Workers Vanguard No. 986
16 September 2011
Defend Gains of Cuban Revolution!
Cuba: Economic Crisis and “Market Reforms”
For Workers Political Revolution! For Socialist Revolution Throughout the Americas!
In early August, Cuba’s National Assembly endorsed a five-year program of market-oriented economic reforms that had been adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in the spring. The projected measures include the elimination of over a million state jobs (20 percent of the workforce), major cuts to state subsidies, a greatly expanded small-business sector and enhanced incentives to attract foreign investment.
From the time they were first announced, in August 2010, the centerpiece of the “market reforms” has been the call to eliminate a million state jobs. The bureaucracy of the state-controlled Cuban Workers Federation (CTC) has been prominent in promoting these cuts, shamelessly claiming they are essential to “continue perfecting socialism.” At this year’s May Day demonstration in Havana, the CTC marched under a call for “unity, productivity and efficiency.”
Originally, half the job cuts were supposed to take effect by March, but this deadline came and went. The Communist Party congress the following month was then supposed to set them in motion, but it decided to again postpone their implementation in the face of reported widespread discontent. As early as last October, Reuters news agency reported that party officials had to be brought to the Habana Libre Hotel to “calm workers down” when they learned of the planned job losses. Laid-off workers will only briefly get severance payments of up to 60 percent of lost monthly wages.
The stated aim of the “reforms” is to revive Cuba’s stagnant economy, which has never fully recovered from the severe crisis that followed the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union some two decades ago. Despite the rule of a Stalinist bureaucracy, the Soviet workers state provided a crucial economic lifeline for this small, impoverished island struggling to survive under the shadow of the American imperialist behemoth. The Soviet Union also represented a military obstacle to Washington’s revanchist counterrevolutionary ambitions.
The severe economic problems of the post-Soviet period were heightened in 2008 when Cuba was hit hard by the global capitalist financial crisis. The price of nickel, Cuba’s main export commodity, fell by as much as 80 percent, while remittances from Cubans living in the U.S. declined substantially. In the same year, hurricanes destroyed $10 billion of infrastructure. Facing a trade deficit of nearly $12 billion, Cuba had to default on payments to foreign creditors. The fact that Cuban doctors and other professionals working abroad account for about 60 percent of the country’s hard-currency earnings, with the tourist industry second, speaks to the dire state of the Cuban economy.
Bourgeois and leftist commentators alike have seized on the regime’s recent announcements to make wildly varying predictions. These range from fatuous optimism about isolated Cuba’s prospects for advancing toward socialism to claims that capitalism is being, or has been, restored on the island. To understand why such views are fallacious requires a Marxist understanding of the class nature of the Cuban state and its ruling Stalinist bureaucracy.
We Trotskyists do not take a side in the debate between advocates of market reforms/decentralization and those who would return to a more rigidly centralized economy. Our starting point is the understanding that Cuba is a bureaucratically deformed workers state, a society where capitalism has been overthrown but political power is monopolized by a parasitic ruling caste whose privileges derive from administering the collectivized economy. As the example of China shows, there is an inherent tendency for such regimes to abandon bureaucratized central planning in favor of market mechanisms. Intrinsically hostile to workers democracy, they resort to the discipline of the market (and the unemployment line) as a whip to raise labor productivity.
Despite the distortions of bureaucratic rule, first under Fidel Castro and now under his brother and longtime lieutenant Raúl, Cuba’s workers and peasants have gained enormously from the overthrow of capitalism. The elimination of production for profit through collectivization of the means of production, combined with central economic planning and a state monopoly over foreign trade and investment, provided jobs, housing and education for everyone and removed the yoke of direct imperialist domination. Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and a renowned health care system. Infant mortality is lower than in the U.S., Canada and the European Union. Abortion is a free, readily available health service.
The International Communist League stands for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban deformed workers state against imperialism and internal capitalist counterrevolution. We call for an end to Washington’s crippling economic embargo and demand that the U.S. get out of Guantánamo Bay. At the same time, we call on the Cuban proletariat to sweep away the Castroite bureaucracy through a political revolution, establishing a regime of workers democracy. This is the only way to redress the endemic corruption, inefficiencies and shortages due to bureaucratic mismanagement, which arrest economic growth and create huge dislocations.
Leon Trotsky’s explanation of the material roots of the Soviet bureaucracy in his 1937 book The Revolution Betrayed can equally be applied to the Cuban regime today:
“The basis of bureaucratic rule is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all. When there are enough goods in a store, the purchasers can come whenever they want to. When there is little goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of the Soviet bureaucracy. It ‘knows’ who is to get something and who has to wait.”
From the inception of the Cuban workers state, the ruling bureaucracy has acted as an obstacle to the further advance toward socialism—a classless, egalitarian society requiring qualitatively higher levels of production than even the most advanced capitalist country. Instead the Stalinists purvey the myth of “socialism in one country,” which in practice means opposition to the perspective of workers revolution internationally and accommodation to world imperialism and its neocolonial clients through a policy of “peaceful coexistence.”
A Cuba ruled by elected workers and peasants councils—open to all parties that defend the revolution—would be a beacon for working people throughout Latin America and beyond. The ultimate answer to Cuba’s economic backwardness and the only road to a future of material abundance, social equality and personal freedom is international proletarian revolution—not least in the U.S. imperialist bastion—leading to rational global economic planning and an egalitarian socialist order. The necessary corollary to this perspective is the forging of a Trotskyist party in Cuba, part of a reborn Fourth International, to lead a proletarian political revolution to victory.
The “Special Period” and Bureaucratic “Reform”
While the proposed “market reforms” are deepgoing, the kind of policies they represent are hardly new for Cuba. Starting around 1993, i.e., shortly after the destruction of the Soviet Union, the Castro regime undertook a set of market-oriented policies to address the self-described “Special Period.” These included the legalization of self-employment and individual U.S. dollar holdings and a major expansion of foreign tourism, including through joint ventures.
The most dramatic effect of these measures was to greatly increase inequality on the island. Amid pervasive petty and not so petty corruption, the scramble for hard currency has come to dominate the lives of Cuba’s working people. Under the country’s dual currency system, workers are paid in domestic Cuban pesos, but most goods can only be purchased in special stores or on the black market using a currency called the convertible peso (CUC), which is valued at 24 Cuban pesos and is the currency used by tourists. This has forced most workers to take on second or third jobs to secure basic needs, in turn greatly affecting labor productivity. Cuba has also witnessed a resurgence of prostitution.
Those with access to hard currency through remittances from abroad, the tourist industry or other means now have much higher living standards than other Cubans. Among the latter are most Cuban blacks, who are far less likely to have relatives in Miami and are underrepresented in jobs in the tourist sector. While black people gained tremendously from the Cuban Revolution, many of these advances are being rolled back.
Beginning in 1996, Cuba managed to emerge from the depths of the Special Period and achieved some economic growth, albeit from a low base. In 2002, some 40 percent of the sugar mills, whose produce had earlier largely been exported to the USSR, were shut down in an attempt to diversify agriculture and feed the population. But with a continued lack of equipment and fuel and amid considerable disorganization, food production continued to stagnate. By 2006, 40 percent of the trucks available to the state agency responsible for procuring and distributing agricultural produce were out of service, and the rest were at least 20 years old.
With half of all agricultural land still unproductive, Cuba has to import 80 percent of its food, much of it from the U.S. An article by University of Glasgow professor Brian Pollitt summarizes the dire situation: “While Cuba’s sugar exports alone could finance the island’s total food imports some four times over in 1989, during the years 2004-06 her exports of sugar, tobacco, other agricultural products and fisheries combined could not finance even one half of her food imports” (International Journal of Cuban Studies, June 2009).
The Threat of Mass Layoffs
The economic lineamientos (guidelines) approved by the regime are all about improving economic performance through harsher conditions for the Cuban people. They state that it is necessary to “reduce or eliminate excessive social expenditure…and evaluate all activities that can move from a budgeted [state] sector to the business system.” In 2009, the government ordered the closing of all workplace cafeterias, while giving workers a wage increase of 15 Cuban pesos (about 70¢ U.S.). Meanwhile, the meager package of basic foodstuffs at cheap prices available through ration cards is being further reduced.
The new measures seek to foster greater investment by European, Canadian and other foreign companies by easing restrictions on offshore real estate ownership, including 99-year leases, and legalizing the sale and purchase of homes. Greater direct foreign investment through joint ventures and special economic zones is also contemplated. The reforms aim to encourage the growth of the hitherto very constrained private sector by various means: lifting restrictions on self-employment; loosening controls on the sale of private agricultural produce; and formalizing the existence of small private businesses in an attempt to regulate and tax the informal economy. These businesses will be allowed to hire labor outside their own families for the first time since 1968. Such measures can only lead to even greater inequality. They will also serve to increase the economic influence of right-wing Cuban exiles, as Cubans with families in the U.S. will be among the few with enough capital to launch businesses.
The campaign by a sector of the U.S. imperialists (centered in agribusiness) to relax the embargo while continuing to impose diplomatic/political pressure on Cuba points to another possible road to subverting the socialized economy: flooding it with cheap imports. This approach is in line with the long-standing policy of the West European and Canadian rulers. Cuba should of course have the right to trade and have diplomatic relations with capitalist countries. However, this underlines the importance of the state monopoly of foreign trade—i.e., strict government control of imports and exports.
The government says it expects that 40 percent of the workers who lose their jobs will redeploy into cooperatives, while the rest will be urged to set up small businesses, become self-employed or seek work elsewhere. A party document admits that a large proportion of new businesses could fail within a year due to lack of access to credit and raw materials. And the prospect of many workers getting by in subsistence occupations like food vending and shoe repair amid the ongoing economic troubles is grim, to say the least.
Wider autonomy is also being given to state companies, which will be expected to finance their own operations or be liquidated. As we explained in the context of the “market reforms” introduced in the final years of the Soviet Union, such measures impel state managers to compete with each other to buy and produce cheap and sell dear. This in turn tends to undermine the state control of foreign trade and further fuel pro-capitalist appetites among sections of the bureaucracy. As for the regime’s scheme for “perfecting state companies” by linking wages to productivity, this is just another name for piecework wages, which serve to undermine the basic social solidarity of the working class by turning workers into individual competitors for higher wages. Under Stalinist rule, such schemes, which pose economic anarchy and greater social inequality, are the only available “answer” to the distortions created by bureaucratic rigidity and commandism.
Origins of the Cuban Deformed Workers State
To understand Cuba’s current predicament, it is necessary to examine the origins of the deformed workers state. The guerrilla forces that marched into Havana under Fidel Castro’s leadership in January 1959 were a heterogeneous petty-bourgeois movement initially committed to no more than a program of radical democratic reforms. Importantly, however, their victory meant not only the downfall of the widely despised U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship but the shattering of the army and the rest of the capitalist state apparatus, allowing the new petty-bourgeois government wide latitude.
The new government had to confront U.S. imperialism’s mounting attempts to bring it to heel through economic pressure. When Washington sought to lower the U.S. quota for Cuban sugar in early 1960, Castro signed an agreement to sell a million tons yearly to the Soviet Union. The refusal by imperialist-owned refineries to process Soviet crude oil led to the nationalization of U.S.-owned properties in Cuba in August 1960, including sugar mills, oil companies and the power and telephone companies. By October of that year, 80 percent of the country’s industry had been nationalized. Cuba became a deformed workers state with these pervasive nationalizations, which liquidated the bourgeoisie as a class.
The forerunner of the ICL, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the early 1960s, was forged in the struggle for a Marxist perspective in Cuba. While defending the Cuban Revolution against imperialism, the RT sharply opposed the SWP’s adulation of Castro as an “unconscious” Trotskyist and the program of rural guerrillaism associated with the fidelistas and, earlier, the Chinese Maoists. As we wrote in the 1966 Declaration of Principles of the Spartacist League/U.S.:
“The Spartacist League fundamentally opposes the Maoist doctrine, rooted in Menshevism and Stalinist reformism, which rejects the vanguard role of the working class and substitutes peasant-based guerrilla warfare as the road to socialism. Movements of this sort can under certain conditions, i.e., the extreme disorganization of the capitalist class in the colonial country and the absence of the working class contending in its own right for social power, smash capitalist property relations; however, they cannot bring the working class to political power. Rather, they create bureaucratic anti-working-class regimes which suppress any further development of these revolutions towards socialism. Experience since the Second World War has completely validated the Trotskyist theory of the Permanent Revolution which declares that in the modern world the bourgeois-democratic revolution can be completed only by a proletarian dictatorship supported by the peasantry. Only under the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat can the colonial and semi-colonial countries obtain the complete and genuine solution to their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation.”
—“Basic Documents of
the Spartacist League,”
Marxist Bulletin No. 9
In the absence of the proletarian democracy of a state directly won by the working people, the decisive section of Castro’s forces made the transition to a bureaucratic caste resting atop the newly nationalized economy. By virtue of their newly acquired social position, the Castroites were compelled to embrace the ersatz Marxism (“socialism in one country”) that is the necessary ideological reflection of a Stalinist bureaucracy, in the process merging with the wretched pro-Moscow Popular Socialist Party, which had at one point served in the Batista government. The existence of the Soviet degenerated workers state provided a model and, more importantly, the material support that made this outcome possible.
The Cuban Revolution demonstrated yet again that there is no “third road” between the dictatorship of capital and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this sense, it confirmed Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. But the Cuban Revolution was a far cry from the Russian Revolution of October 1917, which was carried out by a class-conscious urban working class, supported by the poor peasantry, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party.
Cuba and the Soviet Collapse: Background to the Crisis
Contrary to the falsehood spread by various self-styled leftists that the USSR was an “imperialist” power, the Soviet Union was a workers state that issued out of the first victorious socialist revolution in history. Internationalist to the core, Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders saw the revolution in economically backward Russia as the first step in a worldwide socialist revolution, crucially including the advanced capitalist countries. But the failure of a number of revolutionary opportunities in the period after World War I—particularly the defeat of the 1923 German Revolution—deepened the isolation of the Soviet state. This, combined with the economic devastation of World War I and the subsequent Civil War, allowed for the emergence of a conservative bureaucratic layer in the party and state apparatus.
Beginning in 1923-24, the USSR underwent a qualitative bureaucratic degeneration, a political counterrevolution in which the working class was deprived of political power. The nationally narrow conservatism of the consolidating bureaucratic caste was given ideological expression by Stalin’s promulgation in late 1924 of the theory that socialism could be built in a single country. This anti-Marxist dogma served as a rationale for increasingly blatant rejection of Bolshevik internationalism—leading to overt betrayal of proletarian revolutions abroad, as in the case of Spain in the 1930s—in favor of futile attempts to accommodate imperialism.
Despite bureaucratic rule, the workers state’s ability to marshal the economic resources of Soviet society through economic planning produced great advances, transforming the USSR from a backward, largely peasant country into a modern industrial power. That fact stands out ever more sharply today as the capitalist world is again mired in a global economic crisis. However, as Trotsky noted in The Revolution Betrayed:
“The farther you go, the more the economy runs into the problem of quality, which slips out of the hands of a bureaucracy like a shadow. The Soviet products are as though branded with the gray label of indifference. Under a nationalized economy, quality demands a democracy of producers and consumers, freedom of criticism and initiative—conditions incompatible with a totalitarian regime of fear, lies and flattery.”
Growing economic stagnation, exacerbated by the need to keep pace with U.S. imperialism’s massive anti-Soviet military buildup, came to a head in the 1980s. The regime of Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a program of market-oriented measures (perestroika), which precipitated the fracturing of the bureaucracy, including along national lines. In August 1991, seizing on a failed coup attempt by Gorbachev’s lieutenants, the openly pro-capitalist Boris Yeltsin seized power in league with the U.S. imperialist government of George H.W. Bush. In those pivotal days, the ICL issued and distributed more than 100,000 copies of a Russian-language statement calling on Soviet workers to “Defeat Yeltsin-Bush counterrevolution!” But decades of Stalinist misrule had left the proletariat atomized and demoralized, and the absence of proletarian resistance to the counterrevolutionary tide paved the way for the final destruction of the gains of the October Revolution.
The false notion that the Soviet Union was an exploitative “imperialist” power is completely disproved by its support to Cuba, which was crucial to that country’s economic progress. By the 1980s, the Soviet Union subsidized up to 36 percent of Cuba’s national income, bartering oil and its derivatives for sugar under extremely favorable conditions for the island. The huge advances in Cuban health care and education were also conditioned by the Soviet subsidies, which in the 1970s allowed the country to open free public universities, including medical schools in all of its 14 provinces.
After the USSR’s destruction, Cuban imports dropped by 80 percent and its Gross Domestic Product plunged by 35 percent. With no Soviet-supplied fuel, machinery or spare parts, half of Cuba’s industrial plants had to be closed, as the country underwent an economic collapse proportionally greater than the Great Depression in the U.S. We see here in the language of cold, hard statistics the historic gains that were made possible by the existence of the Soviet Union—and the disaster that unfolded with its destruction. This stands as a sharp indictment of the fake-socialist groups that made common cause with the Yeltsinite forces of imperialist-backed counterrevolution and now vituperate against Cuba’s “market reforms” as a sellout!
The “Chinese Model”
The introduction of “market reforms” has intersected and provoked hot debate among Cuban intellectuals on the road forward. Influential economists like Omar Everleny, deputy director of the Center for Studies on the Cuban Economy, applaud the proposed changes, arguing that they can bring modernization and indefinite economic growth. Everleny, among others, advocates following a Chinese- or Vietnamese-style economic model of encouraging foreign investment. Some others are concerned that “market reforms” might lead Cuba to the abyss, looking at the fate of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev’s perestroika policy.
In comparing China to Cuba today, it is important to note that by the last two decades of the Cold War (the 1970s and ’80s) China had become a strategic ally of U.S. imperialism against the Soviet Union. The Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s was a reflection on both sides of the counterrevolutionary implications of “socialism in one country.” The Chinese Stalinists’ criminal policy of allying with Washington against Moscow, which began under Mao, helped set the stage for the Deng Xiaoping bureaucracy’s opening of China to large-scale industrial investment by Western imperialism. In contrast, U.S. imperialism has remained implacably hostile to Cuba and shows no sign of easing its brutal embargo. This is despite overtures by the Havana regime, such as the release of over 120 right-wing “dissidents” beginning last year, in which the reactionary Catholic church played a crucial role.
Washington’s hardline stance toward Cuba not only blocks American investment, it also constricts investment from West Europe and Canada, given the long reach of U.S. extraterritorial law. Moreover, Cuba has neither the pre-existing industrial base nor the vast reservoir of cheap labor that fueled China’s economic advance over the past three decades. The idea that Cuba could successfully undertake an export-driven form of economic expansion via substantial imperialist investment is a fantasy.
Despite the pro-market measures introduced since the late 1970s, the main economic sectors in China (as in Cuba) remain nationalized and under state control. Large-scale investment by Western and Japanese corporations and the offshore Chinese bourgeoisie has, on the one hand, resulted in high levels of economic growth and a huge increase in the weight of China’s industrial proletariat, a progressive development of historic importance. On the other hand, “market socialism” has greatly increased inequalities, including the creation of a sizable class of indigenous capitalist entrepreneurs on the mainland, many with familial and financial ties to the Communist Party officialdom. This has made China a cauldron of economic and social contradictions and explosive labor unrest. Meanwhile, the imperialists continue to pursue a two-pronged strategy to foment counterrevolution, supplementing economic penetration with military pressure and provocations along with championing anti-Communist “dissidents.”
Cuban Bureaucracy: A Contradictory Caste
Against the views propounded by the likes of Everleny, others, both in Cuba and internationally, argue against following the “market socialism” model implemented in China, a country they consider to be capitalist or even imperialist. An example is the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS), Mexican section of the Trotskyist Fraction-Fourth International (FT-CI), a split from the tendency led by the late Argentine political chameleon Nahuel Moreno. In a September 2010 statement on Cuba, the FT-CI writes: “Despite a ‘socialist’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ discourse, the ruling bureaucracy has for years justified the so-called ‘Chinese,’ or Vietnamese, ‘model,’ i.e., a program of marching toward a gradual process of capitalist restoration under the leadership of the PCC [Cuban Communist Party], and they are already taking measures in that direction” (www.cubarevolucion.org).
Contrary to what the LTS/FT-CI contends, there cannot be a “gradual process of capitalist restoration” either in China or in Cuba. Capitalist counterrevolution would have to triumph on the political level—in the conquest of state power. It would not come about through a process of ever more quantitative extensions of the private sector, whether domestic or foreign. The Stalinist bureaucracy is incapable of a cold, gradual restoration of capitalism from above. As the events in the Soviet Union in 1991-92 showed clearly, a major social crisis in a deformed workers state would be accompanied by the collapse of Stalinist bonapartism and the political fracturing of the ruling Communist Party. What would emerge from such a situation—capitalist restoration or proletarian political revolution—would depend on the outcome of the struggle of these counterposed class forces. The key to a working-class victory will be the timely forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party rooted in the most advanced layers of the proletariat.
The LTS/FT-CI treats the Cuban bureaucracy as if it were committed to the destruction of the workers state. Thus it states that Cuba’s army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces, is “the vanguard of capitalist restoration” in Cuba today. This notion contradicts the very essence of Trotsky’s understanding of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a contradictory caste, a parasitic growth on the workers state and its collectivized property forms. With its stifling bureaucratism, lies, corruption and concessions to capitalism, the bureaucracy certainly helps prepare the way for a possible counterrevolution. But to label it (or a section of it) “the vanguard of capitalist restoration” is an outrageous whitewash of U.S. imperialism, the Catholic church, the counterrevolutionary Cuban exiles, and right-wingers within Cuba like the “dissidents” of Las Damas de Blanco (“Ladies in White”).
To cover its tracks, the LTS/FT-CI seeks to draw a distinction between the current ruling bureaucrats and Che Guevara, Fidel Castro’s comrade-in-arms. Like many others on the left, the LTS/FT-CI lauds Che’s “internationalism,” asserting in its article that he approached “a consistent strategy for international socialist revolution.” Guevara’s murder by the CIA in Bolivia in 1967 while leading a small band of peasant guerrillas makes him a heroic figure. But his peasant-based strategy, which has brought so many militants to tragic ends, was a flat rejection of Marxism, in no way distinguishable from that of other “Third World” Stalinist guerrillaists.
The LTS/FT-CI also endorses Guevara’s economic policies in the early 1960s, when he served as Minister of Industry, against Cuba’s more recent policies of economic liberalization and decentralization. No less than his fellow Stalinists, Guevara accepted the framework of “building socialism” on one small, poor and besieged island. What defined his economic views was a particularly voluntarist and utopian brand of Stalinism characterized by upholding “moral incentives” over material ones as a purported road to rapid industrialization. This led to gross misuse and squandering of material and human resources. In dismissing workers’ aspirations for decent living standards as “bourgeois ideology,” Guevara helped to enforce the Cuban government’s complete political disenfranchisement of the proletariat.
The LTS/FT-CI’s claim that capitalist restoration is underway in Cuba is designed to facilitate their dropping defense of the deformed workers state against counterrevolution, which is precisely what this outfit did two decades ago in supporting pro-capitalist forces in the USSR, East Germany (the DDR) and the East European deformed workers states. The LTS’s cothinkers in the Argentine Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas even raised the scandalous call for “the defense of the right of the German masses to unite however they wish, even if they decide to do so in the framework of capitalism” (Avanzada Socialista, 30 March 1990)! This amounted to a blank check for the capitalist annexation of the DDR by West German imperialism.
False Parallels to Lenin’s NEP
Some academic apologists for the proposed pro-market policies in Cuba have pointed to Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), adopted in the Soviet republics in 1921, which allowed concessions to the peasants in the form of an internal market where agricultural produce would be exchanged for industrial goods. In his book Russia: From Real Socialism to Real Capitalism (2005), Cuban historian Ariel Dacal argued that “the great merit of this policy, albeit contradictory,” was as “an alternative for development against capitalism” in non-developed countries. Such views are echoed by sections of the left internationally. Making heavy reference to the NEP, a statement justifying the Cuban reforms by the U.S. Party for Socialism and Liberation asserts: “This is not the first time that a communist-led government has reverted to the expansion of a private market” (“A Marxist Analysis of Cuba’s New Economic Reforms,” PSLweb.org).
The Soviet NEP was not a model for sustained development but a temporary retreat after the devastation of the Civil War in a backward, overwhelmingly peasant economy in which industry had broken down and was utterly disorganized. While the NEP did succeed in reviving economic life, it also enriched a layer of speculators, small traders and well-off peasants, who became a corrosive influence on the apparatus of the workers state. The early NEP legislation, drawn up under Lenin’s direct guidance, had severely restricted the hiring of labor and acquisition of land. However, in 1925 these restrictions were greatly liberalized by Stalin’s regime. Trotsky’s Left Opposition, which formed to fight the growing bureaucratic degeneration, called to increase taxation of the rich peasants to finance industrialization and for the systematic introduction of large-scale, mechanized collective agriculture. By the end of the 1920s, as the counterrevolutionary threat from the new stratum of rich peasants and merchants brought the USSR to the brink of disaster, Stalin belatedly turned against his former ally Nikolai Bukharin and moved to collectivize agriculture, in his own characteristically brutal and administrative fashion.
Even as they implemented the NEP, Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks fought with all their might to extend the gains of October to the workers of the world. They built the Third (Communist) International to guide and unite the struggles of revolutionary Marxists internationally. Such policies are utterly counterposed to those of the Stalinists, who instead subordinate the interests of the world proletariat to their efforts to curry favor with “progressive” capitalist regimes.
Stalinism: Class-Collaborationist Betrayal
Cuba’s defiance of the U.S. imperialist colossus over the years has inspired large numbers of militant workers and radical youth in Latin America and elsewhere. But this does not mean that the Cuban regime is intrinsically more radical than its Stalinist counterparts elsewhere. During its first two decades under Mao, the Beijing regime was likewise viewed by impressionistic Western leftists as a revolutionary alternative to Moscow. We warned as early as 1969 against the growing objective possibility—given the tremendous industrial and military capacity of the Soviet Union—of a U.S. deal with China, a prediction which soon came to pass. The bottom line is that whatever their particular immediate policies and pressures, all Stalinist bureaucracies are characterized by class collaboration on the international level. Differences in posture and rhetoric are explained simply by the degree to which these regimes are under the gun of direct imperialist hostility.
The foreign policy of the Cuban bureaucracy has criminally betrayed the interests of the working masses of Latin America. In the 1960s, Fidel Castro supported bourgeois nationalists such as João Goulart in Brazil and saluted the Peruvian military junta as “a group of progressive officers playing a revolutionary role.” In the early ’70s, he endorsed Salvador Allende’s popular-front bourgeois regime in Chile, whose political and physical disarming of the proletariat paved the way to Pinochet’s 1973 military coup and the massacre of more than 30,000 leftists and workers.
When the masses of Nicaragua, under the leadership of the radical petty-bourgeois nationalist Sandinistas, overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, shattering the capitalist state, the road was opened to a social revolution. We said: “Defend, complete, extend the Nicaraguan revolution!” But Castro advised the Sandinista government to “avoid the early mistakes we made in Cuba,” such as “premature frontal attacks on the bourgeoisie.” The Sandinistas maintained a “mixed economy,” which meant that the capitalists were never destroyed as a class. With the U.S. bankrolling a dirty war by CIA-backed “contras,” the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie was able to reassert control a decade later, defeating the revolution. The net result of the Cuban leaders’ policies of “peaceful coexistence” has been the continued immiseration of the Latin American masses and further isolation for the Cuban Revolution.
Prominent among the pseudo-Marxist tendencies that have given political support to Cuba’s Castroite bureaucracy is the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) of Alan Woods. In recent years, Woods has been able to posture as a “Trotskyist” inside Cuba, including in occasional speaking tours. The precondition for such activities is the IMT’s outright adulation of Fidel Castro and its adamant opposition to the Trotskyist call for proletarian political revolution.
The IMT has a decades-long history of liquidation into social-democratic or outright capitalist parties, from the British Labour Party to Mexico’s bourgeois Party of the Democratic Revolution. Today, like the Cuban bureaucracy, Woods & Co. give political support to Venezuelan capitalist strongman Hugo Chávez and his supposed “socialism of the 21st century.” They write:
“The Venezuelan Revolution, together with Cuba, has provided a rallying point for the revolution in Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries. The initiative taken by President Chavez to launch the Fifth International, dedicated to the overthrow of imperialism and capitalism, should receive the most enthusiastic support of the Cuban revolutionaries. This is the hope for the future!”
—“Where Is Cuba Going? Towards Capitalism or
17 September 2010
Chávez, a former army colonel, came to power through the bourgeois electoral process and rules a capitalist state in which the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the imperialists continue to carry on a booming business, however hostile Washington has been toward his regime. His piecemeal nationalizations do not challenge capitalist private property, any more than did nationalizations by other national-populist caudillos, such as Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico in the 1930s or Juan Perón in Argentina in the 1940s (see “Venezuela: Break with Bourgeois Populism! For Workers Revolution!” WV No. 907, 1 February 2008). In passing off this bourgeois politician as “anti-capitalist,” the IMT does its own small part in keeping the Venezuelan working masses under the boot of imperialist plunderers.
Since 2000, Venezuela has been Cuba’s main trade partner, providing oil in exchange for some 20,000 Cuban doctors and teachers. Cuba’s present dependence on Chávez’s ability (and desire) to continue subsidizing his populist literacy and health campaigns by importing skilled Cuban professionals is, to say the least, an extremely unstable basis for economic survival.
Cuba at the Crossroads
In April 2010, a senior black Communist Party intellectual, Esteban Morales, director of the U.S. Studies Center at the University of Havana and a regular political commentator on Cuban television, wrote an article titled “Corruption: The True Counterrevolution?” He argued:
“When we closely observe Cuba’s internal situation today, we can have no doubt that the counterrevolution, little by little, is taking positions at certain levels of the State and Government. Without a doubt, it is becoming evident that there are people in positions of government and state who are girding themselves financially for when the Revolution falls, and others may have everything almost ready to transfer state-owned assets to private hands, as happened in the old USSR.”
A month after the publication of this article it was announced that Morales had been expelled from the Communist Party; following an appeal, he was reinstated this summer.
The Castro regime asserts that corruption originates with opportunistic individuals who have made their way into the state administrative apparatus, while the core of the historic Communist Party leadership remains irreversibly loyal to maintaining the Cuban workers state. In fact, corruption is a direct product of Stalinist bureaucratic rule, and it seeps into every pore of Cuban society. Everyone knows that if you know the right person you can obtain the necessary goods, so why work hard for nothing? Only a regime of workers democracy can instill the necessary labor morale, prevent bureaucratic misuse of resources and check tendencies toward capitalist restoration.
The Cuban regime has tried to shield itself against criticism through periodic purges and “anti-corruption” campaigns and has at times reversed some of its own “liberalizing” measures. This is not because these Stalinists are irrevocably committed to the defense of the collectivized economy. The Havana bureaucracy is not a social class; its components do not own stocks in state industry and cannot transmit ownership of the means of production to the bureaucrats’ heirs. Rather, it is a parasitic and contradictory formation balancing between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the Cuban working class. As Trotsky wrote of the Soviet bureaucracy, “It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat.”
Insofar as the Cuban Stalinists’ reform program creates a new layer of small capitalists, they will necessarily develop their own interests counterposed to those of the workers state. At the same time, it is possible that the regime’s moves will generate significant popular dissent and that the political hold of the bureaucracy will start to fracture, providing fertile ground for forging a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party among workers and advanced intellectuals seeking a road to authentic Marxism.
In outlining the road forward for the Soviet working class in the 1930s, Trotsky emphasized: “It is not a question of substituting one ruling clique for another, but of changing the very methods of administering the economy and guiding the culture of the country. Bureaucratic autocracy must give place to Soviet democracy.” The 1938 Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, laid out key elements of the program for proletarian political revolution, including:
“A revision of planned economy from top to bottom in the interests of producers and consumers! Factory committees should be returned the right to control production. A democratically organized consumers’ cooperative should control the quality and price of products.
“Reorganization of the collective farms in accordance with the will and in the interests of the workers there engaged!
“The reactionary international policy of the bureaucracy should be replaced by the policy of proletarian internationalism.”
An isolated and backward workers state, even one much larger and more resource-rich than Cuba, cannot reach, much less surpass, the levels of labor productivity in the advanced capitalist countries. Only successful socialist revolutions internationally, particularly in the imperialist centers, can eliminate scarcity and open the road to a world communist society. The ICL seeks to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, as the necessary leadership in this struggle.