Spartacist Canada No. 184
U.S. Imperialists Open Diplomatic Relations
Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1059 (9 January), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
For over half a century, the U.S. imperialists have worked relentlessly to overthrow the Cuban Revolution and restore the rule of capital on the island: from the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, from terrorist provocations by the CIA and Cuban exile gusanos to acts of sabotage. Now the Obama White House has announced that it wants to “chart a new course” with Cuba by restoring diplomatic relations, that is, pursue what it considers a more effective means to achieve the same strategic goal. It was after the Castro government expropriated the capitalist class on the island in 1960, bringing enormous gains for the Cuban masses, that Washington cut off relations with Havana.
What is proposed is relatively modest: relaxing various travel restrictions, authorizing some commercial sales and exports and facilitating banking transactions between the two countries. The crippling U.S. embargo, an act of economic warfare that has been strangling the Cuban workers and peasants for decades, is loosened but not dismantled. Obama claims that without approval from Congress he cannot overturn the Torricelli and Helms-Burton acts. These acts tightened the embargo following the 1991-92 collapse of the Soviet Union, which put an end to crucial economic and military aid for Cuba. Signed under the Democrat Clinton, they were intended to “wreak havoc on the island.” Down with the embargo!
From the standpoint of revolutionary Marxists, Cuba has the right to enter into diplomatic and economic relations with any capitalist country it chooses, not least as a means to attempt to overcome the very real problem of its economic stagnation. Increased commercial and financial ties to U.S. corporations would not amount to the creeping restoration of capitalism. However, they bring the very real danger of strengthening the internal forces for capitalist counterrevolution on the island.
Meanwhile, the presence of the U.S. naval base and detention-
torture center at Guantánamo Bay—where around 130 prisoners of the U.S. “war on terror” are held—is a reminder that Cuba is still in the imperialists’ military crosshairs. Despite the release of dozens of prisoners last year, Obama is not about to shut down this dungeon, much less return Guantánamo to Cuba. U.S. out of Guantánamo Bay now!
The thaw in relations between the two countries came after over a year of negotiations, hosted by the Canadian government and pushed by the Vatican. Like prior CEOs of U.S. imperialism, Obama has openly revanchist goals for Cuba. Under Obama’s watch, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—notorious for working alongside the CIA since the early 1960s—has hatched several counterrevolutionary schemes to sow pro-imperialist dissent on the island. One recent plot involved infiltrating Cuba’s underground hip-hop groups in an attempt to spark a youth movement against the regime.
As part of the recent agreement, Obama released the three members of the Cuban Five who remained in custody after their conviction in 2001 on bogus charges of espionage and murder conspiracy. Freedom for the Cuban Five, men who heroically attempted to prevent terrorist acts against Cuba by infiltrating and monitoring counterrevolutionary exile groups in Florida, should be celebrated. In exchange, Cuban president Raúl Castro gave up two American spies: former Cuban intelligence officer Rolando Sarraff Trujillo—who facilitated the frame-up arrest of the Cuban Five—and USAID contractor Alan Gross, who was dispatched to smuggle spy-grade computer and satellite communications gear into Cuba.
The International Communist League has always fought for the unconditional military defense of Cuba against the threat of capitalist counterrevolution and imperialist attack. This flows from our understanding that Cuba is a workers state in which capitalism has been overthrown. Yet it has been bureaucratically deformed from its inception, i.e., political power is monopolized by a parasitic ruling bureaucracy. The material basis for this bureaucracy is the administration of the collectivized economy under conditions of scarcity.
The elimination of production for profit, together with the establishment of centralized planning and the state monopoly of foreign trade and investment, allowed Cuba to provide jobs, housing and education for everyone. To this day, Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S. or the European Union. Its renowned health care system, with more doctors per capita than anywhere else, provides free medical care of higher quality than even many advanced countries. Cuban doctors have saved lives worldwide and are regularly dispatched to help the victims of disasters, including the Ebola crisis in Africa. It is a testament to the superiority of a collectivized economy that a tiny, relatively impoverished island has survived this long under crippling sanctions and military provocations by the U.S. behemoth just 90 miles from its shore.
In his December 20 speech to the Cuban National Assembly announcing the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, Raúl Castro warned against resorting to “shock therapies” or speeding up privatization to revive that country’s stagnant economy, which he said would equate to “laying down the flags of socialism.” But socialism is a classless, egalitarian society of material abundance on an international scale. An isolated workers state is subject to enormous pressures from the surrounding capitalist world, pressures that undermine and will eventually destroy it. Cuba’s fate and its advance towards socialism are bound up with the struggle for proletarian power throughout Latin America and the rest of the world, especially in the U.S.
The politics of the Castroite bureaucracy in Havana have from the beginning proved an obstacle to this perspective. The Cuban regime, following in the footsteps of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union, is wedded to the nationalist dogma of building “socialism in one country.” This has meant opposing the possibilities for revolution outside the island. In the early 1970s, Fidel Castro embraced Chile’s popular-front government headed by Salvador Allende, whose purpose was to head off the threat of workers revolution and politically disarm the militant proletariat, paving the way for Pinochet’s bloody military coup. A decade later, after the petty-bourgeois Nicaraguan Sandinistas had overthrown the oppressive Somoza dictatorship, shattering the capitalist state, Fidel admonished them not to follow the Cuban road by expropriating the bourgeoisie. The Castroites have always promoted bourgeois-nationalist regimes, including their glorification of the late Venezuelan populist strongman Hugo Chávez as a supposed revolutionary.
Thus, defense of the Cuban revolution is directly linked to the Trotskyist call for proletarian political revolution to oust the Castro bureaucracy and to place the working class in power, establishing a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism. This requires the forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party to mobilize the Cuban working masses in struggle.
Imperialist Depredations and
The relaxing of restrictions on Cuba predictably provoked ire from the snake pit of anti-Communist Cuban exiles and their creatures, like Florida senator Marco Rubio. But it is being celebrated by a large sector of the bourgeoisie, including the bosses’ Chamber of Commerce, and capitalist media mouthpieces. In recent months, the New York Times has repeatedly called for lifting the embargo. Viewing belligerent U.S. policy as counterproductive and outdated, an opinion piece in Forbes (16 January 2013) noted: “A perpetual embargo on a developing nation that is moving towards reform makes little sense, especially when America’s allies are openly hostile to the embargo. It keeps a broader discussion about smart reform in Cuba from gaining life, and it makes no economic sense.”
The Obama administration proclaims its desire for “a democratic, prosperous and stable” Cuba, by which it means returning Cuba to its neocolonial status through the restoration of capitalism, bringing profitable investment for the U.S. rulers based on low-wage labor, and installing a docile political regime. European and Canadian capitalists have been able to move into the Cuban market through joint ventures and aim to flood the country with cheap imports. Several Fortune 500 corporations, including Caterpillar, Colgate-Palmolive and Pepsico, fear ceding the market to competitors.
The stakes are high: ultimately either the only socialized economy in Latin America will prevail through the extension of the revolution internationally, or capitalist counterrevolution will convert Cuba back to the U.S. bourgeoisie’s playground. In The Revolution Betrayed (1936), revolutionary Marxist leader Leon Trotsky described the situation confronting the Soviet degenerated workers state, that is, its encirclement by more technologically and industrially advanced capitalist economies. Trotsky wrote: “The question, Who shall prevail—not only as a military, but still more as an economic question—confronts the Soviet Union on a world scale. Military intervention is a danger. The intervention of cheap commodities in the baggage trains of capitalist armies would be incomparably more dangerous.” Such an observation is relevant to the perils Cuba faces today.
For 30 years, Cuba benefited from heavy Soviet subsidies. In the last decade, it has heavily relied on capitalist Venezuela as its main trading partner, which has supplied Cuba with cheap oil. But this situation is precarious, with Venezuela itself suffering a grave crisis amid the collapse of world oil prices, racked by inflation and recently hit with additional vindictive U.S. sanctions.
Cuba has never fully recovered from the severe crisis that followed the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Since the early ’90s, dubbed the “Special Period,” the Cuban bureaucracy has opened the country to imperialist economic penetration, turning over sectors of the collectivized economy to small-scale private enterprise through “market reforms.” This and other policies, like encouraging self-employment in the service sector and granting wider autonomy for state-owned companies, have increased inequality on the island. Cuban blacks, who saw tremendous gains from the revolution, have been hit particularly hard, as they are less likely to have access to hard currency, either through remittances from abroad or by filling jobs in the tourist sector.
Cuba today has substantial imperialist investment and is angling for more. Thirty miles from Havana in the deepwater Port of Mariel, the Cuban government is allowing the construction of a special “free trade” economic zone, intended to accommodate the world’s largest cargo ships. Brazil has already poured nearly a billion dollars into the project. With the prospect of renewed trade with the U.S. now posed, we repeat our warning that such a development “underlines the importance of [Cuba’s] state monopoly of foreign trade—i.e., strict government control of imports and exports” (“Cuba: Economic Crisis and ‘Market Reforms’,” WV No. 986, 16 September 2011).
The Cuban regime has reestablished ties with and promoted the reactionary Catholic church on the island, a potential breeding ground for capitalist counterrevolution. Pope Francis was applauded by both Obama and Castro for his role in the agreement. This Jesuit pope has offered the Vatican a bit of a face-lift by proposing to make the church more inclusive (while still staunchly opposing abortion and the ordination of women) and preaching against the “tyranny” of capitalism, but has no less sinister intentions than his predecessors.
The Vatican is notorious for propping up Latin American military dictatorships and for promoting capitalist restoration under the guise of supposed free elections and “democratic” reforms. Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega—confined to a detention camp in the early years of the revolution when the domination of the Catholic church was broken—is an outspoken promoter of such “reforms” on the island, as is Pope Francis. In 1998, Fidel enthusiastically welcomed Pope John Paul II, and in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI. Throughout the country, photos and monuments commemorate the meeting between Castro and John Paul, the patron of counterrevolution who worked tirelessly to restore capitalism in the East European deformed workers states, especially his native Poland.
Defending Cuba at the Crossroads
The guerrilla forces that marched into Havana under Fidel Castro’s leadership in 1959 were a politically heterogeneous petty-bourgeois formation. Their victory brought not only the downfall of the hated Batista regime but also shattered the old bourgeois state apparatus. The new government implemented a series of liberal reforms. But the land redistribution and measures taken against Batista’s former police torturers scared Castro’s own bourgeois supporters, who began to flee to Miami. These moves also alarmed Washington, which undertook punitive action, compelling Castro to sign a trade agreement with the Soviet Union. The refusal by imperialist-owned refineries to process Soviet crude oil provoked Cuba into nationalizing U.S.-owned properties, followed by the nationalization of all banks and businesses in October 1960, which liquidated the Cuban bourgeoisie as a class. Today, corporations including United Fruit, Standard Oil and Texaco are salivating over the prospect of extorting compensation for the nationalizations half a century ago.
The best that could come of the Cuban Revolution in the absence of the working class taking power under the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard party was the creation of a deformed workers state. Explaining how a peasant-based guerrilla movement was able to overturn capitalist rule, we wrote in the Spartacist League’s 1966 Declaration of Principles adopted at our Founding Conference:
“Movements of this sort can under certain conditions, i.e., the extreme disorganization of the capitalist class in the colonial country and the absence of the working class contending in its own right for social power, smash capitalist property relations; however, they cannot bring the working class to political power. Rather, they create bureaucratic anti-working-class regimes which suppress any further development of these revolutions towards socialism.”
—“Basic Documents of the Spartacist League,” Marxist Bulletin No. 9
This revolution would not have survived without the Soviet Union providing a military counterweight to imperialism and an economic lifeline for the Cuban economy. Today, with no equivalent lifeline, the historical opening that allowed petty-bourgeois forces to create a deformed workers state has closed.
The fight to defend and extend the Cuban Revolution has been a hallmark of our tendency from its inception as the Revolutionary Tendency (RT), a minority inside the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP majority equated the Castro regime with the revolutionary Bolshevik government of Lenin and Trotsky. In so doing, the SWP majority leaders explicitly rejected both the necessity of a Leninist-Trotskyist party to provide revolutionary leadership and the centrality of the proletariat in the fight for socialist revolution.
Having despaired of that perspective, the SWP enthused uncritically over the Castro bureaucracy. In January 1961, the SWP adopted Joseph Hansen’s “Theses on the Cuban Revolution,” which declared that Cuba had “entered the transitional phase of a workers state, although one lacking as yet the forms of democratic proletarian rule.”
More than half a century later, our Trotskyist analysis and program has stood the test of time. Yesterday’s cheerleaders for the Cuban bureaucracy have gotten older but not the least bit wiser. In a 23 December article posted on counterpunch.org, Jeff Mackler, chief honcho for Socialist Action (SA), an offshoot of the reformist SWP, channels Hansen’s ghost, writing: “While Cuba still [!] lacks formal and vitally necessary institutions of workers democracy…the present Cuban leadership has not developed into a hardened caste whose interests can only be preserved by repression.”
In fact, the bureaucratic caste headed by the Castros has always excluded the working class from political power, using repression and the ideology of nationalism to keep the Cuban workers and peasants atomized and politically passive. The Castro regime imprisons not only dissidents who actively collaborate with U.S. imperialism, but metes out repression to pro-socialist opponents, including militants like the Trotskyists in the 1960s. This illustrates the inherently contradictory nature of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste, which balances between the imperialist bourgeoisie on the one hand and the working class on the other.
Mackler bends over backward to lionize the “Castro team” as the great gatekeepers of socialism. He praises the bureaucracy’s market reforms—which he describes as “within the context of maintaining its socialist ideals, aimed at improving the efficiency of the Cuban economy”—and absurdly crows that such reforms were “presented for discussion, debate and modification” to “millions of Cubans” before being implemented.
Market-oriented measures are an attempt to respond to economic stagnation within the framework of Stalinist bureaucratic control of the economy. As we wrote in the article “For Central Planning Through Soviet Democracy” (WV No. 454, 3 June 1988):
“Economic planning…can be effective only when the workers, technical intelligentsia and managers identify themselves with the government which issues the plans....
“Within the framework of Stalinism, there is thus an inherent tendency to replace centralized planning and management with market mechanisms. Since managers and workers cannot be subject to the discipline of soviet democracy (workers councils), increasingly the bureaucracy sees subjecting the economic actors to the discipline of market competition as the only answer to economic inefficiency.”
Workers councils are not simply other “forms” of proletarian rule, but essential for the rational operation of a planned, socialized economy.
Mackler also claims that Cuba’s “humanitarian efforts” abroad testify to its “ongoing revolutionary and socialist orientation.” Many of Cuba’s international interventions have indeed been heroic, most notably when the country dispatched thousands of troops to Africa in the 1970s to defend Angola’s newly won independence from Portugal against reactionary local forces backed by U.S. imperialism and apartheid South Africa. But the objective of the Cuban Stalinists was never to assist in the overthrow of capitalism in Africa; their intervention was an expression of their political support to the bourgeois Angolan nationalists alongside whom they fought. Even under the gun of the U.S., Fidel Castro’s appetite was always for “détente” via a “progressive” wing of American imperialism—i.e., the Democratic Party.
While fake Trotskyists like SA lavish praise on the Cuban Stalinist bureaucrats, they join in the imperialists’ anti-Communist crusades for “democracy” elsewhere. SA allied with the worst enemies of the Cuban Revolution by championing capitalist-
restorationist forces mobilized against the Soviet degenerated workers state in the 1980s, including Pope John Paul II’s favorite “union,” counterrevolutionary Polish Solidarność.
Other pseudo-socialists oppose the Castro regime from the standpoint of virulent anti-Communist hostility to the Cuban workers state itself. Such is the case with the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S., estranged cousins of Tony Cliff’s international tendency. The Cliffites are known for having written off Cuba, together with China and the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, as “state capitalist regimes” that “have nothing to do with socialism.”
Writing in the journal Jacobin (December 22), Samuel Farber, a regular contributor to the ISO’s press, hailed the resumption of relations with the U.S. as a “major gain for the Cuban people.” According to Farber, who must take his cues from the U.S. State Department, that agreement “can improve the standard of living of Cubans and help to liberalize, although not necessarily democratize, the conditions of their political oppression and economic exploitation.” For Farber, Cuba is just another state based on capitalist “exploitation,” but differing from the U.S. in its lack of “democracy.”
Revolutionaries in the U.S. have a special duty to defend Cuba against capitalist restoration and rapacious American imperialism. This cannot be reduced to the question of preserving the unique culture of Cuba or of simply blocking the incursions of imperialist monopolies on the island. The future of the Cuban masses—tied to the liberation of the hundreds of millions of toilers across Latin America and linked to the struggle to emancipate the exploited and oppressed in the U.S. belly of the beast—is a class question. We fight to forge a revolutionary workers party in the U.S. as a section of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International. Such a party would imbue in the multiracial American working class the understanding that defense of the Cuban Revolution is an integral part of its own fight against the U.S. capitalist rulers and for world socialist revolution.