Cuba: Socialism and Democracy
by Peter Taaffe
Reprint of Cuba: analysis of the revolution
This pamphlet was first published in three articles in Militant, on 27 January, 3 and 10 February, 1978. They were published together as a pamphlet, ‘Cuba: Analysis of the Revolution’. Some minor alterations were made in order to render the analysis of the Cuban Revolution more precise.
The Cuban Revolution
Events in Africa and the Caribbean have once again forced Cuba back onto the world stage. Having pressed South African forces to invade Angola in an attempt to defeat the revolution, US imperialism then foamed at the mouth when Cuban troops and material were used to support the MPLA. This probably turned the war in favour of the MPLA and resulted in the elimination of landlordism and capitalism in Angola.
At the same time, Cuba has become a pole of attraction for those countries of the Caribbean, like Jamaica and Guyana, which have been devastated by the world slump of 1974-75. To the masses of Latin America, moreover, in the vice of military dictatorships and plagued by hunger and famine – as in Argentina and Chile – Cuba seems to be a haven of progress and tranquillity.
In the advanced industrialised countries also the charismatic figures of the Cuban Revolution, like Fidel Castro and the murdered Che Guevara, contrast favourably in the eyes of some sections of youth looking to end capitalism as against the grey figures like Brezhnev and Kosygin. Even Arthur Scargill, when challenged by David Frost on a recent TV programme, gave Cuba as a model of the society he was aiming for.
Can Cuba act as a guide either for the workers and peasants of the backward countries or the labour movement in the advanced capitalist world in the struggle against capitalism? What is the nature of the Cuban regime? These questions can only be answered by examining the causes and subsequent development of the Cuban Revolution.
Before the revolution, Cuba was a paradise for the rich – a playground particularly for American tourists – but a nightmare for the workers and peasants. In 1950-54 the average per capita income in Delaware, the richest state in the United States of America, was $2,279, while in Cuba it was only $312, ie $6 a week. Even in Mississippi, the poorest state in the USA, average per capita income stood at $829! Fifty-four per cent of the rural population had no toilets at all – not even a privy, and malaria, tuberculosis and syphilis were rampant. There was 25 per cent illiteracy and a similar percentage were unemployed at any one time, ie one in four of the population. Fewer children proportionately of school age went to school in the 1950s than in the 1920s, yet Havana in 1954 had more Cadillacs than any other city in the world!
At the same time, the land was concentrated in a few hands, in huge latifundia. One hundred and fourteen farms, or fewer than 0.1 per cent of the total number, encompassed 20.1 per cent of the land. Eight per cent of the total number made up 71.1 per cent of the land while at the other end of the scale 39 per cent of the total number of farms were made up of small peasant holdings of less than one acre – but they encompassed only 3.3 per cent of the land.
Moreover, the Cuban economy was dominated by the giant American monopolies. Thus the share of US firms was 90 per cent in the telephone and electric services, about 50 per cent in public services and 40 per cent in raw sugar. Bound with iron hoops to the American economy, Cuba was compelled to concentrate on one main crop, sugar, for the American market. Most of Cuba’s sugar was exported to the US under a fixed yearly quota and set prices.
Crowning the whole system was the dictatorship of the gangster Batista. It was estimated that between his second seizure of power in 1953 and his overthrow in 1959, upwards of 20,000 died at the hands of his soldiers and torturers.
Cuba in the 1950s had not been able to carry through the tasks of the capitalist democratic revolution, ie land to the peasants, freedom from the stranglehold of foreign economic and political domination and the development of industry along modern lines. The experience of the Russian Revolution – brilliantly anticipated by Leon Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution – demonstrated that only the working class in the backward countries is able to lead the nation in completing these tasks. Once having come to power and having carried through the capitalist democratic revolution, the working class of Russia went over to the socialist tasks – nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy – and also provided the spark for the beginning of the international socialist revolution.
Contrary to this experience and the methods of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the Cuban Communist Party – in line with most of the Communist Parties of Latin America today – stood for an alliance with the so-called ‘progressive national bourgeoisie’ as the means of completing the ‘anti-imperialist patriotic and democratic revolution’. But the Cuban capitalists invested in land and the owners of the big latifundia in industry. No serious land reform could be carried through with the support of the Cuban capitalists. Nor were they capable of leading a struggle against US imperialism upon whom they leaned for defence against the Cuban masses. The hunt for the mythical ‘progressive national capitalists’ led the Cuban CP into actually supporting Batista soon after he first took power in 1933.
To begin with, party leader Blas Roca condemned Batista as "that national traitor in the pay of the imperialists". But in 1938 the CP Central Committee had discovered that Batista had "ceased to be the leading figure in the reactionary camp"! This magical transformation had been occasioned by the fact that Batista had been granted ‘democratic’ credentials by none other than US President Franklin Roosevelt. Moreover, the humble origins of ‘Sergeant Batista’ meant that he now received the benediction of the CP leaders. Batista reciprocated by legalising the CP in 1938 and four years later he took two CP ministers into his Cabinet! Blas Roca – who was later to sit in Castro’s Cabinet – appeared on the same balcony as Batista in 1942 to receive the cheers of the Cuban masses. Notwithstanding their support, Batista was forced out of office in 1944. Fidel Castro, on the other hand, was denounced by the CP in 1947 as a "gangster"! Even later, when the CP was compelled to change its attitude towards Castro, they still doubted that Batista would be overthrown by the guerrillas, and in November 1958 called for a "democratic coalition government".
Batista’s second coup in 1952 provoked widespread opposition in Cuba and particularly from the students and intellectuals, like Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl. With 120 followers they launched an attack on the Moncada barracks on 26 July, 1953. This was defeated, and Castro was first imprisoned and then released only to go to Mexico to organise a guerrilla force which landed in Cuba in 1956. In a heroic three-year struggle they launched a guerrilla campaign which, with the support of the impoverished peasantry, resulted in the defeat of the overwhelmingly numerically superior Batista’s force. Some of Batista’s soldiers and even officers were won over to the side of the guerrillas.
In 1961, faced with a life and death struggle with American imperialism, Castro was to claim that "he had always been a Marxist-Leninist at heart". At the same time, as KS Karol ironically remarks in his book Guerrillas in Power:
"Some of his comrades who were even less entitled to that label, claimed they had all the time been Marxists without knowing it while others had never been anti-Communist and were therefore open to conversion".
The truth is that Castro, up to this stage, had been no more than a radical middle-class democrat whose ideal was democratic capitalist America. Thus, to the American journalist Herbert Matthews, in an interview during the struggle against Batista, he declared:
"You can be sure we have no animosity towards the United States and the American people… we are fighting for a democratic Cuba and an end to dictatorship." [New York Times, 24 February, 1957]
Moreover, in a document of Castro’s movement – the 26 July Movement – in 1956, it stated that it adhered to "Jeffersonian philosophy" and subscribed to the "Lincoln formula", and proclaimed the desire "to reach a state of solidarity and harmony between capital and labour in order to raise productivity".
Even after he had ousted Batista, Castro declared on 6 March, 1959, to the Association of Bankers, that he desired their collaboration. He also added, according to the US ‘News and World Report’, that he had "no intention of nationalising any industries". Perhaps this was a ‘crafty ruse’ merely meant to fool the landlords and capitalists? On the contrary, all the evidence shows that Castro and his supporters never started off their struggle with a clear socialist programme and perspectives as had Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia.
Lenin based himself on the working class. He anticipated that the workers would lead the poor peasantry in a struggle against Tsarism. Castro and Guevara relied on the peasants and the rural population. The working class only entered the struggle through a general strike in Havana when the guerrillas had already triumphed and Batista was fleeing for his life. The dominant role of the Russian working class with the conscious management and control of the state and industry which they exercised through workers’ and peasants’ councils – the most democratic institutions ever seen – led to a powerful movement of the working class of the world rallying to the cause of their Russian brothers. They attempted to emulate the Russian Revolution in their own countries.
The fact that Castro came to power through a predominantly rural movement shaped the whole character of his movement. It was only a peculiar combination of circumstances which resulted in Castro – who to begin with never envisaged going beyond the framework of a capitalist democracy – presiding over the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists.
On the one side, was the utter bankruptcy of Cuban capitalism to show a way out of the impasse of society. At the same time, there was the colossal pressure of an aroused peasantry and the working class. With the defeat of Batista, the peasants moved to occupy the land and the working class clamoured for wage increases and the reinstatement of those sacked under the previous regime. Thus, in the spring of 1959, 6,000 workers of the Cuban Electric Company declared a slowdown in order to achieve a 20 per cent rise in wages, and 600 workers who had been dismissed in 1957-58 began a strike before the presidential palace. The masses were armed and formed into the militia. Meanwhile, the representative of American imperialism, Eisenhower, panic-stricken by the radicalisation of the Cuban masses, sought to pressurise and blackmail the Cuban government into submission.
This came to a head over Russian crude oil which was to be delivered to Cuba under a trade agreement between the two countries signed in January, 1960. In June the three big oil companies (Jersey Standard, Texaco and Shell), under pressure from the US government, refused to refine the Russian oil. But the Cuban government then ‘intervened’ (a form of supervision) and put the oil through. The companies retaliated by refusing to deliver oil from Venezuela. Cuba then agreed to take all its oil from Russia.
The Eisenhower administration hit back in July by cutting the remaining 700,000 tons of Cuban sugar due to be delivered under the quota agreement. This was calculated to bring the Castro regime to its knees. But Russia immediately stepped in and agreed to take the 700,000 tons of sugar. At the same time, on 6 August, the Cuban Telephone Company, the Electric Company, the oil refinery and all the sugar mills – which up to then had only been ‘intervened’ – were all nationalised. In the next four months, in a rapid succession of blows and counter-blows, all Cuban and American big business was taken over.
In September, the Cuban subsidiaries of United States’ companies were taken over. Cuban companies were taken over in October and by the end of 1960 capitalism had been eliminated in Cuba. US imperialism retaliated by declaring a complete trade embargo and preparing for a military intervention to crush the Cuban Revolution.
The pressure of the masses, the weakness of Cuban capitalism, and the miscalculations and blunders of American imperialism, all combined to push the Castro regime into expropriating landlordism and capitalism. We thus witnessed in Cuba a verification of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution in a caricatured form. The capitalist democratic revolution could only be carried out against the resistance of the capitalists in Cuba and internationally. This, in turn, compelled Castro to lean on the masses and to go over to nationalise big business and establish a planned economy. There was no conscious foresight nor a worked-out perspective, as with Lenin and Trotsky in the Russian Revolution. Indeed, if Castro could have been shown before the revolution a film of his subsequent development he probably would have condemned it as a monstrous fabrication!
The Soviets, with democratic control and management of the state, together with the consciousness on the part of the masses that the fate of the revolution was bound up with the victory of the world revolution, were decisive in provoking the revolutionary movement of the working class in Europe and the world following the Russian Revolution. Because they could see their own class in power, despite the monstrous slanders of their rulers, the workers of Europe and the world came to the assistance and tried to emulate their Russian brothers in the stormy events of 1918 and 1919.
The Cuban Revolution had the effect of an earthquake – particularly in Latin America. But because of the forces involved – a predominantly peasant army – and the absence of conscious control and management by the working class and poor peasants, the Cuban Revolution could not have the same effect as the Russian Revolution. A workers’ state had been established – almost in the jaws of American imperialism – but a deformed workers’ state, with power concentrated in the hands of a layer of privileged officials.