Cuba: Socialism and Democracy

Peter Taaffe, International Secretariat of the CWI and general secretary of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales)

I wish to thank the following individuals for their efforts in helping to ensure this book was published: Kevin Parslow and Manny Thain in typing the manuscript. Kevin Parslow deserves a special mention for his unflagging efforts in assembling important documents and his famous attention to detail. Lynn Walsh, as always, provided invaluable suggestions and criticisms as did Tony Saunois, Hannah Sell, Clare Doyle, Bob Labi, Per Olsson, Simon Kaplan, Ken Smith and Steve Jolly. Annoesjka Valent also brought to my attention some important source material. Lastly, I would like to thank Dennis Rudd for his layout skills and Mick Cotter for arranging the printing of this book.

About the Author:

Peter Taaffe is the General Secretary of the Socialist Party, the section of the Committee for a Workers’ International in England and Wales, and a member of the CWI’s International Secretariat. From 1964 he was Editor of Militant, the Marxists inside the Labour Party. Increasing support for Marxist ideas in the Labour Party led to its National Executive Committee expelling him in 1983, along with the four other members of the Militant Editorial Board.

Following the magnificent struggle of the Liverpool labour movement in the mid-1980s and the expulsion of the leading supporters of Militant on Merseyside, and the mighty anti-poll tax struggle led by Militant, opposed viciously by the Labour leaders, the majority of Militant supporters formed Scottish Militant Labour in 1992 and Militant Labour in England and Wales a year later. Peter has been General Secretary of firstly Militant Labour from 1993, and following its change of name in 1997, of the Socialist Party.

Peter has been the author of three books: Liverpool: the City That Dared to Fight (with Tony Mulhearn), published in 1988, The Masses Arise, in 1989, about the French Revolution, both published by Fortress Books, and The Rise of Militant, in 1995, by Militant Publications. He has also written innumerable pamphlets and articles, particularly for The Socialist and Socialism Today and their predecessors Militant and Militant International Review.


The Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, more than four decades ago. Yet, its effects, particularly through its most charismatic figures, Fidel Castro and the murdered Che Guevara, still inspire workers and young people worldwide. The overthrow of the hated dictatorship of Batista was quickly followed by the elimination of landlordism and capitalism. The world labour movement was mesmerised by this. A government and a ‘socialist’ regime had been established in the very ‘jaws of the monster’, US imperialism. Writers and commentators drew parallels with previous revolutions, particularly the Russian Revolution. However, history never repeats itself in exactly the same way. Nor do revolutions. The Cuban Revolution was entirely different to the Russian Revolution, in its origins, the political outlook of its leading figures and the class forces involved.

Indeed, nothing in the socialist and Marxist textbooks – of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg or even Trotsky – fully prepared Marxists for what happened in Cuba. It is true that in his last writings, Trotsky gave some indication of processes which later developed in the Cuban Revolution. He pointed out that leaders from a non-Marxist middle-class background could, in conditions of extreme social crisis, be pushed much further than they originally intended and into breaking with capitalism. The British Marxists also, who later published the newspaper Militant (now The Socialist, weekly paper of the Socialist Party) were better prepared than most for the events of the Cuban Revolution. Their analysis of the Chinese Revolution of 1944-49 and the processes in the postwar period which unfolded in the neo-colonial world meant that they were not taken completely unawares by events in Cuba. Yet even the best theory is not able to fully anticipate how a revolution will actually unfold.

The Cuban Revolution was led by Castro and Guevara, and their 26 July Movement, which originated outside of the Stalinist tradition. They established a regime enjoying massive, overwhelming popular support and which evoked enthusiasm in Cuba itself and acclaim from the oppressed worldwide. In its first phase, moreover, the revolution evinced tendencies of mass involvement and participation, including elements of workers’ control and of ‘popular power’. This compelled every socialist and Marxist to assess the precise character of the Cuban regime. Could the government of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara be compared to that of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks in the first heroic period of the Russian Revolution? A planned economy had been established but was there real workers’ democracy in Cuba? What were the international dimensions and the effects of the Cuban Revolution? These issues were hotly debated at the time, and have been a source of constant controversy since.

These are also the themes of this book, judged against the background of events since 1959. Many, including some claiming to be Marxists and Trotskyists, were, in our opinion, swept off their feet by the Cuban Revolution. They replaced a balanced Marxist appraisal – support for the revolution but linking this to proposals for establishing workers’ democracy in Cuba – with impressionism. This did involve comparing the government and the state in Cuba to that of the Bolsheviks in the first period after 1917. We opposed this and from the very outset of the revolution attempted to give an all-sided analysis and explanation that could prepare workers for the subsequent developments in Cuba and particularly the Cuban state.

Our ideas were presented in our weekly newspaper Militant and in other publications. I wrote three articles for our newspaper in 1978, which were subsequently gathered together and published as a small pamphlet. I have included this pamphlet as an appendix. This provides important background information on the events leading up to the revolution of 1959 and afterwards. Readers can also, if they wish, read our original analysis in the light of subsequent criticisms.

Twenty-one years later Doug Lorimer, one of the leaders of the Australian-based Democratic Socialist Party decided to subject this pamphlet to a lengthy criticism. This book is a reply to these criticisms. However, before we received Lorimer’s criticisms I already had the intention of writing an up-to-date analysis of the situation in Cuba today which would involve a revisiting of the events of the Cuban Revolution itself.

The topicality of such a work has been underlined recently by the worldwide publicity around the Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez, which has once more brought Cuba back to the centre of world politics. The outcome of this conflict, with the ‘capture’ of Elian by the INS, which led to him being reunited with his father, represented a defeat for the die-hard ultra-right Miami exiles. At the same time, it has drawn attention once more to Fidel Castro’s government and political regime, and to the future prospects for the development of Cuba itself.

In this book we touch on some of the main current developments in Cuba but a substantial work, giving a more detailed overall picture of events in Cuba, I have had to put aside in order to reply to the arguments of the DSP with, we hope, some benefits to be gained. Discussion, criticisms and counter-criticisms of different trends within the workers’ movement and amongst Marxists can serve to clarify and educate a new generation who are not yet familiar with our analysis.

I have felt it necessary to reply to the DSP, in the order in which they have set out their criticisms of my pamphlet. This necessarily involves a certain sacrifice of style and presentation in order to properly deal with these arguments. There are also quite lengthy quotes from different authors and publications, which is necessary because of disputes over facts. I hope this is not too burdensome for the reader but will, on the contrary, serve to illuminate and underline the analysis which we have made of the Cuban Revolution, the character of Fidel Castro and his government, and the present and future perspectives for Cuba, which are of vital concern for workers everywhere.

Peter Taaffe

May 2000

chapter 1

Cuba Today

The collapse of the Berlin Wall ten years ago led not just to the elimination of the odious political regimes of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, but also the last vestiges of the planned economies which were the economic base of these societies. The economic counter-revolution brought in its wake unprecedented hardship and suffering for the mass of the population in these countries. Consequently capitalism appeared to reign supreme throughout the planet with the ‘market’ presented as the only viable economic system for humankind. The massive pro-market ideological campaign sought to bury socialism and the ideas of the socialist transformation of society once and for all.

However, a few regimes, Cuba most prominently amongst them, have seemingly held out against the tide of social counter-revolution. For this reason, together with the considerable historical and social achievements of the revolution and the partial recovery of the economy recently, Cuba seems to be a symbol of hope, particularly for those among the younger generation who are rediscovering socialist and Marxist ideas. It appears to be a continued vindication of the socialist project. Yet in the early 1990s in the wake of the collapse in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, Cuba itself was on the knife-edge. Its economic lifeline was the market of the USSR in particular for its main export of sugar, coupled with huge subsidies it received from the same quarter. This was abruptly cut off as the pro-capitalist wing of the bureaucracy in the USSR and Eastern Europe stole state industry and transformed these societies into capitalist states. Under the pressure of world capitalism, their new friends, they spitefully and precipitately cut Cuba’s economic lifeline.

This was to have terrible economic and social consequences for the people of Cuba. Through COMECON, the trading bloc of the former USSR and Eastern Europe, the policy of selling oil (from the USSR) for sugar (from Cuba) and other subsidies was worth a huge $5 billion annually to Cuba.1This was now drastically cut and the Cuban government was compelled to introduce rationing of food and fuel consumption. Fidel Castro himself declared that the action of Cuba’s former ‘Communist’ allies was ‘repugnant’ and that moreover they would "have blood on their hands in the event of a [US] invasion". 2In April 1991 Castro declared that a total of 85 per cent of Cuba’s foreign trade "had crumbled in a matter of months".3The collapse of COMECON had also reduced imports into Cuba by over 80 per cent and the ‘global social product’ of the economy had plummeted by 25 per cent in 1991.4

US capitalism, seeking to profit from this, enacted the 1992 Torricelli Bill and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 to further cripple the Cuban economy. It even outlawed overseas subsidiaries of US firms from trading with Cuba. The cumulative effect of over 40 years of US sanctions has resulted in Cuba losing a total of US$40 billion, "far in excess of any damage done to the US economy through the Cuban expropriation of US property".5Nevertheless, in the latter part of the 1990s even in this besieged fortress, Cuba managed to painfully crawl out of the economic abyss. By 1994 there was economic growth of 0.7 per cent, 2.5 percent in 1995, and 7.8 per cent growth in 1996, with a drop in 1997, but a small recovery in subsequent years. This contrasts favourably with the collapse in the former USSR and Eastern Europe. In the case of the former the drop in production is the greatest ever in history, an even sharper plunge than that caused by the 1929-33 world capitalist slump. Part of the explanation for Cuba’s growth is the significant rise in income from tourism. Cuba now has more tourist beds than the rest of the Caribbean put together. But it is also the result of the maintenance of a planned economy, despite the absence of workers’ democracy, which has allowed Cuba to at least maintain itself despite facing monumental difficulties.

Moreover, its performance in health, education, pensions and welfare generally has been outstanding, particularly when set against the background of the conditions of the masses in neighbouring Central and South America. Primary and preventative healthcare has meant that Cuba has an infant mortality rate half of Washington, DC’s! There have been spectacular developments in eye surgery, which has attracted visitors from all over the world. And despite the chronic shortages of medicines and equipment, Cuba’s health services stand out as a beacon for the masses in the Caribbean and Latin America. Thousands of doctors and nurses trained in Cuba work in Central America and Haiti. Castro boasted: "We will produce better doctors than in the United States."6

The very viciousness of the American embargo has compelled Cuba to fall back on its own resources: "We all became inventors; there was no alternative," declared Doctor Aleida Guevara (daughter of Che).7As a result of the development of Cuba’s biotechnology industry it has pioneered a vaccine against meningitis which is in demand internationally. And while the poor have undoubtedly suffered because of the US-led embargo nevertheless, as The Guardian put it in 1998:

"In terms of accessing those basic attributes of a humane society Cuba scores very highly. In the most recent index set out in the 1997 Human Development Report, Cuba is in the top group of five developing countries which have reduced human poverty to the point at which it affects less than 10 per cent of the population. Cuba’s performance is above Costa Rica and way above that of Jamaica, El Salvador and Haiti." 8

All of this demonstrates the great advantages of a planned economy, even one hamstrung by a top-heavy bureaucracy, compared to outmoded capitalism. Cuba’s longevity rate is 75 years, fully 20 years more than in the collapsing, catastrophic former USSR.

Moreover, Fidel Castro himself, unlike the ex-bureaucrats Gorbachev, Yeltsin, etc, has not rushed to embrace the market. In words he still defends ‘socialism’ as an alternative to capitalism, although in Cuba itself he has been compelled to make big concessions to the market as the price for his government’s continued existence. It is for these reasons that Cuba has earned the sympathy and support of socialists and even Marxists. There is also a renewed interest in the Cuban Revolution and its relevance to the struggle for world socialism. The Socialist Party in Britain (formerly Militant) and the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) have always implacably defended the gains of the Cuban Revolution, while criticising the political regime of Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba. We demand an immediate end to the embargo against Cuba. Others, some claiming to be Marxists and Trotskyists, have closed their eyes to the absence of workers’ democracy in Cuba. One such organisation is the Australian-based Democratic Socialist Party (DSP).

The DSP on Nicaragua and Afghanistan

Seeking to capitalise on the undoubted sympathy for the achievements of the Cuban revolution, the leaders of this organisation act as uncritical cheerleaders for Fidel Castro, his policies and his regime. There is nothing new or distinct in this approach of the DSP leadership. This organisation is nothing if not consistent. They uncritically supported the Sandanista leadership during the Nicaraguan revolution, which ultimately led to their break with Trotskyism.

"The Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 was decisive in shifting our perspectives. The Nicaraguan Revolution toppled our Trotskyist theory that socialist revolutions were one-stage affairs, and vindicated the two-stage strategy of revolution developed by Lenin." 9

We will say more later about Lenin’s alleged "two-stage" strategy. But it is undeniable that the Nicaraguan Revolution stalled and was eventually rolled back because of the incorrect policies and methods of the Sandanista leadership. Thus the DSP abandoned a correct idea, the permanent revolution, for policies – the two-stage idea – which were responsible for derailing a revolution. They also supported the Russian Stalinist invasion of Afghanistan in 1979-80:

"The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 was another world event that forced us to think things out more for ourselves (sic)…Soviet troops went in to Afghanistan to block a US-organised war to topple a radical regime in Kabul. Our response was prompt – to give strong support to the Soviet and Kabul government forces in the Afghan civil war." 10

It was entirely wrong, even ‘critically’, for Marxists to support the intervention of the Stalinist regime of the USSR in Afghanistan in 1979. The fact that this action propped up the Afghan regime which did carry through important progressive measures in land reform, abolition of the bride price etc, was secondary for the Stalinists in the USSR in furthering their own strategic interests in the region. For this reason we opposed the initial decision to intervene in Afghanistan, which contrary to the arguments of the DSP, allowed imperialism a propaganda victory in identifying ‘socialism’ with bureaucratic-military means to extend the Soviet elite’s sphere of influence. On the other hand we opposed those who then demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, which concretely would have led many years earlier to the installation of a regime on the lines of the monstrous fundamentalist Taliban government that rules today.

The DSP were also uncritical cheerleaders for Gorbachev, gatekeeper for the social counter-revolution in the former Soviet Union, even printing and sporting T-shirts with Gorbachev’s image on them. Abandoning the idea of a political revolution – a regime of workers’ democracy – made by the masses in the Stalinist states, the DSP transferred their hopes for ‘democratisation’ to the summits of the Russian bureaucracy:

"Even before the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, we [the DSP] had started to leave open the possibility that the process of democratic reform in these countries might actually be initiated from within the ruling Communist Party." 11

At a time of utmost peril for the Cuban Revolution in the early 1990s, Gorbachev, at the bidding of US imperialism, withdrew Russian troops and military personnel. The Cuban CP newspaper ‘Granma’ declared that this had given the "green light to a US invasion". The Socialist Party and the CWI, unlike the DSP, never once supported this ally of US imperialism who opened the way for Yeltsin’s restoration of capitalism in the USSR and attempted to choke Cuba to death.

In the neo-colonial world the DSP is uncritical, not to say sycophantic, towards the leadership of left formations, reinforcing their theoretical and programmatic mistakes, and advancing a version of the Stalinist theory of ‘stages’ for the revolution in the neo-colonial world. They have explicitly rejected Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, both as an explanation of the motive forces of the Russian Revolution and, more importantly, its relevance today to the struggle unfolding in Asia, Latin America and Africa. In Indonesia, their ideas, if they were to become the guiding principles of a mass workers’ movement, would play a disastrous role in derailing the revolution which has just begun.

The DSP leadership are deepening and extending the mistakes made by the leadership of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) throughout most of the post-1945 period. Incapable of building sizeable formations amongst the working class they invariably abandoned an independent Marxist analysis, and acted as political attorneys for ‘radicals’, Stalinists or leaders of the national liberation movements in the neo-colonial world. They developed a relatively uncritical position towards Mao Zedong, following the victory of the Chinese Revolution, with the majority of the USFI believing that a political revolution in China was unnecessary. They uncritically supported Tito in Yugoslav Stalinism’s confrontation with the Stalinists in the USSR. In Vietnam they adopted a similarly uncritical position towards the National Liberation Front, with their main slogan on demonstrations against US imperialism’s intervention being ‘Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh’, elevating the leader of the Stalinist state of North Vietnam into a hero. Militant (now the Socialist Party) implacably defended the struggle of the workers and peasants of South Vietnam and of the revolution. But we never uncritically supported the leaders of the NLF or Ho Chi Minh. The victory of the Vietnamese Revolution was a big step forward but because of the nationalist limitations of the leadership and the major forces involved in the struggle – largely a peasant army – the kind of state that would come out of the revolution we predicted would be a planned economy but with a one-party Stalinist regime. It was therefore necessary to warn workers in advance of the likely outcome of events. We also supported the Algerian Revolution in the late 1950s and early 1960s with political and material support in the war of national liberation against French imperialism. But at the same time we never gave uncritical support to the leadership of the NLF of Ben Bella, which the USFI did.

Because of the relative political quiescence of the working class, particularly during the long boom of the 1950s and 1960s, the USFI abandoned, in effect, the working class as the main agency of socialist revolution. Other forces – students in the ‘red bases’ in the universities, the radicalised peasantry and intelligentsia in the neo-colonial world, and ‘reforming’ Stalinist bureaucrats – were apportioned that role which by rights belongs to the organised working class. Marxism, from the time of Marx and Engels themselves, has based itself upon the working class not for romantic or secondary reasons but because of the role that this class plays in production and society. It is the only class, organised by big industry, which possesses the potential collective power and consciousness to carry through the socialist revolution. Other classes, the middle class or the peasantry for instance, are heterogeneous. They are divided into different layers, with an upper section looking towards the capitalists and the lower, poorer sections of the peasantry tending to merge with the working class. In the neo-colonial world the peasantry can play an auxiliary role in an alliance with the working class in the transformation of society but the main role, the leader of the socialist revolution, is the working class. The consequence of the USFI’s abandonment of this basic tenet of Marxism was seen in 1968, which saw the greatest general strike in history involving ten million French workers. These putative ‘leaders’ of the working class were caught completely unawares. Historically they were found to be facing in the wrong direction, towards ‘red bases’ in the universities and not towards the working class.

Impatience and a desire to reap what has not already been sown by past support and influence, led much of the small forces of Trotskyism to search for classes other than the working class and other political forces to do the job which they were incapable of doing. The DSP originates from this tradition. However, they have gone further in tail-ending radical organisations and leaders in the third world and dignifying them with ideas that they don’t have or glossing over theoretical mistakes and programmatic deficiencies, which could prove fatal for coming movements of the working class and poor peasantry.

This is clearly shown in an article attacking the Committee for a Workers’ International’s position on Cuba by Doug Lorimer, one of the leaders of the DSP.12He has subjected the leadership of the CWI to sustained criticism, the latest example of which is an attack on a pamphlet on the Cuban Revolution by Peter Taaffe, which he blandly calls a ‘criticism’.

We confess that to be attacked by Lorimer and his particularly toothless brand of ‘Marxism’ is the equivalent of what the British politician Denis Healey characterised as being "savaged by a dead sheep". Normally it would be pointless to reply to such diatribes, which are ten a penny in Britain from every insignificant sect. They have never done anything worthwhile but grind their teeth in fruitless frustration at the achievements of Militant, which alone of the Trotskyist organisations in Western Europe managed on two occasions in Britain to establish a significant base in mass movements amongst working people: in the Liverpool struggle between 1983 and 1987, and in the mighty anti-poll tax struggle which humbled Thatcher and consigned her to political oblivion. We have also pursued successful mass work in a number of other countries: Ireland, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Austria, etc.

The purpose of Lorimer’s ‘article’ (which runs to 25 A4 pages) is revealed right at the beginning:

"The following article was written at the request of Farooq Tariq, General Secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan, as an initial contribution to a discussion between the LPP and the DSP on the character of the leadership of the Cuban socialist state and the Communist Party of Cuba".13

Thus the DSP, it seems, has been pressed into service by Farooq Tariq to supply him with arguments that would allow him to distance himself from his previous position on Cuba, when he was a member of the CWI. He was excluded from the ranks of the CWI because his ‘party’ was nothing more than a front for a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), with subventions from the Swedish trade unions and social democrats, which operated on the basis of patronage and uncritical support for corrupt trade union leaders, rather than seeking to build an independent revolutionary party in Pakistan. The DSP are thus facilitating the political retreat of those like Farooq Tariq who, at least in words (although it is doubtful whether he fully understood the ideas) once put forward a principled, Trotskyist, Marxist approach towards the Cuban revolution.

The Permanent Revolution

The justification for a lengthy reply to the arguments advanced by them lies not in the importance of the DSP or of Farooq Tariq themselves. It flows from the need to reach and convince the leaders and ranks of more important organisations, which exist now and more importantly will arise in the neo-colonial world and elsewhere in the future, of a genuine Marxist method of analysis. The Cuban Revolution is not just of historical interest alone. The complicated and contradictory circumstances in which the Cuban Revolution took place have relevance to the situation that is developing in the neo-colonial world at the moment. In the stormy events in Venezuela and possibly in Ecuador too are to be found many of the features contained in the Cuban Revolution more than 40 years ago. Whether these countries or others take to the Cuban road, even whether it is possible to repeat in the modern context what happened in Cuba, is of burning topical importance for socialist and Marxist forces in Latin America at the moment. A misunderstanding of the real lessons of the Cuban Revolution could be fatal for the revolutionary forces today. It is therefore not pedantry, or an attempt at self-justification, which has led us to take up the arguments of the DSP leadership in relation to Cuba.

However, before dealing with the Cuban revolution as such it is necessary to give a brief outline of Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution and its relevance today. This is particularly necessary in view of the DSP’s criticisms of this theory both historically and its relevance to the Cuban revolution, and to the problems of the neo-colonial world today. DSP leader John Percy writes:

"Our errors flowed from the schema we had had – Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution." 14

The DSP, as we have seen, confronted with what they considered was a "socialist revolution" in Nicaragua threw overboard Trotsky’s celebrated Theory of the Permanent Revolution which correctly foreshadowed the class forces involved in the victory of the Russian Revolution and how the working class in October 1917 were victorious in setting up the first democratic workers’ state in history. The most important law of the dialectic is ‘truth is concrete’. This basic axiom of Marxism is foreign to Lorimer. In its place are empty historical abstractions without any attempt to deal with recent or past history. The leadership of the DSP now have some difficulty in explaining why the ‘socialist revolution’, which was conducted in Nicaragua under the signboard of ‘two stages’, led to defeat and the disintegration of the Sandanista movement. The ultimate test of theory is practice. If the Nicaraguan Revolution was sufficient reason for throwing overboard the Theory of Permanent Revolution by the DSP why has it not led to a break with landlordism and capitalism and the establishment of a workers’ state in Nicaragua?

Lorimer not only fires a broadside at the Socialist Party but has also spent 78 pages in a recent pamphlet ("Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution: A Leninist critique") allegedly refuting Trotsky and yet there is not one mention as to how this applies to the post-1945 period or the current world situation. And this is not an accident. Because where Lorimer’s ideas have been tried it has resulted in an aborted revolution, in Nicaragua. In the past, moreover, in every revolution or revolutionary situation where it was applied by the Stalinists and the latter-day converts to Stalinist theories such as the DSP, we saw the same result.

What is Trotsky’s Theory of the Permanent Revolution and how much did it coincide with Lenin’s pre-1917 ideas and where did it differ from them? The DSP are incapable of answering this question. Trotsky and Lenin, indeed the whole of Russian Marxism, were at one in seeing the main task of the Russian Revolution as the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution: elimination of feudal and semi-feudal relations in the land, unification of the country and the solution of the national question, democracy – the right to vote for a democratic parliament, a free press, trade union rights, etc – and the freeing of the economy from the domination of imperialism. Lenin and Trotsky differed from the Mensheviks who believed that the task of the working class was to tail end the liberal bourgeoisie who they considered were the main agent of the bourgeois democratic revolution. Moreover they saw this as a necessary and inevitable stage of development for Russia without any serious international ramifications. However the belated development of the bourgeoisie as a class and the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia meant that they were incapable of completing this historic task. The capitalists invested in land and the landlords invested in industry. Therefore any thoroughgoing bourgeois democratic revolution would come up against the opposition not just of the landlords but of the bourgeoisie and their political representatives, the liberal bourgeois parties. They had demonstrated again and again not just in Russia, but in Germany in the nineteenth century and elsewhere that they were incapable of carrying their own revolution through to a conclusion.

The powerful and then unique development of the Russian proletariat, explained Trotsky, also affected the liberal bourgeoisie’s preparedness to carry the revolution through. They were terrified, quite correctly as events demonstrated, that a struggle against the thousand-year old Tsarist regime and the social foundations upon which it rested would open the floodgates through which the working class, together with the peasantry, would pour and place on the agenda its own demands. Both Trotsky and Lenin agreed therefore that it was an alliance of the working class and the peasantry, the majority of the population of Russia, who were the only force capable of completing the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Where they differed was on the issue of who would exercise the leadership in this alliance. Would it be the working class or the peasantry? Moreover, once this alliance had come to power, who would be the dominant force in the government? Would it just carry through the bourgeois democratic revolution or would it be forced to go further?

Trotsky, in his Theory of the Permanent Revolution, argued that history attested to the fact that the peasantry had never played an independent role (as we explained above). It must be led by the one of the other two great classes in society: the bourgeoisie or the working class. However, Lenin and Trotsky agreed that the bourgeoisie could not carry through their own revolution. Therefore, argued Trotsky, the working class must assume the leadership of the revolution drawing behind it the masses in the countryside. In a very important summing up of the ‘three conceptions of the Russian Revolution’ in August 1939, a year before his assassination by the Stalinists, Trotsky makes the following comments about Lenin’s formula of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. He states:

"Lenin’s conception represented an enormous step forward in so far as it proceeded not from constitutional reforms but from the agrarian overturn as the central task of the revolution and singled out the only realistic combination of social forces for its accomplishment. The weak point of Lenin’s conception, however, was the internally contradictory idea of ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. Lenin himself underscored the fundamental limitation of this ‘dictatorship’ when he openly called it bourgeois. By this he meant to say that for the sake of preserving its alliance with the peasantry the proletariat would in the coming revolution have to forego the direct posing of the socialist tasks. But this would signify the renunciation by the proletariat of its own dictatorship. Consequently, the gist of the matter involved the dictatorship of the peasantry even if with the participation of the workers." 15

But then Trotsky goes on to comment:

"The peasantry is dispersed over the surface of an enormous country whose key junctions are the cities. The peasantry itself is incapable of even formulating its own interests inasmuch as in each district these appear differently. The economic link between the provinces is created by the market and the railways, but both the market and the railways are in the hands of the cities. In seeking to tear itself away from the restrictions of the village and to generalise its own interests, the peasantry inescapably falls into political dependence upon the city. Finally, the peasantry is heterogeneous in its social relations as well: the kulak stratum [rich peasants] naturally seeks to swing it to an alliance with the urban bourgeoisie while the nether strata of the village pull to the side of the urban workers. Under these conditions the peasantry as such is completely incapable of conquering power.

"True enough, in ancient China, revolutions placed the peasantry in power or, more precisely, placed the military leaders of peasant uprisings in power. This led each time to a redivision of the land and the establishment of a new ‘peasant’ dynasty, whereupon history would begin from the beginning; with a new concentration of land, a new aristocracy, a new system of usury, and a new uprising." 16

Lenin argued that history would decide whether or not the peasantry could assume an independent role in the proposed alliance. Lenin’s idea was in effect an ‘algebraic formula’ as to which class, proletariat or peasantry, would lead the alliance, what the precise complexion of the government would be and how far it would encroach on the powers of the capitalists. Despite all the attempts of Lorimer to defend this formula, its author, Lenin himself, said in April 1917, that history had filled this with a "negative content". He indicated that the task was now for the proletariat to seize power supported by the peasantry. To emphasise this, Lenin also proposed that the Bolsheviks should change their name to the ‘Communist Party’.

The Lorimers of that period – Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin – opposed Lenin’s proposal just as much as they upheld Lenin’s old formula of the ‘democratic dictatorship’. Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution was borne out in the October Revolution where the working class assumed power through the soviets and led the multi-millioned peasant masses behind them.

Allied to the discussions within the Russian revolutionary movement over the mutual relations between the working class and the peasantry was the issue of whether or not the peasantry could create its own independent party. The working class, led by the Bolsheviks, came to power, that is established the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (workers’ democracy) and then together with the peasantry carried through the bourgeois-democratic revolution while at the same time placing on the agenda socialist, that is ‘collectivist’, action by the proletariat itself.

A "Leninist Critique"?

But Lorimer disputes all this, counterposing Lenin’s ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat’ to Trotsky’s ideas of the ‘permanent revolution’. In an unbelievable exercise of misquotation, half quotations and innuendo, Lorimer engages in a cynical exercise in historical and political falsification. He throws mud on the ideas that led to the greatest victory of the working class in history. Karl Radek was once a leading member of the Russian Left Opposition but capitulated and made his peace with Stalin by attacking the Theory of the Permanent Revolution. In answering him Trotsky pointed out that Radek "did not think up a single new argument against the theory of the permanent revolution".17 He was, said Trotsky, an ‘epigone’ (a slavish, unthinking adherent) of the (Stalinist) epigones of Lenin. Lorimer is the modern Radek, with the qualification that he demonstrates less talent than Radek in his arguments against Trotsky. There is not one new point of criticism in his assault on Trotsky’s theory. Without burdening our text with too many abstract points or quotations it is necessary here to briefly outline and answer the criticisms of Lorimer on the permanent revolution. (A fuller answer will have to be made in time but space prevents it in this reply.) Only by doing this is it possible to understand the roots of the DSP’s apologia for the Cuban regime. Speaking about the 1905 Russian Revolution Lorimer argues:

"Lenin argued that the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution by an alliance of the workers and peasants, led by the Marxist party, would then enable the working class, in alliance with the poor, semi-proletarian majority of the peasantry, to pass uninterruptedly to the socialist revolution." 18

This is quite wrong. Lenin only occasionally mentions about moving ‘uninterruptedly’ towards the socialist revolution. This idea, ‘uninterrupted’ or ‘permanent’ revolution had been put forward by Trotsky in the book ‘Results and Prospects’ as we have explained above. Lenin’s main idea was that the bourgeois-democratic revolution could have led, could ‘stimulate’ the socialist revolution in Western Europe, which would then come to the aid of the workers, and peasants in Russia and place ‘socialism’ on the agenda. If Lenin had consistently advanced the idea outlined by Lorimer then there would have been no fundamental difference between him and Trotsky on the revolution. Indeed the differences between Lenin and Trotsky are indicated a few paragraphs later when Lorimer writes:

"The Bolsheviks believed that the victory of a worker-peasant democratic revolution in Russia would stimulate the proletarian-socialist revolution in the more industrially developed countries of Western Europe. The victory of proletarian-socialist revolutions in Western Europe, in turn, would open the way for the Russian proletariat to advance along the road of the socialist reorganisation of the economy."19

Clearly Lenin envisaged a period of development of society and the working class between "the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" coming to power and socialism. There is nothing ‘uninterrupted’ in this.

Lorimer repeats the legends of the Stalinists that Trotsky underestimated the peasantry, believed that the working class alone could carry thorough the revolution in Russia and was against a real alliance of the peasantry with the working class, etc. There is no better answer to the critics who use this argument than to quote Trotsky himself.

As if answering his latter-day critics like Lorimer, who pore over each and every article of Trotsky to find a difference with Lenin, he writes: "The devil can quote scripture to his purpose." In his polemic against Radek he honestly admitted that there were "gaps" in his original Theory of the Permanent Revolution published, it must be understood, in 1906. History, particularly the great experience of the February and October revolutions of 1917 had filled in these "gaps" but in no way had they falsified but rather had reinforced Trotsky’s general idea. Look at the honesty with which Trotsky deals with the evolution of his ideas as against the shameful misrepresentation of them by Lorimer. Trotsky writes in his answer to Radek:

"I do not at all want to say that my conception of the revolution follows, in all my writings, one and the same unswerving line…There are articles [of Trotsky] in which the episodic circumstances and even the episodic polemical exaggerations inevitable in struggle protrude into the foreground in violation of the strategic line. Thus, for example, articles can be found in which I express doubts about the future revolutionary role of the peasantry as a whole, as in a state, and in connection with this refused to designate, especially during the imperialist war, the future Russian Revolution as ‘national,’ for I felt this designation to be ambiguous. But it must not be forgotten here that the historical processes that interest us, including the processes in the peasantry, are far more obvious now that they have been accomplished than they were in those days when they were only developing. Let me also remark that Lenin – who never for a moment lost historical sight of the peasant question in all its gigantic historical magnitude and from whom we all learnt this – considered it uncertain even after the February revolution whether we should succeed in tearing the peasantry away from the bourgeois and drawing it after the proletariat." 20

Lorimer makes much of the fact that Trotsky in his earlier writing looked towards an alliance between the working class and the poor peasants rather than the ‘peasantry as a whole’. Lenin himself sometimes spoke in the manner that Trotsky did of the proletariat linking up with the poorer layers in the villages, etc. But the key question skirted around by Lorimer was that the working class in the October 1917 revolution led the mass of the peasantry to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution but did not stop there. It then passed in an ‘uninterrupted’ fashion to begin the socialist tasks in Russia and to spread the revolution internationally. The fantastical schema of Lorimer was that the October revolution was not a socialist revolution but represented the victory of the bourgeois democratic revolution through the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’. This was separated as the ‘first stage’ (in accordance with the two-stage theory) from the ‘socialist revolution’, which was only carried through allegedly in the summer and autumn of 1918.

This mechanistic idea, which seeks to artificially separate the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution from socialist tasks is not only a completely inaccurate assessment of what happened in October 1917 but would be absolutely fatal if applied in the situation existing currently in the neo-colonial world. Lorimer and the DSP, like the Stalinists before them, perceive that the bourgeois-democratic revolution can be carried through by a ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’. This is reflected concretely in an alliance between parties and is linked to the idea which Lorimer defends that there can exist "independent" peasant parties which can come together in a coalition government with "workers’ parties" to carry through the bourgeois revolution. Contrary to Trotsky’s contention in his answer to Radek, that Russian history attests to the fact prior to 1917 that there was no stable independent peasant party, Lorimer points towards the Social Revolutionaries. There were of course peasant formations, or parties purporting to represent the peasantry, in Russia prior to 1917. But all of these existed only in short, relatively stable periods and then flew apart, divided along class lines, in periods of social crisis.

The Social Revolutionaries in 1917 reflected this. After February 1917 they were a prop of the bourgeois coalition together with the Mensheviks and opposed giving land to the peasants. In action, they were repudiated by the majority of the peasants. The Left Social Revolutionaries who split from the SRs, it is true, shared power for a short period after the October revolution. They occupied a minority position compared to the Bolsheviks, which was not clearly envisaged in Lenin’s original idea of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry (he left open which class, or which party representing each class, would dominate in the coalition government). Trotsky in his Theory of the Permanent Revolution clearly argued that the working class would dominate and lead the peasantry. Moreover, the rapid separation of the Left SRs from the government itself was a reflection of the growing class conflict at their base, amongst the peasantry as well as an indication of their inchoate middle-class character. Trotsky answered those, like Lorimer today, who argued that the dual power situation between February and October 1917 was a realisation or a partial realisation of the democratic dictatorship when he wrote:

"References to the fact that the democratic dictatorship was ‘realised’ in the form of the dual power (‘in a certain form and up to a certain point’) were made by Lenin only in the period between April 1917 and October 1917, that is, before the actual carrying out of the democratic revolution." 21

It took the coming to power of the working class in October 1917 to carry through the bourgeois democratic revolution and then begin to pass over to the socialist tasks both on a national and an international scale.

Mistaken analysis of the revolution

In all those cases, like in China between 1925 and 1927 and in many other instances in the neo-colonial world where the theory of ‘two stages’ or of the mangled distorted picture of Lenin’s idea of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ have been put into practice, it has resulted in an abortion, the derailment of a revolution or revolutionary situations and the destruction of the flower of the proletariat. It has meant the subordination of the representatives of workers’ organisations to petty bourgeois parties, ultimately representing the bourgeois in coalition governments. In other words, the political expression of the outmoded slogan of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ in the modern era has invariably been reflected in popular front or popular front type governments in these countries, which have ended in defeat.

The false position of Lorimer and the DSP on the issue of the permanent revolution has led them to a mistaken analysis on the Cuban Revolution. Their ‘two stage theory’, they maintain, explains the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro first of all carried out a ‘democratic’ stage, all the time concealing his real ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ views and then some time later proceeds to construct ‘socialism’. The reality of the Cuban Revolution is entirely different to this. The momentous events in this revolution in fact, as we hope to show, confirm splendidly Trotsky’s Theory of the Permanent Revolution but in a distorted fashion. These distortions, as we shall see, arise in the main because of the absence of a mass revolutionary party in Cuba consciously basing itself on the working class.

Lorimer’s criticisms are aimed against a short pamphlet compiled from three separate articles written by myself and first published in 1978. However, his sustained attack on this 20-year old pamphlet has been carried out not in the full light of day, so workers and activists and the world labour movement could learn from the perceived ‘errors’ of myself, Militant (the present-day Socialist Party) and the CWI. It was published in The Activist, an internal bulletin of the DSP itself! We only learnt of Lorimer’s vitriolic attack because we were sent a copy of this bulletin by an Australian sympathiser of ours. The DSP likes to present itself, through its weekly journal Green Left Weekly, as a friendly, approachable ‘facilitator’ of organisations and left leaders throughout the world, who are genuinely fighting for socialism. Occasionally the mask slips and scathing attacks are unleashed against their opponents in the Australian and world labour movement. The Australian supporters of the CWI, the Socialist Party formerly the Militant Socialist Organisation, have been the recipients of such treatment. Dismissed by the DSP as ‘insignificant’, the DSP has nevertheless sought to court our Australian organisation, strives to attract them into their ranks and has offered them positions on their national committee while, behind the scenes, secretly and venomously attacking the leadership and the members of the CWI.

This is clearly shown in the language and the methods deployed by Lorimer to ‘demolish’ our analysis of Cuba. He implies that I have no right to criticise Castro and the Cuban leadership. He writes: "Taaffe, from the comparative intellectual freedom of ‘democratic capitalist’ England, is oblivious" to the great difficulties of the Cuban revolution and state. Militant (the Socialist Party), he argues, has an arid parliamentary schema for Britain. ‘Taaffe’ also seeks to impose this from ‘comfortable’ Britain on a poor country like Cuba.

"In his view, the Cuban revolutionists should only have presented a ‘clear socialist programme’ perhaps like the one he (Taaffe) has presented for nearly a quarter of a century, i.e, with ‘socialism’ being achieved through the election to parliament of a Labour Party majority armed with an ‘enabling act’ to nationalise industry!" 22

We also read about ‘Taaffe’s’ alleged "fairy tales" about the Cuban revolution: He dismisses our alleged incurable "sectarian hostility to Castro" which is "Castrophobic". To top it all the alleged "undemocratic regime that Taaffe practises in the CWI" is thrown in for good measure as proof of the wrong analysis we have made of the Cuban revolution. This all emanates from a leader of a party, the DSP, which bans factions within its organisation and supports a similar position within the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). Contrast this to the methods of the Socialist Party in Britain and the CWI. In the course of disputes over changing our name and in a very intense debate over the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in Scotland, every single written contribution was published in internal material (so much so that the leaders of the DSP complained to me when I visited Australia in 1997 that they could not read all our internal bulletins). Moreover, the Socialist Party has allowed the formation of ‘tendencies’ and factions unlike the DSP.23

Lorimer prefers to concentrate on my pamphlet of 20 years ago, the main lines of which I would still defend, but studiously ignores the current CWI pamphlet by Tony Saunois, ‘Che Guevara – Symbol of Struggle’, which gives an up-to-date analysis and fills out the sketchy points which I made in 1978.

We will nevertheless seek to reply to Lorimer’s attacks on us. We will do this in the order in which he raises them in his article. We have to do this because of the illogical and incoherent way in which he sets out his argument and the presentation of his case. We will not set out the main events of the Cuban Revolution but only touch on them in passing. The interested reader can familiarise themselves with the events by reading our original articles reprinted in this book.

His first main point deals with the character of Cuba following the overthrow of Batista and the liquidation of landlordism and capitalism. Quite erroneous and crude comparisons are drawn with the processes of the Russian Revolution, the character of the state under Lenin and Trotsky, and whether or not Trotsky’s Theory of the Permanent Revolution was correct.

Right from the outset we hailed the Cuban Revolution as a colossal step forward. The now deceased leaders of the USFI, chief amongst them Ernest Mandel and Joseph Hansen of the American Socialist Workers Party, also quite correctly greeted the victory of the Cuban revolution. But they gave a quite wrong characterisation of the state that ushered from the revolution. They described the regime of Castro and Che Guevara as the 1960s equivalent of what the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky established between 1917 and 1923. The latter was a healthy workers’ state but with certain ‘bureaucratic deformations’. This ‘deformation’ arose from the isolation of the Russian Revolution, which resulted from the betrayal of the revolutionary wave in Western Europe above all by the leaders of the social democratic organisations. From a Marxist standpoint however, a healthy workers’ state with ‘bureaucratic deformations’ is entirely different to a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state.

A healthy workers’ state with ‘bureaucratic’ deformations and a deformed workers’ state is the difference between a wart and a monstrous ulcer, an incubus, which threatens to consume the ‘body’, the planned economy. In the former the task is to ‘reform’, to correct the bureaucratic deformations through increased workers’ control and management, and the spread of the revolution internationally. In a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state, a bureaucratic caste has separated itself from the control of the masses.

What is therefore required to establish a healthy workers’ state is not ‘reform’ but the establishment of workers’ democracy, which is only possible through a complete change of political regime which in turn requires a political revolution.

The DSP leaders have taken the original analysis of the USFI to its logical conclusion, and are now uncritical cheerleaders of the likes of Castro and any other ‘radical’ leader or formation, particularly in the neo-colonial world. They believe that Cuba was and still is a healthy workers’ state. This is quite clear from what Lorimer writes:

"It is not sufficient to point to instances where the Castro leadership has made mistakes or taken wrong positions on world events. If this were the criteria for deciding that a leadership did not defend the general class interests of the proletariat of its country, then we would have to conclude that such a leadership has never existed anywhere in the world. There has never been a revolutionary proletarian leadership – and this includes Marx and Lenin, not to mention any of their contemporary disciples – who have not made mis

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May 2000