Cuba: Socialism and Democracy
by Peter Taaffe
For a Socialist United States of the Caribbean and Latin America
Faced with an impasse Castro was forced to alter course. Thus, in November 1973 at the ‘Congress of Trade Unions’, he admitted that, "Cuba was not ready for communism and must in some certain respects go backwards due to the revolutionary inexperience of many Cubans and the low rate of production in some sectors of the economy."
On 14 January, 1974, he also confessed that "more workers were required to carry out the same jobs than had been the case under American ownership".
Only four hours of productive work per day was the national average in Cuba in 1966. Absenteeism had reached 16 per cent in light industry and 31 per cent in the food industry. Castro declared in 1975: "The people can replace anyone; me as well if they want," and called for more participation in decision making.
In reality there were no democratic channels for the masses to change the policies or their leaders. Thus, KS Karol remarks:
"All its [the Communist Party’s] organs from the Central Committee down to the lowest office are appointed from the top by Fidel Castro and his closest collaborators." [Karol, Guerrillas in Power, p458]
The Castroite Cuban CP was established in 1965 yet its first Congress was held in 1975! Even during the Russian Civil War under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the Bolshevik Party held its conference every year.
It was left to Dr Jorge Risquest, Castro’s Minister of Labour, to give an inkling of the real causes of this malaise. In July 1975, he attributed "the country’s economic problems mainly to a widespread passive resistance by the workers". He also admitted that "there was no proper rapport between workers on the one hand and the state administration, the officials of the Communist Party and the trade unions on the other".
As a means of ventilating the accumulated grievances against the bureaucracy a draft constitution was published in 1975 establishing so-called ‘popular power’. Experimental elections were held for ‘municipal assemblies’ in the Matanzas province in the same year. Usually two candidates stood but sometimes as many as 15 participated in the election.
But the rub was that all candidates had to be members of the Communist Party, or constituent organisations of this party, like the Young Communist League! In other words, the elections were a farce. Imagine the reaction of the British workers if they were told they could support candidates from only one party in shop stewards’ or trade union elections!
The apologists of the Castroite regime – some of them alleged ‘Trotskyists’ – object that Castro has not hesitated to denounce bureaucracy and the Russian bureaucracy in particular – characterising them as ‘pseudo-revolutionaries’ – in the past. Moreover, they say Castro attempted to spread the revolution to the Latin American mainland, thereby coming into conflict with Communist Party leaders in the area.
Stalin, Mao Zedong and Tito have all in their time denounced the ‘bureaucracy’. But they attacked the excesses of their own system, making scapegoats of the most glaring and blatant cases of bureaucratic mismanagement, waste and greed, the better to defend as a whole the privileges of the caste that they represented. Castro clashed with the Russian bureaucracy when the interests of the Cuban state were threatened. Thus, in 1962 and later in 1968, he denounced Aníbal Escalante as an arch-bureaucrat.
But behind the conflict with Escalante was the clash between two national bureaucracies. Escalante – a leader of the Cuban CP before it fused with the Castroites – was a pliable tool of the Russian bureaucracy, echoing their behind-the-scenes criticisms of Castro, denouncing his ‘ungratefulness’ to his Russian benefactors, and his ‘adventurism’ on the Latin American mainland. Yet the manner of dealing with him spoke as much against the methods of Castro as Escalante.
Escalante was accused of organising a ‘micro-faction’, a crime which did not even exist under Cuban law! Compare the attitude of Castro to that of Lenin at the time of the Russian Civil War. Lenin conceded the right of Bukharin, Radek and others to publish a daily paper which passionately argued against Lenin’s views on the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty and other related issues!
To be sure, in the first period when the lava of revolution had not cooled down we witnessed the Second Declaration of Havana with its brilliant denunciation of the misery of the Latin American masses and the call to revolution. Che Guevara was murdered in a heroic but futile guerrilla adventure in Bolivia. But Castro denounced the opportunist Communist Parties – particularly in Venezuela – not for its abandonment of revolutionary perspectives but its refusal to take to arms and embrace his guerrillaist strategy.
At no time did Castro look towards the powerful working class of Latin America as the main agency for socialist change. Artificially attempting to transfer the guerrilla experience of the Cuban Revolution to the Latin American mainland all hope was placed on the peasantry. The reason for this attempt to extend the experience of the Cuban Revolution to Latin America was to be found in the vicious trade embargo against Cuba enforced by American imperialism and its satellites in the continent.
But foreign policy is a continuation of home policy. The consolidation of the Cuban bureaucracy together with the easing of the boycott was bound to result in a change in the foreign policy of the regime with attempts to find an accommodation with US imperialism and its cohorts in Latin America to the detriment of even verbal support for revolution in the continent.
Thus, when the veiled military dictatorship in Mexico massacred more than 300 students in October 1968 not a word of protest was forthcoming from the Cuban government or Communist Party. The students had proclaimed their support of the Cuban regime but Mexico was one of the few capitalist governments to have maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba! The national interests of the Cuban state took precedence over ‘international solidarity’.
Similarly, there was stony silence in Havana when 10 million workers in France occupied the factories and shook capitalism in Europe and the world to its foundations. Not even a message of support for their French counterparts emanated from the state-controlled student movement, the UJC-FEU!
This tendency will inevitably be reinforced with the lifting of US imperialism’s boycott of Cuba and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Carter Administration is prepared to recognise the Cuban regime once it abandons its intervention in the African continent. With undisguised satisfaction US imperialism recognises that the Castro regime has abandoned its earlier ‘adventures’ in Latin America.
Disillusionment with Castro also began to set in among his most fervent Latin American supporters. In 1967, Castro denounced the Venezuelan Communist Party and supported the guerrilla struggle of Douglas Bravo. But by 1970:
"According to Bravo, the Castroites stopped aiding the Latin American revolution the moment they decided to concentrate on their own economic problems and to rally to the Soviet Union." [Karol, Guerrillas in Power, p536]
Castro underlined the nature of his regime with his support for the intervention of the Russian bureaucracy in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Shortly afterwards, one of his ministers, Llanusa, told students in 1968: "We shall not have a Czechoslovakia here." These developments are not at all some kind of an aberration. Ideas don’t drop from the sky. In the mouths of political leaders they reflect the material interests of classes or social groupings in society.
The Cuban bureaucracy now fears both the victory of the socialist revolution in the West and the political revolution against the bureaucracy in the East. Either would mean the replacement of this bureaucratic elite by workers’ and peasants’ democracy and the elimination of its privileges. Castro is the representative and supreme arbiter of the Cuban bureaucracy. Both in relation to the mighty events in France and in Czechoslovakia his attitude was a gauge of the fear which gripped the growing Cuban elite at these developments.
The elements of workers’ control, the workers’ militia, etc, which existed in the first period of the revolution have been either weakened or eliminated altogether. Thus, KS Karol writes:
"Cubans no longer boast about their workers’ militia or about their Committees for Defence of the Revolution. The latter now have a purely repressive function."
The privileges of this layer have existed from the outset of the Cuban Revolution. But on a low economic and cultural base the differences between the workers and peasants on the one hand and the bureaucracy on the other could not be as great as in Russia or Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, even as early as 1963, KS Karol remarks that, in one factory he came across, an engineer received 17 times the wage of a worker!
Moreover, he cites other perks and privileges cornered by the bureaucracy, such as the "high class" restaurants, like ‘Monseñor’, the ‘Torre’, the ‘1830’, the ‘Floridita’ and others which charge colossal prices for meals. At the CP Party Conference in 1975 a decision was taken to allow Cubans to buy cars -–which up till then had been the preserve of the party and state officials!
With the development of the Cuban economy these differences, rather than disappearing, will grow apace. But with the differentiation of Cuban society so also will grow the opposition to the stifling atmosphere created by the ruling privileged stratum of officials.
From a relatively liberal atmosphere in the first period, suppression of all dissent has become the norm. Thus, in 1962, the works of Leon Trotsky were on sale in Havana and there was a flowering of culture and art. Now the dead hand of the bureaucracy pervades everything. Thus, unorthodox writers, poets and artists like Padilla are now frowned upon by the regime. As in Russia, China and Eastern Europe, the toleration of freedom for artists threatens to provoke a movement of the masses for the same rights. The Hungarian Revolution began with the writers’ opposition gathered together in the Petofi Circle.
The Cuban Revolution has demonstrated the gigantic possibilities which flow from nationalisation and a plan of production. In the statistics which record the rise in health care, education, social security and the development of the economy, it has been more than justified. It has also given a big push to the revolution in the Caribbean and in Latin America.
But because the revolution took place in a backward country with a leadership which based itself on a predominantly agrarian movement and with national limitations, bureaucratic degeneration was inevitable. Undoubtedly the Castro regime still has much more of a popular base than the Stalinist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe. But the development of industry will also mean the growth of the working class and with it increasing demands for workers’ democracy. Moreover, political revolution in Eastern Europe or the social revolution in Europe, America or Japan will have their repercussions in Cuba itself.
The victory of the socialist revolution in Argentina or Brazil, for instance, would have a dramatic effect on Cuba. In these countries the social weight of the working class is so decisive that the socialist revolution would develop along the lines of the Russian Revolution. A victory of the working class in either country would detonate the socialist revolution throughout the continent and lead to a new revolution in Cuba – this time a political revolution and the establishment of workers’ democracy.
Like iron filings being pulled into a magnet the countries of Central, South and also even North America, together with the Caribbean, would be drawn into a great Socialist Federation of North and South America. The Cuban Revolution has shown the tremendous possibilities lodged within a planned economy. But even these achievements will pale beside the great possibilities which will open up on the basis of workers’ democracy and a Socialist Federation. The Cuban Revolution demonstrates that only the socialist revolution and workers’ democracy offers any salvation for the workers and peasants of Latin America and the Caribbean from the nightmare of landlordism and capitalism.