Marxist Bulletin Home Page

Only International Workers’ Struggle Can Save The Workers’ States

Defend the Cuban Revolution!

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European workers’ states, the world’s ruling classes have sought to instil in working people the ‘lesson’ that there is no alternative to capitalism. Working people faced with mass unemployment, poverty, homelessness, racism and other forms of social oppression, ecological destruction and all the other evils of modern capitalist society are told, however much some of these things are to be ‘regretted’, there is no alternative. The powers that be point to the collapse of the Soviet bloc as supposedly conclusive evidence that any alternative to the capitalist system is the road to political despotism and economic ruin.

Our party has stood up to this self-serving prattle of the capitalists and their servants in the Labour Party by proudly proclaiming the need for the abolition of capitalism. We have thrown the gauntlet down to the openly anti-working-class reactionaries who today claim to stand for British ‘Labour’ by challenging them in elections, proclaiming the need for a mass, genuinely socialist, party of the working class in Britain.

On international questions, too, our party’s political standpoint has been very different to the Labour Party – not just Blair’s Labour Party, but also that of the (rather less openly anti-socialist) Labour leaders of the past. Unlike Atlee, Wilson, Callaghan and Kinnock, Arthur Scargill has had a reputation, predating the formation of Socialist Labour by many years, as a fierce opponent of NATO and its thermonuclear warmongering. During the Cold War, when bourgeois class hostility to the collectivised economic and military power of the Soviet bloc was the consensus in capitalist society, comrade Scargill stood up to this kind of hysteria on a number of occasions. Most notably, when the whole of Western opinion was being mobilised in support of the clerical-dominated Polish ‘trade union’, which managed to exploit the justly-held grievances against Stalinism of millions of Polish workers and misdirect them in a crusade in favour of capitalism itself, comrade Scargill was one of few prominent labour movement figures in the West who voiced his opposition to this dangerous (and unfortunately, successful) counterrevolutionary movement.

In the aftermath of the restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet bloc, a process that was pioneered by Polish Solidarnosc, there are relatively few states remaining in the world that do not have capitalist regimes, or are subordinate to imperialist capitalism. Of the exceptions, the regime in China has embarked on a course of deep marketisation and is allowing capitalism to operate freely in large areas of the country, while maintaining a heavy handed repression against working people. This is leading to the disturbing and, for many, perplexing situation where a regime that claims to be ‘Communist’ is involved in repressing strikes and working class rebellions that more and more are directed against the worst kind of sweatshop slave-driving employers, who are allowed to operate with the blessing of the ‘Communist’ regime. The upshot of this being that, of course, China is quite clearly heading for a qualitative change where the regime in power, one way or another, will lose all its connection to nationalised property and capitalism will be restored outright. Such a prospect, in the most populous country on this Earth, does not exactly render China an attractive ‘model’ for those whose aim is ‘socialism’.

Cuba and Socialist Labour

For Socialist Labour, seeking to defend the gains of the working class internationally, support for Cuba against the US imperialist blockade is rightly seen as the duty of socialists. Cuba’s geographical position 90 miles south of the United States leaves it very vulnerable to imperialist aggression and in need of international working class solidarity and aid. Unlike in China, where the late Deng Xiaoping proclaimed that ‘to get rich is glorious’ as he set about undermining the gains of the Chinese revolution, the regime in Cuba has generally expressed defiance and at least verbally so far, a promise to defend the gains made by Cuban working people in the dire circumstances after the destruction of the USSR.

Cuba is very important to Socialist Labour. The two main strands that make up the party’s leadership collective, one broadly represented by Arthur Scargill and the other by Patrick Sikorski, have historically both had a particular affinity not just for the Cuban revolution and its achievements, but to a greater or lesser degree, for the political views and philosophy of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party.

The supporters of this bulletin generally represent a different trend within the party and within the broader framework of those who aspire to international socialism. We believe that all those in the working class movement who seek to fight for a revolutionary Marxist position are obliged to seek to develop a sober, realistic view not only of events in Britain, but also of events around the world. Few questions are more important than the defence of the gains of those workers’ states that still remain. But we do not equate defence of the workers’ states with unquestioning support for those that lead them. In contrast, we believe that it is only through honest criticism of the actions of those leaderships and of the real situation these countries face, that their gains can be fully defended.

Socialist Labour has to develop politically to enable us to address complex international questions of the class struggle in a Marxist manner, in order to enhance what we hope will be the party’s development in a revolutionary direction, one capable of defending the historic interests of the working class.

Cuba and the Russian revolution

The Cuban question is of considerable importance, because it is an extension of the so-called ‘Russian question’ – what the attitude of the workers movement should be to those states where capitalism has been overthrown. The Russian revolution of October 1917 was the highest point yet reached by the workers movement. It was undertakenconsciously, by a revolutionary workers’ party leading the workers to seize power as a class. This took place in the most economically backward and also the most fragile of the major imperialist powers, as a direct result of the cataclysmic destruction of the first world war.

The Cuban revolution was a by-product of the Russian revolution. The state that emerged from the Cuban revolution was modelled very much on the USSR of Krushchev and Brezhnev, and encouraged by Soviet economic support. However, there is a massive difference in the origin of the two states. Unlike in Russia, where a party consciously aiming at overthrowing the capitalists took power in a genuine working-class revolution, in Cuba something completely different and in many ways very surprising happened. In Cuba, capitalism was overthrown. Yet unlike the Bolsheviks, who before they took power were always quite clear that their aim was socialism and workers’ power, the leadership in Cuba was at the start of the revolutionary process actually hostile to the programme of socialism.

Cuban leadership and capitalism

One very useful and detailed account of the development of the Cuban revolution is a study by John Lister, entitled Cuba: Radical Face of Stalinism (Left View, 1985) in which he points out that in the period of the guerrilla struggle that brought the Fidelistas to power, wide sections of the Cuban national capitalist class backed them:

‘While American corporations plundered Cuba for profits, the Cuban economy as a whole remained tied to imports of commodities from the USA and to the price of sugar in the international markets, and in particular to the US market, which accounted for upwards of 70% of Cuban sugar exports up to 1958.

‘Small wonder that Cuban sugar growers, mill owners and small businessmen became more and more alienated from the Batista regime, which made lavish concessions to such weighty rivals, and which failed even to produce the promised economic growth in return.

‘For them, Castro’s new July 26 movement offered an increasingly moderate-sounding programme. Castro’s own political debut had been with the bourgeois Ortodoxo opposition, whose single campaigning plank had been "stamp out corruption". To this, in launching his armed resistance in 1953, Castro added policies for reform and democracy – pledging a return to the Constitution of 1940, overturned by the 1952 coup.

‘In November 1956, shortly before Castro and his supporters set sail from Mexico in the yacht Granma to renew the guerrilla struggle begun in 1953, the Manifesto of the July 26 Movement declared the objective of "seeking constructive friendship" as a "loyal ally" of the USA, calling for "solidarity and harmony" between capital and labour to "increase productivity". But this message was to be toned down still further as the campaign went on.

‘In July 1957, Castro’s manifesto from the guerrilla encampment in the Sierra Maestra dropped previous calls for profit-sharing. In February 1958, Castro wrote an article for the US magazine Coronet, arguing that he no longer had any "plans for the expropriation or nationalisation of foreign investment’, which would ‘always be welcome and secure in Cuba".

‘By May 1958, Castro was even more insistent: ‘Never has the July 26 Movement talked of socialism or nationalising industry’. These were words designed to win the backing of sections of the urban middle class and nationalist sections of the bourgeoisie.’

This account will no doubt sound particularly strange in the light of the Castro regime’s subsequent actions in expropriating the whole of the Cuban bourgeoisie. Yet it is essentially accurate, and reflects not any ‘deception’ on the part of the Fidelistas, but merely underlines that the aims of the July 26 Movement were merely for a reformed capitalism. Later they were forced to go far beyond these aims.

Cuba and the working class

Equally strange is the fact that the working class played virtually no role, and certainly no leading role, in the Cuban revolution. In Russia in 1917, the armed force that seized power from the bosses was under the command of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, ie, the military sub-committee of a delegated workers and soldiers council elected by the working class population of the Russian capital.

In Cuba on the other hand, the armed force that seized power was a guerrilla army, the July 26th Movement (M-26), whose predominant social base was among the peasants in the countryside. The M-26’s active social base among the working class was non-existent. This was demonstrated by the fact that, in order to gain some base in the working class, the M-26 had to fuse with the Popular Socialist Party (PSP – the Cuban Stalinist Party) after the uprooting of capitalism. This party, which had a significant (though not massive) base in the trade unions, had been so blatantly reformist and pro-capitalist before the revolution that it had denounced the Fidelistas’ guerrilla war. It had even in earlier times had ministers in the government of Fulgencio Batista, the corrupt right-wing dictator that the revolution overthrew!

Thus today’s Cuban Communist Party (CCP) is a composite of the July 26th Movement and the old pre-revolution Stalinist PSP, who opposed the guerrilla struggle that, ironically, was to bring them to power. The three leading figures in the CCP embody this duality – Fidel and Raul Castro, who of course need no introduction, and Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the most senior leader of the PSP who managed to make the transformation to being a trusted collaborator of the Fidelistas.

Cuban state power

More important than this, however, is the nature of the state that emerged from the Cuban revolution. For an all-too-brief period in Russia in the immediate aftermath of the 1917 revolution, before civil war and imperialist armed intervention rendered them inoperable, the dominant power was the Soviets, which were organs of working-class power composed of recallable delegates based on factories and workplaces, similar in function to the short-lived revolutionary Commune erected by the workers of Paris in 1871. These institutions emerged from the strikes, demonstrations and revolutionary mass struggles of the working class itself, based in Russia’s industrial cities, which made them ideal instruments for the building of a society controlled by the working class.

The programmatic model of the Bolshevik Party was the ‘state of the Paris Commune type’, whereas in Cuba, the aims of the M-26 were a reformed middle class Cuban ‘democracy’, not the socialisation of industry. And in fact, despite the overthrow of capitalism in Cuba, there was never anything comparable to the ‘Soviets’ in 1917 – no organs of working-class power. Even when the Cuban capitalist class was totally uprooted (by the autumn of 1960) power was not thereby placed in the hands of workers organisations, but rather in the hands of the leaders of M-26 – an elite military formation which had fought its way to power by means of a guerrilla struggle in the countryside, not by leading the urban working class, a class the new regime feared and distrusted.

The Cuban workers state is not of the type that was created by the class-conscious workers of Russia in 1917. It is rather, a state similar to that created by the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The working class has never held political power in Cuba. Right from the very beginning of the revolution through to the expropriation of the capitalists in Autumn 1960, the dominant force was this guerrilla high command. This was in fact a distinct social layer that, due to its petit-bourgeois mainly peasant-based social nature, had an organic tendency to transform itself into the beginnings of an equally petit-bourgeois bureaucracy as a crippling deformation on the newly created planned economy.

The Fidelistas had not planned to do away with capitalism in Cuba, rather, once it became clear that the regime was serious about land reform in the countryside, the United States had more and more declared a campaign to destabilise and destroy the new regime, and had more and more been able to call on the Cuban bourgeoisie as a fifth column in this enterprise. In order to stay in power, the new regime was forced to make greater and greater inroads into capitalist property, to remove a potent threat that would otherwise have certainly led to its overthrow.

Cuba and other revolutions

This deformed social revolution, that created a new bureaucratically-ruled workers state in Cuba, has a major historic significance despite the relatively small country in which it took place. It actually provides the key to a Marxist understanding to some of the other revolutions that have taken place since the second world war. Countries in Eastern Europe were overrun by the Soviet Army and capitalism was expropriated by the Soviet leadership in order to safeguard their control of these countries and prevent their rule from being de-stabilised by capitalist forces. At the same time all independent working class initiative and action was suppressed, as the Stalinist bureaucratic regime was mortally afraid of the class in whose name it claimed to be ruling, and unwilling to allow any breach in the bureaucracy’s monopoly of political expression.

It is not that difficult to understand how it is that a social revolution that liquidated capitalism took place in Eastern Europe without the agency of the working class, although this at first sight appears to contradict the view that Marxists have always argued, that the only force that can bring about socialism is the working class. For of course, while these states embodied social gains for the working class, and which all genuine socialists should defend, they were at the same time fundamentally flawed and prevented from developing towards socialism by the rule of an uncontrolled and despotic bureaucracy, which eventually so undermined these gains as to lead to the collapse of these states back into capitalism. But at their creation, these states were extensions of the degenerated USSR, and the process of their creation is no mystery.

However, what happened in Yugoslavia, China, Albania and Vietnam is more difficult to understand. In these countries guerrilla armies, based on the peasantry, came to power by militarily defeating the existing capitalist states, leading to the expropriation of foreign and domestic capital and the creation of a planned economy.

For Stalinists, of course, the creation of these states is easily explained by the fact that they were led by ‘Communists’ or parties that claimed to be such. However, this is belied by the counterrevolutionary role Stalinist parties played through the whole of the preceding historical period (and indeed, since). In the Spanish Revolution of 1936-9 for instance, the Stalinised Communist International engaged in a murderous campaign to exterminate all those who wanted to attack capitalist property, in favour of defending ‘democratic’ Spanish capitalism against Franco. Since the whole of the Spanish capitalists were in reality supporting Franco in order to crush the workers movement, this undermined any prospect of a revolutionary struggle against fascism, and in fact laid the basis for Franco’s victory. The Stalinists also became rabid strike-breakers during the second world war, supporting war effort of the imperialist ‘allies’ to the hilt, even to the point of opposing the independence movements in British and French colonies. Such people had not suddenly become ‘revolutionaries’.

Cuba and the middle classes

There is another explanation for the Chinese, Yugoslav and other similar peasant-guerrilla type revolutions. The Cuban revolution provided this explanation: that under exceptional circumstances in the absence of a class conscious workers movement, the petit-bourgeoisie of a backward country could be forced into a situation where it has to take action against big capital even to the point of abolishing it, providing it had first militarily smashed the capitalists’ repressive state machine (as had clearly happened with the military victory of the guerrilla armies over the capitalist armed forces in all these countries). This was, it has to be said, a development unanticipated by classical Marxists. Yet it does not contradict, under close examination, the Marxist understanding of the nature of the petit-bourgeoisie (the middle classes) as an intermediate layer incapable of formulating its own class programme distinct from the main classes in capitalist society – the capitalist class and the working class.

In the exceptional historical circumstances after the second world war, with the workers movement pretty much worldwide dominated by forces hostile to working-class power (social democracy and Stalinism) and with capitalism continuing to decay, the middle classes were given a historic chance to impose their own will on society. Yet they proved incapable of doing so. In such situations as Cuba, where petit-bourgeois forces were given unprecedented latitude to create a society and state in their own image, they could only create a society whose basis was property relations belonging to another class, the working class. All these charismatic middle class democrats could do was create a state based on a degenerated form of working-class rule.

Cuba makes it all the more clear, because there the party that carried out this role did not, at the beginning of the process, even claim to stand for socialism or the working class. Thus it provides the key to understanding what happened in China, Yugoslavia, and the other similar revolutions, as well. It was not the Stalinist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party or the Yugoslav Partisans that gave them the possibility of overthrowing capitalism and creating a workers’ state. It was their peasant-guerrilla petit-bourgeois social nature, in the right historical circumstances, that gave them that possibility. In that sense Cuba was the key to understanding all of the post-second world war social revolutions.

Cuba and Stalinism

The Cuban revolution has given birth to immense social gains for the Cuban working class – a massive reduction of unemployment and poverty, a standard of literacy greater than that of the US, an infant mortality rate lower than in the US, a former slave-colony now fundamentally based on racial equality. Particularly now that capitalism has been restored in those countries that used to be its main allies, the USSR and Eastern Europe, the Cuban revolution is in considerable danger. Military and economic aid from the Soviet Bloc used to be very important to Cuba, standing up against US imperialism, 90 miles off the coast. All socialists must defend Cuba against the US aggression and blockade, and against all attempts to restore capitalism, whether from without or within.

But this must be a critical defence. The Castro regime in Cuba still has considerable popularity and authority among the population, reflecting the gains made and the fact that, unlike the Eastern European Stalinist regimes which were puppets placed in power as a by-product of the Soviet victory, the Cuban regime came to power in an indigenous social revolution. Nevertheless, despite this, the Castro leadership is fundamentally the same as these former toppled regimes, and suffers from similar deformities and fatal flaws.

It is unable to offer a political road forward for the Cuban revolution, stemming, above all, from its commitment to the programme of ‘socialism in one country’ – which is fundamental to Stalinist politics. Above all, it has no perspective of spreading the revolution, of providing political leadership for struggles to overthrow capitalism in its own hemisphere. It is hostile to such a programme. If you advocate that in Cuba under Castro, you will end up in jail for ‘Trotskyism’ and ‘ultraleftism’.

Fundamental to Stalinist politics is hostility to the independent mobilisation of the working class. The Cuban bureaucracy, like the former Soviet bureaucracy, sees its fundamental allies as being: (1) Other Stalinist bureaucracies and (2) ‘progressive’-talking capitalist regimes, usually in the third world, such as Qadaafi’s Libya or, in the past, Egypt’s Nasser and Sadat. To take another example, in Sandinista Nicaragua, the Fidelista regime exerted much influence, including in persuading the Sandinistas not to follow the ‘Cuban road’ and go all the way to the expropriation of capitalism – a tragic, damaging attitude that helped to defeat the Nicaraguan revolution.

The problem is that there are very few of either type of ‘ally’ left in this post-Cold War world. And the left-talking capitalist third-world states that tended to manoeuvre in the space between the US and USSR no longer have that option after the collapse of the Soviet ‘superpower’. Cuba is of course, far too small and weak to take the place of the USSR and attract such regimes into its orbit.

Cuba’s future

So in order to stay in power, Castro is making more and more concessions to foreign capital. A few years ago the Fidelistas legalised trading in US dollars in Cuba. Also, as part of its search for new sources of support, the Cuban government has issued invitations to European firms to invest in Cuba and repatriate profits. This attempt to by-pass US imperialism by trading with its partners/rivals has exposed divisions and conflicts of interest among the Western powers themselves, with the US Congress passing the Helms-Burton law to penalise European and other companies that trade with Cuba in their operations within the United States. Actually, as is obvious from the effectiveness of German ‘Ostpolitik’ – policies of trade with the former workers states of Eastern Europe intended to undermine these states – such capitalist economic encroachment will likely be far more effective in undermining Cuba’s planned economy than the Americans’ crude blockade policies. But of course, not everything the American (or indeed, any) ruling class does is perfectly rational.

Castro’s concessions to capitalism have led to the considerable growth of the tourist trade. It has also, predictably, led to a considerable growth in prostitution, resulting from emerging poverty, as in Batista’s day. Two classes of citizen of the workers’ state are slowly but surely emerging – put crudely, those with dollars, and those without. All this is gradually undermining the workers’ state. We have to understand that the Stalinism of Castro is a dead end – simply in order for the social gains of the Cuban revolution to survive, there has to be an extension of workers revolutions throughout Latin America, and ultimately to the US itself. Otherwise the sheer military and economic might of imperialism will sooner or later squeeze Cuba to the point of collapse.

Castro and the Cuban bureaucracy are hostile to this revolutionary perspective – after all, a revival of genuinely working class power in the Western hemisphere would have a massive effect on Cuba itself. The bureaucratic caste that rules Cuba would face the prospect of being dissolved into a democratically run workers’ state, and thereby losing its privileged position in society. There is no paradox in saying that in order to preserve the gains of the Cuban revolution, it is necessary to remove its Stalinist leadership and replace it with a regime based on Soviet democracy. This requires the leadership of a new workers’ party whose programme is aimed at the international extension of workers’ revolution. Without this, in the absence of an outright US invasion, the future of Cuba looks to be one of increasing marketisation, leading to counter-revolution led by a Cuban analogue of Lech Walesa or Boris Yeltsin, possibly even emerging like Yeltsin from within the bureaucratic regime itself.

In short, to defend the revolution, a political revolution is necessary to break Cuba from Stalinist nationalism to genuine revolutionary internationalism.