To socialise our major industries would have been easy. The sugar workers were already politicised, and it would have been relatively simple to show them that they could work just as hard for their own interests as they had worked for the boss. The same applied to the cattle industry, which was in fact already supplying the nation with cheap milk and meat. Other industries, like tobacco, would also fall into line. We could stimulate the fishing industry and stop importing cooking oils – an absurdity in a country producing peanuts, corn, and sunflowers. We could turn to the people, to their long experience with the land. And land reform itself would be no problem because only a small minority of the peasants were freeholders, and most of these because the revolution gave them land. We possessed a sound transportation system, so distribution was no problem. Even the professional classes – including ten thousand physicians – supported the revolution. The counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie was already in the United States; good riddance to them. There was no real opposition to the revolution anywhere in Cuba. (Abroad, of course, opposition existed, but it could not, without US assistance, topple the revolution.)" 66
Franqui goes on to show the raging debates and discussions which took place between the leaders of the revolution on which direction to take, towards greater control and management by the working class and poor peasantry, or towards the Russian ‘soviet model’. Like Che Guevara, Franqui was by no means clear as to what needed to be done but his comments show that there was opposition to the increased reliance on Stalinist Russia and the inevitable bureaucratisation that went with it.
"All we needed was to give power to the people – not to a military dictator. We did not need the Russian model, or any Soviet influence. Our thesis, as Comandante Daniel put it in his polemic with Che Guevara, was, ‘We want to be free of Yankee imperialism, but we don’t want to run into Russian imperialism67 in getting away from the United States.’ …Russian spare parts were useless for US-made machines. Russia didn’t make the things we needed. And its economy, state-run instead of socialist, had already shown in Eastern Europe and China just how inefficient the Russians were. Besides, great powers like to control small ones.
"In conversations with Fidel, we expressed our concerns about the Soviet Union and the models it offered, particularly its tendency to state monopoly instead of real socialism. Some of Fidel’s decisions bothered us: state-owned farms instead of self-regulating co-operative farms. A tendency to gigantism: where there had been one huge plantation, Fidel combined ten and made a superplantation. We wanted small-scale agriculture so that we would not be substituting for the old boss a new administrator, for the old owner a new, state owner. But Fidel had an innate distrust of the people; he preferred militarisation to organisation. He also thought that in peacetime and in economics the same rules applied as in wartime and guerrilla fighting – that a group of leaders could change everything. It just wasn’t so." 68
He goes on to point out that it was Fidel Castro’s strategy to involve
"The Soviet Union by rapidly deploying the structures of the Soviet state – the Communist Party and a State Security agency. But even the Soviet government was unwilling to comply. The Soviets advised patience and constantly warned us, before and after the fact, about turning Cuba into a socialist state. All Soviet emissaries, ambassadors – even Khrushchev and Mikoyan – recommended calm and patience. As did China and the Eastern bloc nations. They were all shocked at the accelerated and artificial process of nationalisation they saw us engaged in. The more they worried, the faster Fidel went. He envisioned a new kind of government – a Russian structure, but with himself at the top – that would be perfect for Third World nations. In that social structure, the role of the people was to work and to obey unquestioningly.
"Fidel thought those of us who had taken part in the revolution were not really ready for socialism. This was not true: we were not ready to accept Russian non-socialism, not ready to accept a new caudillo. In a discussion with me, Fidel said that the only people in Cuba who knew anything about socialism were the old Communists and that I ought to set aside my prejudices against them and the Soviet Union. He believed, as he said, that the people were not yet ready for socialism, and that Stalinism had been the only way the revolutionary minority in the Soviet Union had been able to impose the revolution on a non-revolutionary majority. I must point out that, at that particular moment, there existed no political apparatus in Cuba. Fidel had caused the 26 July Movement to vanish and had liquidated the Directorio in his two speeches of January 1959. The free trade unions, the popular militia, the revolutionary press, and their adherents were struggling against the reactionaries, the old Communists, and Soviet influence. Raúl, Ramiro, Che, and even Fidel himself had begun to attack us. The government had begun its war against the people. The people resisted, but Fidel possesses the power that turned them from protagonists into obedient servants." 69
The very simple axiom: ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ applies in the reciprocal relations between Castro’s Cuba and the Russian Stalinist regime. Khrushchev was prepared to give aid, as a means of enhancing the position of Russian Stalinism. This was not done in order to further revolution throughout the world, certainly not to sustain a ‘healthy workers’ state’. Indeed, as Franqui hints, the Stalinist bureaucracy did not necessarily wish to see the establishment of even a deformed workers’ state in Cuba. They did nothing to encourage Castro in the course of the struggle, and indeed as the example of Nicaragua in the 1980s demonstrated, if given the choice would actively discourage states in the neo-colonial world from breaking with landlordism and capitalism. Their prime purpose was to specifically enhance the position of Russian Stalinism particularly in its relations with US imperialism. (The DSP are wide of the mark when they criticise us for using the term ’Russian’ in relation to the USSR. All the states in the ‘USSR’ were, in effect dominated by the centralised Russian bureaucracy.) Therefore, while not necessarily encouraging the formation of a deformed workers’ state once faced with the accomplished fact Khrushchev and Russian Stalinism were quite prepared to come to its aid. This was for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that such a regime would be an enormous irritant to US imperialism in its own ‘backyard’.
The DSP and Lorimer make a lot of the fact that Castro ratified the formation of the militia and that the privileges of the state and army officers were very limited. He draws a favourable comparison between Cuba and China in 1956. He argues, quite falsely, that the differences between the living standards of the Chinese workers and peasants and those of the top echelons of the Chinese bureaucracy were vastly greater than those between the top echelons of the Soviet bureaucracy and the Russian workers in the 1960s and 1970s. Quite apart from crude statistics, in real terms the differences were much greater if one takes into account the many ‘hidden’ privileges of the bureaucracy in the USSR. In China in the first period after Mao’s victory, given the low economic and cultural level of society, there could not be huge differentials. Even in the first period of the Stalinist degeneration in Russia, on paper the privileges of the growing bureaucratic elite were not huge. In fact, the memory of the revolution, with its ideals of equality, was still fresh in the minds of the masses. It would take further isolations of the Russian Revolution, as a result of the defeat of revolutions internationally, which in turn resulted from the false policies of Stalin and his entourage, for the ground to be prepared for the complete abolition of the egalitarian principles of the revolution and a huge widening of differentials.
In Cuba in the first period the differentials were very small, and in the case of Castro and Guevara (certainly the latter) if anything they accepted less than the average Cuban wage at that stage. But, given the limited forces which constituted the 26 July Movement, Castro and Guevara were compelled to draw into important positions in the state machine the heavily bureaucratised PSP, as well as utilising those elements from the old bureaucracy who had come over to the revolution.
One thing is clear, in all the most authoritative accounts of the history of Cuba there was no system of workers’ control and management in the classical sense of the term, as understood by Marxists. This is what Carlos Franqui says of the situation at the beginning:
"Instead of a new society created from below by the workers, Cuba would be a society in which the workers were a productive force obedient to the dictates of those in power. The prime movers of this new society would be Fidel, ten comandantes, and the members of the old Communist party.
"A fusion of the Russian model and the new dictatorial militarism of Fidel Castro was taking place. In a casual conversation with him, one in which I expressed my concern with the course of events, he made a statement that shook me to the core: ‘Only the old Communists and the Soviets know anything about communism. We must be patient and learn from them.’ I said I knew the Cuban Communists better than he, and that they knew nothing at all about communism. I told him they were unpopular, that the people did not consider them revolutionary, and that they had joined forces with Batista. They fought against the revolution of 1930, had ruined the labour movement, had denounced Moncada, had rejected the Sierra campaign and the clandestine war, and had thrown in their lot with tyranny. Fidel agreed with what I said but insisted that Cuba needed the Communists and would learn from them. I told him to watch out for the second-line Communists, the younger ones of the Prague-Mexico group, including Aníbal Escalante and Isidoro Malmierca, because they were Stalinists with strong ties to Moscow. Fidel insisted that in a revolutionary situation it often turned out that the people were not ready and that a revolutionary minority had to take it upon itself to impose socialism on the people. This was an apology for Stalinism. I could see it coming, and there was no way out.
"But what could the people see? They saw the revolution nationalising property, expropriating foreign-owned industries. They saw the old order disappearing and Cuba recovering national independence and dignity. They could also see the heavy hand of the CIA and the capitalists organising expeditions outside the country. The workers supported as best they could their own unions and knew the charges brought against the union leadership were false. The only thing the unions were guilty of was not being militant Communists, which was a fact, since the unions derived from the Auténtico and Ortodoxo parties, themselves the result of the 1930 revolution that Batista had destroyed. Why the revolution had begun to devour its own children, the working class, was a mystery." 70
He goes on to recount an argument in the Presidential Palace between Raúl Castro and himself, with Che Guevara present. This exchange is very revealing.
"’You’re an anti-Soviet,’ Raúl repeated [to Franqui].
"‘Look, Raúl, if the Russians really were Soviets, I would be with them. The Party liquidated the Soviets right off the bat. Your problem is that you think that bureaucracy and Soviet mean the same thing. The other thing is that you love Stalin, the man who was the enemy of the people, the new tsar who killed thousands of Bolsheviks and millions of innocent people.’
"Raúl shouted me down: ‘Nobody offends Stalin when I’m around!’
"‘Really? Listen, Raúl, when I was in Moscow the first time I called him a motherfucker right in his mausoleum in front of the Russians themselves. I’ll do it again for you, right here, if you like.’ Now he went crazy, foaming at the mouth, shouting his head off.
"Dorticós, [then Cuban President, and later to commit suicide when he was precipitately removed by Castro from his position] ever the clever lawyer, stepped in. ‘This gentleman is a Trotskyite,’ he said. I denied it, but added that he could call me an anti-Stalinist anytime he liked. I went on to say that I never kept my feelings secret, as did some persons I could mention, and that I had told Fidel himself how I felt about Stalin, power, bureaucracy, and repression in the Miguel Schultz prison. I would be glad, I said, to talk about the invasion and occupation of Poland, Budapest, and Prague if they cared to.
"’Well, suppose we put you up against the wall? History would absolve us,’ said Raúl.
"’History absolved us when we rose up against Batista, but now that you’re in power and can kill like a Batista, you’ll find that you’ll be condemning yourself, just as Batista did. So save your threats,’ I answered.
"‘I’ll shoot you right here and now!’
"I ripped open my shirt and shouted, ‘Start shooting if you know how!’ (Don’t think I didn’t see the comic side of all this histrionic bullshit. But I was having fun.)
"Then Raúl calmed down…
"I began to feel ridiculous. Then Aleida March said she was leaving because she didn’t like people ganged up on like that. Dorticós tried his Trotsky ploy one more time, so I turned to him and said, ‘This isn’t my first violent argument with Raúl, but I have no intention of arguing with people like you, who were not even in the revolution.’ His jowls began to tremble, and that reminded me of Camilo Cienfuegos’s laughter when he talked about people like Dorticós or Augusto Martínez Sanchez and their trembling jowls when they were afraid.
"Dorticós, white with rage, fell into rhetoric. ‘You, sir, are offending the office of the presidency.’
"‘The only person being offended here is me’ was my answer." 71
Here we have Franqui, an important participant in the revolution, confused but highly suspicious of the bureaucratisation taking place, searching to check this through democracy. In the magazine he was producing at the time he published articles by, amongst others, Trotsky. This and his suspicion of the growing bureaucratic elite earned him the epithet of ‘Trotskyite’ from Dorticós. This is the ultimate ‘crime’ in the book of the bureaucracy, which through figures like Dorticós and the privileged officialdom that he represented was developing in Cuba at this time. How is it possible to ignore or pass over in silence these revelations? The sneers of Dorticós, a figure who never fought in the revolution but yet personified the rise of the bureaucracy, signify what was taking place in Cuba at this stage. Was it a misunderstanding, an unfortunate choice of words? On the contrary, in politics language is in general not accidental, especially where the vital interests of classes or castes are involved. ‘Trotsky’ and ‘Trotskyism’ are synonymous for every ruling class and for every bureaucratic group on the planet with the threat to their rule by a conscious working class.
Even if a healthy workers’ state had been established in Cuba and then the revolution had not succeeded in spreading internationally, particularly to Central America or South America as a whole, an inevitable degeneration would have set in. But as we have seen almost from the outset the Cuban government ruled through the newly merged Communist Party in the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. They were, in effect, a top-down method of tapping support from the working class.
Tad Szulc makes the following point (in writing his book he discussed extensively with Castro) about the CDRs:
"Full-time security services, however, were not considered sufficient, and on 28 September, the day he came back from New York, Castro announced the creation of Committees for the Defence of Revolution (CDR) as a people’s system of collective vigilance. The CDRs were Castro’s invention – nothing on such a scale exists even in the Soviet Union – and their immediate function was to keep the police and security services informed of strangers appearing in their neighbourhoods (there is a CDR for every urban block and in every plant and farm), citizens voicing criticisms of the regime and so on. Castro estimated in 1986 that 80 per cent of the population belonged to the CDRs, an unparalleled security network [our emphasis]. And nowadays the CDRs are also responsible for the vaccination of children and other community tasks." 72
Lorimer in answer to our criticism on the role of the CDRs states:
"Taaffe seems to be unaware that the CDRs were set up to carry out a repressive function – to organise the mass of workers and peasants to (as their name implies) repress counter-revolutionary activity – sabotage and terrorism." 73
Trying to face both ways he also states a few pages later:
"Between 1974 and 1976, utilising the CDRs as a basis, these representative institutions of workers’ democracy were created on the local, city, provincial and national levels – the Organs of People’s Power. These are not legislative bodies on the parliamentary model, but working bodies that combine legislative and administrative functions. They are the same type of representative institutions as the early Russian soviets." 74
Lorimer has absolutely no understanding of the way that institutions which are set up with popular support and approval and which are mainly used against capitalist counter-revolution can, with a change in the situation – increased bureaucratisation – be turned into their opposite as a weapon against Marxists, socialists and communist critics of a bureaucratic regime. The Cheka, the security wing of Bolshevik power, was initially used to defend workers’ democracy and to repress bourgeois counter-revolution. However, while retaining the outward forms from this heroic period the security police turned into its opposite as the armed samurai of the Stalinist counter-revolution. It was used in changed circumstances to repress those standing for workers’ democracy and the original aims of the revolution.
The Repression of Writers
Of course, the CDRs, even in Cuba today, bear no comparison to the NKVD or the GPU but part of their ‘repressive’ role is not just against capitalist counter-revolutionaries but those who criticise the Castro regime from the left, demand more freedom, an opening up and a searching for the ideas of workers’ democracy. This is just another example of the DSP’s cynical cover-up of the increased bureaucratism of the Fidel Castro government. The same applies to their completely abstract attempt to convince us that real workers’ democracy existed through the initiatives taken in 1974 and 1978. Lorimer argues that Castro is the modern equivalent of Lenin. Would Lenin have reconciled himself to the Russian Stalinist regime and its publications? Pravda, originally the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary newspaper, had been converted by the bureaucracy into a mouthpiece used to justify every crime of Stalin and the Stalinists against the working class. Yet in 1968, after Brezhnev had replaced Khrushchev four years before, Castro, on a visit to the USSR, "stated in all seriousness that ‘Pravda’ was the best newspaper in the world"!75 Lorimer scandalously tries to excuse the persecution of poets, novelists and others sympathetic to the revolution. Tad Szulc gives an abundance of information on the repression of this layer from 1969 to the mid-1970s and beyond. He states:
"In 1970 the most prestigious Cuban novelists and poets suddenly discovered that without explanation no publishing house or magazine would publish their work. This mysterious ban would last until the mid-1970s." 76
Lorimer comes forward with what is in effect a further apology for the repression meted out to Herberto Padilla in March 1971. Here we have a former Trotskyist organisation justifying Padilla’s ‘self-criticism’ which comes straight from the Stalinist school of self-abasement. Tad Szulc further declares:
"Castro evidently approved of the crackdown on Cuban intellectuals because the arrest of the poet Herberto Padilla in March 1971 had to have been authorised by him. The arrest led an impressive group of European and Latin American intellectuals, including Sartre and García Márquez, to write to Castro demanding Padilla’s release. He was freed 37 days later, after reading a statement of self-criticism and urging other writers to do likewise. His friends regarded him as a ‘traitor’, but Padilla remained in Cuba for a decade working as at translator of foreign literature. He finally left in 1981, after García Márquez had made another personal appeal to his friend Fidel. Even the obedient UNEAC [Cuban writers association] protested in a letter to Castro the lengthy detention of homosexuals in the military forced-labour units, and they were finally sprung. Yet it left an ugly scar on Cuban society." 77
The DSP claim that the Padilla incident was ‘unfortunate’ but has not been repeated since and this shows the openness, as well as the literary and cultural freedom that still exists in Cuba. Tad Szulc answers this:
"Overall Castro’s oppressive cultural policies have dealt a lethal blow to creativity in his country; even in 1986 the island was a wasteland of ideas beneath a reign of strict self-censorship. It may take generations for Cuba to return to the free cultural age of José Martí." 78
The same superficial approach is shown by Lorimer when he examines the alleged ‘workers’ democracy’ and ‘people’s power’ which he claims exists in Cuba. This is a reference to the so-called ‘institutionalisation’ of the revolution, as Castro called it, through the introduction of a new Cuban constitution on the 24 February 1976. Again Tad Szulc comments:
"Over the previous 17 years the Fundamental law drafted immediately after victory by the first revolutionary government and literally thousands of laws and regulations had formed the judicial framework of the Cuban state – though no doubt ever existed as to where actual power reposed." 79
In other words Castro and his group wielded the power notwithstanding any laws passed.
A nationwide discussion took place over the constitution which proposed the creation of a "popular power structure of local self-government capped by a national assembly" with legislative functions described as "the supreme organ of state power". There were differences over the method of election of deputies to the national assembly between advocates of direct elections and those favouring choices being made by the "municipal assemblies of popular power". Direct elections in theory would allow a voice in the decision-making process, whereas in the second case nominations from municipal assemblies for membership in the national assembly could, in the Cuban situation, be determined through political manipulation on a local level with candidates nominated. The original draft also provided for national assembly deputies to explain the policy of the state and periodically render account [to the electors]. But that could have been "disastrous for the central government" said Szulc, especially if direct elections were introduced. The clash was so great over this issue that in the popular referendum on 15 February 1976 no mention was made of the method of election. Szulc comments:
"Only after 97.7 per cent of the voters had approved the charter did the Central Preparatory Commission headed by Fidel Castro insert the provision that ‘The National Assembly… is composed of deputies elected by the Municipal Assemblies’. This was the end of the first and last major attempt to democratise Cuban Marxism." 80
In the constitution Cuba was defined as a "socialist state of workers and peasants and all other manual and intellectual workers", with the Communist Party being the "highest leading force of the society and of the state, which organises and guides the common effort towards the goals of the construction of socialism and progress towards communist society". It also hailed Jose Marti who "led us to the people’s revolutionary victory", then Fidel Castro under whose leadership the "triumphant revolution was to be carried forward". Again Tad Szulc comments:
"Thus enshrined in the constitutional text Castro was, in effect, named leader for life as a matter of law; the corollary was that it would be unconstitutional (and not just ‘counter-revolutionary’) to challenge him. Pursuant to constitutional provisions, the National Assembly then elected a 31-member Council of State, including Fidel Castro as its president and Raúl Castro as first vice-president. As president of the Council, Castro became the ‘Head of State and Head of Government’. Total power was therefore legally vested in him as President of Cuba and Chairman of the Council of Ministers as well as First Secretary of the Communist Party and military Commander-in-Chief." 81
Raúl Castro as ‘First Vice-President and General of the Army’ was automatically designated as his brother’s successor. Fidel Castro "remarked once in absolute seriousness, the creation of the institutions has assured the continuity of the revolution" after his death. He added straight-facedly that he was not really needed any more, explaining that Raúl was his successor (automatically because he had the leadership qualities – not because he was his brother)". Szulc goes on to comment:
"By 1986, after two more quinquennial congresses of the Communist Party, everything had remained the same, with Fidel Castro the only and final author and arbiter of every decision taken in Cuba. The National Assembly held two annual sessions as prescribed by the constitution, but each session lasted only two or three days." 82
And all of this is designated by Lorimer as equivalent to the state founded by Lenin and Trotsky between 1917 and 1923. Merely to state this shows how muddled are the leaders of the DSP on the issue of workers’ democracy. Not just muddled but also extremely dangerous is the confusion and miseducation, which they are responsible for with potentially important revolutionary forces, particularly in Asia.