are excerpts from a comprehensive analysis of the Cuban Revolution published
in 2004. The authors frame their discussion given in the excerpts below.
These are from the introduction and the conclusion of the book.
The book looks at the
history of Cuba long before the revolution and looks afterwards at the
accomplishments and problems which the Cuban Revolution faces. No author is
listed in the book, which is published by the Spanish affiliate of IN
DEFENSE OF MARXISM, the international Trotskyist tendency whose best-known
leaders are Ted Grant and Alan Woods.
The Spanish original was published in late 2004, and it may be found on the internet at the following address. Spanish-speakers can order the book which is priced at two Euros. I hope that IN DEFENSE OF MARXISM will translate the full document for the English-speaking public. Table of contents and links to the complete document are available at the web address given here:
THE CUBAN REVOLUTION:
PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
More than 45 years have passed since the first days of January, 1959, when the guerrillas made their victorious entrance into Havana and the bloody dictator Batista escaped from the island. Since then the Cuban Revolution has become a symbol of the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle. The suppression of capitalism on the island, the brutal blockade to which it has from the outset been subjected by the USA, and the fact that Cuba to this day retains a planned economy, have more than ever reinforced Cuba as a symbol of resistance.
Without doubt the non-capitalist character of its economy along with state planning have been the key to the social conquests attained by the Cuban Revolution, without which it would not have been possible for Cuba to reach its current levels of education, health care, infant mortality, literacy (illiteracy practically disappeared in the first years of the Revolution) etc. Levels that are incomparably superior to Latin America - even those countries that have more developed economies such as Brazil and Argentina - as well as many developed capitalist countries. A planned economy, at the same time as constituting the main base of the social gains of the Revolution with its extensive support network, is also the main reason for the hatred that imperialism professes for Cuba.
imperialism speaks of the "lack of democracy in Cuba" it is steeped in
hypocrisy. In practice the US imperialists have sustained the bloodiest
dictatorships and coup d'états when it has suited them, including the coup
and subsequent dictatorship of Batista. What US imperialism really hates is
that a country exits in its own “back yard” that doesn't bend to its
desires, and is one that overthrew capitalism. Now, in the context of a
revolutionary build-up in all of Latin America in which a great question
mark queries the capitalism of Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries, the
"Cuba factor" has acquired an even bigger transcendence for imperialism,
and, of course - although for diametrically opposed reasons - for all those
that fight for the victory of the socialist revolution throughout Latin
America and the world. After 45 years of revolution, Cuba still plays out
its destiny. The danger of social and political reversal, of a capitalist
counterrevolution, cannot be discarded.
THE FUTURE IN JEOPARDY
A defeat for the Cuban Revolution would be like a huge pitcher of cold water poured onto the revolutionary processes opening up throughout Latin America. But the victory of a socialist revolution in any country would not only give an enormous breath of fresh air to the Cuban Revolution (in fact, revolution in other countries is its only salvation), but would unleash a “domino effect” in which capitalism would be overthrown in one country after the other, deeply shaking and preparing the US for the defeat of capitalism in the very heart of the Empire.
The fundamental factor that motivates this essay is in fact one that serves to contribute - from a revolutionary and Marxist point of view - to the debate on the future of the Cuban Revolution, on how to preserve and to deepen its successes in such a decisive moment as that which we are living in Cuba and the whole of Latin America.
Any serious attempt to contribute something in this sense necessarily needs an analysis of the essential features of the Cuban Revolution as well as the character of society and of the political system that arose out of the Revolution. If the survival of the Cuban Revolution depends on the victory of revolution in other countries, how does one approach the lessons of the Cuban Revolution that have so much inspired the workers and the youth of the entire planet? How do we reach conclusions that will contribute to the victory of revolution in other countries?
For us the progressive character of the Cuban Revolution is without doubt. In the first place, the event put into being a revolution not much more than a hundred kilometers from the most powerful imperialist force in the world and subsequently defeated every attempt to quash it. In the second place, the tremendous uplift that a planned economy has given to Cuban society has demonstrated the enormous development potential that presents humanity with a viable system minus capitalists and bankers. The massive sympathy the Revolution awoke across the world has constituted its best safeguard and we place ourselves firmly in the field in defense of the Cuban Revolution and its conquests in the face of capitalist counterrevolution and imperialism.
To know which side of the barricade you are on is elementary, but not enough - you also need to know how to defend it. The successes of the Cuban Revolution are not guaranteed once and for all and forever. The danger of a capitalist restoration doesn't only exist, but rather is developing in the same proportion as economic interests on the island increase in a more and more ambitious web of interest. The fight for individual survival and the demoralization caused by the existence of privileges and shortage, weighs heavily and represents a threat to the Revolution. For this reason it is absolutely necessary that a revolutionary internationalist orientation exist that gives a wider and genuine horizon to the Cuban Revolution.
Undoubtedly, there are also factors
that act in favor of the maintenance of the system of a planned economy: the
world’s capitalist crisis; the conditions of life in surrounding countries;
the revolutionary processes that have opened up in Latin America; the
innovation of the Cuban revolutionary process; the danger that imperialism
represents by seeking to halt the social conquests of the Revolution and
remove the island’s sovereignty; and the thirst for vengeance by the exile
right-wing community anxious to recover its business and punish the people
that dared to live with their heads held high. But in the clash of forces
that struggle between capitalism and socialism, the first to get through the
door has an advantage: the capitalist order reproduces quite well under
chaos, as it doesn't need a conscious, organized reason to open the way,
whereas in the transitional stage to socialism this is absolutely
indispensable. This results in the adoption of a genuinely socialist
policy, based on internationalism and in a worker’s democracy, as the key
to preserving and extending the conquests of the Revolution.
THE LEGACY OF THE BOLSHEVIKS
Very often, when one thinks of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the experience of the Bolsheviks, the valuable lessons it served for later revolutions, such as in Cuba, are undervalued. One of the ideas that lead to this error is to think that for each country it is possible to choose an appropriate "model" to take it to socialism, in relation to its historical and economic peculiarities, etc. If we think this out, this is absurd. A different model cannot exist for each country because socialism cannot exist in a single country. There is no individual path to socialism as has been demonstrated by the collapse of the USSR after six decades of the "triumph of socialism", as its bureaucracy claimed so irresponsibly.
Socialism is understood to be a society that has definitively overcome capitalism in all spheres of human activity, and which must necessarily begin with the use of all economic and technical resources on an international scale. Of course, each revolution has its peculiarities, but they also have many things in common because they are, in fact, part of the same basic process. They are different links that break the same international capitalist chain and are subject to similar pressures and processes. A good reason to appeal to the experience of the Revolution of 1917 and its later development is that in great measure the challenges the Russian proletariat faced at that time are of a very similar nature to those that the Cuban proletariat currently is faced with: imperial harassment, pressures of the world market, and the emergence of pro-capitalist tendencies.
The "remedies" to these pressures, in our opinion, are also of a similar nature: fundamentally, the international extension of the socialist revolution and the participation of the working class in the political and economic spheres of the economy. In other words, the need for a worker’s democracy.
In the question of how to defend the revolutionary conquests of the first country that broke with capitalism, the legacy of Lenin and Trotsky as the most important leaders and theoreticians of the Russian Revolution has incalculable value. Interestingly, this is often forgotten.
Those of us that aspire to the socialist transformation of society have the obligation of supporting the energy and revolutionary inspiration that Cuba is still able today to transmit to the peoples of Latin American and the working class across the world. The best service to its emancipatory cause brings us to defend the tremendously progressive aspect of the Cuban Revolution in combating conservative tendencies and openly counterrevolutionary elements that coexist in its very bosom. To safeguard the conquests of the Revolution, to deepen and extend them, one should be faithful to the program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
We would be of little help to the Cuban Revolution if we didn’t learn the lessons of October, not understand the causes of later Stalinist bureaucratic degeneration (the product of the isolation of the socialist revolution in a backward country), and finally the restoration of capitalism. We would be of little help to the Cuban Revolution if we didn't see the prospect that has bound it to the victory of socialist revolution in Latin America and the world.
Once again, as in the decisive years of 1959 and 1960, the Cuban Revolution has to advance to survive.
CUBA BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
In Cuba is concentrated, in an extreme manner, many of the essential features (historical, social, economic and political) of Latin American countries that also had a clear expression in the peculiar development of the 1959 Revolution. For the Cuban bourgeoisie we may consider it paradigmatic of its submission toward the imperialism that has historically characterized all Latin American bourgeoisies. It is important to approach some aspects of the history of Cuba with this in mind.
Cuba was one of the first islands discovered by Christopher Columbus in the last years of the XV century and from then on, over nearly four centuries, it remained under Spanish domination. In the XVIII century English interest in “the pearl of the Antilles” culminated in the invasion of 1762. The English remained on the island for almost a year, determining the island’s economic development which was substituted some decades later by the USA. In this period began the massive exploitation of large estates for the cultivation of sugar cane and tobacco by means of the extensive use of slaves. At the beginning of the XIX century the movement for independence extended across most of Latin America, including Cuba.
The behavior of the dominant classes on the island was determined by the fear that its isolation with regard to the rest of the continent could facilitate Spanish repression and that a revolution for independence might set off a similar slave rebellion as in Haiti. The colony was also enjoying a long period of great economic growth directly connected with the US economy. By the middle of the XIX century Cuba was the main producer of sugar in the world, and the USA the main buyer. The Creole elite didn't aspire to independence, but rather was attracted by the possibility of becoming a state in the American Union. That desire, supported by some circles of the Washington bourgeoisie, was a very significant characteristic of the Cuban dominant class which was utterly docile to US capitalism.
THE FIRST CIVIL WAR (1868-1876)
The socioeconomic reality of Cuba was a condensed expression of the theory of unequal, mixed development that Trotsky explains very well in his History of the Russian Revolution. In Cuba the technological and financial penetration of advanced capitalist countries not only did not enter into contradiction with the pro-slavery employment system of the island, but rather intensified it further. It was only at the end of the XIX century that this pro-slavery system began to decline. This was the backdrop to the conflict that led to the first civil war for national liberation that lasted from 1868 to 1876.
A sector of the dominant class, composed mainly of medium-sized coffee, sugar and cattle producers from the eastern part of the island, felt themselves to be under conditions of a clear disadvantage in relation to the big farmers from the western side. They didn't count on the intensive use of slave manpower, and had neither the same technological advances nor exerted any control over the state apparatus. However, although the war had the illusions of popular participation, it didn't culminate in a democratic-bourgeois revolution. The Spanish army was, on that occasion, supported by the USA, and for the social elite of the west of the island it was preferable that Cuba continue to be a Spanish colony rather than face the social destabilization that independence might cause. The eastern farmers thus abandoned the fight for independence in exchange for some concessions from the Spanish Crown, thereby betraying the peasants and liberated slaves which had maintained the movement.
These events and later history up until the 1959 Revolution proved that the Cuban dominant class was unable to put into practice the workings of a bourgeois-democratic revolution such as that of France in 1789, when nation-states consolidated to become the foundation for capitalist development. In other words, the dominant class was incapable of achieving industrial development as a base from which to launch the creation of a parliamentary democracy, the distribution of land to the farmers, and thus create a nation.
DEFENDING A REVOLUTIONARY VIEW
Cuba has entered a decisive moment of its history in which genuine Marxist ideas can play a momentous role. In these times it is certain that many Cuban revolutionaries - even those that are in leading positions in the PCC and the Cuban State - seek an alternative to the impasse at which they have arrived.
In reality, a way out doesn't exist within the confines of the Cuban Revolution. No magic formula can avoid the fact that Cuba is a small island whose economy has a tiny effect on a world economy dominated by the imperial powers. The dynamics of world trade and the exchange of less elaborate products for more elaborate ones plays as much against the Cuban economy as with the capitalist countries of Latin America. According to data provided by Elena Álvarez of the National Institute for Economic Research of the Ministry of Economy and Planning, in 1990 1.9 tons of petroleum were bought with one ton of sugar, whereas in 2002 the quantity of petroleum decreased to 0,7 tons for the same quantity of sugar.
“The unfavorable evolution of prices has determined that in the last five years exchange losses rose to almost 40% (in comparison with 1997 prices),” according to the Cuban specialist.
For every measure taken with the purpose of improving the efficiency and thus diminish the dependence of the Cuban economy (there have been clear advances in the production of petroleum, for example), it is evident that there are unbeatable limits at the level of some international trade relationships marked by an international division of unfavorable labor that may end up subjecting the Cuban economy to a critical situation which will place the social conquests of the Revolution in danger.
The problems derived from a planned economy in a sea of world capitalism cannot be solved with anything other than the extension of world revolution, starting with Latin America.
This doesn't mean that, while it is necessary to resist, an entire series of exceptional measures cannot be taken. For Marxists to make limited concessions to capital investments in extreme economic situations does not suppose a violation of any principle. The Bolsheviks, suffocated by an untenable economic situation, submitted to the NEP (New Economic Politics) that allowed for the development of private economic activity as a means to favor agrarian production and supply basic products to the cities for consumption. The danger is not so much foreign investment in itself, which clearly supposes the strengthening of pro-capitalist elements inside the worker’s State, but how it is controlled and the perspective that is drawn. Lenin explained with all sincerity to the exhausted Soviet masses that the NEP was a concession that was the product of the young Soviet State’s enormous weakness that would allow the economy to breathe while awaiting the victory of the Revolution in an advanced capitalist country. The Bolsheviks never hoped that the NEP would solve the transition problems of socialism and, most importantly, all these concessions were made in the context of a worker’s democracy and soviet power.
The difference is qualitative. Although sometimes the Cuban government insists that the measures are a temporary accessory and that they don't put into question the socialist character of the Cuban system, when not having any real control over the thousands of directive workers, officials and other members of the state apparatus basic tendencies take on their own dynamic and it becomes very difficult to revert. Repression, firings etc. don't solve the problem. A worker’s democracy is irreplaceable in a planned economy. This way, the worker’s democracy and the organization of freedom of expression for all would - far from being a nuisance in the defense of a planned economy and socialism - be a true incentive for the masses and would grant far more maneuverability to the Revolution whose future, as with the Russian Revolution, will be determined on the international stage.
For Lenin and his comrades the key was the victory of revolution in Western Europe, especially in Germany. This was the only way to break the isolation of the October Revolution and guarantee the success of socialism. The logical consequence of this analysis was the construction of the Third International as the most effective instrument to guarantee the victory of the Revolution in Russia and the rest of capitalist Europe.
In Cuba, ultimately, the only way of successfully combating the counterrevolutionary imperialist offensive is to extend the Revolution internationally, beginning with the rest of Latin America. The historical experience of the Soviet Union demonstrates that it is impossible to build socialism in a single country. The situation in Latin America is now favorable, as we have been able to see in the recent revolutionary events of Venezuela, the victory of the left in Brazil, and the revolutionary movements in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina.
Unfortunately, instead of building revolution in Latin America, Fidel Castro has appealed to diplomatic agreements and campaigns of international pressure against the embargo. This has only had a limited effect. While he probably fears provoking the USA, this policy only provides effects that are contrary to those that he seeks to obtain. While the Revolution continues to be cloistered in the narrow national limits of Cuba, it runs the risk of being strangled. This is what US imperialism wants, and the defeat of the Cuban Revolution would be a blow against revolution for the rest of Latin America.
In a recent speech on May 26 at the Law Faculty in Buenos Aires and published in Granma (http://www.granma.cu/documento/es panol03/016-2.html), Fidel Castro said: "We don't recommend dogmatic formulas, and we don't begin to recommend that you have this or that social system. I know countries with such resources that they do not need to carry out a radical revolutionary change with relation to their economy as that which our country had to do".
Nobody can ignore Fidel's colossal role in the Cuban Revolution. However, Cuba’s own experience demonstrates that only by breaking with capitalism and condemning the multinationals and banks was it possible to elevate the conditions of the Cuban people’s lives and reach full literacy, employment and education and free health care. Not to complete the revolutionary processes that have begun in Latin America with the nationalization and planning of the fundamental direction of their economies, is to leave open the doors of counterrevolution in those same countries. And a defeat in countries like Venezuela, where in fact the most decisive steps that should defeat the danger of counterrevolution are of a socialist character, would be a disaster for the future of the Cuban Revolution. This was the great lesson of the Cuban Revolution!
On the contrary, if the Venezuelan Revolution follows through with the overthrow of capitalism, a Socialist Federation of Cuba and Venezuela could be created that would open the doors to a Socialist Federation of Latin America. The old dream of a fraternal and prosperous integrated Latin America and the Caribbean - the idea for which José Martí and Che fought - could become a reality. By being based on the enormous natural wealth of many of these countries in the democratic planning of the economy, it could put an immediate end to the misery, inequality and rampant exploitation to which the people of Latin American are subjected.
Once again the Cuban Revolution has to advance, and more than ever not reverse on this occasion, as only the ideas of Marxism and of proletarian internationalism indicate the way. It is there that we will find the way to release the unstoppable force of the proletariat in Cuba, in Latin America and in the world.
When this essay was about to be printed the international press reported the measure taken by the Cuban government to prohibit the circulation of the dollar, establishing a term (through November 14) in which to exchange the dollar for the convertible peso, supported by foreign currencies.
We believe that the measure in no way invalidates the analysis of this essay. In fact it is a confirmation of all the distortions that the dollar was causing in Cuban society and its planned economy. Although the measure is related to the growing hostility of Bush's government by prohibiting Cuban dollar bank deposits to be used for the payment of foreign invoices, it seems clear that this has a clear internal angle. An article published in El Pais (8/11/2004) said: "At the same time as economic reactivation, the dollar brought contamination and inequalities to Cuba - a true cancer for a system based on egalitarianism. And this without taking into account the economic perversions caused by the dual currency system". The article echoes the words of an academic who said: "On the one hand we have the dollar, a strong currency, emitted by a foreign bank that freely entered the market and over which there is no control. On the other hand, there is the Cuban peso, of little value, with which our salaries are paid". According to the article, "many Cuban economists for some time defended the necessity to recover control over foreign currency".
Another significant fact was the firing, in mid-October, of the Minister of Industry by Fidel Castro himself. The official explanation was that the minister has made errors in the administration of the nation’s power grid that caused numerous recent blackouts on the island. However, in a note in El Pais (15/10/2004) it was pointed out that the minister "was very well valued by foreign investors". A Spanish manager with interests in Cuba comments that "the companies under (the minister’s) control worked well, approaching an efficiency on a par with those of any other place of the world. It is a great loss".
The episode also confirms the internal tensions that express class tensions, and underlines the necessity of establishing genuine control of the economy and the State by the workers. The measures are not enough. The corruption and the danger of counterrevolution should be fought by a worker’s democracy, with participation and control from below against the growing harassment of imperialism against the Cuban economy which Bush's reelection will probably further accentuate. It should be answered with the defense of the socialist revolution in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela - which is today in the first line of fire of world revolution.
 The economic and trade blockade of Cuba by the USA began with the victory of the Revolution. It formally started as of February 1962 and from then on became progressively tougher, with measures such as the Helms-Burton Law (1996) that established jail terms for those who invest in nationalized properties in Cuba, and Bush's recent measures restricting travel and the spending of dollars on the island by Cuban residents in the USA. To the economic and commercial blockade we should add the long record of acts of sabotage and terrorism that US imperialism has organized against the Revolution for decades.
Translated for CubaNews by Simon Wollers, January 2005