Spartacist South Africa No. 14
Fidel Castro 1926-2016
Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution!
For Workers Political Revolution Against Stalinist Bureaucracy!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1101 (2 December 2016), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
Having survived hundreds of assassination attempts by the U.S. and its counterrevolutionary gusanos (worms), Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, died in bed on November 25 at the age of 90. As Cuban reactionaries in Miami celebrated his death in the streets, president-elect Donald Trump described Castro as a “brutal dictator” whose legacy includes “the denial of fundamental human rights”. This coming from the man who will soon be the CEO of U.S. imperialism, which is holding dozens of prisoners within the torture chambers of Guantánamo Bay, a major U.S. military base on a piece of stolen Cuban land.
Ever since the government of Fidel Castro expropriated the capitalist class in Cuba in 1960, establishing a bureaucratically deformed workers state, the U.S. ruling class has worked relentlessly to overthrow the Cuban Revolution and re-establish the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in that country. These attacks included the 1961 Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) invasion under Democratic president John F. Kennedy, the funding of counterrevolutionary terrorists in Miami and on the island as well as the starvation economic embargo.
The elimination of capitalist class rule in Cuba led to enormous gains for its working people. With aid from the Soviet Union, a centralized, planned economy was built, guaranteeing jobs, housing, food, health care and education. The revolution especially benefited women and blacks, breaking down racial and gender barriers. Despite decades of the U.S. embargo, Cuba’s health care system, which includes abortion as a free service, is still the best in economically underdeveloped countries. The infant mortality rate is lower than in the U.S. Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than just about anywhere else, and Cuban doctors have provided medical assistance to scores of other countries (for example, sending hundreds of doctors to assist during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa).
The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 had disastrous consequences for Cuba. The Cuban economy had been heavily subsidized by the USSR, amounting in the 1980s to up to 36 percent of the Cuban national income. By 1993, per capita economic output had suffered a 40 percent decline, resulting in power outages, shortages of basic goods and tight food rationing. In response, the government instituted a series of “market reforms”, which have led to greater inequality that has hit women and black Cubans hardest. Such inequality persists because of material scarcity, reinforced by technological backwardness and national isolation and compounded by mismanagement by the Havana Stalinist bureaucracy.
As Trotskyists who fight for world socialist revolution, we stand for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban deformed workers state against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution—as we do for the other remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos. At the same time, we stand in political opposition to the Stalinist bureaucratic misrulers—a parasitic layer sitting on top of proletarian property forms—whose nationalist dogma of “socialism in one country” and its attendant ideology of “peaceful coexistence” with world imperialism are obstacles to the defense of the workers states. The fight to defend and extend the Cuban Revolution requires an additional revolution, a proletarian political revolution to sweep away the ruling Castroite bureaucracy and establish a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
We oppose the U.S. embargo—which has been loosened but still remains—and demand the immediate return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuba. We defend Cuba’s right to trade and have diplomatic relations with capitalist states, including the U.S. While increases in small-scale private enterprises and commercial and financial ties to the U.S. and other imperialists do not amount to a piecemeal restoration of capitalism, they do pose the danger of undermining the collectivized economy. They also strengthen internal counterrevolutionary forces, which will doubtless be working out of the recently established U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Fidel Castro was to many people a larger than life figure, a David who stood up to the American Goliath. Having spoken out against American racism, he was admired by many black activists during the civil rights movement and afterward. When he visited New York to address the United Nations in 1960, he made a point of staying at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. A number of black militants found refuge in Cuba, including Robert F. Williams, hounded out of the U.S. because of his advocacy of black armed self-defense. He escaped to Cuba in 1961, where he broadcast “Radio Free Dixie” until it was shut down after Williams developed political differences with the Castro regime. To this day, black militant Assata Shakur lives in Cuba, having escaped the clutches of the U.S. authorities, who still seek her head. Many people in southern Africa recall the role Cuba played in the anti-apartheid struggle, including the courageous Cuban soldiers who, supported by the Soviets, fought against CIA-backed forces and apartheid South Africa’s invasions of Angola in the 1970s and ’80s.
We remember all that and more. But we also know that the Cuban regime that was headed by Fidel Castro and since 2006 stewarded by his brother, President Raúl Castro, is fundamentally nationalist and opposed to international proletarian revolution. Time and again, the Castro regime admonished leftist insurgents in Latin America not to follow the “Cuban road”—i.e., the overthrow of capitalist rule. When the Nicaraguan masses smashed the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, Fidel Castro advised the Sandinista government “to avoid the early mistakes we made in Cuba: the political rejection by the West, premature frontal attacks on the bourgeoisie, economic isolation”. At home, the Cuban government has accommodated the growing power of the reactionary Catholic church, including by warmly welcoming the Pope of counterrevolution, Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), in 1998 and more recently the current Pope, who played a pivotal role in negotiations between the regime and the Obama administration.
While we recall the heroic battles fought by Cuban troops in Angola, we also recognize that the objective of the Cuban and Soviet Stalinists was never the overthrow of capitalist rule in Africa. That war was followed by the 1989 execution of Cuban General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez, a war hero in Angola, after a Stalinist show trial orchestrated by Castro and reminiscent of the Moscow purges of the 1930s.
The Origins of the Cuban Deformed Workers State
Cuba under the dictator Fulgencio Batista was essentially a subsidiary of the American Mafia and the United Fruit Company (a point captured well by the movie The Godfather: Part II). When Fidel Castro’s petty-bourgeois guerrilla forces of the July 26 Movement entered Havana on New Year’s Day 1959, the bourgeois army and the rest of the capitalist state apparatus that had propped up the hated Batista dictatorship disintegrated. The initial measures of the petty-bourgeois Castro government were to outlaw gambling, suppress prostitution and seize the holdings of Batista and his cronies. These actions were followed by modest land reforms in line with Cuba’s 1940 bourgeois constitution.
Fidel Castro’s forces were temporarily estranged from the bourgeoisie and independent of the proletariat. Under ordinary conditions, such rebels in power would have followed the same pattern as similar movements in Latin America, wielding radical-democratic rhetoric to reassert bourgeois control. But with the capitalist state apparatus shattered and under the relentless pressure of U.S. imperialist hostility, the Castro regime nationalized U.S.-owned and domestic capitalist holdings, creating a deformed workers state.
The existence of the Soviet Union was crucial in this development, providing not only a model for the Castro regime but, more importantly, economic assistance and a military shield that fended off the U.S. imperialist beast just 90 miles away. It was only as a result of exceptional circumstances—the absence of the working class as a contender for power, imperialist encirclement and the flight of the national bourgeoisie, and a lifeline thrown by the Soviet Union—that Castro’s petty-bourgeois government smashed capitalist property relations (see “Cuba and Marxist Theory”, Marxist Bulletin No. 8).
This Trotskyist understanding of the Cuban Revolution was a key programmatic question in the founding of our organization as the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the early 1960s. Following the 1959 victory of Castro’s rebels, the SWP majority lionized the forces led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, falsely equating the Cuban regime with the revolutionary Bolshevik government of Lenin and Trotsky that emerged out of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. This political capitulation went hand in hand with the SWP’s deepening abandonment of the struggle for workers revolution in the U.S.
In fact, the Cuban regime is qualitatively similar to the one that emerged in the Soviet Union after the Stalinist bureaucracy took political power out of the hands of the working class in a political counterrevolution that began in 1923-24 and was consolidated over the next several years. With the unfolding of the Cuban Revolution, the SWP claimed and expected that peasant-based guerrilla warfare would be the wave of the future and the means to overthrow capitalism. In counterposition, the RT asserted in the programmatic document, “Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International, Draft Resolution on the World Movement”, submitted to the 1963 SWP convention:
“Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant-based guerilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working-class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demoralization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the proletarian leadership in the revolution is a profound negation of Marxism-Leninism no matter what pious wish may be concurrently expressed for ‘building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries’. Marxists must resolutely oppose any adventurist acceptance of the peasant-guerilla road to socialism—historically akin to the Social Revolutionary program on tactics that Lenin fought. This alternative would be a suicidal course for the socialist goals of the movement, and perhaps physically for the adventurers.”
While Cuba under Castro never had democratic organs of workers rule—soviets (workers councils)—the fact that in the early months and years after the 1959 takeover the ruling bureaucracy was only in the process of formation made Cuba initially open to the intervention of Trotskyists. This was a transient opening, but one that had to be tested. The RT thus gave the program of political revolution in Cuba a transitional formulation, calling to “Make the Government Ministers Responsible to and Removable by Workers’ and Peasants’ Democratic Organizations”. But in short order, the bureaucracy consolidated its rule over the working masses.
An example of this was the repression of the Cuban Trotskyist organization, the Revolutionary Workers Party (POR, affiliated with the international tendency led by Juan Posadas). In May 1961, the Havana government seized their newspaper and smashed the type for an edition of Trotsky’s The Permanent Revolution. Leading members of the POR were arrested and sent to prison. Despite our political differences with the POR, we vigorously defended them against Stalinist repression (see “Freedom for Cuban Trotskyists!” Spartacist No. 3, January-February 1965).
Today, in the wake of Castro’s death, many “democratic” imperialist leaders are emphasizing their denunciations of repression in Cuba and their call for “free elections”. The latter, i.e., parliamentary democracy, is nothing other than a call for “democratic” counterrevolution: the electoral rise to power of capitalist-restorationist forces. It stands in sharp counterposition to soviet democracy, which would encompass those parties chosen by the workers and their petty-bourgeois allies that stand for and defend the socialist order. We defend the Havana regime’s imprisonment of active collaborators with U.S. imperialism. At the same time, we oppose the repression of critics or political opponents who are not actively working for counterrevolution.
Notwithstanding its many accomplishments and its survival for nearly 60 years, the Cuban Revolution remains in the crosshairs of the world imperialist order. The U.S. and other imperialists aim at nothing less than the re-enslavement of the island and its people, turning it into a neocolony of poverty, racial and sexual oppression and brutal exploitation.
Revolutionaries in the U.S., the bastion of world imperialism, have a special duty to defend Cuba against capitalist restoration and U.S. imperialism. The isolated Cuban deformed workers state will not forever be able to withstand the immense economic and military pressures exerted by the U.S. and the capitalist world market. Genuine defense of the Cuban Revolution demands a revolutionary internationalist perspective that links the struggle against Stalinist misrule with the fight to destroy U.S. imperialism from within through socialist revolution. The key requirement for victory is the building of revolutionary workers parties as sections of a reforged Fourth International that Trotsky would recognize as his own.