Cuba and World Socialist Revolution
An introduction to the special Cuba edition of Socialist Viewpoint1 (Reprint)
The socialist revolution in Cuba is almost as important a conquest for the world working class as the Russian Revolution of October 1917. The fact that it took place in a small island nation with a population of only 11 million does not diminish its importance.
Both the Cuban and Russian revolutions will go down in history as having had a profound impact on world events. The very survival of socialist Cuba, as well as the new ground it has conquered, makes a contribution to the world working class and its socialist future as important as the Russian socialist revolution in a nation that encompassed one-sixth of the land area of the world.
The Cuban revolution was able to survive its difficult birth in a hostile imperialist world due to the fact that up until the end of the 1980s, many of the basic conquests of the Russian revolution were still alive. This was despite the Stalinist bureaucratic dictatorship’s betrayal of the workers’ council form of workers’ democracy and the original Bolshevik goal of world socialist revolution.
Soviet Russia and its client states were compelled to come to the aid and assistance of the Cuban revolution. The Stalinists were forced to take this road only because it served the Soviet bureaucracy’s own narrow interests as a parasitic caste fastened on the body of the workers’ state. Because its own privileges depended on the existence of the remaining conquests of the Russian socialist revolution, it came to the aid of Cuba’s own socialist revolution.
The continued existence of socialist Cuba in the backyard of the American imperialist colossus served as an objective moral and material force strengthening the geopolitical position of the Soviet Union, relative to its deadliest enemy—the U.S.A. Already at the time of the Cuban Revolution, the United States was undisputed leader of world imperialism and rival superpower.
However, after the Soviet Union and its client states in Eastern Europe had capitulated to world imperialism, they no longer had any need to maintain their former mutually beneficial military, political and trade relations with Cuba. These degenerating workers’ states had also been excluded from the world division of labor from the start. But by renouncing socialism, they gained access to the capitalist world market and relatively free access to world trade. From that point on, leaders of the Soviet bloc countries had no economic or geopolitical need to maintain trade and other fraternal relations with Cuba.
Cuba faced stupendous odds after its Stalinist allies left it to defend itself with its own meager resources. But in spite of those odds, Cuba has not only survived the hardships of what they called their Special Period, but has also made amazing progress.
The role of worker’s democracy in Cuba’s recovery from the Special Period
The full impact of the power of the Cuban socialist revolution was registered when it was able to successfully overcome the monumental hardships that it faced when the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European puppets dealt a near-mortal blow to the Cuban revolution. Survival required new sacrifices by Cuban workers and their allies. But in order to make that possible without the use of unnecessary compulsion, the Cuban leadership had to strengthen and extend workers’ democracy. That is, they desperately needed to get much more input from the masses in the making of decisions in order to find the shortest route out of the Special Period and gain new ground.
It could almost be said that the collapse of Stalinism and disintegration of the Soviet Union, like all setbacks, served as a blessing in disguise. In this case, while their generally positive relations with the Soviet bloc served Cuban needs and interests, it had a negative side as well.
That downside came sharply to the surface first in 1962 when one of Cuba’s Stalinist leaders, Anibal Escalante, was discovered to have been organizing a privileged bureaucratic faction in the Cuban government based on personal loyalty to him and to others of his Stalinist comrades. Escalante was using his appointed position in the new government to place aspiring bureaucrats, whom he cultivated to be loyal to him personally, in key positions in the Cuban state apparatus. The benefits they derived from their positions of power came naturally due to their background and training in the Stalinist school of bureaucratic privilege.
The entire Stalinist operation was designed to build a bureaucratic faction primarily interested in using its positions of power and influence to derive self-serving personal and factional privileges. This course of action, if left unchecked, could have led to this faction’s gaining decisive influence over Cuban leadership.
That’s when Castro delivered his historic speech, “Fidel Castro Denounces Bureaucracy and Sectarianism.”2 It was a long speech that was broadcast to the Cuban people on every radio station in the country. Castro and his closest collaborators understood that it had to be done or the embryonic bureaucratic caste could prove fatal to the Cuban Revolution. Under the conditions of extreme scarcity that existed in both the Soviet state and later in revolutionary Cuba, the worst and best in human nature rises to the surface of society. Castro and his leadership team knew that if not stopped in time, bureaucracy would grow into a formidable force inside Cuba.
Escalante was dismissed from his appointed executive positions in the government. This sent a clear message to other of Escalante’s supporters in the leadership—and to every other functionary seeking special privilege—that the central leadership of the Cuban revolution would not tolerate bureaucratic privilege or sectarian factionalism.
Castro and his leadership team certainly knew that they were risking the indispensable aid provided by the Soviet state. That is, in retaliation, Nikita Kruschev, Soviet Premier at the time, might significantly reduce aid to Cuba—though a sharp cut-off seemed to be excluded. After all, the “infallible” Stalinist dictatorship was not known to tolerate the “crime” of thinking for oneself by those they viewed as their subordinates at home and abroad.
As it turned out, Castro’s swift and decisive action evidently convinced Kruschev that the Cuban leadership had minds of their own and would draw the line against any infringement of its independence. That served to convince the Soviet Stalinists that the advantages of an independent Cuban ally far outweighed Castro’s implicit repudiation of Soviet Stalinism’s bureaucratic modus operandi.
But as it also turned out, the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet bloc had advanced to the point of producing one worker uprising after another, starting in 1953 in both East Berlin in East Germany, and Vorkuta, an industrial city in the Soviet Union. From that time on there were worker uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and all across Eastern Europe, uprisings that were directly caused by the bureaucratic dictatorship’s mismanagement of their socialistic economies. These led to the ultimate surrender of the Stalinist bureaucracy to world imperialism and capitalist restoration. By this surrender the bureaucrats were able to maintain their own privileges.
The Special Period and the amazing Cuban recovery
What lies at the root of Cuba’s amazing recovery from the terrible economic setbacks it had suffered during the Special Period that followed the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the Castroist/Guevaraist leadership’s confidence in the revolutionary capacity of workers to think for themselves and decide between opposing positions advanced by leaders and coworkers whom they know and trust.
And so long as the participants in any decision-making body know that they have the right to change their minds, any mistakes that are revealed by the test of experience, can be peacefully corrected in time. That is, decision-making by workers could help prevent one mistake leading to other ever-deeper mistakes, making correction possible only by political revolution.
It is this democratic predisposition toward workers’ democracy by the Castroist leadership that set in motion a process leading to the economic, social and political successes that started in the late 1980s. It has led to the formal establishment of the concrete rules that, taken together, have resulted in significant progress toward the institutionalization of workers’ democracy in Cuba.
However, Cuba has adopted a form of workers’ democracy heavily distorted by the necessity to defend its revolutionary conquests in the face of a powerful enemy determined to crush this prime example of what is possible in a socialist world.
Joseph Hansen discusses and explains the importance of such a development and related matters in his book Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution: the Trotskyist View.3
“Fidel Castro’s ‘notoriously’ long speeches serve as evidence of his democratic methodology. His speeches are loaded with facts about the problems, setbacks and gains of the Cuban economy and how these problems have been overcome, or, alternatively, how new solutions were needed. His speeches may be long, but they are not long-winded. In every case they have been educational, thoughtful, and most importantly, truthful.”
Joe Hansen on world socialism and workers’ democracy in Cuba
Joseph Hansen has contributed significantly to many class-conscious socialist workers’ understanding, including this writer’s, of the remarkable evolution of the Cuban revolution in his book, Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution.
The foresight demonstrated by Hansen was the very last important contribution toward a Marxist understanding of the dialectic process at work in Cuba by the author just before his death in the spring of 1979. We refer to his introduction to the book, which was written just before its publication in the early summer of 1978.
What follows is his summation of the lessons he had drawn from his analysis of the evolution of the Cuban revolution. Hansen wrote:
“The stand taken by the Socialist Workers Party towards the Cuban revolution flows from its initial analysis of that event. It can be summarized in three points:
“1. For defense of the Cuban revolution against all its enemies. As a party within the United States, the SWP considers it to be its special duty to foster the strongest possible political opposition to the main enemy of the revolution, American imperialism. This defense is unconditional—it does not hinge on the attitudes or policies of the Cuban government.
“2. For the development of proletarian forms of democracy in Cuba. The purpose of this is to bring the masses into the decision-making process in the most effective way, thereby strengthening the struggle against bureaucratism. The initiation of workers’ councils would add fresh power to the Cuban revolution as living proof that socialism does not entail totalitarianism but on the contrary signifies the extension of democracy to the oppressed in a way that will lead to the withering away of the state.
“3. For the formation of a Leninist-type party that guarantees internal democracy, that is, the right of critical opinion to be heard. The power of a party that safeguards the right to form tendencies or factions was demonstrated by the Bolsheviks. A replica shaped in accordance with Cuban particularities could do much to induce the formation of similar parties in the rest of the world. This would greatly facilitate resolving the crisis in leadership faced by the proletariat internationally, thereby assuring a new series of revolutionary victories.” (May 1, 1978.)
Forms of workers’ democracy in Cuba
Cuba has indeed developed forms of workers’ democracy, but closer in kind to those discovered by the workers of Paris in 1871—the celebrated Paris Commune. Cuban forms of proletarian democracy, however, developed within the constraints of its need to defend its revolution in the context of a powerful enemy unrelentingly committed to its destruction, a mere 90 miles away.
Another peculiarity affecting Cuba’s freedom of action today is, of course, the mammoth economic collapse it suffered when its only reliable access to a limited multinational division of labor—together with the Soviet Union and its client states—had been transformed almost into their opposites. This was something that the Paris Commune never had the time to face before it was crushed by the combined military might of the victorious Prussian Army and the still formidable Army of French capitalism in less than three months’ time.
Why has workers’ democracy taken three distinctly different forms in Paris in 1871, the Russian October Revolution in 1917, and Cuba today? To better understand why this is so, let’s first take a look at how workers’ democracy in the Paris Commune of 1871 had been shaped in accordance with French conditions at that time, how Russian conditions shaped the soviet-form there, and how Cuban conditions shaped its democratic forms.
The Paris Commune
The most important specific event making possible the remarkable creation of the Paris Commune was the outbreak, earlier (in 1870), of the Franco-Prussian War. It happened, however, at a time when the class struggle in France was already red hot.
By the beginning of 1871, the Prussians had driven the French Army back to the Gates of Paris and had the city encircled.
But virtually every able-bodied worker in Paris had by that time enlisted in the National Guard to defend their homes, their jobs, and their city, and now stood face to face with the Prussian Army. The Prussian Generals, heading the most powerful Army in Europe at the time, saw that a formidable defensive force, determined to give a good account of itself, stood in their way. The generals were forced to pause for some weeks to consider how and when an attempt to break through the resistance and occupy the capital city of France could be accomplished most effectively.
But by that time, the workers of Paris had experienced a most unusual and entirely favorable change in the relation of class forces; the French bourgeoisie, together with its Army and the portion of the National Guard loyal to it, had fled the City of Paris, abandoning the masses to the tender mercies of the Prussian Army. In effect, it was an invitation by French capitalism to its external enemy to crush its own, internal class enemy without fear of resistance from French capitalism.
There has rarely, if ever before, been a time in the history of capitalism when nearly the entire ruling class and its armed bodies of men abandoned its capital city to the total control of an insurgent working class—leaving workers free to carry their insurgency through to the end! Thus, the Paris Commune was relatively peacefully born. It provided the world with the first flesh-and-blood example of a revolutionary democratic workers’ government that had conquered state power, although it was only in one, albeit very important city in France.
The Cubans learned from the Paris Commune lessons that were learned first by Marx and later summarized by Engels and fully documented in Marx’s political analysis in his The Civil War in France:
“From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.…
“Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”4
What Cuba learned from the Russian October Revolution
Russia’s revolutionary leaders utilized the spontaneous formation by Russian workers of soviets (workers councils), in February 1917, that ultimately led to the conquest of state power by the workers months later with the indispensable support of the vast peasant majority. The spontaneous formation of soviets by insurgent Russian workers was a form of workers’ democracy that comes directly from the self-action by workers in and for themselves as a class. That is, the Russian proletariat’s creation of workers’ councils during the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, was then used again in February and then successfully in October 1917.
The first lesson Cuba learned from the October revolution was virtually identical to what they had learned from the Paris Commune. But they also learned from the soviet revolution the need to form and cement relations with other potentially revolutionary sectors of the population. The soldiers, whose rank and file were composed of peasants and workers, reflected in composition the nearly 90 percent peasant and 10 percent worker population of semi-feudal Russia.
Strike committees and the political general strike
For us in the advanced industrial countries of the world, and for those in the emerging industrial societies in the semi-colonial world, the soviet model of workers’ democracy is far more relevant—especially for those of us here in the United States and other of the world’s most advanced industrial societies.
We will begin our discussion of the character of the soviet system of workers’ democracy by first making a few simple but fundamental generalizations about the character and potential of workers and their trade unions so that the reader may get a better feel for the intrinsic power of workers’ democracy based on the workers’ council model.
- First of all, history shows that unions tend to take strike action only when there is no other way to enforce their demands for a living wage and the satisfaction of the other needs and aspirations of the working class.
- Secondly, in order to achieve their purposes, unions are compelled to do more than merely withhold their labor from their employer, and trust that workers will always honor each other’s picket lines. This is especially difficult for the unemployed to do when jobs are exceptionally scarce.
That’s why striking workers must not only explain why they are on strike to potential “replacement workers” who may not be convinced of the importance of class solidarity. It’s also important for workers on strike to make it clear to those coming to take their jobs that they will not make it easy for them to serve the bosses’ strike-breaking aims and purposes.
Thus, when the danger of scab-herding by capitalist goons and cops arises, any well-organized union knows that the only way a union-busting assault can be stopped is by mobilizing the largest picket lines possible.
- Thirdly, history has also shown that on those relatively rare occasions when the conflict between labor and capital has sharpened to the point where it becomes generalized in a single city, the tactic of the general strike for that city’s workers becomes the order of the day. Workers learn from experience that if every worker in a city goes out on strike at once, it is extremely difficult for the city’s employers to find replacement workers. That is, provided that a leadership has been constructed that understands that strikes must be enforced by mass mobilizations of the working class to make them effective, or be doomed to defeat.
The dynamics of the general strike
Workers in all well-organized work stoppages intend to hold out, as the saying goes, one day longer than their class adversary. That is, until either side decides it can continue no longer and seeks the best (or least) costly settlement possible.
Workers have also learned from practical experience that rank-and-file strike committees are indispensable to organizing the day-to-day tasks of picketing. These tasks present many problems of judgment and cannot be decided by leadership alone. They require the widest possible participation of the natural leaders of the rank-and-file strike committees who have the confidence of their peers. They must decide such tactical matters as when and where token picketing is required and when mass picketing becomes an urgent necessity. (Mass mobilizations cannot go on indefinitely.) When those times come, the bosses mobilize their hired guns and professional strikebreakers, whose main force comes from the capitalist class’s cops, courts and jails.
The same rules apply in the case of general strikes. In fact, no serious general strike can be conducted without a strike committee representing both the best union activists as well as leaders from most or all of the city’s unions to lead and coordinate common demands and common policy.
• Fourthly, there are moments in history, such as during long and costly wars, when the many sides of mass discontent of workers and other victims of capitalist injustice seem to all come together at once. At such times the class struggle tends to grow explosively and it becomes increasingly apparent that a political solution takes precedence over a limited economic one. It’s at that point that a revolutionary struggle for power becomes a near-term possibility. But the lesson of history teaches that by that time workers must have constructed a competent class-struggle leadership or they will fail to achieve their objectives.
The political general strike and the united front of workers and their natural allies
A fifth characteristic of the general strike represents a qualitative change in character from economic to primarily political demands. The soviets that were first created in Russia in 1905 and again in 1917 rapidly assumed a predominantly political character. The strike committees set into motion by the general strike tend to include even broader representation from all sectors of the working class—including the spontaneous eruption of factory committees in the widespread proliferation of mass occupation of the country’s workplaces—and no less importantly, its political institutions. That is a full flowering of the workers’ united front that is intrinsic to all general strikes.
But in the case of Czarist Russia in 1917, there also unfolded a united front of workers and peasants.
At a certain point in the process that had been deepening in the months between February and October, 1917, the peasants, inspired by the dramatic example of the workers, followed the latter’s example by forming peasant soviets. These were mobilized for the seizure of the great feudal-type estates with their serf-like tenant farmers and laborers yearning for a piece of land of their own. Capitalist moneylenders in the towns and cities held even those poor Russian peasants who did have a piece of land of their own in serf-like conditions.
Thus, what had developed was a clear community of class interests, which served as the glue that united workers and peasants into a powerful mass revolutionary force. And when workers overthrew capitalist rule in October 1917, it was with the whole-hearted support to the Bolshevik slogans, “Land, Peace and Bread” and “All Power to the Soviets!” by soldiers and peasants as well as workers. That, in a nutshell, was the mechanism by which the Russian workers found the road to the first successful Socialist Revolution in a nation encompassing one-sixth of the land area of the planet.
Elements of workers’ democracy instituted in Cuba so far
Our first indication of what amounted to a promising step toward the establishment of workers’ democracy in Cuba came to our attention when two of us who are now on the staff of this magazine had been sent to Cuba to represent Socialist Action—with which we had been affiliated at the time. Some 200 participants from more than 100 socialist parties from the Western hemisphere attended a three-day conference in Havana to discuss the general topic, “Socialism Towards the 21st Century.” The conference took place on October 21-23, 1997.
We wrote a report at the time appearing in the December 1997 edition of Socialist Action newspaper. It described the nature of the conference and what we had learned. The most pertinent facts relevant to our subject are reproduced below:
“Cuba’s invitation to Socialist Action and a few other left-wing opponents of Stalinism amounted to a repudiation of [Stalinism’s] practice of slandering and anathematizing its revolutionary socialist opposition. The role of the Cubans during the conference further served to advance the struggle for world socialism.
“José Ramon Balaguer, a member of the Political Bureau of Cuba’s Communist Party, opened the conference with a keynote speech. Balaguer’s speech was in accord with the official dedication of the conference: ‘On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Ernesto Che Guevara’s death in combat.’ Moreover, his keynote speech was in harmony with a judgment made famous by Che—that a revolution that was not socialist was a caricature of a revolution….
‘In the last five years, the world situation suffered a negative change. Consequently, socialism ceased to be the society of the future for many people. The Cuban revolution has not abandoned socialism and it will never do so. Changes are being made and we are working to continue to build such a society in our homeland.
‘In Cuba, like everywhere else, we wonder which theoretical and political concepts enumerated by Marx, Engels, Lenin and other revolutionary thinkers are still valid and which new issues should be studied with a creative perspective. …’
“The conference came on the heels of the October 8-11 Fifth Congress of Cuba’s Communist Party which informed observers believe to have been a decisive victory for the party’s left wing and a rejection of the turn toward capitalist restoration by the Chinese and East European Stalinist bureaucrats—now metamorphosing into capitalists.”
We had also been informed by co-thinkers of ours who had attended this conference and had been in Cuba for considerable periods of time that they had learned from reliable sources in Cuba that Fidel Castro had for a time been in a minority in the Party leadership, but whose position had since been proven to have been right in regard to the previous dispute and formally reevaluated and approved by the Fifth Congress.
This may be a thin reed on which to base the case that Cuba is indeed evolving toward the kind of workers’ democracy that existed briefly in Paris in 1871 and again for the first seven or so years in the Soviet Union. But there is much more supporting evidence, as we shall see below.
What others say about workers’ democracy in Cuba
The interview with Cuban leader Ricardo Alarcon, which appeared in this magazine’s April 2005 edition, “Let’s Talk About Cuban Democracy,”5 presented a thought-provoking approach to workers’ democracy based on the peculiarities of Cuban history and conditions.
An even more detailed analysis of the many ways in which workers are directly involved in the democratic, decision-making process in Cuba is described by Tom Crumpacker in his report, “U.S. and Cuban Experiences: Democracy and the Multiparty Political System”6 which appears in this edition of Socialist Viewpoint (May/June 2005). It goes into more detail regarding the arguments advanced by Alarcon in his interview.
Other extremely interesting and informative documents and commentary, some even more valuable because they come from some of Cuba’s main leaders, Marxist academics, and other prominent personalities who participated in the making of Cuba’s socialist revolution are also printed in the May/June 2005 issue.
Crumpacker’s analytical and insightful description of Cuban democracy has the additional virtue of very effectively exposing the fraudulent nature of bourgeois democracy in America. By contrasting the two forms of democracy, capitalist and Cuban-style, he adds an extra dimension to the understanding of the Cuban model of workers’ democracy. The first point he makes lays an objective foundation for understanding Cuba today.
“In the 1960s through 1980s there was a diminishment of the previous class structure of Cuban society and growing of equality among people. While most of the ownership class stayed to participate in the revolution as equals, many left to live in capitalist countries. As the revolution became institutionalized it was under universal values of equality, social justice, socialist democracy and national autonomy, which were becoming the goals of the new nation. Cubans call this process cubania (“Cuban-ness”), which started in the late 19th century.
“The Cuban idea of party has lost its shallow U.S. meaning as an electorally competing vehicle for classes and special interests, acquiring instead a deeper meaning in which the values are moral as well as material, are realized collectively as well as individually, and progressive development (human as well as economic) is seen as depending on the extent of individual commitment to the societal goals established democratically. (Guevara, E. 1968: 1-20.)”
He goes on to note that the CCP is an organization of activists “about 14 percent of Cuban adults are members”—a far higher percentage of active members than in any major American political party. And, of great importance, membership in the CCP is neither compulsory nor are any privileges attached to it. This is radically opposed to the privileges attached to membership in Stalinist and other totalitarian parties and organizations.
Regarding “People’s Power,” the name Cuba has given to its political system, Crumpacker writes:
“Since the ‘rectification’ period of the 1980s, the Cuban political system has been developing towards decentralization of power, encouraging more participation—called ‘people power.’ The jurisdiction of local OPP’s (Organs of People’s Power) is much broader than our local councils. They deal with issues such as planning, budgets, construction, housing, health, education, environment, elections, social services, economic enterprise, and almost all matters of public concern except national defense. Because of their broad authority they have substantial participation, not only by local CCP’s and other organizations but also individual advocacy.…
They [the elected representatives to Cuba’s parliament] must have frequent meetings with constituents (called accountability sessions) and they are subject to recall at all times. (Roman P. 1999; 105-154.)”
But while the spirit of People’s Power conforms to the Leninist version of workers’ democracy, in substance if not in form, it more closely resembles the model represented by the Paris Commune in both substance and form. But what happened in Paris that resulted in the formation of a genuine workers’ parliament occurred under very unusual—one can say, even accidental—circumstances, as we have seen. And while accident played a somewhat smaller part in Cuba, it was a factor there too.
Accident, in fact, is always a factor affecting the course of events, at times, decisively. But in Cuba, the role of mass class-consciousness contributes steadily to the institutionalization of workers democracy.
That is, it was driven forward and worked out by a combination of historical lessons derived from the first two proletarian revolutions in world history. Those lessons, and their application in Cuba, however, had been guided by the close interaction—a running dialogue, as it were—between Cuba’s leaders and its people. That was the mechanism, it seems, by which workers’ democracy in Cuba was adjusted to the particularities of Cuban history and the most recent events in Cuban experience.
Cuba’s leadership: nationalist or internationalist?
Some of the critics of Cuba’s Castroist leadership on the left, (as they see it), say that it is nationalist, not internationalist. We think that Cuba has made it abundantly clear that they do indeed defend Cuban nationalism. But in the first place, it is the nationalism of the oppressed, not that of the oppressor.
Besides, Cuba, much more than any other of the world’s nations, is essentially one nation with a long history of fighting for its independence, first from Spain; and starting at the end of the 19th century, Cuba has been fighting against Yankee imperialism. To be sure, however, the nationalism of Cuba’s puppet capitalist governments shared the moral imperatives of their Yankee puppet master. That is, the nationalism of Cuba’s capitalist oppressors was also that of its imperialist senior partners.
In sharp contrast with capitalist nationalism, which also embraces all forms of chauvinism, racism, male supremacy—including the imposition on all creeds of the ruling class’s religious and moral principles—Cuba’s revolutionary government has systematically used the many resources at its disposal to combat anything that even smells like these chauvinist prejudices.
Cuba’s aim from the very start has been to unite the Cuban people in defense of their socialist revolution and in opposition to their principal enemy just 90 miles away, an enemy that is notoriously racist and motivated entirely by the nationalism of the oppressor.
But Cuban patriotism is also an expression of loyalty to the socialist revolution and to proletarian internationalism. That’s why side by side with the slogan Patria o Muerte! (Fatherland or Death!) Cubans also advance the slogan Socialism or Death!
When the next global labor upsurge begins, what then?
This writer always tries to look ahead to the time when the steadily deepening, many-sided economic crisis afflicting the global capitalist economy breaks loose. Undoubtedly, another drastic reduction in working people’s quality of life will leave them with no choice but to reorganize, remobilize, relearn and renew their historic traditions of class struggle.
We are confident that when that time arrives it will shake up the entire world working-class, including the most class-conscious sectors of its socialist vanguard—which have, unfortunately, been fractured into an assortment of larger and smaller groupings and splinters. We are also convinced that this fracturing is the result of the long series of setbacks and defeats suffered by American workers, interspersed by victories that have been too few, too far between, and too modest during the last half-century.
In fact, the world’s capitalists have been quietly gloating over how completely they have subordinated the socialist and labor lieutenants of the capitalist class to serve capitalist class interests. In England, France and Germany, to cite the most obvious examples, reformist Labor and Socialist prime ministers have led the drive to “cut labor costs” far more effectively than could most capitalist governments in those countries at the present time. That is, they’ve done so without provoking serious resistance. And in this country, where even a single mass reformist workers’ party is absent, they are able to do quite well in their own name, irrespective of which capitalist party may be in the majority.
The ruling classes have long been fully aware that without the help of their labor lieutenants in charge of the unions, the kind of victories they have enjoyed over the last half century would have been impossible.
But to deepen the resulting demoralization of the working class everywhere, capitalism’s army of journalists and labor experts in academia have been insistently promoting the myth that the working class is no longer the formidable force it once was.
This propaganda barrage can be seen expressed in one way or another in the mass media almost daily. Moreover, it has obviously succeeded in deepening the demoralization of the average worker.
But such a course of events has happened periodically in history. The last serious bottoming out of working-class self-confidence occurred during the depths of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. And the last great rise in working-class self-confidence was reached in the mid-1930s. However, it paused and retreated briefly during the first part of World War II. But it regained the offensive toward, and immediately after, the war’s end reaching even greater heights in 1946.
But after workers had won back ground lost during the war, a renewed capitalist political offensive rewrote capitalism’s rules of class warfare. And though the labor bureaucracy gave heavy lip-service to its opposition to what it accurately described as the “slave-labor” Taft-Hartley Act, the capitalist class was able to gradually implement its many provisions, but only because of the indispensable help provided by the labor bureaucracy.
We are now reaching the bottom of the latest cycle, which, if history is any guide, will also mark the beginning of the next big upsurge—and one that promises to dwarf all previous upswings.
Now we come to the big question. The coming global labor upsurge will present the Cubans with another, far bigger pre-revolutionary global crisis than had erupted in the 1930s. But the lack of a mass revolutionary workers’ party, like Russia’s Bolsheviks, doomed those post-war global pre-revolutionary upsurges to partial or total defeat with the exception of China and Cuba.
Remember that in the 1960s, when the colonial world was in a pre-revolutionary upsurge, Cuba’s leaders, most notably Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, had responded very favorably to the new revolutionary opportunities. But their response at that time excluded any focus on reaching out to the working class.
But it’s no mystery why they did not. The workers, except for the massive general strike of the French working class in 1968—a strike that included the mass occupation of French industry—were still in a generalized period of declining combativeness.
The workers in the developed countries were still seemingly keeping pace, and even gaining new ground, against the inflationary spiral that began during the Depression years. But that’s an illusion that derives from the steady decline in labor costs that in the final analysis determines the value and price of all commodities—a decline due mainly to the steady intensification of the labor process. This intensification was primarily produced by the uninterrupted introduction of new technology and ever-more productive machines.
However, the overall process of capitalist production leads inexorably—despite the creation of new wants and needs that contribute to the worker’s perception of what are just living standards—to what Marx called the pauperization of the working class.
But now that there is a massive over-expansion of the forces of production, a crisis of overproduction must inevitably transform the long-term booming economy and the appearance of relatively good times into an equally profound and long-term bust.
In a word, if revolutionary Cuban history is any guide, it can be safely predicted that the Cubans will again respond to the new revolutionary opportunities that are sure to erupt on a global scale, perhaps as early as within the next couple of years.
I have tried to show why things are bound to be markedly more favorable for world socialist revolution in the period immediately ahead. But most importantly, it appears within the realm of possibility that Cuba, like in the 1960s, will seize hold of the coming pre-revolutionary world crises to provide the only viable revolutionary strategy capable of success.
They can do this by focusing on the primary task of mobilizing the working class in the U.S. and other strongholds of world imperialism. When the only revolutionary class in modern history, the proletariat, begins knocking on history’s revolutionary door, there will be a whole world to win.
That’s when it is also likely that revolutionary Cuba will find its own way to follow the example set by those revolutionaries that preceded them, just as it found its own way to socialist revolution. How? By its method of learning from history and ultimately following the example set by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks when they organized the founding convention of the world party of socialist revolution, the Third International, in Moscow in 1919!
—Socialist Viewpoint, May/June 2005
1 Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 5, May/June 2005
2 See Fidel Castro Denounces Bureaucracy and Sectarianism, Walnut Publishing Co., 1997, in accord with the original Cuban text.
3 Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution: The Trotskyist View, by Joseph Hansen, Pathfinder Press, New York and Toronto, 1978.
4 The Civil War in France, pages 472-545 (for sections quoted see 483 and 485), Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1955.
5 Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 4, April 2005
6 Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 5, May/June 2005