CUBA: Relic from the Cold War
or Herald of the Third Millennium?
Preface by Julio García Luis (editor)
From CUBAN REVOLUTION READER:
A Documentary History of Fidel Castro’s Revolution
(new edition, 2008, published by Ocean Press)
The Cuban revolution, one of the events that defined the shape of the 20th century, has now reached its 50th anniversary. Throughout those years, it has been depicted by its enemies first as a satellite, a tool of Soviet policy in Latin America and Africa, and then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the community of nations created when Central and Eastern Europe were liberated from Nazism, as a kind of tenacious relic left over from the Cold War. But the very fact of Cuba’s survival against all expectations defies these simplifications.
The continued existence of revolutionary Cuba must be seen as a consequence of something much more profound than any individual’s whim or the Numantian stubbornness that was referred to years ago as a synonym of hopeless, suicidal determination. Nor is its survival explained by the understandable reaction to the stupidity of US policy toward Cuba, expressed in the more recent phase of the Torricelli and Helms-Burton laws.
Nearly 50 years ago, Che Guevara argued that Cuba was a historical exception. His reasoning is still valid.
Thus, on reaching this anniversary, in a new century and a new millennium, it could be said that the greatest moments of the Cuban revolution may not be the 45 key historical moments that we have selected for this book. Perhaps the greatest moments still lie in the future, in the difficult new era of the coming decades.
Some commentaries written outside Cuba and even certain reflections from inside Cuba contain hints of something akin to belated remorse over the fact that the Cuban revolution entered into the Soviet sphere of influence and became somewhat dependent on the Soviet Union.
According to this thesis, it would have been better for Cuba if those links had not existed. Those who argue this say that we would not have been encumbered with the dangerous burden of dogmatized Marxism; the experience of highly centralized and bureaucratic economic management; backward technology; tendencies toward gigantism, excessive consumption of electricity and indifference to the environmental effects of investment projects; a formalistic concept of democracy; and a cultural policy based on pedantic models.
Naturally, it is easy to speculate with hindsight about what the course of history might have been, but the unavoidable conclusions that the country should draw from nearly five decades are one thing, and the desire to replace history with abstractions is something very different.
Cuba did not choose—nor could it choose—the world in which the revolution took place. Naturally, it would have been much better if the Soviet Union, which was to become Cuba’s main economic, political and military partner, had not so early lost Lenin, the true leader of its socialist revolution; if it had not experienced the mistakes and crimes of Stalinism; if it had not had to pay the terrible price of the war. Later, with a political bureaucracy that was more interested in looking after its own interests than in achieving socialist ideals, the Soviet Union was unable to rectify those deformations completely. It would have been much better if the enemy’s blockade had not forced the Soviet Union to compete in an arms race that drained its resources.
But, accepting reality as it was, the Cuban people had the unexpected good fortune of achieving victory when the balance of power in the world offered the revolution at least minimal conditions for survival.
The existence of the Soviet Union—whatever its historical tragedies and mistakes—constituted a decisive advantage in the consolidation of the Cuban people’s militant self-determination and their right to defend their independence and revolution at whatever cost. Moreover, the Soviet government of that period, headed by Nikita S. Khrushchev, still had some Bolshevik daring, an ethic of solidarity and the political will to take the risks that the defense of Cuba required. These constituted important factors in those circumstances that determined whether or not the Cuban people could be crushed.
To think that Cuba had options, that it could choose between one thing and another, simply ridiculous. The country lacked the necessary critical mass, economic clout and military strength to break away from the forces of the bipolar world.
The real alternative faced by Cuba was between sovereignty and the ruthless reestablishment of US rule, between the revolution and the counterrevolution, between the advancement and deepening of the process toward socialism and an unimaginable regression in history. Che summed it up concisely: “Socialist revolution or caricature of revolution.” And, when considered realistically, this challenge placed Cuba in the camp of the only allies it could count on. Soviet solidarity was a privilege, and we Cubans, who should not be ungrateful, should always recognize this, even if now we do so only in our hearts.
The foregoing, of course, does not exonerate us from the need to analyze why, in certain circumstances, those relations between our small, underdeveloped country and that great economic and military power—relations that, objectively, implied some degree of dependence—tended to lean excessively toward unjustified influences and unnecessary imitation. These influences were not carefully selected and subjected to the critical scrutiny that should accompany the importation of any experience.
Without pretending to exhaust such a vast topic, I would say that the Cuban revolution inherited the old [Cuban] communists’ defensive approach to the Soviet Union—an attitude that was one of the unquestioned creeds of that party, a party with so many merits and so many outstanding members. But now it seems amazing that later, when the Soviet party was in power and had so many resources and possibilities, it did so little to replace that defensiveness with a more serious, scientific study of the realities and internal contradictions that existed in the country that was our main ally.
It seems undeniable that the dominant role played by the Soviet Union—when it supplied us with the weapons we needed for our defense, bought the sugar that the United States rejected, and sent us oil and food when a deadly trap had been laid for Cuba—to some extent placed it beyond criticism and investigation.
In addition, a more balanced relationship would have been difficult to conceive of without lesser economic dependence. Unfortunately, Cuba’s economy was extremely vulnerable and very dependent on foreign trade; Cuba was a net importer of food and energy—the historical result of the slave plantation economy that had developed from the end of the 18th century. A single-crop system, a single export product, submission to the US market and profound structural deformities were the features of this reality.
Cuba could not limit itself to changing its trading and financial partners. It had to try to effect basic changes, and that was what it did, starting with the agrarian reform. This was what lay behind the effort to achieve an enormous sugarcane harvest in 1970. The setback of that failed effort, the defects that later hindered the country in its attempts to increase and diversify its export capacity, the harsh US blockade and the unfavorable circumstances of the world economy led to Cuba becoming even more dependent.
It was difficult for a country purchasing 72 percent of Cuba’s exports and dominating all of its main economic sectors not to influence, consciously or otherwise, many other spheres, even while maintaining a policy of respect for Cuba’s independent decisions.
There are plenty of examples showing that Cuba never relinquished its sovereignty or behaved like a satellite country. When a point of principle was reached, the revolutionary government never hesitated to face the consequences of a quarrel with Moscow. However, it is obvious that the Soviet Union’s significance for Cuba’s continued survival and defense made it necessary to keep its viewpoint in mind and to coordinate the policies of the two countries as much as possible.
Cuba did not make a mistake when it availed itself of the advantages of its relations with the Soviet Union to confront the US blockade and consolidate Cuba’s development and defense.
The mistakes that were made—and there were some—were made by those who, in certain situations, thought that the safest, surest path was to imitate the methods and formulas that were already obsolete in the Soviet Union itself; those who ignored Martí’s warning that the government in each new republic should reflect the nature of that particular country, and Mariátegui’s foresight in saying that, in Latin America, socialism could not be a copy but must rather be a heroic creation.
The inglorious collapse of the Soviet Union and of the socialist experience stemming from the 1917 October revolution created a completely new strategic situation in the world. This counterbalance had previously offset the imperialists’ drive for expansion and domination and had served as a premise for the struggles of so many peoples against colonialism and other forms of oppression. Without going into what the disappearance of this counterbalance meant for humankind, for Cuba, the loss of its main ally, its markets, its fair prices, its financing and its supplies of arms constituted a life-or-death challenge.
The blockade was doubled. For the second time in 30 years, Cuba had to restructure and redirect its entire economy. In slightly over two years, it lost 35 percent of its Gross Domestic Product, and its import capacity—a decisive index in our case—was reduced from US$8.139 billion in 1989 to US$2.236 billion in 1992. On the political and ideological planes, the situation seemed to take Cuba back to the polemic the Bolsheviks had with their adversaries in 1903 about whether or not it was possible for socialism to triumph in a single country.
The Cuban leaders, headed by Fidel Castro, thus had to confront a new problem that was unprecedented in the history of the revolutionary movement, with the aggravating factor that, this time, it was not an immense country rich in natural resources, such as Russia, facing the imperialist powers at the beginning of the 20th century, but was rather a tiny, relatively poor island confronting the designs of the strongest military and political power of all time.
Once more in the life of the Cuban nation, it was not a matter of theoretical analysis or the cool calculation of probabilities. Cuba overcame, and is overcoming, that terrible trial because it drew on its history, sense of duty and honor, and the ethics that constitute the essence of the Cuban spirit. Paradoxically, this may be a new example of the idea that every cloud has a silver lining.
The disappearance of the Soviet Union—a misfortune that seemed inconceivable some years ago—brought Cuba not only dangers and challenges but also the opportunity to review its own experiences, free itself from foreign elements, return to some extent to its original values and, in short, to begin anew. The task is not an easy one, because the pincers of the US blockade are squeezed tighter than ever before. In addition, in order to enable its economy to recover in the present conditions, Cuba must allow capitalist formulas to be applied—in however limited a way—within its territory, and open areas to market influences and undertake reforms in its economic structure, accepting the social costs and ideological risks involved.
This is not a case of Caribbean rationalization—of arguing that everything that happens is a good thing. Naturally, it would have been much better if the Soviet Union had found a way out of the bog in which it was mired that would have preserved that socialist nation’s enormous achievements.
Did any such way out exist? Probably yes. The peoples of the Soviet Union had the tradition, patriotism and moral reserves for regenerating their society. The catastrophe was not fatal; it was the leadership that failed. Opportunism, political primitivism and personal ambition prevailed. The lack of true democracy, stubborn isolationism and a lack of information facilitated the rise of confusion and demoralization. Bureaucracy succeeded in taking over the state. The workers and the people as a whole were pitilessly sacrificed.
A thorough analysis of this phenomenon has yet to be made, but it is important for the Cuban revolution to examine more deeply and fully everything that happened there, since Soviet ideas and practice permeated many sectors of this country.
The responsibility and possibility for making a valuable contribution to the reconstruction of peoples’ alternatives to modern capitalism—that is, neoliberal globalization—have fallen, unsought, to the Cuban revolution.
People are now beginning to see more clearly that the true meaning of Cuba’s resistance over these years has not been only to protect the independence, social justice and right to self-determination of the Cuban people—which, in itself, would have been of tremendous value. More importantly, Cuba has also played a role in preserving the hope, idea and prospects of socialism and the new development of revolutionary thought.
Parodying the classical judgment of history that latifundism was Rome’s downfall, it may be said that corruption was the downfall of the Soviet Union. Even though that country was a strategic nuclear force, the internal decay of its values, its spiritual decline, left it without a perspective for its own future or a solution to the problems of humanity now or in the future. Cuba was not exempt from negative internal pressures, which were, above all, the consequence of its lack of social development. However, Cuba has a revolution that now, nearly 50 years after its triumph, still maintains its links with the masses and retains their support, ensures communication between the leaders and the people, upholds administrative honesty, rejects caste privileges and implements a principled policy.
It is only fair to recognize that serious Marxist-Leninist thought did exist in the Soviet Union, which tried to develop in accord with the times and reality; but bureaucratic sway over intellectual and scientific creativity suffocated it. Cuba’s circumstances in this sphere—apart from occasional transgressions—have been significantly more advantageous and not at all comparable.
Cuba has an eminently advanced, patriotic and socialist culture, which is both a shield for defending the island against constant informational and psychological siege by its enemies and a sword for taking the offensive and succeeding on the decisive terrain of the struggle of ideas.
This culture—forged at one of the crossroads of the Western world, heir to the values created there and a participant in the norms and agendas of intellectual debate (even though, on occasion, resentfully, because of a certain isolation)—has greater possibilities than others for dialog with political forces and with thinking men and women all over the world. It is also this culture that helps Cuba to delve deeper into current world problems and to identify solutions.
In political and theoretical terms, this culture is alien to any kind of sectarian narrowness. The Cuban revolution’s—and especially Fidel Castro’s—understanding of Marxism-Leninism has nothing to do with dogma and the mechanical transposition of concepts. Revolutionary thought in Cuba is considered to be a combination of the basic ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin with the dialectical method inherent to that universal theory; the legacy of José Martí and other key experiences, traditions and values of the Cuban national liberation movement; and, above all, the present development of that thought in the praxis of the struggle to transform the country.
If we add to these conditions the tremendous esteem in which Cuba is held in the rest of Latin America, the Caribbean and throughout the world; the respect with which people listen to its leaders’ views in all international forums; and the ability of its leaders to get people to meet and unite, it is clear that, in these circumstances, no other country or revolutionary process can presently play the role assumed by Cuba.
This does not mean that Cuba should seek to set itself up as a new “model” or as a new “center” of the world revolutionary movement. In the coming years, keeping pace with irreversible technological changes, the world will become ever more closely knit and interdependent, but, along with the increasing need for more integrated action, there will also be the prospect of great diversity. Each country and region will seek its own formulas. There will be no “models” or “centers” to be imitated or to tell others what they should do.
Cuba’s most important role in that world will be that of setting an example of resolution and resistance, of showing that there is a humane developmental alternative to neoliberal capitalism, of promoting a sustainable and rational environmental policy, and especially of establishing itself as a force for promoting and spreading the new revolutionary thinking that is needed for moving beyond this phase of history.
It is not fate that decided Cuba should make this important contribution; it is simply a possibility. In the past, we heard it said that socialism was irreversible; now, we know that this is only true when a principled line is followed and that subjective mistakes can lead to the failure of any revolutionary process.
The possibility of the Cuban revolution serving as the standard-bearer of these ideas requires the internal unity of the people and the constant strengthening of their political vanguard. The Communist Party of Cuba, with 800,000 members, is the heart of this cohesion and represents the force par excellence of example, morale and intelligent action for solving or explaining all problems. The party and all the other social organizations and institutions have the task of doing more and more effective ideological work, because Cuban society must develop its virtues while in open contact with all kinds of ideological contaminants and influences.
Besides this, economic efforts are now of decisive importance. We no longer have trading partners who will underwrite the deficits of our balance of payments; the US blockade continues, like a giant octopus, to plague our operations in every part of the world; and some effects of globalization are creating additional difficulties for us. Cuba’s only solution lies in its capacity to increase its economic efficiency; master the art of good administration; and, in short, obtain the hard-currency income required to meet Cuba’s needs, including the basic one of feeding the people.
Never before could Cuba make such an essential and timely contribution to humankind, which seems to be on the brink of a global crisis of incalculable proportions.
This crisis is defined by the fact that four-fifths of the world’s population now live in conditions of poverty and real hunger. Although the population is growing rapidly, especially in the underdeveloped world, the means required for providing food, clothing, shelter and medicine are not increasing. The scientific-technological progress of industrialized countries is amazing and could ensure a decent life for every man and woman in the world, but it has a diametrically opposite effect. Even though the possibilities for communication, information and the transmission of knowledge are extraordinary, isolation and marginalization prevail.
Moreover, environmental destruction—due to the selfishness of the consumer societies and the devastating impact on those who are struggling at the extreme limits of survival—has, in several areas, already passed the point of no return.
Capitalism, with its incurable blindness, is dragging our planet to the brink of a catastrophe. This is no science fiction movie and is not something to be faced in the distant future—it is already happening to the 40 million people, especially children, who die of hunger and curable diseases each year.
A global crisis calls for global thinking and a global strategy. In a manner consistent with his concept of solidarity—the unity of the exploited peoples and their joining forces to attain their legitimate rights—Fidel outlined the key elements of what could be a new revolutionary approach for the 21st century.
The first thing to be clearly understood is the need to avoid confusing globalization—which is an objective phenomenon and consequence of the development of productive forces and human knowledge, which implies new opportunities and possibilities for the peoples of the world—with the model that dominant capitalism has imposed: neoliberal globalization, which turns the market into an all-powerful god, turns its back on human beings, trampling them underfoot and subordinating everything to super-exploitation and super-profits.
As Fidel said, “The most important stage in the history of humanity is beginning now.” In his view, in line with the new world order and the US claim to political and military hegemony, the violent revolutionary methods appropriate in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century are not the most advisable now.
Naturally, an isolated revolution may appear where oppression, repression and hunger become unbearable. Those who see all other paths closed to them and resort to rebellion cannot be criticized. But imperialism now has greater means than ever before for crushing any attempt to attain or retain power by force of arms. The international financial institutions serve its interests. The United States even uses the United Nations Security Council selectively and undemocratically to serve its own interests by intervening and punishing governments it does not like.
The globalized world needs a world government that will establish order in the present chaos, contribute to a better distribution of resources, protect the environment and promote international cooperation and democratic participation by all countries—a government that is a far cry from the gross caricature that the United States is imposing unilaterally and abusively on the world community.
In the mid-1980s, the poor countries—many of which were victims of division, submissiveness and false promises—lost a great opportunity to solve the foreign debt crisis.
The same situation is being repeated now, at a higher level. In recent times, far from being alleviated, the economic problems of these peoples have multiplied. The crisis is no longer simply financial; it is now also political, spiritual, medical and ecological. It no longer affects the Third World countries alone but includes growing masses in the industrialized countries themselves as well.
At the same time, the transnationalization of the economy and the current speculative flows in what has been called a “casino economy” are showing signs of what may well become a great global crisis, unprecedented in its scope and implications. The strong north winds of the storm have begun to sweep through Asia—which, only recently, the experts of neoliberalism had considered to be the area of most dynamic end-of-the-century and beginning-of-the-next-century growth.
Thus, while entailing serious dangers and threats for humankind, neoliberal globalization—like the foreign debt crisis in the past—is also placing a very powerful weapon in the hands of our governments and peoples.
The objective, material premises for taking advantage of this opportunity have emerged relatively rapidly. However, there are still inadequate subjective conditions in terms of ideas, programs, organization, leadership and a determination to act in a united, coordinated way.
It is hardly strange that this should be so in a world in which the ruling powers—especially the United States—have imposed and keep reinforcing a virtual spiritual and informational dictatorship as part of their totalitarian plan to establish a single mindset. In this same context, the revolutionary and other progressive forces are barely beginning to recover from the confusion, despair and fatalism that stemmed from the collapse of the socialist community that looked to the Soviet Union.
This explains Fidel’s statement to the effect that, at this moment, the Cuban revolution’s main role—and his own—is to work to create awareness among the peoples of all latitudes of the problems they face; to carry this message to political figures, thinkers and spiritual leaders; and to mobilize public opinion.
In today’s world, the importance of ideas is growing; the possibilities for spreading the truth are multiplying. No one’s voice is weak if they are determined to be heard.
Achieving true, socialist, human globalization implies, above all, joining forces to confront the unipolar appetites of US imperialism, its hegemony, its desire to rule the entire planet. In these circumstances, socialism cannot be an immediate goal. Intermediate stages will probably be required, in which multipolarism is strengthened, various formulas of regional integration gain ground, the unity and coordination of peoples and governments assert the right to full and multilateral negotiations, and the United Nations is effectively democratized.
The important thing is for such a perspective to help hold us on course in the medium and long term. Therefore, it is not a matter of just any old ideology. It should constitute a higher synthesis of the best and most advanced principles of human integrity.
The revolutionary concepts of Marx, Engels and Lenin and the lessons learned by the international communist movement in the past century and a half will be prominent, as will the patriotic and humanist traditions of each nation and, certainly, the ethics and aspirations of the great universal religions to spiritual improvement. The theories and analyses of environmental protection will be included, as will the other great contemporary contributions of the social and natural sciences. The new political movements, the new forms of association of the masses that are emerging from the present socioeconomic crisis, will also add their experiences to this thinking.
If this new universalism manages to slough off old, sectarian models; if the peoples and all the other social forces learn to unite; and if the countries and governments set aside what now divides them, a new era will be ushered in for humankind. Cuba is speaking out for these goals. Now, nearly 50 years after the triumph of its revolution, Cuba pledges its best, most determined efforts to achieving them. Cuba is advancing, stepping into the breach. The real history of humanity may well be just beginning. Great moments await us.
Julio García Luis