AND THE THEORY OF
THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION
by Joseph Hansen (1961)
Today we want to take a look at how the theory of the permanent revolution worked out in Cuba, and to determine to what degree it was verified there. To approach this problem, I'll begin first by utilizing the main points that Trotsky utilized in explaining his theory of the permanent revolution; first of all, to determine in what way Cuba's development could be said to be highly uneven. This is just to give you a brief indication of the background of Cuba.
colonized by Spain
Cuba, along with Hispaniola, was the first area in the Western hemisphere to be colonized. I'm sure you all know where Hispaniola is. It's the island that today is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. That is where the first colony was set up by the Spaniards, and Cuba shortly thereafter. However, Cuba rapidly became the main base of the Spanish colonization efforts. As a matter of fact, it was the center for the whole Caribbean area.
In those days, the Caribbean was a Spanish lake, and had nothing to do with the United States, because the United States was not yet colonized. Havana was an old city before the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, or the other British subjects landed in Virginia.
When the Spaniards came into Cuba, they found a race of people there called the Caribes whom Columbus writes of as being extremely good-looking people, both the males and the females; a people the like of which he'd never seen before. Extremely loyal, extremely gentle, extremely un-warlike, and very trusting. As you can see, they were perfect suckers for the Spaniards, who came in there with their ideas of getting gold, and of disseminating their syphilis. The Indians on the island of Cuba were virtually exterminated by the Spaniards, either through disease or through forced labor.
The Spaniards put them to work digging gold in areas where they thought they could find some gold. The Caribs had some gold trinkets, which the Spaniards took, melted down and sent back to Spain. Then they began to work them on large areas of land, which the Spaniards set up in the form of ranches. It wasn't long until none of these people were left.
Spain, on coming into Cuba--and in fact wherever Spain went in those times--imposed its own feudal relations on the country. Feudal relations mean serfdom for the inhabitants, and slavery. Because of the lack of labor power, the Spaniards were willing to utilize any form of servitude in order to pin the unwilling hands to the task at hand, which was to dig gold and silver, and to grow such crops as were necessary in order to supply the miners with a minimum amount of food. Wherever Spain went, they established their own relations which reflected the ones they had in Spain. The Spanish idea was for each Spaniard, who came from the upper classes generally in Spain, that is, the feudal aristocracy, to enrich themselves and then return to Spain. That was their idea of how to colonize the new world.
Over the centuries, the Spanish policy in relation to the colonies was the same as other European countries', which was to prevent the development of industry in the colonial areas, and to utilize them as sources of gold, silver and raw materials. This was a very carefully worked-out policy. They even prevented trade between the various colonies, and they barred trade between the colonies and other European powers. The pattern was to take raw materials from areas like Cuba. (Cuba introduced sugar early. I think Columbus brought the first sugar plants there, so far as is known.)
They took these raw materials back to a key port in Spain, either Seville or Cadiz, and there they imposed a high tax on the goods that were brought in. That tax would go to the Crown. These raw materials, for example, would be worked into cotton goods, whatever they were in those days, blouses, shirts, skirts and stuff like that. The finished goods would then be brought back to Spain into these same ports, reloaded on the ships, and carried back to the colonies.
You might have the strange business of cotton being grown in New Granada, which is now Colombia and Venezuela, shipped over to Cuba, and from Cuba over to Spain, and then up to Belgium or Holland or somewhere in Germany, worked up into a finished handkerchief; brought back to Spain, back over across the ocean to Cuba or to New Granada, or ferried by manpower or girlpower across the isthmus of Panama, reloaded on ships and carried down the west coast of New Spain, down to Santiago de Chile; and then maybe right back over to Buenos Aires, the same handkerchief. The cost actually kept pyramiding.
They deliberately barred the colonies as much as they could from developing their native industries. This led to a great deal of dissatisfaction, as I'm sure you'll remember was the case in the colonies in the United States, if you're up on your American history. There was a big impulse to develop native industries. These, along with other grievances, led the colonies to break loose from Spain.
The revolutionary period of their independence struggle lasted from about 1810 to around 1824, about a fourteen-year period. But Cuba was not among those colonies that were able to break loose. As the struggles developed on the mainland, and in Mexico, and in Central America, those who were most bitterly opposed to the freedom struggle, the refugees and the emigres, all landed in Cuba. Cuba became a sort of Miami of its time. All the counterrevolutionaries went to Cuba, strengthening the counterrevolutionary forces there.
In addition, Spain kept armies in Cuba which were much larger than all the armies they had in all the rest of South America, because Cuba was the prize colony in the estimation of Spain. It was known as the "Pearl of the Antilles." Columbus said when he first discovered it that it was the fairest land that man had ever set eyes on. They hung onto Cuba as grimly as they could. There were a number of additional reasons that kept Cuba from breaking loose and finding its freedom.
There was a struggle for power between the United States, Great Britain, and France. In this jockeying around, all of them reached the decision that none of the others could have Cuba. Their policy was to bar the others from taking Cuba, and thereby keep Cuba in Spain's hands. None of them would agree to Cuba's freedom. All these things worked together.
great social problems of Cuban society
Over the centuries, three great problems began to arise in Cuba. The first was the necessity for an agrarian reform. Some of the estates in Cuba amounted to as high as thirty-three thousand, forty thousand acres; even larger than that. I think you'd find certain ones of them were up in the hundreds of thousands of acres. These were vast estates, only partially cultivated, and largely reduced to one or two crops like sugar or tobacco. Sugar was far larger than tobacco, the value of the sugar crop being maybe ninety-five percent, and the tobacco crop about five percent. (This gives you the relation between the main crop and the secondary crop.)
Their next problem was national independence. The Cubans naturally had the same desire for independence, and the same need for independence, that the other Spanish colonies had. But their struggles were long delayed because of these many different circumstances. This problem grew in urgency and became more and more acute as the years went by.
third great problem was the necessity to industrialize Cuba. It was simply an
area which produced raw materials for the industrially advanced countries for
many years, particularly Spain, which sent the materials into other areas. Spain
itself was in the peculiar position of not developing its own industries. So in
this country too, like the other Spanish colonies, there was a tremendous need
for industrialization. These were the three problems in Cuba that kept growing
in urgency over the years.
Cuban independence struggle
The Cuban independence struggle began in 1868, under Maceo and other leaders. It was fought for about ten years. There were huge forces involved in this, relatively speaking--peasant armies, guerilla forces, which began fighting in the eastern part of the island, in Oriente, and then moved towards the west.
They put up a very strong struggle during that ten-year period. There was a revolution in the 1860's in Spain, which facilitated this struggle. But when the revolution came to an end in Spain, the crown made big concessions to the Cuban struggle, both verbal concessions, and real concessions, and so the struggle for independence died down about 1878. It was not resumed until around 1895.
it began again under the leadership of Jose Marti. For three years the struggle
mounted in intensity, as it had in the previous period. By 1898 they were very
near victory. It seemed that Cuba, being the last colony to break out of freedom
from Spain, would have had a very interesting career in the coming period.
At that precise moment, the United States took over Cuba. The date is quite important--1898--because this is generally taken by serious students of the question as marking the beginning of capitalist imperialism in its finance stage, finance capital or-monopoly stage capitalism. It's the point that Lenin marks as the emergence of modern imperialism. That was the Spanish-American war, which brought the United States into world prominence as a leading contender for world power.
The turning point was when it conquered and took over Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. They went down there under the guise of helping the Cuban freedom fighters, but they ended up with the Philippines and Puerto Rico as well as Cuba. They put an occupation army in Cuba.
When the United States took Cuba over, it accentuated Cuba's uneven development. Instead of filling in the parts where they were backward, or where they were underdeveloped, the United States accentuated those uneven sides of its development. Big investments were made, particularly in the sugar industry, which gave an enormous impulsion to the development of the sugar industry. Large investments were begun in mining, which is another raw-material industry.
mines in Cuba, which are very rich, especially in copper and nickel, produced
ore in a form which was then shipped out of Cuba and refined in the United
States. It wasn't even refined in Cuba. The uneven characteristics of Cuba's
development were accentuated by the United States. From the four-year period
when they had an occupation army--1898-1902--up until January of 1959, the
condition of the peasants and the poor people in Cuba became worse than they
workers worse off
Some improvements were made in general by the U.S. in stamping out yellow fever, etc. But the living conditions, the way the people lived, were actually worse than they had been before. It was a common observation in Cuba to note that the peasant in Cuba was worse off right now, in modern times, than he was when Columbus discovered Cuba. He lived in exactly the same kind of house, a bohio made out of bark and the.fronds from a certain kind of paIm-tree down there called the Royal Palm. It makes a miserable hut, even though it is a royal tree. They lived in these miserable things, with a bare earth floor, quite open to insects and to the weather, especially the rain. Their food, etc., was on a very low level. They were worse off after four centuries than before the Spaniards brought western civilization to Cuba.
Cuba became a tremendous field for investment. At one stage, U.S. investments in Cuba were as large as they were in all of the rest of Latin America, if not larger. I don't have the exact figures at hand, but you can verify this very easily. Even when the takeovers occurred in Cuba, the size of the American investments was very large in proportion to what they were in the rest of the world. They measure up something like the ones in Canada. They completely dominated Cuba, especially around the development of the sugar industry. Cuba's whole development was very, very uneven under the Spaniards, and it became accentuated under American control. This gave us some very interesting combinations.
Cuba had the biggest sugar mills in the world. You may not realize how big a sugar mill can be, but they are tremendous things, situated outside of the cities, in the countryside, on the plantations. The sugar plantations surround the sugar mill. For miles and miles and miles, nothing grows there but sugar, which is hauled into the sugar mill, the Central, when the crop is ripe.
These vast plantations were the most efficient in the world. The soil was ideal for sugar growing, and the skills that were developed over many years were applied to the production of both the growing of sugar and its grinding. They had the biggest and most efficient sugar industry in the entire world on this small island. Yet those who worked this, the agricultural proletariat, were among the worst-off in the world. They not only lived in these miserable huts which I mentioned before, the bohios, but the bohios were situated wherever the worker might find a place for it.
They had two divisions: one was a company town around the Central, living in barracks, in the most miserable of places, like some of the company towns you'd find in the mining towns in the western United States. Then, there were those who had families, who would build their bohio just along the side of the road, because that was the only place to build it. Like on the shoulder of a road, they'd just build their hut right there.
Another place they'd build them would be in the fire lanes, the guardarrayas as they're called in Cuba. These are areas that are driven out to the sugar cane fields in order to make a fire break. It's like a fire lane; you have these in the west, in the forests. Around Los Angeles, you know what a fire lane is. That's where they would build their homes. If they grew anything to eat, it would be right around this small little place. This is the way they lived, right around the most enormous sugar mills in the entire world.
On top of that, they were only employed for three months a year, a great convenience to the sugar mill owners. They only had to pay them while they were working three months in the year, and then, because it's a very nice climate, they had to scrounge for themselves the other nine months.
So, in the relative polarization of the class struggle in Cuba, there were extreme opposites. On the one side, enormous wealth, largely centered in Wall Street. On the other side, the most miserable conditions among the workers. Extreme polarization of wealth and of poverty in Cuba. Quite in accordance with Marx, although I'm not sure that the Wall Street investors had read Marx and deliberately were trying to carry out what he said about the impoverishment of the working class.
The normal pattern in Cuba, as these investments were made, was to extend these plantations on a vast scale. The extensions were done sometimes in the most illegal way, through corrupt government officials, who would give away a great extent of land, thousands and thousands of acres, for maybe just being paid off one way or another. Or they would pay a phenomenal sum like five or ten cents an acre for this beautiful land. Where the peasants did have the wholesome land, they were driven off. Driven right off the land; and let them argue in court as to who actually owned that land, and whether or not they could establish that their ownership went back to the time of Columbus.
Thus, you have this other strange development--the extension of great big plantations, and the driving of the peasants off the land in modern times--exactly as if it were back in the days of the accumulation of primitive capital. So Cuba had this combination--a big sea of backwardness, of misery, of disease, of hunger, and ninety to ninety-five percent of the poor people in Cuba had some kind of tropical disease that could have been cured or prevented with a minimum amount of attention to health. Also you had this great big sea of illiteracy: one-third of the people unable to read or write, disease-ridden, hungry, without work, unemployed. And right in the midst of this sea, you have one of the most glittering playgrounds of rich tourists in the entire world.
was a playground of the rich American tourists. it was quite a spectacular
place. You could put Las Vegas in one corner of Havana, and Las Vegas is really
a piker compared to what they had in Havana in the way of odd forms of pleasure.
I won't go into those. Seamen might be able to tell us about some of the things
they've heard about Havana. So you have the American standard of living, which
is very high, flaunted right in the faces of the people in Havana. The rich
tourists themselves coming there and demonstrating how things are done in
America, and how the Cubans should live if they had better sense than they had.
These were the conditions in Cuba.
It was the same way in politics. You had the strange combination that, ninety miles from America with all its boasted freedoms--you know that we're the freest country in the world and that we have the greatest democracy the earth has ever known-ninety miles from that, you have some of the most dictatorial and repressive of regimes that the world has ever seen.
them are especially notorious: the Machado regime which began about 1924 and
lasted until 1933, and the Batista regime, which in two phases was especially
brutal, the last phase lasting from 1952 to 1959. Right off the shore, ninety
miles from home, one of the most dictatorial regimes the world has known. All
these strange combinations were intensified by the United States: the problem of
the agrarian reform, the need for a rounded development of their industries, and
the need for national independence. These became more and more acute with the
passage of time.
tasks of the Cuban revolution
From this we can easily draw the conclusion, looking back at the theory of the permanent revolution, that what Cuba needed was a good bourgeois revolution, like ours in 1776, or like the one in France, which converted France from a feudal paradise into a model capitalist country at the end of the eighteenth century. The big problem was to end landlordism, which, in its essence, is a hangover from the feudalistic system of economy. Landlordism in which the principal landlords were American landholders and Spanish landholders, and some Cubans.
To win their national freedom was another big necessity. National freedom being necessary for them to develop their own industries, and thereby to open the way for industrialization.
need was political democracy; that is, to break these dictatorial regimes, which
actually functioned as puppet regimes for Wall Street. Along with this, tied in
with all these needs, was the necessity to raise the cultural level of the
people. First of all, the need to spread literacy and teach people such a simple
thing as to be able to read and write. Then to develop their skills in the
various trades and occupations, and to open up the possibilities for Cuba to
really utilize its great natural resources, that it can take its place in the
modern world. What Cuba needed was a good bourgeois revolution.
The question comes up then, and again, we're looking at this theory of the permanent revolution: why couldn't the Cuban bourgeoisie lead this problem? There were some Cuban capitalists you know, and some Cuban bourgeois figures. Some of the rum industry. Some of the best rum that you ever tasted was made by the skill and hands of the Cuban bourgeoisie. The Cuban bourgeoisie was divided up into three sectors. One of them was predominantly American. Their home address is in the United States.
For example, in the cattle industry, some of the biggest ranches there were held by Americans. One of the prominent ones was the King Brothers Ranch. They have a whole county in Texas where they have the biggest ranch in the United States, with special breeds of cattle, very resistant to the tropical climates. They are supposed to be very good eating. (I never ate one.) They had opened up tremendous ranches in Cuba with their special breed of cattle. I just indicate this as one instance. The mining industry likewise. Predominantly American.
The next important sector of the Cuban bourgeoisie were the Spaniards. That is, they were born in Spain, and they were really Spanish citizens, and they were really tied in with Spain more than they were with Cuba. That was Spanish capital, owned by Spanish stockholders. They were interlocked with the Americans.
Finally, there were the Cuban bourgeoisie, who in this scale were at the very bottom of these layers. The Cuban bourgeoisie was especially subservient, real lickspittles. What they actually did was to play the role of native agents of Wall Street.
was nothing independent about them whatsoever. Their whole outlook was geared
into that of Wall Street. It was common knowledge that the most important figure
in Cuba was not the dictator, but the ambassador from the United States who
talked things over with the dictator. The dictator would then carry out things
according to the will of the American ambassador. The Cuban bourgeoisie was
Cuban petty bourgeoisie
What about the petty bourgeois class in Cuba, especially around Havana? They were exceptionally weak. I'm talking now about the figures like Carlos Prio Socarras. He's a typical one, a bourgeois, or petty bourgeois democrat who really believes in democracy, so far as it works, and so far as he can apply it. But the limits for that are very narrow in Cuba, and he knows what's possible and what isn't possible. There were a number of others, and each of them had a party of one kind or another. There were the Autenticos, for example, one large party in Cuba which was democratic in character. But these democrats in Cuba were tied in very closely with the militarists.
Cuba had a large military establishment. It was built and constructed under American auspices, with American military aid, with American money, with American knowhow, and with American military missions from the very beginning of the century. This whole military machine was constructed under the supervision of the U.S.
democrats in Cuba, without exception, were tied into this military machine to
one degree or another. In all big questions they bowed to this military machine,
and went along with what it wanted. The final control, and the final arbiter in
Cuban politics, were the military forces, that is, this professional army, of
which the leading exponent was Fulgencio Batista. The Cuban democrats operated
on the sufferance of this military force. They were not in a very good position
to lead a revolution in Cuba, although sometimes they talked very militantly
about the need for a solution to some of these questions that were on
What about the Cuban peasants? Was it possible for them to lead a revolution? Well, you know from what we learned yesterday in regard to this theory of the permanent revolution that it was not a very likely possibility. As in other countries, the Cuban peasantry was scattered over the countryside, isolated from each other. Communications were very poor in Cuba. In some areas no roads whatsoever existed, only narrow trails, and even those were scarcely passable at certain times of the year. They were divorced and separated from the main cultural and political stream.
addition, there were many divisions among them. The poorest of all, who were
semiproletarian, or almost proletarian, worked around the sugar mills. Some had
isolated farms in the mountains or isolated patches of land in the mountains.
Others had larger areas of land, say like a hundred and sixty to four or five
hundred acres, and who hired workers in the season to help them on their farms.
For these reasons, it seemed excluded that the Cuban peasantry could constitute
itself as a homogeneous political force, and lead a revolution of the kind that
Cuban working class
What about the Cuban proletariat, the Cuban workers? Was it possible for them to lead this revolution, this bourgeois revolution? The Cuban workers are quite interesting from this viewpoint. They began to become radicalized in the 1920s, under the impulse of the October Revolution. As we recall, in the theory of the permanent revolution, it was believed and projected that when the October Revolution would occur--they didn't know the date yet--it would give enormous impulse to socialist revolution in Western Europe and throughout the world. One of the places that it turned out to be true was in Cuba. The October Revolution had big impact on the workers in Cuba. And in 1925, a Communist Party was organized in Cuba and it grew in strength.
By the time of the fall of Machado--he was known as the Butcher of Cuba (that was before Batista's time) he was a ferocious dictator--there was a brilliant opportunity for the Cuban workers to lead the kind of revolution that Cuba needed.
As a matter of fact, the thing that brought Machado down in 1933 was a general strike. A general strike that swept clear across Cuba from one end to the other of all the workers. That was what finally convinced Machado's friends that it was time for him to take a plane and get out of Cuba. He did, and the contingents of the revolutionaries came out on the field just in time to see him take off. They fired their guns at him. Unfortunately, they didn't hit him. There were bullet holes in the plane when he landed in Florida.
From 1933 to 1935, it still seemed that in Cuba there was every chance for a successful revolution. There were repeated strike waves in Cuba. In the sugar industry, and in other industries, there were strike waves that occurred almost spontaneously, one strike after another in that two-year period. This was before Batista had consolidated his power, when he was still weak, and it was uncertain as to what would be his exact course when he did consolidate that power. These strikes were so militant, and went so far, that in many places in Cuba the plants were taken over by the workers. (This was before the sitdown strikes in the United States.) Plants were taken over by the workers in Cuba, and some sugar mills were taken over.
even further: in many areas of Cuba they established soviets. Workers' councils
were established in Cuba in that period, in 1935. It seemed as though they had
every possibility, under the impulse of the proletariat, that it would be
possible for a revolutionary party, a revolutionary socialist party in Cuba, to
move into power and to carry out the bourgeois revolution that Cuba needed. But
here we come into a complication, which I'm sure most of you were expecting. And
that's the perfidious role of Stalinism.
Stalinized Cuban Communist Party
The Cuban Communist Party became Stalinized about the time the American Communist Party became Stalinized. By 1930, it was pretty much under the domination of the Stalinists. In the early 1930s they followed a policy which paralleled that of the Communist Party in other countries, which was extremely ultraleftist. They called for armed uprisings in Cuba, and they actually engaged in a few adventures of that kind. As a consequence, the Communist Party took quite a setback even before Machado fell from power because of its extreme ultraleftism. It took a setback, and lost a good deal of influence. But it again made a comeback after Machado fell, in 1933, as the workers began to move in greater force and power in Cuba.
In 1934, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who some know by the initials FDR, concluded a pact with Stalin, a peaceful coexistence pact. One of the items that was involved in this pact was, quite clearly, the Communist Party in Cuba. That was one part of the package deal. The Communist Party in Cuba very shortly shifted over to support of Batista. They pictured Batista as a man of the people, which he was, with his origins as a bartender and odd-job worker in various parts of the country.
He became a stenographer in the army, and had a considerable capacity, especially in military politics. They depicted him as a man of the people and a good democrat. They put all their forces behind Batista. As he moved into greater power, they took a share of the responsibility for governing the country. Their main responsibility was to keep the workers from getting too much out of hand.
Batista was a shrewd politician, and he was quite willing to accept the help of the CP. He utilized the CP for many years in the Thirties to contain the working class and to prevent them from moving into a prominent position or a ruling position in Cuba. Batista also made some concessions to the workers. There were some wage increases, especially to a rather thin layer of the workers in big monopolies. The electrical monopoly, the electrical trust, was one place where some concessions were made. He even went farther. In the 1940 constitution he wrote down many concessions of a progressive character. Workers couldn't be fired from a job in Cuba without just cause. And you could carry your case to a Labor Court. They actually enforced this under Batista. There were other provisions in this 1940 constitution that were quite okay, so far as they were written in a constitution.
The role of the CP, in supporting Batista, led to a decline in its influence. Gradually, the CP was replaced by a different type of trade-union leader. It was replaced by the type known as "Mujalistas" after Eusebio Mujal, who began as a member of the Communist Party, but under Batista became more and more simply a Batista agent; until that's what he actually turned out to be, an agent of the capitalist state in Cuba in charge of the trade unions
The trade unions were harnessed to the government. It became impossible for the workers to move through their own unions. They would have had to reorganize them from top to bottom in order to move through that channel.
general was the role of Stalinism in Cuba. As you can see, it boiled down to a
very simple business, which was to prevent the workers from moving into a
position where they could carry out the bourgeois revolution that Cuba needed.
Now, a word about the Trotskyists. They were a minor current in Cuban politics. The split in the Cuban Communist Party over the issue of Trotskyism vs Stalinism, that is between permanent revolution and socialism in one country, if you pose it on a theoretical level--this occurred in the early 1930s. It was even before or about the time that the CP began to move leftward, I would say about 1929 or 1930 insofar as I've been able to determine. I'm not too familiar with all the exact details. They were a minor current in Cuban politics, but well-known. Their main base was in Oriente, especially around Guantanamo. That's the city, it's not the bay. We always think of the bay, and the American naval base, but there's a large city in eastern Cuba named Guantanamo. They were well known there as militants, and figures in the labor movement.
By 1935, there were few forces moving in the direction of Trotskyism. One of them was an outstanding figure by the name of Antonio Guiteras, who is now one of the heroes in Cuba. They named the electrical plant in Havana after him just last year. I think it was last summer. Antonio Guiteras. He was moving in the direction of Trotskyism, and he was the sort of figure that Fidel Castro is considered today, that's the kind of figure Guiteras was; a man very much concerned about Cuba's fate, determined that it could only come in a revolutionary direction, and searching for an organization and the mounting of a movement that would bring Cuba out of its impasse.
In 1935 he was going to leave Cuba and go to Mexico as an exile, in order to operate from abroad. It seems like every one of these movements at a certain stage has to go abroad and establish a base among the Cubans who are in other countries, in order to gather funds, and get organized. As his trip was planned, they were betrayed. They were captured, and they were killed by Batista. Guiteras was killed, and it seems that the Trotskyists never recovered from this blow.
Periodically, the CP in nearly all countries has been able to go through big declines, due very often to the perfidious types of policies that they carry out. But then they recover, due to the influence of the Soviet Union, which continues to remain an attractive center. When new forces come into play in political life, they turn toward the Soviet Union as the great example of a successful revolution, and the Stalinists were thereby able to recoup their positions. The Trotskyists are not able to do that, since they have to base themselves purely on independent positions that are developed by the workers themselves through their own experience. This has been repeated many times, and was repeated in Cuba.
Trotskyists existed in the 1930s up until the 40s--we were in touch with them during the 1940s. Some of our seamen comrades who were on the runs in that direction used to see them regularly. They were reinforced by some refugees from Germany, who had escaped from Hitler's terror. They lived in Havana for awhile, but they remained a minor current. What finally happened to them was, that as Castro's movement developed force in 1953 to 1956, some of the leading Trotskyists in Cuba joined his movement. They became very good members of the July 26th Movement, but not so good as Trotskyists. We lost touch with them after awhile.
I knew one of them in particular. They used to come up to New York, to collect funds, and he'd tell me some of the experiences that he would have with the Castro movement in Mexico * That was when they were in exile. And he was one of the figures that was in the Granma Expedition, and one of the twelve who escaped up onto the Pico Turquino. We tried to look him up in Cuba in recent times, and apparently he's become meshed into the government apparatus. And we're not sure exactly what he'd doing, but so far as being a Trotskyist is concerned, he is very quiescent. He is not a prominent July 26th figure, either.
that we've summed up these various class forces in Cuba--the bourgeoisie, the
peasantry, the proletariat, and these various tendencies--the situation appeared
to be hopeless. There was no available force to lead the bourgeois revolution
that Cuba needed. A great vacuum had been created in radical leadership in Cuba,
a tremendous vacuum. The July 26th Movement filled this vacuum. So I'll just
spend a few minutes now on the July 26th Movement, to give an indication of what
this movement was like.
July 26th Movement
The July 26th Movement was led by petty bourgeois figures who became interested in politics while they were on the Havana campus. Havana University has an old tradition of radicalism and of political activities.
I can remember when I was going to the University of Utah, a long, long time ago, that Havana University was always in the news. Some of us at the University of Utah compared political activities on our own campus very unfavorably with those that were occurring in Havana. Politics on the campus I was on was mostly fraternity faction fighting for posts and privileges and things that were available in student politics. At the University of Havana, -the students were all engaged in national politics: big issues and big deals. They were out there fighting in the streets, and that seemed to us a very fine thing. We couldn't convince many people around the University of Utah that that was the correct course, to follow that example. Those were the kind of leaders that came to the July 26th Movement, that formed it.
They emerged from the Ortodoxo Movement, which was a splitoff from the Autenticos, one of the democratic parties in Cuba. They began as the leading exponents of the views of the Ortodoxo Party, but Castro gradually moved away from their positions to establish an independent position. And finally he split from the Ortodoxo Movement and founded the July 26th Movement. In fact, he founded the movement before he split. He split about 1955, and he founded his movement in 1953.
They operated on one main principle. This was the most interesting feature of this entire movement. This main principle was the necessity for violent overthrow of the government, which was quite legal in Cuba. They advocated it, they organized for it, they fought for it, they staked their lives on this one main principle.
In relation to all the other forces in Cuba, they had this one main proposition they put on the table, in case of alliances or in case of collaboration, that whoever they worked with, they would have to agree to this one principle: that whoever they worked with would have to agree to one principle: to overthrow Batista by force and violence. And they didn't just go by words. They demanded deeds.
have you had shot? What have you tried to overthrow? Where are your guns? What
guns did you capture from the soldiers? What money are you giving us in the
mountains? Cash on the barrelhead, that's the only thing they understood, the
only thing they talked about. They disregarded words. They were very good at
looking past what people said, to what they did. They became real experts at
that. That was its main principle on the political level.
organizational character of the July 26th Movement
On the organizational side, they were just as interesting, because what they did was to form an organization that was already known in political history. That was an organization along the lines set up by Louis Auguste Blanqui, who was a great revolutionary figure in France in the nineteenth century. I can't remember offhand now when he actually began his organization, but it was probably in the 1830s. He spent about thirty-eight years in prison because of his views on this question. What he did was set up a highly conspiratorial organization, an elite of revolutionaries who were bound by a completely iron discipline, no ifs, ands, or buts, but just one figure in control of the organization. That was Blanqui.
He gave the orders, he determined the dates of everything; everything went according to what Blanqui said, no ifs, ands, or buts, a highly disciplined organization. They operated on the theory that if they would seize a government, say like City Hall, and they broadcast the news to the workers, that the workers would respond by rallying to their cause and they could then sweep out the government and put in a workers' government. They tried that a few times.
The first few times, they created quite a sensation, but the workers, not knowing what was up, stayed at home. The cops came in and captured the whole force, and sent them to prison. After this happened two or three times, Blanqui himself came to the conclusion that this was not the best way to organize, that it was necessary first to spend a lot of time preparing the ground in a propagandistic way. But his organization went ahead under its own steam, and created more situations like that. And each time, they'd arrest Blanqui and put him in prison. He spent about thirty-eight years in prison.
But to show you how prominent a figure he was, it's been held by some students of the movement that if Blanqui had been out of prison at the time of the Paris Commune (he was in prison at that time, and was already an old man then), and had been functioning in the Commune, he would have known the correct steps to have taken so that the Commune would not have been overthrown as it was. There were all kinds of errors that the Commune made that Blanqui would not have made with his experience. But he was in prison.
was the kind of organization that was set up by the July 26th Movement, and it
operated along the lines that Blanqui had worked out for his organization. This
was a very interesting development, that in modern times something like this
would appear, and in Cuba of all places, under Castro.
ideology of the July 26th Movement
In ideology, they picked up where the Cuban independence fighters had left off in 1895 and 1898. They began with a bourgeois democracy all up and down the line. That's what they were fighting for: bourgeois democracy, or a bourgeois program. Very briefly, they were first of all for an agrarian reform. That was the biggest point in their platform, an agrarian reform. Second, the establishment of political democracy. In other words, end the tyrannical dictatorship and establish political democracy. Third, the independence of Cuba: its freedom from American influence and the establishment of true national independence. And finally, the industrialization of Cuba. Its complete industrialization, the rounding out of its economy.
were all bourgeois demands. There's nothing wrong with them being bourgeois
demands. That's just what they happen to be. The whole point of the theory of
the permanent revolution is that these demands can only be carried out by the
workers being in power, establishing their dictatorship and then carrying out
these reforms. But in Cuba, it turned out that there was a petty bourgeois force
that advanced these demands, and advanced them very vigorously, and in action,
not just in words.
These are observations I'd like to make. In Cuba, the bourgeoisie were incapable of carrying out this bourgeois-democratic program. We know the reasons for that: according to the theory of the permanent revolution, this program can only be undertaken by a proletarian dictatorship. That was the theory of the permanent revolution as it was developed in 1905, and as it was held after the October Revolution up until the early 1930s. But in this case, in Cuba, this program was espoused by a petty bourgeois political formation, and they carried it out, although the permanent revolution excludes that possibility.
because we know that the petty bourgeoisie, from all historic experience, is
incapable of carrying out such a program. That is because they split on big
questions like war or revolution. Part of them go to the bourgeoisie, and part
of them towards the proletariat. Now we have to ask the question: was the theory
of the permanent revolution verified in Cuba, and if so, to what degree? Let's
look just a little bit more closely at exactly what happened in Cuba.
actual course of the revolution
The July 26th Movement took some big steps when it came into power. First, it carried out the agrarian reform in two ways: one, it gave land, individual plots of land, to the peasants. This occurred all over Cuba, but especially in Oriente, in the mountainous areas. They also carried out the agrarian reform by taking over the big estates and converting them into cooperative farms, which began to employ thousands of workers, all year-round, by varying the crops. (Before the agrarian reform there had only been maybe ten, fifteen, twenty, or a couple of hundred workers employed on growing a very few crops.) That's on the agrarian reform side, a very thorough and deep-going agrarian reform.
Then they went further than that. They began to put controls on industry, and more. First, they began to nationalize the industries that were held by the Batista followers, and Batista politicians. They took those over, nationalized them. Then they began to move toward other nationalizations, but always under the impulsion from the United States. You are all familiar with what occurred there in regard to the nationalizations. They reached such a point, that by the end of 1960, from say August to October of that year, they had completely taken over everything in Cuba of any size whatsoever. All the major industries, and especially the sugar industry, the key industry in Cuba. They took these over completely, and they began to institute a planned economy.
In other words, they shifted from purely bourgeois measures. They carried out a prolonged class struggle, and they finally reached the point where they began to take socialist measures, that is, measures that are socialist in principle: the complete nationalization of industry, its organization by the state, and the introduction of a planned economy.
In this respect we see an exact fulfillment of the permanent revolution. In other words, according to the permanent revolution, a dictatorship of the proletariat is established, and it opens up a class struggle that exists over a longer or shorter period of time. Time is not specified. It can be a longer period or a shorter period. But this dictatorship opens up this class struggle, and first it carries out measures of a bourgeois revolution.
We're all familiar now with what those measures are. The impulse of the revolution is so great, or the class struggle becomes so deep, that they have to go beyond these simple measures, and eventually they begin to take socialist measures. By taking these socialist-type measures, they begin to alter the whole character of the state so that it changes from the base that it had had previously, when it came into power, to a completely different kind of state. In this process, the very institutions of the state are changed, from what they were in the beginning under the bourgeoisie, they finally end up as a completely different type of state institution.
In Cuba, it's quite clear what the new state institutions are. They are the Revolutionary Army, the Revolutionary Police, (that's a strange combination--"Revolutionary" "Police"), the militia, the unions, which have been organized from top to bottom, the Defense Councils--we don't know too much about those but we do know that they are being organized by the tens of thousands clear across Cuba.
every city, every village, every part of Cuba, the Defense Councils are being
organized. In addition, there are the Technical Advisory Councils, which are
organs that are set up for workers to have a voice and part control in
management. A whole series of different organizations and institutions are set
up, which are conducting a planned economy, and are committed to a planned
economy. Together they constitute a qualitatively different kind of state
institution from what they had at the beginning under Batista.
All of this is exactly as predicted in the permanent revolution: this whole problem of continuous revolution is exactly as predicted in the permanent revolution, except that in one of the main points, the very point that's most familiar to the permanent revolution--that it was not done under a proletarian dictatorship. It was not done under the guidance of a revolutionary socialist party taking power. That didn't occur. So it seems that we're in the position that the permanent revolution was both confirmed, very brilliantly, and not confirmed, not so brilliantly, in this key point. That is what's special about the permanent revolution: that this is done under the government of the proletariat through their revolutionary socialist party.
That gives us a problem now. We just can't say that the permanent revolution was confirmed in every jot and tittle, and let it a at that, with this big gap in there; and on the other hand, we just can't say, well, it's been put to the test, and it's lacking in certain respects, so there's a big question mark over the theory of the permanent revolution , and leave it like that. We can't do that, at least from a theoretical viewpoint.
demands its own rights and its own logic. So you have to account for this
deviation. We have found, in our study of Cuba, that this deviation is accounted
for by new forces on the international arena which did not exist at the time the
permanent revolution was first projected in 1905, or was carried out in 1917.
I'm sure that some of you at least are quite familiar with these new forces. But
just let me indicate them now, so that we'll have them before us on the table,
and make this theoretically rounded.
forces in the world
These are all on the international arena. First of all, the deviation was due to the fact that capitalism, on the whole, has entered an era of decline. Capitalism today is quite different from what it was in 1905 or in 1917. This is shown clearest of all in the very center of world imperialism, right here in the United States. It's still plenty powerful. But, relatively speaking, it has taken a whole series of defeats and setbacks which could not have been dreamed of in 1905 or even in 1917, or in the early 1920s. Cuba finds itself in a world situation quite different from that visualized at the time the permanent revolution was projected.
of the Soviet bloc
Number two, and this is just as important, is the strength of the Soviet bloc. There was no Soviet bloc in 1905 to exercise an influence. There was no Soviet bloc in 1917 to exercise an influence. But today, there is a Soviet bloc of tremendous power, next to imperialism in power. What's especially important about it, from a theoretical viewpoint, is this: that a planned economy exists in the Soviet Union as a living example. In every country, the leaders of all countries, no matter what class they are, can see this living example in front of their eyes. And even if it's distorted, even if it's not as good as it should be, still, it stands there.
theoretical viewpoint, it stands as a programmatic point: planned economy. A
program can begin with words on pieces of paper, and that can be transferred
into a living organization. People carry out this program, and finally it
becomes an institution, or a number of institutions, governments, economies. It
takes that form in its final stages. Here you have a revolutionary socialist
program in the form of a planned economy, standing as a living example. That
didn't exist in 1905 or in 1917. It has an influence on every country.
of the colonial revolution
Then there is the rise of the colonial revolution, occurring all over the world, gives a special impact and force to every sentiment, in every part of the world, even outside of the areas where it's most active. For example, the Algerian revolution has been conducted for seven or eight years now against France. In Cuba, the example of the Algerians is held up every week in Cuba, to show what the Algerians could do against an imperialist Dower like France; well think what the Cubans could do against America.
other words, the struggle is not hopeless, no matter how big the power is. They
are in touch with each other, the Algerians and the Cubans. They send missions
back and forth. The same is true with other areas where there is a colonial
revolution. So the colonial revolution has a direct influence on Cuban politics.
This is not well known in our country, where we're isolated and kept behind
several kinds of walls and curtains.
default Of Stalinism
}The next big item which we must list is the default of Stalinism. In 1930, Cuba could have had its revolution, its bourgeois revolution, which then could have gone over to a socialist revolution in 1933-35. But due to the role of Stalinism, this did not occur. But there is a certain payment that occurs. Not only a paYment of a setback, and of a defeat, but there's also a payment that Stalinism itself has to pay, even though it seems to recover from it. The end result is that it creates a vacuum. This vacuum now opens up possibilities for new leadership formations. Especially revolutionary socialist formations.
So when you have a form of leadership come along like the Castro leadership, which occupies this vacuum, it's manifest that its tendency must be in a revolutionary socialist direction if it is to succeed. It has no other choice. It can sell out, and create another default. The vacuum becomes bigger. But the main tendency is towards the building of revolutionary socialist leaderships throughout the world. And formations like the Castro leadership, considered over a long-range viewpoint, give us the greatest hope, because what they have done is bypass Stalinism and open up completely new perspectives for us.
are the main determinants that have occurred on the international arena which
make it necessary for us to make a certain modification in a minor extent, on
our theory, when we check it. Let me try to summarize now.
The theory of the permanent revolution was drawn up as a result of experience. In the main sequence of revolution, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism, we have not yet had the experience of going directly from capitalism to socialism; but we have had the experience of the permanent revolution. This was drawn up as an expression of the experience of the 1904, 05, 06 revolution in Russia, checked back with the experience of 1848-1850 under Karl Marx. This theory was drawn up as a result of experience in revolution. That's one of the main things to note about it.
Within that experience which it expressed, the theory of the permanent revolution allowed some variations. It is not a mathematically perfect formula, which had to be filled out with every single number in the formula. It allows some variations, particularly in the beginning of the revolution. In that sense, even the permanent revolution, although it is an arithmetical expression of Lenin's algebraic formulation about the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry -- still, even within the permanent revolution, there's a certain algebraic formulation in regards to the beginning of the revolution. If you study it very carefully, you will notice that Trotsky leaves open the possibility for some variants in the beginning of the revolution.
In 1922, the Fourth Congress of the Communist International took up this special point, which is only a very small special point in the whole theory of the permanent revolution, and it foresaw the possibility of other regimes than the dictatorship of the-proletariat beginning the revolution -- not ending it, but beginning it. It began this process of the permanent revolution in a country like Cuba.
Part of the following of the July 26th movement moved in the direction of the counterrevolution, that is, towards the bourgeoisie and towards Wall Street. You could count them as they took their planes and ships, and put on their swimming wings, and swam from Cuba over to Florida. I don't know how many thousands there were, but you could name them as they came across. Many of them were supporters in the opening stages of the revolution and had backed the Castro movement.
One section went in that direction, and another section went in the direction of the proletariat. That's quite obvious, because at a certain point, the movement itself declared that the revolution was socialist in character. So obviously, they had to move in a proletarian direction. They finally ended up last May with Castro himself declaring that it was a socialist revolution. This confirmed the main line of the theory of the permanent revolution.
What was novel about it was the fact that the when the petty bourgeoisie split, and one part went toward the bourgeoisie and the other part went toward the proletariat, one of the sections that went toward the proletariat was the leadership of this petty bourgeois movement. That was a great historic accident. A very rare one -- the fact that a man like Castro would chose that course, rather than the other course, towards the bourgeoisie. I could find dozens and dozens of examples where this law of the permanent revolution is exemplified, where the petty bourgeoisie split between the big forces, and virtually all of them, and especially the leaders, go towards the bourgeoisie. This is one of the rare occasions when you had something, else happen.
Now strictly in accordance with the theory of the permanent revolution, although the sequence is out of order, is the organization of a new party, which is obviously on the order of the day in Cuba, and which has been talked about by some of the leaders. The composition of it has even been specified. The direction of this party is clearly in the direction of revolutionary socialism.
Another point that directly confirms the main line of the theory of the permanent revolution is the fact that the extension of this revolution throughout Latin America is high on the agenda.
You can hardly pick up a paper without hearing some news about some representative of Cuba or Castro being in trouble in one country or another because he's hauling in propaganda, or because he was speaking to some local organization and telling them about the Cuban revolution, and why it should be an example to them. It's extending along these lines. I've also seen that it's having a big impact inside of the Soviet Union through the exchange of missions between Cuba and Russia.
see I went overtime, unfortunately.
Transcription from audio tape: Jamaka Nesta Perrier
Editing, sub-heads, web-preparation: Walter Lippmann