Defend the Cuban Revolution!

Washington’s “Dissidents”—Trojan Horse for Counterrevolution

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 805, 6 June 2003

On the heels of the colonial invasion and occupation of Iraq, the imperial regime in Washington has intensified its decades-long counterrevolutionary crusade against Cuba. Seizing on the trials and convictions in April of 78 Cuban pro-imperialist “dissidents,” Colin Powell raged that Cuba is an “aberration in the Western hemisphere” (New York Times, 29 April). The U.S. expelled 14 Cuban diplomats, canceled all educational travel to Cuba and is threatening to cut off family remittances to Cuba amounting to as much as $1 billion a year. The bipartisan hue and cry over “repression” in Cuba has been echoed by petty-bourgeois liberal and “leftist” intellectuals who lend their “anti-imperialist” credentials to U.S. imperialism’s drive to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.

One of seven countries targeted for a potential nuclear first strike, Cuba is squarely in the cross hairs of the American rulers. With the aid of his brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, President Bush plays to the counterrevolutionary gusanos (worms)—the former pimps and torturers of the Batista dictatorship overthrown by Castro’s forces in 1959—who continue to wage a campaign of terrorism supported by their CIA masters. Bush’s administration is rife with gusanos, such as “presidential envoy to the Americas” Otto Reich. Other prominent members of the Bush team include John Negroponte and Elliot Abrams, who in the 1980s directed the CIA-backed contra terrorists in Nicaragua and the death squad regime in El Salvador.

Ever since the government of Fidel Castro expropriated the capitalist class in Cuba in 1960-61, establishing a bureaucratically deformed workers state, the U.S. ruling class has worked relentlessly to undermine 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 gusano terrorists in Miami to the ongoing economic embargo. For more than three decades, the biggest obstacle to Washington’s drive for capitalist restoration in Cuba was the existence of the Soviet Union, which supported Cuba with some $4 billion a year in aid and provided a crucial military shield against imperialism. In the wake of the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, the imperialist rulers saw their big chance to bury the Cuban Revolution once and for all.

The collapse of the USSR also enabled the American bourgeoisie to pursue different means of promoting counterrevolution in Cuba, combining military provocations and economic strangulation with policies aimed at strengthening pro-capitalist forces within Cuba. President Clinton twice tightened the embargo in the mid 1990s in an attempt to squeeze Cuba into submission. However, many U.S. corporations that seek to compete with capitalists from West Europe and Canada in exploiting Cuba have long pressured the government to ease restrictions and loosen the 44-year-long economic embargo.

Representative of the strategy of “constructive engagement” was last year’s visit to Havana by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Carter’s visit was timed to coincide with the Varela petition campaign, whose supporters form the bulk of those recently imprisoned by the Cuban government. In addition to calling for freedom of expression and association, the Varela petition also demands “free elections and the right to private enterprise”—demands that amount to a call for “democratic” counterrevolution, the “electoral” rise to power of capitalist-restorationist forces financed by American imperialist largesse, which would be accompanied by a bloodbath of workers and Communists. Yet Carter was welcomed by Castro and offered a platform on Cuban TV and radio to spew his imperialist propaganda.

The Varela project, named after a 19th-century Cuban priest, was launched around the time of the 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II to Cuba—again with Castro’s blessing. It is led by the head of the “Christian Liberation Movement,” Oswaldo Payá, and supported and funded by the U.S. State Department, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Catholic church. The U.S. imperialists see Varela as a Cuban version of counterrevolutionary Polish Solidarnosc, as the Washington Post (13 January) made clear in a feature on Payá headlined “Solidarity, Cuban-Style.”

While some of the recently jailed “dissidents” are described as “independent journalists,” “independent economists” or “independent librarians,” most, if not all were apparently working with James Cason, who runs the U.S. Interests Section in Havana as an open rallying center for counterrevolution. Cason’s first act upon arrival in Cuba last year was to hand out short-wave radios tuned to the CIA’s Radio Martí. Since then he has been busy hosting “dissidents” at his home, funneling money to them and publishing the work of “independent journalists.”

The round-ups in Cuba coincided with the terrorist hijackings of two Cuban airliners and a passenger boat (on top of four other hijackings in the preceding six months), at least implicitly encouraged by Washington. Indeed, one of the hijacked planes was impounded by the American government as payment for a lawsuit by the terrorist “Brothers to the Rescue” against the Cuban government, while a U.S. judge ordered that a number of the hijackers be released on bail. Imagine what the U.S. government would do if these hijackers were from any other country!

While the Bush administration has raised an uproar over the arrests in Cuba, they have carried out their own campaign against defenders of Cuba in the U.S. A case in point is the Miami Five, who have been sentenced to between 15 years to life for the “crime” of monitoring the terrorist activities of gusanos. We demand: Free the Miami Five now!

The Spartacist League calls for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban deformed workers state—as well as the remaining workers states of China, North Korea and Vietnam—against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution. While not condoning the executions of three of the boat hijackers last month, we support those measures that are taken in defense of the gains of the Cuban Revolution, including the imprisonment of those “dissidents” who are actively collaborating with U.S. imperialism.

We call for an end to U.S. imperialism’s embargo against Cuba, a blatant act of war, and demand the immediate withdrawal of American forces from Guantánamo Bay, a major U.S. military base now also being used as a concentration camp for hundreds of prisoners abducted during the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Genuine defense of the Cuban Revolution against imperialism requires a program for workers revolution throughout the Americas—and above all, here in the U.S. Down with U.S. imperialism! Defend the gains of the Cuban Revolution!

Drummer Boys for Imperialist “Democracy”

The petty-bourgeois Castro government’s expropriation of the holdings of the U.S. imperialists and their domestic bourgeois lackeys in 1960-61—in the face of an escalating imperialist offensive—led to enormous gains for the Cuban working masses, particularly women and blacks. With critical Soviet military and economic aid, the resources of Cuban society were invested in a centralized, planned economy, which guaranteed everyone a job, decent housing, food and education. The free health care system, despite the crippling effect of the U.S. blockade, is still far and away the best among “Third World” countries. Abortion is a free health service, and the infant mortality rate is lower than in parts of the “First World.” The rate of AIDS infection in the U.S. is 14 times that of Cuba. The island has more doctors and teachers per capita than just about any country in the world.

Despite its heroic achievements, the Cuban workers state has been bureaucratically deformed from its inception with the working class excluded from political power. Cuba is ruled by a Stalinist caste that upholds the nationalist dogma of building “socialism in one country” and opposes the perspective of international proletarian revolution, thus undermining the defense of the Cuban Revolution. Cuba’s situation has become particularly acute since the collapse of the Soviet Union. To avert economic disaster, the Cuban government has increasingly opened the country to imperialist investment and instituted a series of “market reforms.” In the mid 1990s, the regime also legalized the holding and exchange of U.S. currency, a “dollarization” which has led to sharp and growing income differentials hitting women and black Cubans the hardest. As part of our defense of the Cuban Revolution, we fight for a workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy in Havana and establish a regime of workers democracy, based on the power of workers councils, and revolutionary internationalism.

At the time of Carter’s visit, we warned: “While the counterrevolutionary dissidents may be few in number today, the growing imperialist penetration and social inequality serve to continually reinforce pro-capitalist tendencies within Cuba and to undermine support for the revolution among the population” (WV No. 782, 31 May 2002). And, in fact, Castro’s embrace of Carter only served to embolden internal counterrevolutionary forces, as the many thousands of signatures garnered by the Varela project show. In welcoming Carter, Castro hailed this “human rights” imperialist’s “tenure as president” for easing relations with Cuba. In fact, Carter ushered in a renewed imperialist anti-Soviet war drive during his presidency in the late 1970s, wielding the same “human rights” rhetoric he used in Cuba. This included promoting a host of Soviet “dissidents” like the Varela types today.

Taking their cue from “democratic” imperialists like Carter, a wide array of “left” liberals and trade-union bureaucrats in the U.S. and internationally have joined in the denunciations of the arrests in Cuba. After the trials in April, United Federation of Teachers official and Democratic Socialists of America member Leo Casey circulated a petition denouncing Castro’s crackdown as “brute repression” while not saying a word about the U.S. government’s occupation of Iraq or its “war on terror” against immigrants and labor in the U.S. This was signed by a herd of anti-communist, social-democratic professors such as Stanley Aronowitz and Bogdan Denitch and Nation types like Katha Pollitt and Todd Gitlin.

For those “leftist” intellectuals who were squeamish about signing such an outright statement of support to the Bush regime, another petition was circulated by the social-democratic Campaign for Peace and Democracy, which was signed by such notables as Howard Zinn, Cornel West and that all-purpose anti-communist Noam Chomsky. While mouthing some criticisms of U.S. policy toward Cuba (and Iraq), the statement asserts, “We support civil liberties and democratic rights everywhere, regardless of the country’s economic, political or social system.... We support democracy in Cuba. The imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable.”

Exposing what this bleating for “democracy” in Cuba is all about, leftist intellectual James Petras wrote in Socialist Viewpoint (May 2003):

“The principal author and promoter of the anti-Cuban declaration in the United States (signed by Chomsky, Zinn and Wallerstein) was Joanne Landy, a self-declared ‘democratic socialist,’ and lifelong advocate of the violent overthrow of the Cuban government—for the past 40 years. She is now a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), one of the major institutions advising the U.S. government on imperial policies for over a half century....

“It is no surprise that the statement authored by this chameleon right-wing extremist contained no mention of Cuba’s social accomplishments and opposition to imperialism. For the record, it should be noted, that Landy was a visceral opponent of the Chinese, Vietnamese and other social revolutions in her climb to positions of influence in the CFR.”

For the record, it should also be noted that Joanne Landy is a former member of the Shachtmanite International Socialists, which spawned the International Socialist Organization and Sy Landy’s League for the Revolutionary Party, which are also hostile to the Cuban Revolution. For these outfits, the abstract notion of (bourgeois) “democracy” and not the proletarian class character of the Cuban state is the be-all and end-all.

The anti-Cuban furor extends into Mexico, where in the past the nationalist bourgeoisie postured as friends of Cuba (even while secretly spying on Cuba for the U.S.). Today, many Mexican ex-leftists, such as the novelist Carlos Fuentes, are following the lead of the right-wing clericalist government of Vicente Fox in attacking Cuba. The Fox government was also joined by the supposed “left” wing of the nationalist bourgeoisie, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). One of the main leaders of the PRD, former Senator Pablo Gómez—who for many years was a leader in the Stalinist Communist Party—led a vociferous campaign in the press against those intellectuals who dared to express any solidarity with the Cuban Revolution at this critical moment. And in France Alain Krivine, leader of the fake-Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, issued a statement decrying the lack of “freedom of opinion” in Cuba and declaring: “We totally condemn the parody of justice which just took place” (Rouge, 1 May). Outrageously, Krivine demands that the trials in Cuba be “open to foreign observers.”

Cuba and the Death Penalty

Among the most abject apologists for the Castro bureaucracy on the American left are Workers World Party (WWP) and Socialist Action. Both Workers World (22 May) and Socialist Action (May 2003) carried Castro’s May Day speech justifying the recent crackdown. At the same time, both look to those elements in the American establishment who seek to ease or end the embargo in order to facilitate imperialist economic penetration of Cuba. There is no contradiction here, as the Cuban bureaucracy likewise seeks to curry favor with a mythical “progressive” wing of the American bourgeoisie rather than promote the fight for socialist revolution in the U.S. While both WWP and Socialist Action correctly highlight the threat posed to Cuba by the overtly belligerent Bush administration, neither mentions the danger posed by capitalist economic penetration or “democratic” counterrevolution. This is not “defense” of Cuba; it only serves to blind genuine defenders of the Cuban Revolution from the dangers at hand and what is needed to defend Cuba.

Last year, Workers World (23 May 2002) refused even to criticize Castro for welcoming former imperialist chieftain Carter, instead calling on the “progressive movement” to “reject Carter’s preaching to Cuba on democracy, while taking advantage of the attention focused on the blockade to campaign more vigorously than ever against it.” Even today, a year after Castro’s embrace of Carter, neither Workers World nor Socialist Action say a word about how Castro’s policies encouraged the forces of counterrevolution in Cuba.

In addition, neither WWP nor Socialist Action condemns the recent executions carried out by the Cuban government. In fact, Socialist Action (May 2003) asserts that the executions “sent a clear signal” to the U.S. that Cuba “will not be bullied.” Denouncing “the so-called democratic left that equally condemns the death penalty in the U.S. and Cuba, and treats the matter as a universal moral principle,” Socialist Action points to the executions carried out by the Bolshevik government of Lenin and Trotsky during the Civil War and imperialist intervention that followed the 1917 Russian Revolution.

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. But the following year, the reference to the “temporary character” of the death penalty was struck from the code. 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 (see “Abolish the Death Penalty!” WV No. 117, 9 July 1976).

To be sure, it is positively obscene for the U.S. government, which has carried out well over 600 executions over the last decade as opposed to barely a dozen in Cuba, to protest the recent executions of the hijackers. Nonetheless, the executions in Cuba were not a case of summary justice by a workers government in a civil war situation but an application of the juridical code of the country. As Trotskyists, we know full well that the Castro regime metes out repression to those of its opponents, including socialist militants, who are not counterrevolutionaries. It was in the name of “defending the revolution” that Castro ordered the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez in 1989 after a Stalinist show trial recalling the Moscow purges of the late 1930s. Ochoa was a highly decorated war hero and had been the head of the Cuban military mission in Angola at the time that Cuban troops fought against the U.S.-backed invasion by the racist South African army starting in the mid 1970s.

For Workers Political Revolution!

Workers democracy is completely alien to Stalinism, as it is to the crew of rad-libs and others who peddle the cause of the pro-imperialist “dissidents” in the name of bourgeois democracy. But it is critical for us Marxists, who fight to defend and extend the gains of the Cuban Revolution by replacing the nationalist rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy that seeks to appease the imperialists with the rule of workers soviets based on a program of proletarian revolutionary internationalism.

This perspective has been a hallmark of our tendency from the time of our origins as the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the early 1960s. Against the SWP majority, which equated the Castro bureaucracy with the revolutionary internationalist Bolshevik government of Lenin and Trotsky, the RT characterized Cuba as a bureaucratically deformed workers state and showed that the Castroite guerrillas in power had embraced the nationalist-Stalinist model of the USSR after its degeneration, which meant upholding the dogma of “socialism in one country” and opposing the perspective of international proletarian revolution. As we explained in the 1973 preface to “Cuba and Marxist Theory” (Marxist Bulletin No. 8):

“In opposing the SWP Majority’s revisionism, our original tendency came into existence and fought for three main programmatic points in orienting to the Cuban revolution and its defense: insistence on the Permanent Revolution, i.e. the view that no essential task of the revolution could be achieved short of the victory and consolidation of a workers state; and, correspondingly, insistence on the struggle for hegemony of the working class in the revolution; together with the necessity for a conscious Trotskyist party as the proletarian vanguard to lead that struggle.”

When in 1963 the Castro regime began rounding up and imprisoning the Cuban Trotskyists of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario—after seizing their printing presses in 1961 and smashing the type of a Spanish edition of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution—we stood out on the American left in calling for “Freedom for Cuban Trotskyists!” (see Spartacist No. 3, January-February 1965).

In explaining how a petty-bourgeois guerrilla movement led to the creation of a deformed workers state, we wrote in the Spartacist League’s Declaration of Principles adopted in 1966:

“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.”

Today, with the Soviet Union destroyed and consequently no readily available lifeline against imperialist encirclement, the narrow historical opening for petty-bourgeois forces to overturn local capitalist rule has been closed.

As the collapse of the USSR showed, an isolated workers state cannot last indefinitely under the relentless pressures of continued capitalist encirclement. Whether through military threats or the influx of cheap commodities undermining the planned economy, the pressures of world imperialism will work ultimately to overthrow the gains of a revolution confined to a single country.

Revolutionaries in the U.S. have a special duty to defend Cuba against capitalist restoration and American imperialism. It is in the U.S., the bastion of world imperialism, where the decisive struggle will be fought for the emancipation of the working masses throughout the Americas. It is necessary to forge a revolutionary workers party which brings to the proletariat the understanding that the defense of the Cuban Revolution is an integral part of its struggle against the American capitalist exploiters. Such a party can only be built by breaking workers and minorities from illusions in the capitalist Democratic Party, the other party of racism and war. The Spartacist League is dedicated to the fight to build the Leninist vanguard party needed to lead that struggle to victory.

ICL Home Page