Faced by large-scale protests (from 11 July) for the first time in decades, Cuba’s “socialist” government has arrested many dissident socialist activists among others. Many reports say that over a hundred people have been arrested or have disappeared.
In the last year, the same government has suppressed LGBT rights and Black Lives Matter-type demonstrations.
“Socialist Cuba” is an extremely repressive dictatorship. Despite its achievements in healthcare and other areas, it is in some ways even further from genuine socialism than Britain is, because its regime allows no independent workers’ movement to exist. Cuban workers are not allowed independent trade unions or even the heavily curtailed right to strike we have in the UK. It is effectively a one-party state, with no free elections to even a bourgeois type of parliament.
Socialism requires workers’ democracy and workers’ control. It can exist in a developed sense only on an international scale and not in one small country alone; but a system without workers’ democracy is not even embryonically or potentially socialist.
Cuba has had variants of its current system, in which a bureaucratic class exploits workers through its “ownership” of the state which owns most of the economy, for 60 years.
Recent reports of Cuba's political landscape by exile Cuban socialist Sam Farber would suggest that a lot of the protesters are probably right-wing in a pro-free-market capitalist sense. It would be surprising if not, given the way the regime has discredited socialism. Nonetheless it seems clear that the protests have drawn their dynamism from genuine and legitimate popular frustration at poor material conditions and lack of democracy.
We are on the side even of pro-market people demanding improved workers' and social conditions, and more democracy, against the Cuban regime. Although we would oppose privatisation of large-scale industry, the freedom of the working class to discuss, organise and protest is a higher value for us than public ownership in the hands of a bureaucratic class. At the same time, we will do all we can to support left-wingers who organise within the protests for a clearly socialist opposition.
The issues the protesters are raising are not reducible to the long-running US economic blockade of Cuba. They are connected to the nature of the Cuban system, the interests of its ruling class and the way that class runs society.
At the same time, the US blockade has clearly made the situation for Cuba’s working class and people far worse. It also provides Cuba’s rulers with an excuse for repression. Moreover, it is itself an outrage against democracy – specifically, Cuba’s right to national self-determination. Talking about social conditions and democracy in Cuba while maintaining the blockade is utter hypocrisy.
The issue of national self-determination, against external interference, is real despite the fact that the Cuban government is unelected and undemocratic. It seems that the government does have a significant amount of popular support.
Cuba's history is also relevant. For much of the 20th century the US was a dominant influence on the island, and in 1961 it attempted to restore that position by a de facto invasion. Its embargo against Cuba has now run for 60 years.
Donald Trump tightened the blockade by strengthening various forms of economic restrictions and sanctions. Joe Biden has not reversed these changes, despite indicating in the presidential election that he would. Meanwhile, of course, the US maintains strong links and trade with all kinds of dictatorial regimes.
At the UN on 23 June 184 governments, including even Boris Johnson’s, voted for a resolution to end the blockade of Cuba; only the US and Israel voted against.
Socialists and labour movement activists must denounce the Cuban government's repression and find ways to support those fighting for more democracy in Cuba, particularly socialists, those who want to organise an independent workers' movement, and campaigners for black, women’s and LGBT rights. At the same time we must magnify calls for an end to the US blockade. Cuba needs not more US government interference, but much less.