Paul Hampton of Workers' Liberty debated with Bernard Regan, a leading member of the Socialist Teachers' Alliance, at a London Workers' Liberty meeting.
Paul Hampton argued that Cuba displays the essential characteristics of Stalinism
On New Year's Day 1959, the Cuban revolution triumphed, when guerrillas led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara drove out the hated dictator Batista after two years of struggle.
Cuba had been a semi colony of American imperialism for the first half of this century, a site for the production of sugar for the American market and a Mafia-run tourist destination 90 miles from Florida. Batista was a despot who ruled with the aid of a mercenary army, a corrupt civil service and a labour movement tied hand and foot to the state machine. Bourgeois democracy had been severely limited when it had existed at all in the forties. After 1952 it was non-existent.
Batista was overthrown in January 1959 by the July 26th movement, led by Fidel Castro, who has ruled the island ever since. In 1961 Castro declared himself a communist, and Cuba is one of the last remaining states in the world with that affiliation. I want to challenge that description. Although Cuba had a revolution in 1958-59, it was nothing to do with socialism, and Cuba is no kind of workers' state. I want to explain what happened in Cuba, especially in the early sixties, and to argue that Cuba is a variant of Stalinism and the Castro government is a mortal enemy of working-class socialism. I will try to pull to pieces the arguments made by Castro and his supporters that Cuba is socialist, and then give my view about Cuba today and where it is heading.
There are four main arguments that Cuba is some kind of socialism: all of them are without foundation. The first argument is that Cuba is socialist because the revolution was led by people who now call themselves Communists. Yet you only have to look at the July 26th movement before 1959 to see that is wrong. Their programme was for the restoration of the 1940 Constitution, in other words for a bourgeois-democratic republic. They said in their manifesto that nationalisation was a "cumbersome instrument" and that Cuba would be "a loyal ally" of their Northern neighbour. Castro himself said in an interview in 1970 that, "In 1959 there was no class consciousness, only class instinct, which is not the same thing", and referred to the revolution in the early months of 1959 as neither capitalist nor socialist but "olive green". The Castroites labelled the Communist Party "totalitarian". They were certainly no mass party. There were 81 fighters on the Granma; only 300 at the battle of Santa Clara; and around 1500 overall. In terms of composition, the July 26th movement was a mixture of middle class leaders like Castro, some workers and youth, but mostly d'class' elements. In no sense, by its programme, size or composition was it a mass socialist party.
Some commentators have said that the socialist element was provided by the involvement of the Communist Party, which by the fifties was called the Popular Socialist Party, the PSP. Although they had been in the previous period the largest and most influential Communist Party in Latin America, they were also the most cravenly opportunist, and the most Stalinist, following every twist and turn in Russian foreign policy and adapting to their Cuban milieu. They were sectarian in opposing the general strike in 1933 which brought down the dictator Machado. Later their popular front strategy led them to gain two ministers under Batista after forming an alliance with him after 1938. They spoke of having a "positive attitude towards the progressive endeavours" of Batista in his first period in power. Even into the fifties, though the CP had been repressed by their former ally, they referred to the July 26th movement as "putschists and sterile". Although they came to some understanding with Castro from 1957 and sent cadres to fight with the guerrillas, they were still formally calling for a bourgeois government to replace Batista into the middle of 1958, only months before Castro took power. This was hardly the programme or actions of a revolutionary socialist party that sought to lead the working class to power.
Finally, look at the manner of the seizure of power. After a two year guerrilla campaign, in the major battle of the war at Santa Clara in the last days of 1958, only 6 guerrillas and 300 soldiers died. Batista himself fled. There was not even a battle for the capital, Havana. There were no Soviets, few factory committees or occupations. The last general strike in April 1958 was a failure, and there were no organs of dual power. The workers were largely passive. The general strike in the first week of January 1959 was a public holiday. Batista's rule had already collapsed. No one in 1959, not even Castro or Guevara, said the revolution was socialist, and the revolution was not led by conscious socialists, whatever Fidel's later protestations. The 26th July movement stood for mild reforms, which could not be achieved because of Batista's dictatorship and the domination of American imperialism, hence the necessity of guerrilla war. The new government in 1959 was a petty bourgeois government, but one which ruled a country with a peculiar class structure and American hegemony. It was not socialist. To argue it was socialist in hindsight is to reach the absurd conclusion that a socialist revolution can be made without the active agency of the working class or without a conscious Marxist party.
The second argument goes as follows: Cuba is socialist because capitalism was abolished in Cuba by the end of 1960. Well, I agree that capitalism was abolished by end of 1960 - but what replaced it ? It was in fact replaced by Stalinism. This process went through two stages. Firstly from January to November 1959, when Castro and his coterie took over the government from the bourgeois figure-heads, meeting secretly at Tarara or in Cojimar to plan their strategy. Castro's group decisively broke with the bourgeois elements within the July 26th coalition by the end of 1959. Fidel became Prime Minister, Raul Castro the Minister of Defence, and Che President of the National Bank. The G-2 security service was established. Batista's army had been smashed. The new army was led by the ex-guerrillas, and trained in 'Marxism'. The student and trade union movements were taken over and purged of other oppositional forces.
The second stage, from November 1959 to November 1960, was the Stalinisation of Cuba. Castro consummated an alliance with the PSP which eventually led by 1965 to the Cuban Communist Party being the only legal party on the island, and an international alliance with the USSR, beginning in February 1960 and finally settled by the Bay of Pigs (April 1961) and the missile crisis (October 1962). This would eventually mean total integration into the Soviet empire, joint planning with the USSR, membership of COMECON, 85% trade with this bloc, and $10 billion aid.
Stalinism in Cuba mirrored Stalinism elsewhere: expropriation of the bourgeoisie, nationalisation of Cuban and foreign businesses by November 1960, nationalisation of 80% of land and bureaucratic planning through JECEPLAN, together with the shattering of the working class movement and democratic freedoms. The trade union movement declined from 50% density in 1960 to 10% by 1970, to a state, as one bureaucrat put it, of "harmonious counterpart to management". An indicator is the Cuban legal code, which allows for no freedom of speech, assembly or organisation, in which mere disrespect towards the Maximo Jefe can earn years in prison. In fact even the lowest estimate of the number of political prisoners during the seventies and eighties - 5,000 - is the same ratio as Chile under Pinochet.
Stalinism meant above all the development of a ruling bureaucracy. The bureaucrats might have looked somewhat Spartan in their battle fatigues, but they were still privileged in areas such as housing, foreign trips, imported cars, dollar shops and above all in power.
Why did Cuba go Stalinist? It was not an automatic process. It was partly because of pressure from US imperialism, and partly choice by the Castroite leaders. As Che Guevara put it in 1963. "Our commitment to the eastern bloc was half the fruit of constraint and half the result of choice." Cuba was and is ruled just like the old USSR. It has the same class structure.
The third argument says that Cuba is socialist because of the gains of the revolution for workers and peasants. It is true that in the first year of the revolution the poorest 25% were made better off by cuts in rent and land re-distribution. I'm sure Bernard will wax lyrical about high rates of growth, lower ratios of doctors to patients, high life expectancy, low infant mortality and improved education and literacy. However, these facts have to be set against three other considerations.
Firstly Cuba was already relatively developed before 1959, probably third in Latin America. Secondly, Cuba compares well but not is not markedly better than examples of capitalist countries on a similar level, like Taiwan and Costa Rica. Thirdly, since the withdrawal of the Russian subsidy there has been a terrible decline in living standards.
Cuba's annual growth figure of 4% over the first thirty years, even if it is credible, which I doubt, does not reveal the whole picture. Cuba fell from third place in Latin America to fifteenth for GDP per capita between 1952 and 1981, and the growth figures that were achieved did not arise from increases in productivity. The economy shrank from the mid-1980's and plummeted 35% between 1989-93, back to 1970's levels. GDP per head is now lower than Jamaica. From 1963 Cuba became a sugar monoculture within the Soviet empire. But the real crisis in Cuban agriculture is shown by the fact that half the food for Havana (three million people) is currently produced by the army, which owns just 4% of the land.
Crucially I would argue the working class lost out in the first decade of Castro's rule and since, through a longer working day, loss of bonuses and sickness benefits, by the abolition of special pay for Sundays and holidays (where a Christmas bonus could be up to one month's pay), voluntary work in the canefields and 'voluntary' collections for causes, through an inadequate supply of consumer goods and a lack of quality housing and transport facilities. Even in the much hallowed areas of health and education, not everything is as obvious as the statistics suggest. Cuba already had one of the highest ratios of doctors to patients before the revolution and the rise in life expectancy (approximately 15 years) is comparable with Panama and Costa Rica. In education, the quality of buildings, textbooks and other resources is not impressive and in 1980 the government themselves found that one third of secondary schools practised some sort of academic fraud or cheating.
The 1990s have been utterly wretched for workers. Rationing means that a few pounds of rice and black beans, with oil, soap and meat when available, have to last about two weeks. A basic wage of 200 pesos per month ('9) for manual workers and 450 pesos ('13) for engineers is never enough. Income inequality has massively increased, especially in the dollar industries such as tourism. You have the absurdity of trained doctors and other skilled workers eking out a living as porters and taxi drivers. At most you could have said Cuba was parallel to capitalism up to 1990, but overall it was not better in welfare terms. And it certainly is not now.
The final argument is that Cuba is socialist because it is ruled by the 'direct democracy' of so called 'mass organisations'. On paper the Cuban Communist Party is a mass organisation, with 700,000 members, and 600,000 in the Young Communists (UJC). But even sympathisers recognise that it is not mainly composed of workers from the factories and the fields, but of plant managers and bureaucrats. It is not a party in the real sense. Its top leaders are not subject to any kind of re-election or recall by the ranks. It does not compete with any other parties. They are illegal in Cuba. Who joins the CP depends on the party's Secretariat, which is itself subject to the Politburo who are elected by and accountable to no one. If you read the official propaganda, it says that the unified Cuban nation needs only one party to maintain its cohesion.
The Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, the CDRs, and the women's movement, the FMC, help manage the economy and administer the system, having received their orders from above. The CDRs manage the rationing process, and to get a new apartment, a different job, electrical goods, even a role on game shows, depends on your connection to these organisations. And what use is the FMC when the Cuban Family Code defines a woman's place as in the home and women cannot do jobs like house painters, divers or grave diggers?
The trade unions of the CTC are state-run. No others are allowed. It is impossible to organise legally within or outside of these bodies against the line of the Communist Party. Caucuses like the Socialist Teachers' Alliance, which Bernard help to found in Britain in the National Union of Teachers, are impossible. The irony is that trade unionists with a record like Bernard's in Cuba would either be in prison, in exile or dead. Dissidents of any kind are subject to arrest, detention, exile or public acts of 'repudiation'. The most famous and significant case was in 1983, when some workers who tried to set up a Solidarnosc style trade union, copying what they had heard about in Poland, were rounded up and at one stage faced the death penalty.
Finally, look at the National Assemblies of Popular Power. They were only established in 1976, which makes you wonder about the first fifteen years. At the lowest (municipal) level, anyone in theory can stand, but no one is allowed to put forward any policies or discuss national or provincial matters. They can only put up their biographical details. The higher assemblies consist of candidates chosen by an election commission (made up of Communist Party, UJC and CDR members) who have the power to dismiss municipal leaders but are only accountable to the higher committees. The assemblies hardly meet and their agenda is set for them. Real power lies in the Council of State and the Executive Committee, and all of these people are Politburo members or from the Communist Party. Although it seems like participation, none of this is democracy, even bourgeois democracy. In reality it is a world away from workers' democracy, and the experience of Paris in 1871 or Russia in 1917. None of these bodies function like Soviets or workers councils, where representatives are elected by and accountable to those below them, on pain of recall and if necessary being replaced.
Far from holding the levers of power, Cuban workers do not even have the space to organise even minimal resistance legally, and certainly not to control the surplus which is extracted from their daily labour. The Popular Power assemblies, the unions, the CDRs and the Communist Party are organs of control and oppression of Castro's ruling class over the workers and peasants. Their role is the implementation of decisions handed down from above, and convincing other Cubans to obey orders.
What is our analysis of Cuba under Castro ? This should be clear from my critique of the arguments that Cuba is some kind of socialism. Castro is a Bonaparte figure who used his party-army to smash the old state and create his own forms of rule. These were exceptional due to the peculiar class structure of Cuba and the type of state which thrived under Batista. Cuba is identical to the old Stalinist system in Russia. What was Stalinism in Russia ? A one party state in which the capitalist class has been expropriated and the surplus product was extracted by the extra-economic coercion of a ruling bureaucracy. It simultaneously smashed the working class movement and bourgeois social relations, at least for a period.
The 1959 revolution was a blow against US imperialism. We would have supported the revolution against Batista in 1959, despite the leadership of the July 26th movement. This was the formal stance of most sections of the Trotskyist movement. But ours was the socialist alternative in 1959 - workers' liberty. The possibilities of working class socialism in Cuba were shown by the revolution in 1933, when the working class overthrew Machado and Soviets of workers councils appeared around the sugar mills. Our alternative was no utopia in the history of class struggle in Cuba.
Where is Cuba going? Some sections of the bureaucracy want capitalism by the Chinese route. Tourism is their perestroika and glasnost. Look at the business conferences and magazines which advertise Cuba as a well educated workforce without the trade union obstructiveness found elsewhere in the Caribbean. The Cuban government is not our government. Down with Castro! What do we say about the blockade? We are clearly against it because of the national right to self determination. We know what US business wants to do and we don't support imperialism. We defend Cuba but we don't forget that "my enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend". Are we for elections in Cuba? Yes. We want democratic freedom for the working class. Are we for capitalism in Cuba? No. There are not only two camps but also a Third Camp. Look at Russia now. Capitalism has no answers for the Cuban working class.
What about socialism? For us this can only mean the self-emancipation of the working class. The alternative is the absurd conclusion that socialism can be made without the working class and without a Marxist leadership. Cuba is heading for capitalism. We fight for real socialism, for workers' power. Neither Castro nor Clinton! For the Third Camp of the working class!
Bernard Regan argued that Cuba's Communist Party is a socialist leadership
I want to start off with a few caveats. Paul asked me to debate, and I was willing to speak because I do think that the issue of Cuba is extremely important for socialists. I must say I have limited credentials. The type of theoretical questions which are posed before us require more study than I have had time for - the questions of the nature of the state, the transformation of the economy, the process of transition, and the political programme for the transition to socialism. On the other hand although I have limited knowledge about Cuban history, I do have sufficient knowledge to refute some of Paul's points about how the revolution took place in 1959.
The first issue we have to think about is: what exactly is the question being asked? 'Is Cuba socialist?' Does that mean: 'Has Cuba achieved socialism?' That would imply a substantial number of things. There is no definition in any of the classical writings about what actually constitutes socialism. There is no blueprint. At various points in history definitions have been made. Lenin talked of socialism as 'electrification plus soviets'. For Lenin, at that moment in time, his conception of what constitutes socialism was very specific. Lenin did not provide any fuller description. He also said, at other times, that socialism was the abolition of all classes.
The second way of posing the question 'Is Cuba socialist?' would be to ask: is the political leadership of Cuba a leadership capable of not only vanquishing capitalism but of actually setting Cuba on the road towards socialism? Does the Communist Party leadership have the intention of developing and carrying through a programme which will involve the mass of the workers and peasants in the kind of social and economic transformation that will lead towards socialism?
Or, alternatively, should we look to Paul's 'Third Camp'? And I must say I find it extremely difficult to come to grips with a Marxist 'Third Camp'. Marx said that after capitalism there was no alternative or intermediary stage. The only possible transition was that of the working class seizing power and a transition to socialism. You are arguing something new. The notion of a 'Third Camp' seems to be alien to Marxism.
What is the class basis of this group you describe as the "bureaucratic elite'? Which class does it represent and rest on inside Cuba? Is it based on the working class? Is it based on the remnants of the capitalist class?
The 1959 revolution was not just a question of a group of people landing from a yacht, setting up a rebel army and conducting military actions. That is a gross caricature. Any reading of the history of the revolution would tell you that within the guerrilla areas a complete social transformation took place. As the capitalist forces were disarmed, alternative structures of health care and education demonstrated the kind of relations the rebel army wanted to establish. It was a struggle which was at one and in continuity with an anti-imperialist struggle that had been taking place right back into the last century against the US and the agents of the US.
In looking at Cuba and trying to analyse where Cuba is now it is not good enough to look at the economic relations that exist in Cuba, nor is it adequate to look at the leaders of the Communist Party. Cuba has to be examined in the real world.
Cuba faces a massive onslaught from the biggest imperialist power in the world - not a casual refusal to enter into economic relations, but a systematic, hostile blockade that has been going on for 40 years. There is no other country in the world that has faced this type of assault. The USA has tried to destroy the Cuban economy. The achievements of the Cuban Revolution - the nationalisation of the land, the redistribution of the land, the gains made in the areas of health and education and social services - must be considered in that context. The achievements can not just be dismissed by saying: "That's OK, but lots of other countries have done the same". How is it that Cuba has sustained this, after 40 years of an onslaught from American imperialism?
And in addition, since the early 1990s Cuba has lost the economic trade they had with the former USSR and Eastern Europe. 75 or 80% of Cuba's trade was with that area, and so that was a colossal challenge. How is it that this political leadership, which has been called 'bureaucratic' here, maintained its political integrity? Why have they continued to defend the achievements of the Cuban Revolution?
At this point in time - in relation to health and education - the achievements remain. No capitalist country in the so-called Third World has sustained this provision. The Cubans themselves say Cuba has to be compared not to Germany or Scandinavia but to other Third World countries. Compare Cuba to Thailand or Latin America. The significant achievements show the moral and political goals behind the Cuban Revolution. Cuba has a higher per-capita number of doctors and teachers than almost any other country in the world. Infant mortality is lower than in the US and some countries in Western Europe.
When I went to Cuba recently on a trade union visit, what was said to us was "yes, we are suffering terrible hardship," but also that not a single nurse had lost her job, not a single doctor has been sacked, not a single school, hospital or health centre has closed. Why are those services still in place? That is no accident.
We must look at the nature of the transition which is taking place in Cuba. We tend to look at these issues from the perspective of a metropolitan country, and we look at the issue of the socialist transformation from capitalism to a workers' state solely in terms of industrial workers. But in Cuba the relation between the workers and the peasantry is a critical one. It is a relation which, in the 1917 revolution, was stressed as a critical factor in the ability of the Bolshevik party to carry through the overturn of capitalism in Russia, and the transformation that they brought about. The relation between the working class and the peasantry was key. The initial land reform in Cuba was a response to real needs. The reform sustained the ability of the working class to carry through a transformation which destroyed capitalist economic and social relations in Cuba.
How is the present economy managed? Within bourgeois society there is a clear division between the state and the economy. Gordon Brown handed over the setting of interest rates to the Bank of England. Whatever is said by the Labour government, the power to determine the economy is not in the control of a parliament or state. Capitalist governments cannot plan. In Cuba it is quite different. In the development of the economic plan to deal with the blockade and the 'special period', they conducted a massive debate in the country about how they should respond and what should be done. Something like 230,000 meetings were held in workplaces to discuss, practically, how workers would respond to the blockade and what their views were about the plan and how it should be implemented. They put forward a series of amendments which were incorporated in to the plan.
That is direct democracy - working class involvement in planning. That sort of decision making does not take place in capitalist Britain. The government does not come to us and ask how much should be spent on health and education. There is no engagement with the mass of the people about economic decisions. Cuba is qualitatively different. Every member of the population is involved in planning, from the age of 14 upwards.
For example, Cuban teachers told me that the student organisation was critical about the way that lessons were taught in schools. The students wanted less regurgitation of facts about 1959 etc. and more discussion about how and why events took place. The student organisation put a resolution to the teachers' union, calling for a change in the Cuban law to ensure the curriculum was changed. The teachers agreed and the state changed the education system as a result. That is a tiny example of how direct democracy works in Cuba.
We have been told that the Cuban unions are incorporated into the state. If we look at the debates that took place in Russia at the time of the New Economic Policy (NEP), we find there was a debate about the role of unions. There was a sharp exchange between Bolshevik leaders. Lenin spelt out the role of unions within the dictatorship of the proletariat. He said their role was different to their role under capitalism. Under capitalism the unions fight to defend their members in individual sectors. In a workers' state - and if you do not agree that Cuba is a workers' state we do have a difficulty - there is a different relationship between the unions and mass organisations and the state. Far from trying to destroy the state, in a workers' state the unions' role is to ensure the preservation and defence of that state.
When Paul says that the trade union movement in Cuba is giving up bonuses, I would say, yes, in a workers' state, that is something that could be on the agenda. And an issue like this can not be decided from a sectional point of view. That is economism of the crudest kind. We have to examine the question from an overall class point of view.
In Britain certain groups of workers have been capable of tremendous militancy. However, they have not always been particularly politically advanced, or prepared to fight for the abolition of capitalism. In the Midlands in the 1950s the workers in engineering had highly effective union organisations but at the same time they consistently fought for right-wing policies in the Labour Party. In a non-capitalist state, a workers' state, the unions must take responsibility for defending the state, but at the same time ensure the protection of the interests of the workers. That is what the unions do in Cuba.
The thesis the Cuban unions discussed in preparation for its 1994 Congress went to 80,000 people. The participants clearly stated that they wanted to see education and health defended, but within the context of defence of Cuba as a whole.
Paul talks about the Political Bureau nominating people for the elections for municipal, provincial and national assemblies. That is not true. These are the functions of the mass organisations, who nominate on the basis of trustworthiness and recognition of exemplary political character. This is similar to the best shop floor practice in Britain.
Is Cuba socialist? I have given you my answer, but I also want to give you the answer of the Cuban Communist Party. The Communist Party is not the PSP from before 1959. It is a qualitatively different organisation, created in 1965. It does not have the same lineage of the Communist Parties in Eastern Europe. I could not quote a better authority than Castro, who says that they can not speak of building socialism at this time. He says they are simply defending their achievements. That is where I stand. Capitalist economic and social relations were overthrown in the 1959 revolution. Cuba is in transition. We should see Cuba in the context of the American blockade and the ending of trade with Eastern Europe and the USSR.
Beyond that parallels can not be drawn with Eastern Europe and the USSR. The parallels made by Paul between Castro and Pinochet are wholly uncalled for. Pinochet led a fascist regime which killed thousands of workers, destroyed the trade unions and smashed left wing organisations.
In 1984, conscious of the dangers of bureaucratism, a massive discussion began in the Communist Party about the Rectification Programme. It examined the danger of bureaucracy and set in train measures to combat that and reassert the ideals and political heritage of Che Guevara - not the caricature iconography, but Che as someone who systematically studied Marx and the question of transition to socialism, and who argued for the creation of new human beings with new ideals and aspirations. Cuba remains in that tradition, although it obviously faces huge challenges. Its leadership deserves the support of socialists.
Look at the Cuban actions against apartheid. 40,000 volunteers went to Angola to fight to defeat the South African regime. One of the first countries Nelson Mandela visited after his release was Cuba. Mandela said that there would have been no end to apartheid without Cuban help. Cuba put itself on the line. That demonstrates that the Cuban leadership are socialists and the trajectory of Cuba is towards a socialist society.
Summations of the debate
Bernard skates around the issues, but nowhere does he prove that Cuba is socialist or any kind of workers' state. Nowhere does he adequately define socialism, or Stalinism. Instead he is an uncritical apologist for Castro.
Look at how he deals with my point about political prisoners. Bernard doesn't deny that people get locked up for trying to form free trade unions or putting forward socialist ideas in opposition to the Castroites. Instead he claims I equate Castro with Pinochet. I did not. I merely pointed out that the level of imprisonment in Cuba has been until recently as high as in regimes such as Chile in the 1970's. Freedom is important for our class, the working class, to organise itself.
On land reform, which was limited in the guerrilla areas anyway before 1959, Castro's first law as Prime Minister was to ban land seizures, to put the lid on revolutionaries who wanted to go further. How has Cuba sustained its achievements ? By $9 million per day of Soviet aid - at one point twenty times the Latin American average given by the USSR - and by the exploitation of Cuban workers' and peasants. We should compare achievements like with like: Bolivia and Peru were poor in 1959 and are still poor.
Lenin defended the workers' right to strike in 1920 against their own state. Bernard is wrong to deny this. Yet workers in Cuba now cannot organise their own workers' party, or their own unions or caucuses, or organise around different policies. Take the taxation debate a few years ago. Workers who were 'consulted' said they didn't want the tax changes, and yet the Castroites pushed them through. It isn't true that the assemblies are democratic bodies. They are organs of transmission and of control.
I'm glad Bernard raised the issue of Cuban foreign policy in Africa and elsewhere. He should try to justify it to the Eritrean people. They initially received support from Cuba in the 70's. Then, when their Soviet paymasters told them to, the Cubans switched sides and backed the Derg in Ethiopia, who viciously opposed self determination for the peoples of that region.
The Mexican workers and students were repressed in 1968. That drew no protest from Castro. Instead he has maintained friendly relations with the PRI, which has ruled Mexico for seventy years. In 1988, when the ruling party committed massive fraud to get their candidate in, what did Castro do ? He didn't support the opposition. Instead he attended the inauguration of Salinas, legitimising the fraud. Look at his attitude towards the Prague spring in 1968 and the Polish Solidarity movement in 1980-81: not only outright hostility but also open support for Stalinist repression. This is a long way from working class internationalism.
Clearly the present Cuban Communist Party is not simply the old PSP. But there are links. Carlos Rafael Rodriguez was a minister under Batista, and a minister under Castro. When the Castroites took over the trade union movement in November 1959, who was put in charge of the CTC ? Lazaro Pena, the same Lazaro Pena who had helped the Communists in the forties tie the Cuban working class to Batista's state in return for legality.
Che Guevara's views are now well known, following the recent biographies of him. He supported of the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956. He masterminded the Cuban army and secret police after 1959. He was the most vocal and uncritical advocate of Cuba following the Russian model in the crucial two years after the 1959 revolution. Whatever his later criticisms and his commitment, Guevara never fought for our kind of socialism.
What is socialism ? Bernard never got to grips with this question. The nearest he got to it was Lenin's formula: Soviets plus electrification. Yet in Cuba today the workers have neither. They don't have organisations through which the working class can rule in its own interests, and they have not developed the productive forces to outpace capitalism. They never could. Socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class. It is emblazoned on the cover of Workers' Liberty every month. "The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself". That is the measure against which we analyse Cuba. It is the test of class. In August 1933 the Cuban workers toppled the dictator Machado and a situation of dual power existed in the country. This is our model. It shows socialism was possible then and was possible in Castro's time.
What is so strange about our conception of Stalinism as a new form of exploiting society? Bernard quotes from Trotsky in 1936, but the phenomenon developed. It spread during the war. In places like China, independent Stalinist armies made their own revolutions. Those were not workers' revolutions. They simultaneously shattered the working-class movement and the capitalist class. Castro's revolution was like that. It was not imposed by the Russians, and because of that the Cuban revolution has an autonomy of its own.
It is necessary for the working class to rule politically in order to rule socially and economically. We do not make a fetish of nationalised property. We do not add a new stage between capitalism and socialism. Stalinism is a mongrel and an epiphenomenon, a blind alley. This is no revision of Marxism. There were societies before the epoch of capitalism in which the ruling class was based on the state and exploited the population by extracting a tribute - ancient Egypt and China, the Aztec and Mayan empires for instance. Marxists don't lump these together as 'feudalism'. So why isn't it possible in this epoch to have class societies which are broadly parallel to capitalism ? The key question of who extracts the surplus product is central to a Marxist theory of class throughout history.
We defend Cuba against the threat of American imperialism, and we are against the trade embargo, which is a virtual blockade. But we can say that without losing a critical perspective on what is going on inside Cuba. Cuba is not capitalist, but that does not prove it's better. You have no evidence that it is qualitatively better. Cuban workers should not trust Castro to defend them. They should defend themselves, principally by building their own organisations, like trade unions, defence guards, their own political party, independent of Castro.
We stand for working class independence. That's what we mean by the Third Camp. Neither capitalism nor Stalinism is the answer for the workers of the world. Neither Washington, nor Moscow, nor Havana either, but international socialism. Socialism was possible in Cuba in 1959. It is possible now in Cuba. But only the working class can make it.
I return to the question that I posed at the beginning. Do you agree that in 1959 capitalist economic and social relations were destroyed? What were the land reform, nationalisation of major industries and of foreign and Cuban banks? What was the second land reform which distributed land on an equal basis? It was not just an act against the "peasant hucksters" as Lenin once described the kulaks. It was an act aiming to transform the whole of society into a workers' state.
It was not the case that the Cubans ran off to snuggle up to the USSR. They first attempted to establish economic relations with America. When they forbade the American-owned sugar plantations owning Cuban land, the Americans refused to engage in trade. The Cubans were forced to look elsewhere to engage in trade. Cuba is a third world country, not a metropolitan European country. They did not have a choice where to look for trade.
Why do the Cuban leadership not generalise the dollar economy? For very good reasons. Economic relations, brought in by this development, if generalised, would destroy the gains made as a result of 1959. Correctly, as with the Russian NEP, the state seeks to limit the extent to which capital can gain a foothold inside Cuba. Absolutely correct!
The Cuban trade union movement says that it wants to see the eradication of the dollar economy as swiftly as possible, so that all workers are treated on the same basis. That is what the General Secretary of the Cuban unions said to us. We are in a special period, not one we accept.
The workers in Cuba and the mass organisations are those that define the economic plan, not just reflecting what comes from above, as it has been presented for political purposes in this meeting. For example, one of the critical issues in the recent period was the introduction of taxation in Cuba. In 1959 taxation was abolished. No worker paid taxes until very recently.
However, with the introduction of the dollar economy inequalities emerged. It was necessary to re-appropriate for the social good, ensuring that some groups of workers did not gain at the expense of others. That was quite correct. Beyond that workers in the tourist industry have organised and discussed how tips should be dealt with. Tips are returned voluntarily after political discussion. There is a conscious political understanding that the creation of socialism is about the voluntary activity of human beings, and a belief in ideals qualitatively higher than those of capitalism.
The Cubans supported the Angolans in defeating Jonas Savimbi's UNITA, a pro-capitalist force backed by the US, and in defeating apartheid. They put their best equipment into Angola. They were prepared to put their own existence at stake for black South African workers. The Cubans are internationalists. They have sent abroad 16,000 doctors - three times as many as the World Health Organisation - and 16,000 teachers. 25,000 students from other countries come to Cuba to receive a higher education at no cost. When hurricanes devastated the Caribbean recently Cuba was prepared to send doctors without asking for a penny. It was prepared to cancel the debt of Nicaragua.
This is a qualitatively different leadership to anything we saw in Eastern Europe or the USSR. Yes, solidarity against the American blockade. But, also, solidarity with the political leadership of Cuba.
Debate at a Workers' Liberty forum, 3 November 1999
For Marx, the words "socialism" and "communism" meant the same thing: a classless society. Somewhere along the line -- I think with the Stalinization of the Communist International -- it became common to conflate "socialism" with what Marx called "the dictatorship of the proletariat," i.e. a workers' state. Even anti-Stalinist Marxists have done this. I think this has led to a quite a lot of confusion.
Sacha is right that the workers don't control the state apparatus in Cuba. But I must ask -- exactly how did the workers control the state apparatus in the pre-Stalinist Soviet Union? Your political tendency claims that the SU prior to 1928 was a workers' state, however deformed. But the Soviet workers had no control over anything Lenin et al. did at any point. So aren't you being inconsistent?