Workers Vanguard No. 915
23 May 2008
Trotskyism vs. Castroism
Defend the Cuban Revolution!
For Workers Political Revolution!
Ever since the government of Fidel Castro expropriated the capitalist class in Cuba in 1960, establishing a bureaucratically deformed workers state, the U.S. ruling class has worked relentlessly to overthrow the Cuban Revolution and re-establish the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie—from the 1961 Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) invasion to repeated attempts to assassinate Castro; from funding counterrevolutionary terrorists in Miami to the ongoing economic embargo. The elimination of capitalist class rule in Cuba led to enormous gains for its working people. The centralized planned economy guaranteed everyone a job, decent housing, food and education. Cubans now enjoy one of the highest literacy rates in the world. The revolution especially benefited women: domination of the Catholic church was broken, and abortion is a free health service. Despite the crippling effects of the U.S. blockade, the free health care system is still far and away the best in economically underdeveloped countries. Infant mortality is lower than in parts of the “First World,” and Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than just about anywhere in the world.
As Trotskyists (i.e., genuine Marxists), we stand for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban deformed workers state against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution—as we do for the other remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea and Vietnam. We oppose the U.S. economic embargo, a blatant act of war, and demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Guantánamo Bay. We fully support Cuba’s right to trade and have diplomatic relations with capitalist states. However, we recognize that a wing of the U.S. imperialists, represented by the likes of Democratic politician Barack Obama, looks to relaxing the trade embargo and diplomatic isolation of Cuba as a more effective means to subvert the Cuban deformed workers state. This has long been the policy of the West European and Canadian rulers. Our defense of the Cuban Revolution is premised on our proletarian internationalism, centrally including the fight for socialist revolution in the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries.
The Cuban regime headed by Fidel Castro and now stewarded by his brother Raúl is fundamentally nationalist, pursuing the Stalinist dogma of building “socialism in one country” and thus denying the need for proletarian revolution internationally, not only elsewhere in Latin America but particularly in the advanced capitalist world, including the United States. As we will explain below, the Cuban regime, as in the cases of Chile and Nicaragua, repeatedly opposed the need to overturn capitalist property relations.
The Cuban regime is qualitatively similar to the one that emerged in the Soviet Union after the Stalinist bureaucracy usurped political power in a political counterrevolution that began in 1924 and was consolidated over the next several years. After the Cuban Revolution, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) in the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) fought for this programmatic understanding against the SWP party majority, which uncritically embraced alien class forces in the form of the petty-bourgeois guerrillas led by Castro and Che Guevara. The RT and its successor, the Spartacist League, were unique in maintaining that Cuba had become a bureaucratically deformed workers state in the summer-fall of 1960. Further progress toward socialism would require an additional revolution, a proletarian political revolution to sweep away the Castro bureaucracy, establishing organs of workers democracy and installing a revolutionary internationalist regime. As a document submitted by the RT to the 1963 SWP convention asserted:
“The Cuban Revolution has exposed the vast inroads of revisionism upon our movement. On the pretext of defense of the Cuban Revolution, in itself an obligation for our movement, full unconditional and uncritical support has been given to the Castro government and leadership, despite its petit-bourgeois nature and bureaucratic behavior. Yet the record of the regime’s opposition to the democratic rights of the Cuban workers and peasants is clear: bureaucratic ouster of the democratically-elected leaders of the labor movement and their replacement by Stalinist hacks; suppression of the Trotskyist press; proclamation of the single-party system; and much else. This record stands side by side with enormous initial social and economic accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution. Thus, Trotskyists are at once the most militant and unconditional defenders against imperialism of both the Cuban Revolution and of the deformed workers’ state which has issued therefrom. But Trotskyists cannot give confidence and political support, however critical, to a governing regime hostile to the most elementary principles and practices of workers’ democracy, even if our tactical approach is not as toward a hardened bureaucratic caste.”
—“Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International,”
reprinted in Spartacist No. 1, February-March 1964
Forty-five years on, this Trotskyist analysis and program has stood the test of time. The bulk of the pseudo-Trotskyists enthused over Castro; a few, like the late Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League in Britain in the 1960s, denied that capitalism had been overthrown in Cuba. But yesterday’s cheerleaders for assorted Stalinist bureaucrats have gone on to join the imperialists’ anti-Communist crusades for “democracy.” Thus the SWP, which has long since explicitly repudiated Trotskyism, along with its offshoots like Socialist Action (SA) and its former international allies in the United Secretariat (USec), enlisted in U.S. imperialism’s drive to destroy the Soviet Union, openly backing the forces of anti-Communist reaction. So, too, did the Militant tendency of Ted Grant, the precursor of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) led by Alan Woods, which today presents itself as the “Trotskyists” in Cuba. As regards Cuba today, all these forces either continue to give political support to the Castro regime or, worse, attack it from the right.
The question of Trotskyism and of the role of Leon Trotsky himself—co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 October Revolution—has in recent years been the subject of some discussion in academic and other circles in Cuba. For example, four years ago the Cuban journal Temas (No. 39-40, October-December 2004) included a debate on the subject “Why Did Eastern European Socialism Fall?” in which several participants pointed positively to Trotsky’s criticisms of the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Early this year, Trotsky’s seminal book analyzing the rise of Stalinism, The Revolution Betrayed, was presented to an overflow crowd at the Havana Book Fair. Celia Hart—the daughter of Haydee Santamaria and Armando Hart, two historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution—has published and spoken out on the island as a professed supporter both of Trotskyism and of the Cuban regime.
It is crucial that youth and others seeking a genuine revolutionary road study and assimilate the revolutionary internationalist program of Trotskyism, which stands in sharp counterposition to the revisionism of the SWP, SA, USec, the IMT et al. That requires a review of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and the real history of the Cuban Revolution and the Castro regime.
The Fight for Trotskyism in the SWP
Following the 1959 victory of Castro’s forces, the SWP majority lionized Castro and Guevara as “unconscious Trotskyists.” Week after week, the SWP paper, the Militant, uncritically reprinted their speeches. According to the SWP, Cuba had evolved from a “workers and farmers government” into a healthy workers state of qualitatively the same order as the Soviet workers state under Lenin and Trotsky. As the RT pointed out in a 1960 document, this was a “‘workers’ and farmers’ government’ in which there are no workers or farmers and no representatives of independent workers’ and farmers’ parties!” (“The Cuban Revolution and Marxist Theory,” reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 8).
The SWP line on the Cuban Revolution mirrored a wave of revisionism a decade earlier in the Fourth International (FI). The FI, which was founded under Trotsky’s leadership in 1938, had been profoundly disoriented by the post-WWII overturns of capitalism under Stalinist leadership. Mao Zedong’s peasant-based People’s Liberation Army seized power from the collapsing bourgeois Guomindang of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, leading to the establishment of a deformed workers state. Similar peasant-based social overturns led by Stalinist forces triumphed in Yugoslavia, North Korea and North Vietnam (extended to the South in 1975 after the defeat of U.S. imperialism by the Vietnamese workers and peasants). Capitalism was overturned in several states in East and Central Europe under Soviet occupation following the Second World War. While different processes took place in each of these various countries, what they all had in common was the absence of the working class contending for state power. The result was the creation of bureaucratically deformed workers states.
However, Michel Pablo, then head of the FI, responded to the postwar social overturns by repudiating the central importance of a conscious revolutionary leadership. Pablo asserted that “the objective process is in the final analysis the sole determining factor.” Supposedly the “objective dynamic” ensured an increasingly favorable relationship of forces, and in this context the Stalinized Communist parties “retain the possibility in certain circumstances of roughly outlining a revolutionary orientation.” Pablo projected “centuries” of deformed workers states. The Trotskyists were relegated to liquidating into or at best being pressure groups on various Stalinist or Social Democratic parties. This revisionism led to the destruction of the Fourth International in 1951-53. The Pabloite revisionists were fought by the SWP and its leader, James Cannon, albeit belatedly, partially, and essentially on the SWP’s national terrain. In 1953, the SWP and other anti-Pabloite forces internationally split from Pablo (see “Genesis of Pabloism,” Spartacist No. 21, Fall 1972).
But with the unfolding of the Cuban Revolution, the SWP then embraced Pablo’s revisionism and carried out a “reunification” with Pablo’s protégés in the “International Secretariat.” The founding document of the “United Secretariat of the Fourth International” proclaimed:
“As I.F. Stone, the acute American radical journalist observed after a trip to Cuba, the revolutionaries there are ‘unconscious’ Trotskyists. With the coming of full consciousness among these and related currents, Trotskyism will become a powerful current.”
—“Dynamics of World Revolution Today” (1963)
The SWP claimed and expected that peasant-based guerrilla warfare would be the wave of the future and the decisive means to overthrow capitalism, writing:
“Along the road of a revolution beginning with simple democratic demands and ending in the rupture of capitalist property relations, guerrilla warfare conducted by landless peasant and semiproletarian forces, under a leadership that becomes committed to carrying the revolution through to a conclusion, can play a decisive role in undermining and precipitating the downfall of a colonial or semicolonial power. This is one of the main lessons to be drawn from experience since the second world war. It must be consciously incorporated into the strategy of building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.”
—SWP Political Committee, “For Early Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement,” SWP Discussion Bulletin,
Vol. 24, No. 9 (April 1963)
In counterposition to the SWP majority, the Revolutionary Tendency asserted in the programmatic document, “Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International, Draft Resolution on the World Movement,” submitted to the 1963 SWP convention:
“Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant-based guerilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working-class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demoralization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the proletarian leadership in the revolution is a profound negation of Marxism-Leninism no matter what pious wish may be concurrently expressed for ‘building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.’ Marxists must resolutely oppose any adventurist acceptance of the peasant-guerilla road to socialism—historically akin to the Social Revolutionary program on tactics that Lenin fought. This alternative would be a suicidal course for the socialist goals of the movement, and perhaps physically for the adventurers.”
The SWP was consciously shredding Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which charts the road to national and social emancipation in countries of combined and uneven development. In such countries, the national bourgeoisie is tied by a million strings to the imperialists and fearful of the proletariat. It is therefore incapable of carrying out the tasks historically associated with the classical bourgeois revolutions of England and France in the 17th and 18th centuries. The only path forward is, as Trotsky stated in The Permanent Revolution (1930), the fight for “the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.” The dictatorship of the proletariat would place on the order of the day not only democratic but also socialist tasks, such as collectivizing the economy, giving a mighty impulse to the international socialist revolution. Only the victory of the proletariat in the advanced capitalist world would ensure against bourgeois restoration and secure the possibility of bringing socialist construction to its conclusion.
Trotsky’s theory was confirmed by the Russian Revolution of October 1917. Under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, the revolutionary workers, supported by the peasantry, overthrew the rule of the capitalists and landlords. The decisive insurrectionary force was the Red Guard, the workers militia, as well as military units under the command of Bolshevik-led soldiers and sailors councils. The bourgeois state was shattered and replaced by a workers state based on mass organs of workers democracy, the elected soviets (councils) of workers, soldiers and peasants. The formation of the Communist International in 1919 expressed the Bolsheviks’ understanding that the Russian Revolution was only the first, reversible episode of the world socialist revolution. (See “The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution,” in ICL pamphlet, April 2008.)
The Cuban Revolution
Cuba under the dictator Fulgencio Batista was essentially a subsidiary of the American Mafia and the United Fruit Company (see, for example, the film The Godfather: Part Two). When Fidel Castro’s July 26 Movement entered Havana on New Year’s Day 1959, it routed the remnants of the army of Batista, who was deeply despised by the masses, isolated from the upper layers of Cuban society and finally abandoned by the U.S. imperialists. The commanders of the Rebel Army were petty-bourgeois intellectuals who, in the course of the guerrilla war, had had their previous direct connections with oppositional bourgeois-liberal elements broken and had become episodically autonomous from the bourgeoisie.
The initial coalition government with liberal-bourgeois politicians took place in the context of a shattered old bourgeois state apparatus. Castro himself had been a parliamentary candidate of the bourgeois Ortodoxo Party in 1952. The Sierra Maestra Manifesto issued by the July 26 Movement in 1957 proposed “impartial and democratic elections” organized by a “provisional neutral government” and called to “dissociate the army from politics,” for freedom of the press, industrialization and a land reform based on the principle of land to the tiller (as opposed to collective farms), none of which challenged capitalist rule.
The first measures of the petty-bourgeois Castro government were to outlaw gambling, suppress prostitution and seize the holdings of Batista and his cronies. These were followed by a modest land reform in line with the 1940 bourgeois constitution. In this period, Castro not only denied any revolutionary intentions; he explicitly denounced Communism. In May 1959 Castro referred to Communism as a system “which solves the economic problem, but which suppresses liberties, the liberties which are so dear to man and which I know the Cuban people feel” (quoted in Theodore Draper, Castroism: Theory and Practice ). However, this did not satisfy the anti-Communist wing of his own movement. In June 1959 Castro booted out opponents of the agrarian reform within the July 26 Movement.
The new Cuban government was also confronted by U.S. imperialism’s mounting attempts to bring it to heel through economic pressure without corresponding attempts by the contemptuous U.S. Eisenhower administration to co-opt the new government. There followed a process of blow and counterblow in which the Cuban leaders responded to each imperialist attack with increasingly radical measures. When Eisenhower sought to lower the Cuban sugar quota in January 1960, Castro signed an agreement with Soviet deputy prime minister Mikoyan for the USSR to purchase one million tons of sugar yearly from Cuba. Refusal by imperialist-owned oil refineries to process Russian crude, as well as Eisenhower’s elimination of the sugar quota, led to Castro’s nationalization in August 1960 of U.S.-owned properties in Cuba, including sugar mills, oil companies, the power company and the telephone company. In October, the government nationalized all banks and 382 businesses, amounting to 80 percent of the country’s industry. Cuba became a deformed workers state with these pervasive nationalizations, which liquidated the bourgeoisie as a class.
The crystallization of a deformed workers state was by no means the necessary outcome of the Rebel Army’s military victory in January 1959. The existence of the Soviet degenerated workers state provided a model and, more importantly, the material support which made that outcome a practicality. However, the formation of the Cuban deformed workers state was not the product of the alliance with the Soviet Union, but resulted from a process within Cuba itself. Another critical factor in the creation of a deformed workers state was the fact that the proletariat was not a contender for power.
Had there been a class-conscious, combative working class, it would have polarized the petty-bourgeois guerrilla forces, drawing some to the workers’ side and repelling others back into the arms of the bourgeois order. This occurred in Russia in 1917 as the Bolsheviks won the support of the mass of the peasantry, while the right-wing leadership of the Social Revolutionary peasant party sided with the capitalist Kerensky government. But in Cuba, the main workers party, the Stalinist Popular Socialist Party (PSP), was wedded to the capitalist order and bourgeois legality. The PSP repudiated Castro’s assault on the Moncada army barracks in 1953 as “putschist methods.” As late as June 1958, the PSP’s National Committee called for an end to violence and settling the strife in Cuba “by means of democratic and clean elections, respected by all, by which the people can effectively decide by means of the vote and the results of which would be honorably respected.”
The Cuban situation was exceptional: in most cases the military victory of petty-bourgeois nationalists ultimately ends with their re-establishing their ties to the bourgeois order. Take, for example, the case of Algeria after the victory of the radical-talking petty-bourgeois FLN following a protracted war of independence against the French imperialists. A key factor in maintaining Algeria as a French neocolony was the de Gaulle government’s pursuit of a more accommodationist policy toward the victorious Algerian rebels with the 1962 Evian Accords. To see the outcome of the Cuban Revolution as the result of Marxist foresight and intent by the Castroites is absurd. Referring to the Castro/Guevara “theory” of peasant-based warfare, the bourgeois historian Theodore Draper commented, “The Cuban theory was an ex post facto rationalization of an improvised response to events beyond Castro’s control.”
The Cuban Revolution demonstrated, yet again, that there is no “third road” between the dictatorship of capital and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In that sense, it confirmed the theory of permanent revolution. However, the core of Trotsky’s theory is the necessity of a conscious proletariat, led by its vanguard, standing at the head of all the oppressed in the struggle for power and the international extension of the revolution. The ruling stratum of the Cuban deformed workers state is a parasitic bureaucracy, which was created through a fusion of elements of the old July 26 Movement and the PSP (soon suitably purged of pro-Moscow types like Aníbal Escalante, who was seen as loyal to a different “socialism in one country”). The Cuban Revolution verified in a new way Trotsky’s assertion that the Stalinist bureaucracy—a transmission belt for the pressure of the world bourgeois order on a workers state—is a contradictory, petty-bourgeois formation. As we wrote in the 1973 preface to Marxist Bulletin No. 8:
“The decisive section of the Castroites could make the transition to the leadership of a deformed workers state because in the absence of the egalitarianism and proletarian democracy of a state directly won by the working people, they never had to transcend or fundamentally alter their own radical petty-bourgeois social appetites, but only to transform and redirect them.”
The Struggle for Workers Democracy
The SWP and USec were overt apologists for the Castro government’s repression of the Cuban working class and leftists, including the Cuban Trotskyists. The SWP and USec blurred the qualitative difference between a healthy workers state, in which the working class holds political power, and a deformed one, in which political power is held by a bureaucracy. Although very occasionally SWP leaders like Joseph Hansen acknowledged that the “forms of workers democracy” were missing, this was seen as a small blemish; and in any event, the “objective dynamic” would “inevitably” compel the Castroites to see the light. This was reflected in a statement by Adolfo Gilly, a supporter of the Mexican Pabloites. While stating that “Cuba has been influenced by the bureaucratic methods and the non-participation of workers which exist in other socialist countries,” Gilly nonetheless alibied for the bureaucracy, concluding that “there is no country today where there is greater democracy than in Cuba” and that “it is the pressure from below which is decisive at each point and it ends by imposing itself, thus further broadening the path of the Cuban Revolution itself” (Monthly Review, October 1964). Well, it’s been over 40 years and we’re still waiting!
Conveniently, the SWP and USec sought to lay all the blame for Stalinist bureaucratism on the PSP cadre, depicting Castro and Guevara particularly as “unconscious Trotskyists.” For its part, Socialist Action (February 2008) claims that “Che was motivated by his concept of Permanent Revolution when he left Cuba determined to contribute to the creation of ‘two, three, many Vietnams’.” Peter Taaffe, head of the Committee for a Workers’ International, recently asserted that “Castro pointedly denies—quite wrongly as Celia Hart has indicated—that Che Guevara had ‘Trotskyite sympathies’.” Castro ought to know. In his autobiography (co-authored with Ignacio Ramonet), Castro responded to an interviewer’s question about Guevara: “I never heard him speak, really, about Trotsky. He was a Leninist and, to a degree, he even recognized some merits in Stalin—you know, industrialization, some of those things” (My Life: A Spoken Autobiography ).
While Guevara was a courageous individual who died fighting for his beliefs, his peasant-based guerrillaism was counterposed to Leninism and Trotsky’s permanent revolution, which is premised on proletarian internationalism. As we explained in “The Mystique of the Guerrilla Road” (WV No. 630, 6 October 1995):
“Despite the revolutionary spirit of Guevara’s battle cry against imperialism, his call for a peasant-based guerrilla war on many fronts was a flat rejection of Marxism, Leninism and the proletarian struggle for power
. His political program was fundamentally elitist in that he rejected outright the need for the working people to express their voice and power through their own class organs, such as workers councils (soviets). Instead, the masses were supposed to submit to the leadership of a self-appointed band of petty-bourgeois radical intellectuals become guerrilleros who took to the hills.”
Because of its numbers, its location in the urban centers of finance and manufacture, and its strategic position with its hands on the means of production, where the common experience of the workers creates solidarity and organization, the proletariat uniquely has the social power and class interest to overthrow capitalism. As a mass of small commodity producers, the peasantry is a petty-bourgeois layer whose conditions of existence breed a parochial outlook. Its lower stratum, the landless peasants, is pulled toward the working class, while its upper stratum is more drawn to the bourgeoisie. Its productive labor is based on private ownership of parcels of land; peasants don’t have an independent mode of production. They follow either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie.
Under the most favorable circumstances conceivable, the petty-bourgeois peasantry was capable only of creating a bureaucratically deformed workers state. With the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state and consequently with no readily available lifeline against imperialist encirclement, the narrow historical opening in which petty-bourgeois forces were able to overturn local capitalist rule has been closed in this period.
Guevara was contemptuous of workers democracy. In his essay, “The Role of a Marxist-Leninist Party,” he asserted that the guerrilla leaders in “the mountains” were “ideologically proletarian,” whereas those in “the plains” (i.e., the cities) were petty-bourgeois. From this he concluded that “The Rebel Army is the genuine representative of the triumphant Revolution.” Guevara’s politics were a particularly idealist, voluntarist brand of Stalinism. In “Socialism and Man in Cuba” (1965), he argued that workers’ productivity could be stimulated better through “moral incentives” rather than material incentives, dismissing the workers’ desires for a decent standard of living as bourgeois. Rejecting a proletarian revolutionary internationalist perspective, Guevara accepted the framework of “building socialism” on one small, poor and besieged island. Trotskyists understand that only the spread of revolution to the advanced capitalist countries can resolve the problem of material scarcity. Guevara explicitly characterized Trotsky’s formation of the Left Opposition against Stalin’s political usurpation of the revolution as “counterrevolutionary.”
That a ruling bureaucracy was only in the process of formation made Cuba more open initially to the intervention of Trotskyists than other deformed workers states. This was reflected in the fact that for a period a Trotskyist group was allowed to function. The militia, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and the trade unions all had a mass base. This was a transient opening, but one that had to be tested. The RT thus gave the program of political revolution for Cuba a transitional formulation, calling to “Make the Government Ministers Responsible to and Removable by Workers’ and Peasants’ Democratic Organizations.”
A watershed in the hardening up of the bureaucracy was the arrest of members of the Cuban Trotskyist organization, the Revolutionary Workers Party (POR), part of an international tendency led by Juan Posadas. In May 1961 the Havana government seized the POR’s newspaper Voz Proletaria and smashed the type for an edition of Trotsky’s The Permanent Revolution. Beginning in November 1963, five leading POR members were arrested. They were charged with distributing an illegal paper, advocating the overthrow of the government and of being critical of Fidel Castro. They were sentenced to up to nine years in prison; in the end, they spent up to a year and a half in jail. Guevara was confronted over the arrests by a Spartacist supporter on a trip to Cuba in 1964. Our comrade pointed out that criticisms of people who stood for unconditional defense of the Revolution should be handled politically, rather than by suppression of views. Guevara responded:
“I agree with your statement, but the Cuban Trotskyists are not inside the Revolution, but only ‘divisionists.’... I won’t say they are CIA agents—we don’t know. They have no history of support to the revolution.”
—“Freedom for Cuban Trotskyists!” Spartacist No. 3, January-February 1965
This was a deliberate slander. The arrested members of the POR were participants in all the activities of the Revolution before 1959, when the Stalinists were still waiting to see who would win. Andrés Alfonso fought in the underground against Batista, while Ricardo Ferrera had fought with the Rebel Army since age 16. The POR included members of the trade unions, CDR and militia members mobilized to defend Cuba in the missile crisis of October 1962. The “unconscious Trotskyist” Guevara was in fact a conscious persecutor of Trotskyists. He attacked the POR comrades on several different occasions in 1961 as part of his push for a single unified (Stalinist) party in Cuba.
Notwithstanding political differences, the Spartacist tendency was the first—outside of the Posadistas themselves—to defend the Cuban Trotskyists and bring their case to world attention. Sucking up to the Castroites, the SWP leadership didn’t say a word about the arrests until after the POR members were released, having signed a capitulatory statement saying they would disband their organization. The SWP et al.’s despicable treatment of the Cuban Trotskyists was reminiscent of the Pabloites’ silence over Mao’s jailing of Chinese Trotskyists years earlier.
For Proletarian Internationalism!
One of the central tenets of permanent revolution—and a sharp dividing line between Trotskyism and Stalinism—is the need to extend revolution in a semicolonial country to the advanced capitalist world. This flows from an understanding of the need for a planned economy on an international level, necessarily including the most materially advanced societies. The workers states are threatened not only by imperialist military intervention, but even more crucially by imperialist economic penetration and the qualitatively higher level of productivity of the advanced capitalist countries.
Lenin asserted: “So long as both capitalism and socialism remain, we cannot live in peace. Either the one or the other in the long run will conquer. There will be a funeral chant either for the Soviet Republic or for world capitalism” (cited in Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution). The catastrophic collapse of the Soviet Union, undermined by decades of Stalinist mismanagement and betrayal, confirmed the futility of trying to construct “socialism in one country.” How much more does this apply to tiny Cuba!
The nationalist Stalinist bureaucracies pursue their own arrangements with the imperialists, including at the expense of other workers states (as the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s reflected). In exchange for Soviet economic and military assistance, Castro generally supported the Kremlin line internationally. But Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made perfectly clear his willingness to arrive at a separate deal with U.S. imperialism at Cuba’s expense during the missile crisis in 1962, when, in response to U.S. threats, he pulled Soviet missiles out of Cuba. An RT statement at the time denounced “the counter-revolutionary role” of the “Kremlin bureaucrats” in the Cuban missile crisis and asserted: “The false policy of the Castro leadership, its political bloc with the Stalinists, has greatly undermined this defense” (“Declaration on the Cuban Crisis,” 30 November 1962, reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 3, Part I).
Contrary to the myth spread by many leftists, the Cuban line was not more “internationalist” when Guevara was alive. Thus, the Cuban delegation to the Punta del Este (Uruguay) conference in 1961, headed by Che Guevara, offered détente to the U.S. imperialists. As quoted by John Gerassi in The Great Fear in Latin America (1965), Guevara said: “We cannot promise that we will not export our example, as the United States asks us to, because an example is a matter of spirit and a spiritual element can cross frontiers. But we will give our guarantee that no arms will be transported from Cuba to be used for fighting in any Latin American country.”
The Cuban government’s sponsorship of rural guerrilla warfare in certain areas of Latin America, mainly in the years 1964-67, was in fact quite selective. The Castroites supported various “democratic” nationalist bourgeois regimes in Latin America that they imagined would be a counterweight to the imperialists. Cuba’s foreign policy follows the logic of Stalin’s “socialism in one country,” i.e., opposing international revolution in the hope of defusing imperialist hostility, while boosting capitalist regimes willing to be “friends” with one’s own non-capitalist state. In particular, Castro supported the nationalist regimes of Jânio Quadros and João Goulart in Brazil during the early 1960s. In 1969 Castro saluted the Peruvian military junta as “a group of progressive officers playing a revolutionary role.”
However, the greatest betrayal came with Fidel’s political support to Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular in Chile. Repudiating the need for revolution in favor of the “parliamentary road to socialism,” Castro stated in 1971 that “there was never any contradiction between the concepts of the Cuban Revolution and the path followed by the left movement and the workers’ parties in Chile.” Allende’s popular-front coalition with capitalist Chilean parties politically disarmed the working class, which was asked to place its confidence in the “constitutionalist” army and the “democratic” bourgeoisie. The result of this betrayal was the 11 September 1973 bloody military coup by Pinochet and the massacre of more than 30,000 trade unionists, leftists and others.
When the Nicaraguan masses smashed the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, the capitalist state was shattered, opening the road to a social revolution. We said: “Defend, complete, extend the Nicaraguan revolution!” But Castro advised the Sandinista government at the time to “avoid the early mistakes we made in Cuba: the political rejection by the West, premature frontal attacks on the bourgeoisie, economic isolation.” Under a “mixed economy” and the pressure of the CIA-backed “contras,” the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie was able to reassert control a decade later, defeating the revolution.
Today it is Venezuelan capitalist strongman Hugo Chávez whom Castro promotes as the new revolutionary of the 21st century. For those living on the island this might sound appealing. Since 2003, Chávez has invested an estimated four billion dollars in various areas of Cuban agriculture, industry, services and infrastructure. In 2006, Venezuela accounted for 35.4 percent of Cuba’s total merchandise trade. Domestically, as oil prices climbed, Chávez siphoned off some of the enormous profits to finance a series of social measures at home.
As Marxists, we call for military defense of the Chávez regime in the event of a U.S.-sponsored coup, as we did in 2002. However, we do not lend political support to Chávez. The reformist left perpetuates illusions that Venezuela is “socialist” or on the road to socialism. However, there is a qualitative difference between Cuba and Venezuela. In Cuba, the bourgeois state was smashed and the bourgeoisie expropriated as a class. Chávez came to power through a bourgeois electoral process and rules at the head of a capitalist state. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie is alive and kicking, and the imperialists continue to carry on a thriving business with Venezuela. Although Chávez has increased the state’s share in industries like oil, electricity, steel and cement production, these piecemeal nationalizations do not challenge capitalist private property. Such measures have typically been carried out by other Latin American populists like Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico in the 1930s, Juan Perón in Argentina in the 1940s and ’50s and Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt in the 1950s. A former army colonel, Chávez is a bonapartist ruler who employs populist measures not to effect but rather to deflect a social revolution—by binding the dispossessed masses more firmly to the Venezuelan capitalist state.
Pro-Castro leftists frequently cite Cuba’s interventions in Africa as proof of its internationalism. Following the demise of Portuguese colonialism in Africa in 1974-75, Angola was rent by internecine conflict among rival nationalist forces in which Marxists had no side. But when the South African apartheid army, backed by the U.S., invaded Angola, Cuba dispatched troops, supported by the Soviets, that fought alongside the MPLA Angolan nationalists and succeeded in smashing the South African forces and their Angolan allies. Although we did not politically support the MPLA, we sided militarily with the MPLA, the Cuban forces and their Soviet advisors in what was a proxy war with the U.S. imperialists.
The heroic battles fought by Cuban troops shattered the myth of the invincibility of the apartheid army, helping to inspire the 1976 Soweto revolts and other struggles by the oppressed black masses in South Africa. However, it is important to note that the objective of the Cuban and Soviet Stalinists was never to overthrow capitalism in Africa. As well as sponsoring the corrupt MPLA bourgeois regime in Angola, Cuba and the USSR also supported the brutal Mengistu dictatorship in Ethiopia beginning in the 1970s. In South Africa, which has the largest proletariat in sub-Saharan Africa, the Stalinists have since 1928 supported an alliance with the bourgeois African National Congress (ANC). Today, the apartheid regime is gone, but the black masses remain at the bottom under a neo-apartheid regime administered by the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the COSATU union federation tops.
Although Cuba has been under the gun of U.S. imperialism for almost half a century, Castro’s autobiography makes clear his appetite for “détente” via a “progressive” wing of American imperialism—i.e., the Democratic Party. There are abundant favorable references to Democratic Party presidents. “[Franklin Delano] Roosevelt, in my opinion, was one of the finest statesmen our neighbour to the north has ever had.” “I had always had a high opinion of [Jimmy] Carter as a man of honour, an ethical man. His policies towards Cuba were constructive.” Asked by his interviewer whether Clinton (who twice tightened the embargo on Cuba) was “more constructive,” Castro responded: “Yes, he wasn’t particularly demanding. But Clinton inherited that whole community, he inherited all the campaigns that have been waged against Cuba, and there was very little he could do to behave more decently.” Even Kennedy—Bay of Pigs and all—is alibied: “I think Kennedy was a man of great enthusiasm, very intelligent, with personal charisma, who tried to do positive things
. He gave a green light to the Playa Girón invasion in 1961, but that operation hadn’t been prepared by him—it was put together by the previous Eisenhower-Nixon administration.” Castro is following in the footsteps of the Kremlin Stalinists and the U.S. Communist Party, which since the days of FDR have mainly supported the capitalist Democratic Party.
The Post-Soviet World
Ever sensitive to petty-bourgeois public opinion, the Pabloites beat a retreat from their former enthusing over peasant guerrilla warfare with the first hint of Cold War II in the late 1970s. They voted for the installation of the most viciously anti-Communist popular-front governments, like that of French “socialist” Mitterrand in 1981. Echoing the imperialist campaign for “democracy” and “human rights,” they supported any and every opponent of the Soviet government. This included support to Polish Solidarność in the 1980s, the spearhead of capitalist counterrevolution in East Europe. In the U.S., Socialist Action even adopted the Solidarność logo as the masthead for its paper. The late Ernest Mandel, USec leader, hailed these clerical reactionaries, which were backed by the CIA and Vatican, as “the best socialists in the world.”
The USec even retrospectively praised the World War II Estonian Nazi “Forest Brothers” as “freedom fighters.” USec groups, as well as the Militant tendency of Peter Taaffe and Alan Woods, howled with the imperialist wolves in support of Boris Yeltsin’s counterrevolutionary coup in Moscow in 1991. Today, the reformist left cheers on the CIA-backed Dalai Lama and the “Free Tibet” movement against the Chinese deformed workers state.
We of the International Communist League fought to the end against counterrevolution in the former USSR and East and Central Europe, as Trotsky demanded of his supporters. In contrast to the refusal of the fake Trotskyists to defend the USSR against the CIA-armed mujahedin following the Soviet intervention that began in December 1979, we said, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend Social Gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan Peoples!” In a 1991 statement, we called on Soviet workers to “Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution,” urging the proletariat to form soviets under the program of Bolshevik internationalism. In East Germany (DDR) in 1989-90, while the disintegrating Stalinist regime of the SED-PDS whined that capitalist restoration should be implemented in a humane manner, we uniquely opposed the capitalist reunification. We called for a red, soviet Germany, through political revolution in the DDR and socialist revolution in West Germany. We initiated a massive mobilization, which was then supported by the SED-PDS, in Berlin’s Treptow Park on 3 January 1990 against the fascist desecration of a Soviet war memorial and in defense of the USSR and DDR. It was the first time Trotskyists had spoken on a public platform in a workers state since Trotsky’s Russian Left Opposition in the late 1920s.
The destruction of the USSR had disastrous consequences for Cuba. The Cuban economy had been heavily subsidized by the USSR, amounting in the 1980s to up to 36 percent of the Cuban national income. The Cuban economy underwent a dramatic contraction, with a steep 40 percent decline in economic output per capita by 1993. This meant blackouts, deprivation of basic goods and a period of tight food rationing for the Cuban population during a time known as the “Special Period in Time of Peace.” In response, the government instituted a series of “market reforms,” which included legalizing the holding and exchanging of U.S. currency. This “dollarization” led to a sharp and growing income differential, impacting women and black Cubans the hardest. In recent years, the government has sought to reduce dependence on imperialist investment by enacting new trade deals with Chávez’s Venezuela and China. But the economic situation remains dire for most Cubans, who are forced to turn to the black market even for many basic necessities.
Seeking to ease the U.S. embargo in order to facilitate economic penetration of the island, former president Carter traveled to Cuba in 2002. In his trip, Carter pushed the Varela petition campaign—launched by pro-imperialist dissidents—which included demands for the right of private enterprise, amnesty for political prisoners and “free elections.”
The call for “free elections” is a call to support “bourgeois democracy” against the Cuban workers state, i.e., counterrevolution. We are for workers democracy. As our supporter made clear to Guevara in 1964, we are for the right of all tendencies who defend the gains of the Cuban Revolution to organize politically. The working class must exercise its rule through soviets. We condemn those like Olivier Besancenot, a prominent spokesman for the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, the flagship section of the USec, who earlier this year proclaimed his support to “free elections” in Cuba.
To its credit, the Cuban government supports the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost death row political prisoner. However, the Cuban government carries out the death penalty, although Raúl Castro recently commuted the death sentences of nearly all of Cuba’s death row inmates. We are opposed to capital punishment as a matter of principle, in Cuba and China as well as in capitalist countries. When three boat hijackers were executed in 2003, the pro-Castro sycophants of Socialist Action tried to justify this by pointing to the executions carried out by the Bolsheviks during the Civil War. We responded in WV No. 805 (6 June 2003):
“Marxists—including the Bolsheviks—are opposed to the barbaric institution of capital punishment. The Bolsheviks carried out revolutionary terror in defense of the new workers state, understanding that the war against counterrevolution was a temporary episode which would need temporary and drastic measures. But the penal code was a more permanent feature of the proletarian state. When the death penalty, instead of being an act of war, was made part of the country’s criminal code in 1922, this step was intended to be temporary
. And like so many other measures employed temporarily by the young workers state, with the Stalinist political counterrevolution, these measures were made permanent and twisted into the most grotesque opposite of what the Bolsheviks intended.”
The execution of the hijackers was not a case of summary justice by a workers government in a civil war situation. We know full well that the Castro regime metes out repression to its pro-socialist opponents, including militants like the Trotskyists in the 1960s. And it was in the name of “defending the revolution” that Castro ordered the execution in 1989 of General Ochoa, a war hero in Angola, after a Stalinist show trial recalling the Moscow purges of the late 1930s.
We support measures taken in defense of the Cuban Revolution, including the imprisonment of those “dissidents” who are actively collaborating with U.S. imperialism. But we give no credence to the bureaucracy’s ability to clean up the counterrevolutionaries. Castro’s invitation to Carter only served to embolden the reactionaries, just as the continuing search for “détente” with imperialism undermines the Cuban workers state. The fundamentals of what we wrote in 1965 in our article “Freedom for Cuban Trotskyists!” remain true today:
“The Cuban Revolution must replace its present nationalist, ‘peaceful coexistence’ ideology
with a revolutionary foreign policy, an orientation to the Latin American Revolution to concretely building and giving leadership to the Revolutionary Movement in Latin America as part of a world movement. Internally, the establishment of genuine workers democracy, building soviets—workers’ councils—elected representative organs of workers’ power, and restoration of the rich internal life that is vital for any revolutionary movement in defeating bureaucracy.”
Revolutionaries in the U.S., the bastion of world imperialism, have a special duty to defend Cuba against capitalist restoration and U.S. imperialism. We fight to forge a revolutionary workers party, section of a reforged Fourth International, that brings to the multiracial U.S. working class the understanding that defense of the Cuban Revolution is an integral part of its struggle against the American capitalist exploiters and for the fight for socialist revolution. Defend the Cuban Revolution! For proletarian political revolution to open the road to socialism! For new October Revolutions!