Workers Vanguard No. 1077
30 October 2015
Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution!
Castro Regime Welcomes Reactionary Vatican
At least 100,000 Cubans converged on Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución on September 20 for a Catholic mass led by Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina (Pope Francis). One side of this giant square features a huge portrait of Che Guevara, the hero of the Cuban Revolution who was murdered with the aid of the CIA in Bolivia in 1967. On another side, a large poster had been erected depicting Jesus with the words “Vengan a mí” (“Come to me”). Raúl Castro, leader of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), sat in the front row and attended other papal masses in the cities of Holguín and Santiago over the following days. The Pope also had a half-hour meeting with Raúl’s brother and predecessor, the 89-year-old Fidel, which a Vatican spokesman described as “very informal and friendly.”
Voice of America, the CIA’s media mouthpiece, saluted Francis for warning the Cuban people against “the dangers of ideology” (voanews.com, 20 September). For its part, the Communist Party leadership urged Cubans to attend the papal masses and had them broadcast live on state TV. Posters with the Pope’s face were displayed all over the country. In a welcoming address at Havana’s airport, Raúl Castro lauded Francis for playing a key role in the negotiations that led to the restoration of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations; he also presented him with the gift of a giant crucifix. During a visit to the Vatican earlier in the year, the PCC leader even told a press conference, “If the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church, and I’m not joking” (Washington Post, 10 May).
The Cuban leaders’ welcome to Pope Francis—building on their earlier fêting of his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI when they visited the island—is criminal and deadly dangerous. The Catholic church is, and has always been, a bastion of social and political reaction worldwide, not least in Latin America. The Vatican will use any authority it gains among the Cuban population to promote counterrevolution under a cloak of “democracy.” The return of capitalist exploitation to Cuba would signal the destruction of the country’s revolutionary gains and herald renewed U.S. neocolonial domination.
Cuban Deformed Workers State in Peril
Cuba is the only workers state in the Americas. The smashing of capitalist rule and the socialization of the economy more than 50 years ago led to impressive advances for the Cuban people. Free quality health care and education became available to all. Women were fully integrated into the workforce, and today they hold more than half of all positions in university faculties. Cuban doctors are regularly dispatched around the world to aid the victims of disasters and epidemics. Despite continuing material scarcity, 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.
The American imperialists have worked relentlessly to overturn the Cuban Revolution. Their crimes have ranged from the 1961 Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) invasion to numerous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro; from promoting the counterrevolutionary gusano terror gangs in Miami to enforcing a decades-long starvation embargo. The workers of the world, especially in the United States, must stand for Cuba’s unconditional military defense against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution.
But from the start, the workers state has been deformed by the rule of a nationalist bureaucracy that is hostile to the perspective of international socialist revolution. Following in the footsteps of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union, the Castro bureaucracy, upholding the nationalist dogma of “socialism in one country,” has pursued the pipe dream of “peaceful coexistence” with the imperialists. To this end, it has repeatedly undermined revolutionary opportunities elsewhere in Latin America.
For example, the PCC bureaucrats admonished the left-nationalist Nicaraguan Sandinistas in the 1980s not to follow the “Cuban road” of expropriating the capitalist class. Time and again, they have promoted bourgeois-nationalist regimes, from the Velasco dictatorship in Peru in the 1960s and early ’70s to the Brazilian, Venezuelan and other capitalist governments today. The Cuban Stalinists’ gross accommodation of the Vatican is part of this picture. Defense of the Cuban Revolution is directly linked to the struggle for a workers political revolution to oust the bureaucracy and establish a regime based on revolutionary internationalism and workers democracy. This requires forging a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party to mobilize the working people in struggle.
Socialism means a society of material abundance based on a level of economic productivity higher than that possible under capitalism. Such a society, requiring the most modern technology and an international division of labor, cannot be constructed in a single country, especially a small island with meager natural resources. Rather, its construction will require a series of socialist revolutions internationally, not least in the advanced capitalist countries. The survival of the Cuban workers state ultimately depends on extension of the revolution, especially to the U.S. imperialist behemoth.
When Fidel Castro’s petty-bourgeois guerrilla forces marched into Havana in January 1959, the army and the rest of the capitalist state apparatus that had propped up the corrupt, U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship shattered. Initially, the new regime had no intention of expropriating the domestic capitalist class or the vast U.S. imperialist holdings. But faced with economic looting by Batista’s cronies and unremitting hostility from the rulers in Washington, the government was compelled to carry through sweeping nationalizations of the American-owned sugar plantations, banks and other firms in the summer and fall of 1960, consolidating a deformed workers state.
In its early years, the regime was rightly hostile to the Catholic hierarchy. Fidel Castro denounced the leaders of the church in Cuba as “peons of the American embassy” and “Franco Fascists.” His rage was aroused by a pastoral letter issued by the Cuban Catholic hierarchy condemning “the growing advance of Communism in our country” (Time, 22 August 1960). Church properties were expropriated, including more than 300 schools previously restricted to the elite that were turned into public schools under state control. Religious statues were symbolically decapitated.
The creation of a workers state and the economic and social advances that followed were only possible because of the existence of the Soviet Union and its alliance with Cuba. The Soviets provided essential military protection against U.S. imperialism and subsidized Cuba with up to $5 billion of aid annually. The USSR provided some 60 percent of Cuba’s food and nearly all of its oil, in exchange for sugar. These subsidies were severely curtailed with the unraveling of Stalinist rule in the USSR in the late 1980s, and the counterrevolutionary destruction in 1989‑92 of the deformed workers states of East Europe and of the Soviet Union ended them altogether. Cuba suffered a deep economic crisis known as the “Special Period.” Starting in 1993, the Castroite regime implemented a series of market-oriented policies that, while eventually producing some economic recovery, led to a significant increase in inequality.
The same period saw a growing reconciliation between the regime and the church hierarchy. The constitution was amended in the early 1990s to describe Cuba as a “secular” state (replacing “atheist”), and the party leaders declared that atheism was no longer a prerequisite for party membership. Christmas and, more recently, Good Friday were declared national holidays. Still, active religious practice on the island remains limited. While some 40 percent of Cubans have been baptized, very few attend Sunday mass; those who do are mainly elderly. Among black Cubans, the rituals and mystical beliefs of Santería, which derive from the traditions of African slaves brought to Cuba by the Spanish colonists, are significantly more common.
The social role of the Catholic church has nonetheless grown dramatically, with the government’s tacit approval. Charities and cultural centers financed by the church have become prominent. Amid limited access to basic goods, outfits like Caritas and the Jesuit Loyola Center act as distribution centers for food, diapers and other sanitary products as well as aid for the elderly, while also providing childcare facilities, access to computers, etc. These charities are financed by right-wing Cuban exiles, as are a number of business schools that collaborate with the Catholic University in Spain to train so-called entrepreneurs and organize discussions on Cuba’s economic future.
In 2010, a new seminary began operating on the outskirts of Havana. Earlier this year, Catholic officials stated that requests to build new churches, which had long awaited government approval, began to get the green light. The growing reach of the Catholic church has been furthered by changes to U.S. Treasury Department regulations that allow travel to Cuba by Americans for the purpose of engaging in religious activities. With increased funding, the church has been able to build networks of support that could play a role in organizing future counterrevolutionary activities.
Apostles of Clerical Reaction
The role of the Vatican in fomenting counterrevolution is shown clearly by John Paul II, the first Pope invited to Cuba by the Castro regime, in 1998. That Pope, born Karol Wojtyla, played a key ideological role in the creation of the pro-capitalist Solidarność “trade union” in his native Poland in 1980.
Decades of economic mismanagement, nationalism and capitulation to the Catholic church by the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy had driven much of Poland’s historically socialist-minded working class into the arms of clerical reaction. The church was effectively the only legal opposition to the bureaucracy. Having consolidated around a counterrevolutionary program including the call for “free elections” and “free trade unions”—standard Cold War cries of the CIA and its AFL-CIO anti-Communist cohorts—Solidarność made a bid for power in the fall of 1981. When the Stalinists moved to suppress Solidarność in December 1981, we supported the suppression of the counterrevolutionaries. At the same time, we emphasized that the growth of Catholic reaction was a direct consequence of the political bankruptcy of the bureaucratic ruling caste.
Less than a decade later, the Polish Stalinists abdicated and Solidarność came to power, signaling the destruction of the Polish deformed workers state. These events helped pave the way for similar developments elsewhere in East Europe and for the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92—a devastating defeat for the working class internationally, including in Cuba.
The current Pope, the first from Latin America, has sought to carve out a progressive image through his homilies on behalf of the poor and oppressed. But, fawning statements by the PCC bureaucrats to the contrary, the face behind Francis’ mask is deeply reactionary. In his youth, Jorge Bergoglio was a member of Argentina’s right-wing, clericalist Iron Guard. He was part of the Catholic hierarchy there in the 1970s and early ’80s, when the church shored up the military junta of General Jorge Videla. The generals’ bloodsoaked regime, which was backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism, killed or “disappeared” at least 30,000 workers and leftists. A bishop or a cardinal was present at every public event or national holiday to bless the dictators.
Part of the context for the Cuban bureaucrats’ increasingly close relations with the Vatican is the latter’s diplomatic efforts to end Washington’s 55-year economic embargo. We have always opposed the embargo, whose purpose is to strangle the Cuban economy. At the same time, we warn that the campaign by growing sections of the U.S. capitalist class (and now the Obama administration) to end, or at least relax, these starvation measures poses a different kind of danger to the Cuban Revolution.
In contrast to the embargo, capitalists in Europe (notably Spain), and also Canada, have long been trading with Cuba, believing that Washington’s belligerent policies have proven ineffective in undermining the workers state. The imperialist opponents of the embargo aim to undercut Cuba’s socialized economy and foment counterrevolution through different means, e.g., flooding the country with cheap imports. Cuba should of course have the right to trade and have diplomatic relations with all countries, including the United States. However, it is vital to maintain the state monopoly of foreign trade, i.e., strict government control of imports and exports.
Religious ideas flourish particularly in the fertile ground of material scarcity, offering solace, glorifying sacrifice and promising reward when you are dead. The Catholic church, once a bastion of feudal reaction, today promotes obedience to the exploitative capitalist order (“Blessed are you who are poor”) and foments reactionary anti-woman and anti-gay bigotry. Take the example of abortion rights. Cuba is the only country in the Americas where abortion has been legal and available for free since the late 1960s, a clear example of the gains that are possible once the shackles of capitalism have been broken. Pope Francis and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy want to ban not only abortion but also all forms of contraception. Unrestricted access to such services is essential for women to exercise control over whether and when they will have children; without it, they will again be driven from the workforce and back into the reactionary confines of the family.
Today, the Cuban Revolution stands at a crossroads. Workers in the U.S. have a special duty to defend Cuba against capitalist restoration and rapacious American imperialism. This task is linked inextricably to the fight for socialist revolution to sweep away the U.S. capitalist rulers. The Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), is dedicated to building the Leninist vanguard party needed to lead that struggle to victory.