Cuba: Socialism and Democracy
by Peter Taaffe
A big part of Lorimer’s criticism of our position concerns the international effects of the revolution and the foreign policy of the Cuban state. The Cuban Revolution had a big effect worldwide but particularly on the countries of Latin America. There was tremendous sympathy and support amongst the downtrodden.
However, its effects were entirely different to that of the Russian Revolution. There was great sympathy amongst the masses in Latin America, throughout the neo-colonial world, and amongst the more conscious layers in the labour movement in the developed industrial world. But in the case of the Russian Revolution, the working class outside of Russia understood that their class had come to power, had established democratic soviets and a state, which enshrined workers’ rule for the first time in history. There was no similar response, nor could there be, in the case of the Cuban Revolution because of the class forces involved.
The riposte of Doug Lorimer to this is to simply assert that the ‘Castro leadership has always stressed the need to mobilise the peasants and the workers’. Yet, even in this phrase, the DSP puts the same emphasis as the Castro leadership: ‘The peasants and the workers.’ Lorimer does not pose the question which both Guevara and Castro did as to which class was primary and which secondary in the revolution.
Guevara was clear in his article, ‘Cuba: Historical Exception or Vanguard of the Anti-Colonialist Struggle?’ He dealt with the methods that should be applied to the revolution throughout Latin America. He states:
"The peasant class of America, basing itself on the ideology of the working class, whose great thinkers discovered the social laws governing us, will provide the great liberating army of the future, as it has already done in Cuba." 123
Dozens of such statements of Guevara and Castro at this time could be quoted to show that in their view it was the peasants, using the methods of guerrilla warfare, through which the revolution would be triumphant. Karol wrote in 1970 that Fidel Castro
"Had told me several times that the Cuban Revolution was not a proletarian revolution".124
The working class would play the role of an auxiliary as it had done in the case of the Cuban Revolution. Moreover, Castro and Guevara attempted to put this strategy into practice in Latin America by supporting numerous guerrilla organisations and guerrilla ‘foci’ in the 1960s. This was a mistaken strategy for Latin America as a whole where the working class was the key revolutionary class, as events were subsequently to demonstrate in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and many other countries in the continent.
A correct approach would have involved a revolutionary appeal, a mobilisation of the working class in the cities, backed up, in the words of Marx, with a ‘second edition of the peasant war’,125 a movement in the countryside of the poor peasants. This is what actually happened in the Russian Revolution, the lessons of which is a book sealed with seven seals for the apologists of guerrilla warfare like the DSP.
But, for the Latin American working class to move from general support for the Cuban Revolution to an active position of seeking to emulate it, Cuba itself would have had to have shown in action that the working class exercised direct control and management of the state and society. This patently was not the case, even in the first period of the revolution, and has become even less so subsequently.
It is true that an enormous impediment existed to a correct revolutionary policy in Latin America in the form of the leadership of the Stalinised Communist Parties in the continent. Nevertheless, a clear revolutionary appeal by a democratic workers’ state to emulate the Cuban Revolution would have found a ready response amongst the mass of the working class and the poor peasants despite this leadership. Instead of preparing for the creation of genuine revolutionary parties located, in the first instance, in the urban areas and amongst the working class, guerrilla warfare based upon the peasantry was the chosen method of spreading the example of the Cuban Revolution. Despite the revolutionary integrity of Che Guevara and his heroic efforts to rouse the populations of Latin America, this was a mistaken strategy which Castro was forced to abandon following Che’s murder in 1967 in Bolivia and the failure of similar guerrilla movements elsewhere.
France and Mexico
Lenin and Trotsky held that the working class must play the leading role, even if they are in an absolute minority in society, within the revolution. The DSP not only misunderstands this issue when applied to Latin America but, more tragically in a sense, to the movements taking place in Asia and, particularly, the revolution in Indonesia. To them the main revolutionary class is now the ‘urban poor’, rather than the organised working class. In Indonesia, the urban poor can play an important role but the decisive forces for the revolution lie in the organised working class organised in big industry.126 A viable revolutionary mass party must first of all find a basis amongst this class as a means of finding a way to the oppressed poor in the urban areas and, of course, of the exploited poor peasant masses themselves. This is not an incidental question or of subjective academic interest. The history of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s is littered with tragic examples of where the revolutionary potential was ruined by the false methods of guerrilla warfare, in the cities and urban areas as well as in the rural areas. These methods were used in largely urbanised societies such as Argentina, Uruguay and elsewhere.
And what was the role of the DSP and other alleged Marxists and even some ‘Trotskyists’ when these ill-fated policies resulted in the squandering of the enormous revolutionary potential and of a whole generation? They acted as cheerleaders to the guerrilla organisations – making sure that, in general, the majority didn’t personally participate in their actions. This led to the ruination of a whole generation of potentially revolutionary Marxist fighters. Moreover, never have these organisations drawn up a real balance sheet of the baleful effects of their policies and methods. Militant – now the Socialist Party – and the Committee for a Workers’ International have had a consistent position of opposition to such methods. We have always adopted the friendliest attitude towards genuine revolutionaries attracted to these mistaken methods. But we have sought to emphasise the role of the working class, and the building of a mass revolutionary party rooted in this class, as the main tasks for Marxists.
On foreign policy, the DSP are also apologists for the Castro government. I criticised in my pamphlet Castro’s stance over the massacre of the students in Mexico in October 1968, his position on the greatest general strike in history in France in 1968, and on Czechoslovakia. Lorimer has rushed to excuse the stand of Fidel Castro and in so doing unintentionally bears out our arguments on the character of the Cuban regime. We pointed out that the financial and economic dependence of Cuba on the Stalinist bureaucracy of Khrushchev and that of Brezhnev ultimately determined and shaped the character of the Cuban regime. Lorimer writes, in relation to the Escalante Affair (which we deal with in our pamphlet) that,
"Moscow indicated its displeasure by sharply cutting back its supplies of vitally needed oil to Cuba." 127
Precisely! In the action taken against Escalante – with the use of completely undemocratic methods it might be added – the Castro government asserted the national position of their regime vis-à-vis the attempts of the Kremlin to convert Cuba into a mere appendage like Eastern Europe. In this struggle, what was at issue were the interests of the Stalinist bureaucratic regime in Russia and the government of Castro. His government was still popular with the mass of the population of Cuba but, nevertheless, it also rested on the bureaucratic elite that controlled the main levers of power and the state in Cuba. As with the clashes between other regimes within the ‘Soviet orbit’ this was not a conflict between a regime of genuine workers’ democracy (Cuba) and the Kremlin bureaucratic regime. The two bureaucracies were asserting their own separate and rival national interests. In the cases of Mexico, France and Czechoslovakia – the Castro government acted to support the Kremlin bureaucracy (Czechoslovakia), or remained silent in the teeth both of the repression in Mexico and the massive workers’ movement in France.
And Lorimer and the DSP are unashamed apologists for Castro in the stand that he took. Unbelievably, this is what they write:
"Now, unless Taaffe has information to the contrary, all the available evidence shows that in 1968 there was neither a mass revolutionary party in Mexico or France that could have been disoriented by the Castro leadership’s failure to comment on the internal developments in these countries that Taaffe refers to. Does Taaffe actually believe that a message of solidarity to the French students from the UJC (the state-controlled Cuban student movement) or the Cuban Federation of University Students would have changed the outcome of the May-June 1968 worker-student revolt? Does he think that a public protest by the Castro leadership against the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico would have led to the overthrow and replacement of the PRI government by a revolutionary government? If he does believe either of these things then he is vastly more out of touch with reality than even his hyperbolic description of the impact of the May-June 1968 events in France would indicate." 128
It is interesting that Lorimer finds our characterisation of the May-June 1968 general strike in France as ‘hyperbolic’ (grossly exaggerated). Can we assume from this that the DSP did not believe that this was one of the greatest movements of the working class ever in history? That a revolutionary situation existed in France at that stage? If they answer in the negative, it would show that they understand as little about the French events as they do about developments in Cuba and the character of its regime. What is astonishing in their apologia for the Castro leadership is that they justify the silence of Castro on the massacre of the flower of the Mexican youth in 1968 and on the French events on the basis that it would not have made any ‘difference’ because no mass revolutionary party existed. It is shameful for a ‘Marxist’ organisation to argue in this fashion.
The justification for their stand is the following:
"What would have been the most likely outcome if the Castro leadership had acted as Taaffe thinks it should have? A statement of protest against the Mexican government’s repression of the student demonstrations would have most likely have resulted in a change in the Mexican government’s policy – not towards the Mexican student movement, but toward Cuba! When the hangman’s noose of the US imperialist blockade was being tightened around Cuba, the Mexican bourgeois government resisted Washington’s pressure to join the blockade and refused to break off diplomatic and trade relations. Mexico was the only country in Latin America that maintained relations with revolutionary Cuba. In that context, the Castro leadership has not made any criticisms of the Mexican government." 129
Thus the reasoning of the DSP is that the parlous economic and diplomatic situation of Cuba means that the Castro government is compelled to remain silent in the teeth of repression of a section of the world workers’ or youth movement. The same applies when a unique revolutionary situation such as France exists which, if it had succeeded, would have transformed the situation of the working class worldwide, including that of Cuba itself.
This is a million miles removed from the position of the Bolsheviks, the regime of Lenin and Trotsky between 1918-21, when Russia faced not just an economic blockade but the military intervention of the 21 armies of imperialism. When movements of the working class took place, when revolutions developed in Germany, Czechoslovakia and in Italy in 1920, for example, the Bolsheviks intervened and openly advocated support. The Russian government also sought to buy time by combining military resistance to imperialism with diplomatic manoeuvres, the purpose of which was to divide one imperialist power against another. With the ending of the civil war, the diplomatic efforts of the Bolsheviks were an important arm of its foreign policy. But at no time did this take priority over the Bolsheviks’ attempts to assist all revolutionary movements worldwide.
It would have been inconceivable for Lenin or Trotsky to have allowed any diplomatic or other short-term state interests to over-ride the need to support workers in struggle, never mind support for revolutions. For instance, when Chicherin, a leading Bolshevik representative in London, came under pressure in his diplomatic dealings with the British imperialists, he suggested to Lenin that in order to arrive at agreement with them certain ‘democratic’ changes should be effected in the Soviet constitution. Lenin suggested politely that he should be ignored!
Support for workers in other countries did not always come from the government itself, but from the Russian and other Communist parties. If Castro feared the breaking-off of relations with Mexico then the government itself would not necessarily have had to take an official position. But what was to stop the Cuban Communist Party, or the student wing of the Communist Party, or the trade unions, which in a healthy workers’ state would be semi-independent at least, from condemning the slaughter of the Mexican students? Merely to pose the question in this way shows how shallow is the apologia of the DSP for the Castro leadership. This was not the last time that Castro acted to bolster the Mexican bourgeoisie. In the summer of 1988 Castro personally attended the inauguration of Mexican President Salinas (usually diplomats represented Cuba abroad). Salinas had been declared elected through widespread ballot rigging and the general opinion was that the opposition candidate Cárdenas should have won. Habel comments:
"The Mexican left felt betrayed by the personal presence of the figure [Castro] embodying the Cuban Revolution." 130
The same applies to the May-June events in France in 1968. The workers occupied the factories in the greatest general strike in history and the threat of revolution hung over France. No less a figure than De Gaulle vindicated this point when he fled to Baden-Baden in Germany – believing that the ‘game was up’ – in order to prepare for a march of the French army of the Rhine against a revolutionary France. He had reckoned without the perfidious leaders of the French Communist Party and Socialist movement at the time, who derailed this revolutionary opportunity into the safe channels of parliamentary elections.
Does Lorimer agree with the French CP leadership that to characterise this as a revolutionary opportunity was ‘hyperbolic’? If so, he supports those who sabotaged, or let slip, one of the greatest opportunities for the working class to transform not just France but Europe and the world by completing what the workers had started in those heroic months.
In relation to Czechoslovakia, we read one of the most astounding, not to say disgraceful, apologies for Castro’s support for the crushing of the Czechoslovak spring in 1968. In answer to our arguments, Lorimer declares:
"What does Taaffe think would have happened to Cuba’s vital supplies of food, oil, machinery and weapons if Castro had denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia? How does he think Moscow would have reacted if Castro had not given verbal support for its sending of 350,000 troops into Czechoslovakia? The security of Stalinist rule there was obviously of far more importance to the bureaucrats in Moscow than the fate of Escalante’s little group in Cuba (and the Kremlin indicated its displeasure over the Castro leadership’s attitude over Escalante by sharply reducing vital supplies of oil to Cuba in early 1968)."131
So, once more, after deriding our contention that the Castro regime was economically and militarily reliant on the beneficent Kremlin bureaucracy, which ultimately shaped the character of the regime, we now have Lorimer and the DSP vindicating our analysis. They go, however, a lot further in arguing that Castro, the head of a ‘healthy workers’ state’, remember, based on workers’ democracy according to the DSP, had ‘no choice’ but to support the Kremlin’s repressive action in Czechoslovakia. But what are the implications of this incredible statement? Prior to 1989, if a healthy workers’ state had developed in a relatively small country then it would have had no choice, in foreign policy at least, but to have avoided denunciation or criticism of the counter-revolutionary role of the Kremlin bureaucracy on a world scale. This is the shameful muddle that the DSP has got itself into because they have abandoned the principled Trotskyist/Marxist approach towards the struggles of the working class internationally.
There is not an atom of internationalism in their approach. Contrast their position to that of Lenin who stated baldly that if a choice was to be made between maintaining the Russian Revolution or guaranteeing the success of the German revolution, then the Bolsheviks, would have no hesitation in plumping for the victory of the Germany revolution as the priority. If necessary, he argued, this might have meant temporarily sacrificing the Russian Revolution in order to gain the victory of the German workers. The impact of a successful German revolution, particularly on Western Europe, would have been greater than even the Russian Revolution itself. This in turn would have speeded up the prospect of world revolution.
Ultimately, the fate of Cuba rested on the shoulders of the world working class, and not in the Kremlin. This was clearly demonstrated in a negative way after the collapse of the Berlin Wall when the Russian capitalist governments of Gorbachev and Yeltsin unceremoniously pulled the plug on the Cuban economy and the Castro regime. In effect, the DSP and Lorimer are justifying Castro’s stand over the Czechoslovak events. They vehemently deny that Castro was uncritical and give long quotes from a speech by Castro at the time to underline this. But what does Castro actually say? In the very speech which Castro made on 23 August 1968, quoted by Lorimer, Castro hints that what he might say could be "in contradiction with our own interests… and they will constitute a serious risk to our country". He then goes on to say:
"In our opinion, the decision concerning Czechoslovakia can only be explained from the political point of view and not from a legal point of view. Not the slightest trace of legality exists. Frankly, none whatsoever."
These and a few other asides are sufficient for Lorimer to declare:
"Castro’s declaration on the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was thus not one of uncritical support. In fact, it was so critical of the policies of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that none of them reprinted it." 132
But Castro’s speech clearly supported the intervention. This is what Castro stated, according to Lorimer:
"We had no doubt that the political situation in Czechoslovakia was deteriorating and going downhill on its way back to capitalism and that it was inexorably going to fall into the arms of imperialism." 133
He then goes on to state bluntly:
"We acknowledge the bitter necessity that called for the sending of those forces into Czechoslovakia; we do not condemn the socialist countries that made that decision." 134
A number of asides were made by Castro about the Kremlin adopting a ‘consistent’ position but, ultimately, bluntly stated by Castro, he supported the Kremlin’s suppression of the Prague Spring with massive military might.
There was no serious threat of a return back to capitalism in August 1968 in Czechoslovakia. At bottom, the struggle was between the mighty centralised Russian bureaucracy and the liberal nationalist bureaucracy of Czechoslovakia, represented by Dubcek. The movement overwhelmingly accepted the planned economy but there was a clamour amongst the masses for democracy and liberalisation. There were some elements in the movement who, even then, looked towards the market, a return back to capitalism, but the overwhelming majority of the mass of the population stood for the maintenance of the planned economy but with democratic ‘reforms’; ‘socialism with a human face’.
Czechoslovakia, and particularly the leadership of Dubcek and Co, was not as threatening to the Kremlin as the Hungarian Revolution had been twelve years before. The Hungarian commune, as we have commented earlier, represented a deadly threat to the Stalinist bureaucracy everywhere. Its workers’ councils, with all the elements of workers’ democracy, called forth the panicky opposition not just of Khrushchev and Andropov (of the KGB) in the Kremlin, but of the ‘liberal’ Tito in Yugoslavia and Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in China. There could be no compromise with the Hungarian Revolution. In Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, the movement had not gone as far with Dubcek representing a Czechoslovak version of the movement that coalesced behind Gomulka in Poland in 1956. Gomulka represented the Polish nationalist bureaucracy, which in 1956 sought and achieved the loosening of the grip of the Moscow bureaucracy. Against the background of the Hungarian Revolution the Russian Stalinists were prepared to accept Polish ‘independence’ because Gomulka did not threaten the rule of the bureaucracy either in Poland or in Moscow. This was a clash of a rising nationalist bureaucracy with the Kremlin oligarchy in a similar fashion to Czechoslovakia in 1968. In 1956 in Poland, the Kremlin was forced to come to terms with Gomulka and accept the independence of the Polish bureaucracy.
The situation was entirely different in Czechoslovakia because of the changed situation in Eastern Europe, in Russia itself and worldwide. To have granted independence to the Czechoslovak ‘liberal’ bureaucracy then, even with the maintenance of the planned economy, threatened to speed up the centrifugal forces of disintegration that were present and which we saw at the end of the 1980s in Eastern Europe. An independent Czechoslovakia – even one that maintained the bureaucratic rule, but ‘liberalised’ under the regime of Dubcek – would have immediately detonated movements in the neighbouring countries of Hungary, given a colossal push to the anti-bureaucratic opposition in Poland, and possibly would have led, decades earlier, to the downfall of Ceaucescu. Not least would have been its impact on the radicalised workers and youth in Western Europe and the USA, etc. It was a movement of earthshaking proportions, which the Kremlin believed they had no alternative but to crush. And the DSP and Lorimer, in effect, seek to apologise for the apologists of this Stalinist crime.
The crushing of the Czechoslovak ‘experiment’ marked a turning point in Eastern Europe, as did the suppression of the Solidarity movement of 1980-81 in Poland (which was also supported by Castro). It played into the hands of capitalism worldwide in further discrediting ‘socialism’, which was now identified with tanks, guns and aeroplanes being used to suppress a movement for democracy. It also reinforced the pro-market tendencies within the Czechoslovak dissident movement which, with the further disintegration of Stalinism in the 1970s and 1980s, led to the collapse of the regimes of Eastern Europe and of Stalinism. This led to a return back to capitalism with all that this has meant for the struggles of the working class internationally. It is absolutely incredible that any organisation claiming to be ‘Marxist’, never mind Trotskyist, could adopt the kind of position that Lorimer sets out.
He also berates me for my comments on the attempts of the Cuban regime to seek agreements with the US capitalists as a means of lifting the economic blockade of the island. Unfortunately for Lorimer, most informed commentators agree with us. Cuba’s relationship with different US administrations points to the fact that the Castro government sought to arrive at a diplomatic understanding starting with the Kennedy administration itself, which had only just previously attempted to overthrow Castro through the Bay of Pigs invasion. Jon Lee Anderson states:
"He and President Kennedy had been edging toward a behind-the-scenes détente, sending exploratory messages back and forth with a view to ‘normalising’ relations, when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas."
Following Kennedy’s assassination and his replacement by Johnson,
"Fidel was sending a clear signal that he hoped the new American President, Lyndon Johnson, would resume the abruptly severed initiative." 135
Angola, Ethiopia and Nicaragua
Lorimer also castigates me for writing in my 1978 pamphlet:
"The Carter administration is prepared to recognise the Cuban regime once it abandons its intervention in the African continent." 136
"That is the sum-total of what Taaffe has to say about Cuba’s sending of 20,000 troops in late 1975 to help the newly independent government of the former Portuguese colony of Angola to repulse a US-backed invasion of that country by South Africa." 137
Lorimer demonstrates that he has no sense of proportion. He lashes me for not dealing fully with Cuba’s involvement in Angola. To have written a book but not mentioned Cuban support for Angola in some detail would have been a serious omission. But he himself notes that my pamphlet was the compilation of three relatively short articles. This could not deal extensively with the reasons for Cuba’s support of Angola against the intervention of South African imperialism. Nevertheless, we will take the opportunity here of explaining the reasons for Cuba’s intervention in Southern Africa. And, I’m afraid, that this does not coincide with the one-sided views of Lorimer and the DSP.
He contrasts the Cuban intervention in Africa in 1975 to the
"Stalinist bureaucrats in Moscow, Beijing and Belgrade [who] never used their armies in the way the Cubans used theirs in Angola. The Stalinists used their armies as border guards to defend the base of their institutionalised privileges." 138
This is an entirely superficial way of posing the issue. We have never denied that the Cuban Revolution evoked enormous enthusiasm on the part of the Cuban masses (300,000 Cubans volunteered to fight), which generated an earnest desire on their part to spread the revolution internationally. The idea of carrying the example of Cuba to Latin America and the rest of the neo-colonial world affected not just the working class and the poor peasantry, but also sections of the bureaucracy itself. Nor, by the way, was this unique to Cuba. Even in Moscow, Beijing, Vietnam and elsewhere, the bureaucracy was able to tap the support for workers internationally in order to justify their foreign interventions. Sections of the bureaucracy also wished to see the victory of ‘socialism’, ie the establishment of societies similar to their own with a planned economy but one-party totalitarian regimes.
Even Stalin prior to 1933, as Trotsky pointed out, wished to see the victory of the German revolution. Only after the victory of Hitler and the Nazis – a terrible defeat for the world working class – did the bureaucracy begin to fully crystallise into a caste, which then dreaded the victory of the working class anywhere. In the long run, support for a bureaucratic form of ‘socialism’ had the purpose of defending their ‘institutionalised privileges’.
There was enthusiasm amongst workers in Russia for that country’s ‘intervention’ in Spain in the 1930s, which was presented by Stalin and the bureaucracy, of course, as an example of ‘internationalism’. There were a huge number of Russians who volunteered to fight in Spain. They were affected by the hot flames of the Spanish Revolution. They were such a source of revolutionary contagion in Russia itself that Stalin butchered most of them on their return to Russia in the purge trials of 1937-38. Anybody who had been connected with an international workers’ revolution was suspect in the eyes of Stalin and the bureaucracy, partly because they would have become a rallying point in the first stages of a political revolution against the bureaucracy itself.
The intervention of the Chinese army in Korea was not just a question of them being ‘border guards’. The Chinese masses were raised to a revolutionary fervour in opposition to the intervention of imperialism in its attempt to hold back the tide of revolution in the region and Asia as a whole. Even the intervention in Afghanistan in 1980 – supported uncritically by the DSP –initially had the support of significant sections of the Russian people. Opposition only developed as the body bags of Russian conscripts began to come home and it dawned on the Russian people that military intervention was largely to protect the strategic and military interests of the Russian state and the privileged elite that dominated it.
The intervention of Cuban troops in Angola in 1975 arose from a combination of reasons. There was undoubtedly great sympathy for the Angolans amongst the Cuban masses. This was also linked to the worldwide sympathy of the masses for the struggle against the South African apartheid regime. Tad Szulc argues that it was Fidel Castro’s idea, not the Russians, to engage Cuban combat troops in the Angolan civil war "on an absolutely open-ended basis". Initially Stalinist Russia withdrew its support for the MPLA, not trusting it politically and militarily, and "leaving Castro as its only friend". However with the Cuban military intervention Soviet arms belatedly began arriving through Brazzaville in early October 1975. Later that month the South African apartheid regime, through ‘Operation Zulu’, entered with considerable force into Angola. Cuba replied with a huge airlift of troops, ‘Operation Carlota’. This intervention undoubtedly saved the MPLA regime and helped it to defeat its enemies in the crucial battle for the railway terminal of Benguela on 5 November, and assured its capture of the capital, Luanda – threatened by Holden Roberto’s FNLA – in time for Angolan independence on 11 November.
In the next decade 200,000 troops were rotated in the Cuban intervention into the Angolan civil war. Does this represent an example, as Lorimer argues, of a clear, principled, international working-class approach? From the mass of the Cuban people, from even sections of the Cuban bureaucracy itself also, there was as we have explained an earnest desire to prevent an outright apartheid, counter-revolutionary victory in this region. Castro himself had personal ties with the leaders of the MPLA who had spent some time in Havana prior to 1974. At the same time, despite their hesitation at first, as Tad Szulc has again argued: "In Angola, and later in Ethiopia Cuban and Soviet interests have coincided." 139 Without the acquiescence of the Russian Stalinist regime Castro would not have been able to intervene in the way that he did, given the colossal financial and military dependency of Cuba on Russia. By the mid-1970s Cuba was receiving about one-half of total Soviet economic aid to all of the Third World (including Vietnam) as well as probably one-half of Soviet military aid to these countries.
Moreover it is one thing for Cuba to have assisted a similar ‘Third World’ revolution; it would have been an entirely different situation if a genuine revolution had unfolded elsewhere with the working class in full control. At the same time, the interests of the Russian bureaucracy were at stake in Southern Africa. The regime of the MPLA in Angola, in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Portuguese imperialists, had moved significantly along the road to break with landlordism and capitalism. This regime economically and diplomatically inevitably moved into the orbit of Moscow, as did Mozambique.
The revolutionary upheavals that had convulsed both countries from 1974 onwards worried the South African imperialist ruling class. The movements in Angola and Mozambique already exercised a profound effect within South Africa itself, shown later in the Soweto uprisings of 1976. South African imperialism, therefore, supported every attempt to overthrow the regimes of Angola and Mozambique, including supporting opposition movements such as the pro-Western UNITA in Angola. They decided in 1975 to intervene to assist in a military overthrow of the MPLA. This had the tacit support of the major world imperialist powers of Britain and the US. To allow this to have taken place without any resistance would have represented a severe blow to the military, strategic and diplomatic interests of the Russian bureaucracy worldwide, but particularly in the neo-colonial world where it still competed ferociously for support against American imperialism.
On the other hand, the direct intervention of Russian troops would have provoked an immediate response from US imperialism. Moreover, the intervention of ‘white’ troops – albeit Russians in the uniform of the ‘Red Army’ – would not have been tactically adroit, particularly as there was the alternative of Cuba, closely allied to Russia and with a significant ‘Third World’ and black population. Of course, this intervention roused and inspired the Cuban masses whose soldiers fought and sacrificed heroically for what they perceived was their internationalist duty. To say that is one thing. To argue that this intervention alone demonstrates an unswerving revolutionary internationalism of the Castro regime akin to that of the Bolsheviks is naïve in the extreme.
If the Cuban leadership, what Lorimer calls the ‘Cuban Communist Party’, were consistently international revolutionists, why the entirely different approach adopted towards the Nicaraguan Revolution? Here was a movement, the Sandinistas, which had been inspired by the Cuban model. One of the leaders, Tomas Borge, had visited Cuba in the first period after the revolution and had discussed with Che Guevara. The Nicaraguan Revolution, however, did not imitate the Cuban Revolution.
It was not classical guerrilla warfare rooted in the countryside, but had more of the character of a mass insurrectionary movement in the cities and countryside – something similar to the Spanish Civil War. Under the pressure of the revolution, the Sandinistas were compelled to take over 40% of industry and big sections of the land. However, the revolution was not completed, and Castro, together with the Russian bureaucracy, played a large part in ensuring that this was not so.
In 1985, faced with the threat of an armed counter-revolutionary military intervention backed by US imperialism, the Sandinista leaders flirted with the idea of ‘doing a Cuba’. In April, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega visited Moscow to discuss getting the support of the Soviet Union. By this time, the Russian bureaucracy had moved into active opposition to the establishment in the neo-colonial world of new deformed workers’ states. They were seeking more and more an accommodation with imperialism – Cuba had shown the heavy price economically which would be called upon Russia if similar regimes were established in the neo-colonial world. Therefore, they actively discouraged the Sandinista leaders from going down the road trodden by Castro and Guevara 16 years before. Tony Saunois makes the following comment in his pamphlet on Che Guevara:
"Castro dutifully supported his paymasters [the Kremlin bureaucracy] and put pressure on the FSLN leaders. A small number of Soviet MiGs destined for Nicaragua were impounded in Havana. He had previously visited Managua in January 1985 to urge the FSLN to support a mixed economy, telling them: ‘You can have a capitalist economy,’ and praised Ortega for his ‘serious and responsible approach’." 140
Why does Lorimer not take up this statement from an important CWI publication, moreover one that was produced in the recent period? How do Lorimer and the DSP explain the difference between Castro’s attitude ten years previously in relation to Angola and the position adopted in 1985 in relation to Nicaragua? We look forward to their explanation, which, no doubt, will be the same kind of so-called ‘realpolitik’ that Lorimer has employed already.
The present situation in Nicaragua, which arose from the failure to complete the revolution and the refusal to spread it to the rest of Central America and South America, is the responsibility not just of the leadership of the FSLN in Nicaragua. The Kremlin bureaucracy, of course, carries a huge responsibility, as does Castro who was at one with his ‘paymasters’ and also, we have to say, so are Lorimer and the DSP. In Lorimer’s long treatise there is not one line about Nicaragua and the role of Castro. At least I did mention the situation in Africa in my original articles and pamphlet. This is just one example of the leadership of the DSP’s double book-keeping.
"Taaffe deals so sparingly with the Cuban role in Angola because it provides conclusive evidence that his ‘analysis’ of the Castro leadership is 100 per cent wrong. His inability to recognise the proletarian revolutionary character of that leadership is testimony to his sectarian inability to practice – as opposed to merely talking (and lecturing others) about – the art of revolutionary politics." 141
We believe we have answered Lorimer on the issue of the Cuban intervention in Angola. We will pose another question to Lorimer relevant to the issue. Was Castro acting in a ‘proletarian revolutionary’ manner in supporting the regime of Mengistu in Ethiopia? The Derg, the government of Ethiopia led by Mengistu, had presided over the elimination of the feudal regime of Haile Selassie, and taken significant steps along the road to a break with landlordism and capitalism. At the same time, there was not an atom of ‘democracy’, either bourgeois or ‘workers’, in the Ethiopian regime. Moreover, it was suppressing the legitimate national democratic rights of the Eritreans and other oppressed nations within Ethiopia.
At bottom, the same factors were present, which were used to justify Cuban intervention as in Angola. The Ethiopian regime rested economically and even militarily on Stalinist Russia. There was a convergence between the interests of Cuba, particularly of the drive of Castro to enhance his reputation as a ‘Third World’ leader and revolutionary, and the strategic and military interests in the Horn of Africa of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy. Again as Tad Szulc comments: "In Third World policies, Castro and the Russians were totally on the same wavelength".142 The presence of Soviet-supported Cuban forces in the crucial Horn of Africa nearly led the Carter administration in the USA to break off Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union.