Thanks to John Rudge for collecting and introducing these documents
The Socialist Review Group (SRG) was formed in the Autumn of 1950 and was known by that name until its main publication Socialist Review was discontinued in the middle of 1962. By the start of 1963 the name International Socialism Group was being commonly used to identify the organisation.
For a political group that operated through that stormy period of Cuban history leading up to the Cuban missile crisis and which aroused massive interest on the left, it is perhaps surprising, albeit explainable, how relatively little Cuba was covered in the SRG press.
What coverage that existed was confined to a relatively short period at the end of the SRG period. Some of the pieces were, of course, of an agitational or campaigning type rather than theoretical. However, what the coverage lacked in quantity was, generally, made up for in quality. The articles produced during the period September 1960 – Spring 1963 were unusual on the left for their original analysis, for their reluctance to “follow the crowd” and for what they helped to lead towards – the theory of “Deflected Permanent Revolution”. A theory that was to become a bedrock of the IS Tendency for decades to follow and which still exerts an influence today.
Needless to say, I have not uncovered every reference to Cuba inside the SRG of the time (1). The very late 1950’s and early 1960’s were a period where power-bloc politics loomed large, where nuclear Armageddon seemed possible but where young people were becoming more politically active in the newly-formed Young Socialists and CND. This increase in political awareness led to large demonstrations, the Aldermaston marches – even the Labour Party, for a short while, had a policy in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament. The SRG managed to break out of its ghetto of low-activity and tiny membership, and the politics about and around Cuba were important. In addition to the published articles I highlight, there will have been innumerable discussions in, and meetings held, by the SRG.
Many more articles, pamphlets and books were published by the IS and the SWP on Cuba following the end of the period under consideration here. In the mid-to-late 1960’s and early 1970’s it was impossible to avoid the t-shirt friendly image of Che Guevara or a belief that students and/or peasants would be the bringers of the revolution. The successor organisations to the SRG maintained their belief that a genuine socialist revolution had to be the act of the working-class. For the IS/SWP, if you held true to that core belief in the working-class, it became easier to explain what was happening, both in Cuba and in other parts of the “less-developed” world.
The purpose of this piece of research is to present the work produced by the Socialist Review Group on the subject of Cuba. The items are from youth publications, their socialist newspaper, a Labour Party student magazine, the theoretical journal and internal bulletins. Some are therefore written in a “popular” mobilising style, others in a deeper analytical style. Some were for public dissemination, others for internal SRG consideration only. Where a publication is already available on the internet a link to the item is shown here. Other items that are new are transcribed in full and shown in the appendices. I have made a few comments on each one. These comments are by way of explanation or context. I have made no attempt to critique any of the publications in question.
When (if) the history of the Socialist Review Group comes to be written it is vital to see that organisation as it was at the time and not as refracted through the lens of today’s SWP. The two organisations are the same yet different. The same in the sense that for both, the working-class was central to everything, different in that the SRG’s Marxism was much more libertarian or humanist and much less “Leninist” than the SWP’s. These articles help, in a small way, to exhibit some of these differences.
The chronology in the following table shows important dates in Cuban history for the period, together with key SRG articles either appearing in the Appendices (for newly unearthed material) or already appearing online.
NB: This table is adapted from Sam Farber’s 2016 book, The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice published by Haymarket Books. My sincere thanks are due to Sam for allowing me to use his material in this way.
The SRG Publications
Number 1. Rebel was the SRG youth publication launched in July 1960 in an attempt to build the organisation based on the success of the Young Socialists in the Labour Party and CND. Rebel had the subtitle “For Socialist Youth Against the Bomb”. For further information see (Rudge, 2015). I have no information about the author and whether he was an SRG member (or indeed, if it is a pseudonym). This publication is Appendix 1.
Number 2. This item appeared in the “Notes of the Quarter” section of the journal and has no named author. It is available online here: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1960/isj003/note3.htm
Number 3. Socialist Review was the newspaper of the SRG. At this time, it was being published monthly. This was the front-page headline article and has no named author. See Appendix 2.
Number 4. The author,Chris Davison, joined the SRG in 1959 and was an important figure in the organisation. He was extremely active in youth work and was editor of Young Guard. Later he was Industrial Organiser of IS, with extensive activity in the Rank and File arena amongst others. See Appendix 3 for the article.
Number 5. This article by Ken Coates is from that period when International Socialism was not the sole property of the Socialist Review Group, but a broader “church” of the Left. The article does not therefore reflect the standard SRG view. To prove the point, see the exchange between Ken Coates and Sergio Junco (Sam Farber) in number 7 below. This article is online here:
Number 6. Nick Howard had visited Cuba for five weeks in August and September 1961. On his return to Britain he wrote this article for Clarion, the magazine of “The National Association of Labour Student Organisations” (NALSO). The SRG had some influence within NALSO, with SRG member Nigel Harris holding various senior positions. At this time Nick was an SRG member at the London School of Economics. See Appendix 4.
Number 7. Sergio Junco was Sam Farber’s pseudonym during his UK stay 1961-1963. Young Guard was the youth paper started in 1961 as a joint initiative between the SRG, the Revolutionary Socialist League, some Labour Lefts and others. Sam was also an SRG member at the LSE. The article was followed by correspondence exchanges. This is the article and most substantive exchange. Appendix 5.
Number 8. See Number 6 above. The Junco/Howard International Socialism article is online here:
Number 9. This Internal Bulletin contribution by Tony Cliff was very soon after to form the section (with a few amendments and some parts deleted) on Cuba in his ground-breaking article “Permanent Revolution” (see Number 11 below), where the theory of “Deflected Permanent Revolution” was first explicitly outlined (2). See Appendix 6.
Number 10. This is Sergio Junco’s (Sam Farber’s) reply to Cliff’s January 1963 Internal Bulletin contribution (see Number 9 above). It appeared in A Socialist Survey Number 2 – a new name for the internal bulletin. See Appendix 7.
Number 11. Duncan Hallas (1951) had stated in an internal SRG document that Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution would have to be modified in the light of the experience of China and Yugoslavia (see Rudge, 2017). Events in Cuba made this even clearer. This is Cliff’s analysis. It is available online:
A Few Final Comments
I have made it clear that I want these Cuban writings of the Socialist Review Group to speak for themselves. Nonetheless, it is worth making a few short remarks. One of these is a compelling argument from Ian Birchall to explain the relative scarcity of SRG publications on Cuba. The other remarks relate to the articles themselves. Ian writes:
“It is interesting to put the argument as to why Cuba did not get so much attention into context. The SRG was a very small group with limited resources. The issues that were taken up tended to relate to the political competition, which in general in this period meant the other far left currents in the Young Socialists. In this period our main political rivals were the SLL – and the Healyites did not disagree fundamentally with us on Cuba – they thought it was “a Bonapartist regime resting on state capitalist foundations”. The Grant group were not terribly interested in the Third World, so the only people who were much interested in Cuba were the pre-IMG people centred in Nottingham, of which Ken Coates was the leading member. So, it is not surprising that Coates was the main protagonist in the debate. The main Trotskyist current that was enthusiastic about Cuba was the American SWP – and they did not have much influence on the British left before the mid-sixties. And even the Fourth International gave much more importance to Algeria than to Cuba until the 1965 coup – again not surprising, since Pablo himself held a government position of some sort under Ben Bella. The real wave of enthusiasm for Cuba in Britain comes a bit later, with the murder of Guevara and Debray’s book Revolution in the Revolution. It was the Black Dwarf milieu that was really keen on Cuba.” (Birchall, pers. comms.).
On the articles themselves, it is worth highlighting how it is useful to have matched the SRG’s writings to a timeline of the Cuban events. It evidences a move from the general to the specific in the political analysis as more information became available and events unfolded. It also shows that Tony Cliff did not develop his analysis of events in a vacuum. It is clear that he was influenced by fellow members of the Group.
Secondly, what we have here are the very first writings on Cuba by Sam Farber, the respected Marxist scholar. Sam is Cuban-born and was active in the anti-Batista high school student movement. He is an authority on Cuban politics. Each of his later four books on Cuba has been extremely well-received and reviewed within the I.S. Tendency. The themes that Farber introduced way back in 1961 have remained the driving components of his political appraisal of Cuba ever since. I am in the process of writing a longer piece on Sam Farber and his time in Britain between 1961 and 1963 and again in 1973 (Rudge, In Press). We also have a previously unavailable version of a section of Tony Cliff’s important work on Deflected Permanent Revolution and an early and rare first-hand piece by Nick Howard. Not bad for a small organisation in a short period of history!
Thirdly, I can add a little more clarification around the authorship of the Sergio Junco (assisted by Nick Howard) International Socialism article “Yanqui No! Castro No! Cuba Si!”(SRG Publication Number8).
For his biography of Tony Cliff Ian Birchall interviewed Nick Howard in December 2008. This International Socialism article was covered as follows:
“Nick Howard had spent the summer of 1961 in Cuba and had written an article on his experience. Cliff was unhappy at its pro-Castro sympathies and introduced Howard to Sam Farber, who took over the article”.
Sam Farber (pers. comms.) has now clarified the situation as follows:
“I wrote almost all the International Socialism article on Cuba by myself but had very little documentation to support my arguments. That is where Nick’s recent trip came in handy since he very generously provided me with the materials. Moreover, Cliff had nothing to do with this process. It was Mike Kidron who connected Nick and I for this piece, a relationship that was facilitated by my having already met Nick at the LSE. In addition, I quickly became a member of NALSO at LSE and of the Young Socialist group at the South St. Pancras and Holborn Labour Party. The Kidron’s were members of the adult Labour Party in the same constituency and so may have been Nick, but I don’t remember well whether he was a member there (he may have instead been a member of the North St. Pancras constituency in Camden or Kentish Town).”
Fourthly, it is self-evident that the ground-breaking analyses undertaken by the SRG of the revolutions in China and Cuba, plus events in other less developed countries, has had a long-term impact on later theoretical developments in the IS and SWP. The SWP’s foremost expert on Cuba, Mike Gonzalez had this to say in 2010:
“On Latin America, the framework of everything I have written has been shaped by Cliff’s early analysis….his writings on Eastern Europe and Cuba were critically important for me. Because my academic milieu was very hostile to my critical take on Cuba and Chile, it was Cliff’s authoritative work that gave me the confidence to take all that on.” (Mike Gonzalez, quoted in Birchall, 2011).
I will leave the last words to Tony Cliff in two quotes from his autobiography:
“If the theory of state capitalism dealt with the ‘Second World’, then deflected permanent revolution covered the Third World. Once again, the notion of workers’ self-activity was crucial. In the same way that it seemed to me impossible that a workers’ state could be imposed by Russian army tanks in Warsaw, Berlin or Prague, so it was impossible that Mao’s peasant army or Castro’s rural guerrilla forces could bring socialism to the workers of China and Cuba.”
And, perhaps most of all why the early writings are important:
“While arguments about China and Cuba might have seemed rather abstract in the 1950s and early 1960s they were to be important later. If, as many Trotskyists and Maoists came to believe, socialism could be created by social forces other than the workers, and without workers’ involvement, then, if the working class failed to respond to appeals, it could be dropped and forgotten about. Belief that Cuba and China were socialist therefore became a bridge leading away from working class politics. This could be a very strong pull. In 1968 it led Trotskyists in the International Marxist Group (the British section of the Fourth International) to the idea that students could bring about socialism. The International Socialists also recruited students, but we never believed that they could substitute for the working class and its activity. For the Maoists, who led the revolutionary movements in places like Italy and Portugal, confusion about the central role of the workers led to the idea that a determined minority could, through sheer will, bring about social transformation.” (Cliff, 2000).
- For instance, around 1962, Tony Cliff was working on a book on the collectivisation of agriculture. The book, of seven parts and 292 typescript pages, was never published but Part 5 of the proposed book was titled “Castro’s Transformation of Agriculture”. This section on Cuba consists of 29 pages and contains a mass of detail. Its main contention is that for several social, economic and political reasons that Cliff identifies, Cuba starts on the road to the collectivisation of agriculture in a more favourable position than either Russia or China did. Cuba could therefore potentially fit more closely to Marx’s own policy for the socialist transformation of agriculture. Cliff, however, caveats this strongly by warning that he is writing only very shortly after Castro’s take-over of power. He also specifically identifies a range of difficulties that would make success difficult. Cliff ends this Cuba section with a well-versed sentiment, “Above all, if Stalin’s Russia proved that it is impossible to build “socialism in one country”, Castro’s Cuba will prove the impossibility of building “socialism in one island.” Sam Farber collaborated with Cliff on this “Collectivisation of Agriculture” project by translating a fair amount of materials from the Cuban press (Farber, pers.comms.).The manuscript of the book was only discovered after Cliff’s death and it is held in his archive at the Warwick University Modern Records Centre.
- It is worth recording that most of the section on China in Cliff’s “Permanent Revolution” article is lifted from Chapter XI of his book “Mao’s China” (Gluckstein, 1957).
Birchall, Ian. 2011. Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time. Bookmarks Publications, London. 664pp.
Cliff, Tony. 2000. A World to Win: Life of a Revolutionary. Bookmarks Publications Ltd., London, England, 247pp.
Gluckstein, Ygael. 1957. Mao’s China. Economic and Political Survey. Allen and Unwin, London, 438pp.
Hallas, Duncan. 1951. The Stalinist Parties. Internal Socialist Review Group Document. Available online:
Rudge, John. 2015. Rebel, Rebel: The Youth Publications of the SWP from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Available online: http://grimanddim.org/tony-cliff-biography/rebel-rebel/
Rudge, John. 2017. Hillman, Hallas and the Stalinist Parties. Available online:
Rudge, John. In Press. Sam Farber and IS: The 1973 Visit and Beyond.
My thanks to Sam Farber and Ian Birchall for their help in putting this article together.
From: Rebel Issue Number 2 September 1960 p.6.
U.S. Economic War on Cuba
America has, in effect, declared war on the Cuban revolution which overthrew the corrupt Batista regime, long propped up with American arms. Until Batista’s overthrow Cuba’s status was that of a semi-colonial country: the greater part of Cuba’s resources – and the profits – were in the hands of U.S. capital.
The revolution, led by Fidel Castro, was a major blow to imperialist domination, and opened the road to the industrial and social development of Cuba. Already, great strides have been made in land reform, through the confiscation of the big private estates and their conversion into the collective property of the peasants. It is the only land reform in Latin American history that has increased productivity in its first year of operation. All this creates an inspiring example to the oppressed masses of other Latin American countries, and it is this, above all else, that has enraged and alarmed the imperialists and their lackeys.
The nationalization of U.S. property in Cuba so far has been a staggering blow to the capitalists directly affected, but, for U.S. capitalism, an even worse aspect of Cuba’s declaration of economic and political independence is the contagious example it sets. If Cuba can with impunity take over vast capitalist properties from the U.S., why can’t Brazil, Panama, Venezuela and other countries do the same?
At present, the U.S. is fighting the war with economic and diplomatic weapons. This is not because it is too civilized to use military force against a small nation. But simply because the repercussions of direct military intervention, especially in other Latin American countries, could be disastrous at this stage. However, the U.S. ruling class cannot let Cuba go unpunished, and the slash in Cuba’s sugar quota was the opening gambit of their economic war.
The Wall Street Journal, July 11, announces a plan to “confine Castroism”; the Wall Street mouthpiece reports that the U.S. will pressure the other Latin American states to sever diplomatic relations with Cuba, embargo arms shipments, and apply travel curbs on Cuban citizens etc. As one U.S. official explained: “You’d have to add some things we haven’t even thought of yet. The point of all this is simply to try in as many ways as we can to seal off Cuba from the rest of the area.”
Ultimately, the Journal makes plain, the U.S. hopes to hasten Castro’s downfall; including “promoting and discreetly backing opposition to him within Cuba.” It is explained that this was the technique used successfully in Guatemala.
The Imperialists, will, no doubt, do everything within their power to bring Cuba to her knees; but the Cuban people, led by the young workers and peasants who made the revolution, and who are still armed, will not capitulate. We are with them in their struggle.
From: Socialist Review Issue 11th Year Number 5 May 1961 p.1
HANDS OFF CUBA
President Kennedy improves on Franklin Roosevelt in one respect only: he makes mincemeat of liberal illusions much more quickly.
The amateur world strategists of the New Statesman, busy plotting Kennedy’s course for him last November, were convinced that this New Deal idol of all the ageing radical bobby-soxers, would come to terms with Castro at once. What an achievement, they pointed out, if Cuba could be snatched from the snapping jaws of Krushchov and Fidelismo be firmly fettered to the “free world’s” camp.
As usual, our liberals failed to smell the stench under their noses – in this case, of oil. Wall Street, ready to jettison Batista when his impotence was proved, was quite willing to allow his successors any amount of democratic phrase-mongering. But when the armed workers and peasants of Cuba pressed the new regime to nationalize imperialist property, that put a different complexion on things altogether.
For the past year, America has been surreptitiously training exiled Cuban irregulars for the forthcoming invasion of Cuba. The signs are – and the shrewd Kennedy has said as much – that all the stops will not be pulled out unless or until the Cuban reactionaries can establish some solid base for themselves, however small, on the island. It is clear that they are meeting with no support at all among the Cuban people.
Washington will therefore hold its hand. But the danger persists that, with some sudden worsening of the world situation, it may decide “to make an example” of Cuba. The Labour Movement must be on guard against any such move.
Macmillan on his recent visit may have made secret commitments to send British forces to Cuba. These must not be carried out. It is not necessary to defend everything that Castro does (for example, his anti-strike legislation), it is not necessary to call a country ruled neither by workers’ councils nor a workers’ Party a “workers’ state”. But it is necessary to alert the British Labour Movement to any plans directed against Cuba.
Hands off Cuba! Hands off a revolution still unfolding! Not a man nor a penny must go to aid Wall Street’s plans against the Cuban people.
From Rebel Issue Number 7 May 1961 p.3.
By Chris Davison
Events in Cuba have become critical in recent weeks due to the imminent danger of an invasion by groups of gangsters backed by American big business. To cover up their dirty work, the Americans have launched a propaganda campaign designed to label Cuba as Communist and to paint conditions in Cuba in the darkest colours. The attitude of the British labour movement to these events is lamentable. Instead of giving the Cuban revolution full support by exposing this attempt by American industrialists to get back their lucrative assets, the right-wing has quietly accepted these propagandist attacks. The Cubans haven’t forgotten that Britain supplied arms to Batista, it is time that we dissociated ourselves from America’s intentions.
The Cuban revolution could have provided the labour movement with some magnificent ammunition for its struggles. The next steps forward made by the Cubans in agriculture, housing and education, health etc., will be an object lesson to those who doubt the practicability of planning.
The revolution itself illustrates the power of working people to overthrow their bosses and to shape their own futures. Where was the anarchy, mob rule and bloodshed so often predicted by our opponents? Perhaps here lies the reason for the lukewarm attitude of our leaders to the Cuban revolution.
While supporting the advances made by the Cubans we should not be afraid to criticise aspects of the revolution. The most disturbing thing is its failure to give workers real power in the factories and on farms. Early attempts to set up workers’ committees were not encouraged. This failure to give the workers real power may well bring about the collapse of the revolution. While living standards rise, Castro is safe, but if he is forced to cut them in order to resist counter-revolutionaries, workers will become disillusioned. And the failure to make officials responsible to workers’ committees will lead to bureaucracy and open the way for reaction.
Here Castro faces a dilemma, for the process of creating a democratic framework for the revolution may give America the chance it has been waiting for. Also the creation of a real workers’ state would not meet with approval from the Russian bureaucracy. Unfortunately Cuba has been forced to lean heavily on Russia.
At the Young Socialist conference a resolution was passed by a large majority urging a foreign policy based on support for working class movements in all countries. Here is an excellent opportunity to implement this policy by supporting the Cuban people in their struggle against imperialism.
Since this article was written, the anticipated invasion of Cuba has actually taken place. The intention of U.S.-supported emigres to destroy the Castro revolutionary Government and to replace it with the U.S. stooge regime has been attempted – and has been thoroughly repulsed. These recent events have shown conclusively that the Cuban working people continue to support the Castro Government. We of the British Labour Movement must now demonstrate our support for the Cuban people. By solidarity demonstrations, by protests to the U.S. Government, by every means at our disposal, we can help the Cuban people to decide their own future in their own way. Cuba must not become a pawn in the Cold War. To be really independent it must be free from the grip of both Kennedy and Kruschov. Our protests will help -Ed.
From: Clarion: Magazine of The National Association of Labour Student Organisations Number 19 pp. 8-10. No date (but Winter 1961/62).
Cuba: Revolution Betrayed?
By Nick Howard
Cuba today must be the only country in the world where the “International” is in the top twenty. It is probably also the only country in the world where the problem of illiteracy is being so boldly tackled, where school children from the age of eleven upwards have been given a six months holiday to join other volunteers to go into the rural areas to teach more than a million illiterates to read and write.
Nor can there be any place in the world where the sufferers from years of rural unemployment and malnutrition are taken from their mud-floored huts and rehoused in elegant modern bungalows complete with furnishing and well-equipped bathrooms; where exclusive beach clubs are being thrown open to all, where the daughters of the agricultural proletariat are being housed in luxury apartments in the big cities, taught to read, write and sew and sent home after a year with a new sewing machine and a pledge to work as primary school teachers for at least two years.
No Cuban would say that the problems of slums, unemployment and malnutrition have been completely solved in a Cuba where meat and other protein foods are temporarily rationed, where slums have existed for two hundred years and where unemployment has been a natural by-product of a one-crop economy, but the fact that material changes are being made strikes one immediately on arrival in Cuba. The luxury flat and hotel building boom of Batista days has continued as a building boom, but now instead of dwellings for the rich, factories, schools, clinics, sports and social centres and people’s houses and flats are being built. Another aspect that strikes the visitor is the use of modern radio, television and poster techniques employed in telling the Cuban people that the revolution won by Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement is now “A Socialist Revolution.” “Cuba! First Socialist Country in America!” shouts a somewhat premature slogan on the side of a modern luxury hotel. “Your factory machinery is yours! Look after it, use your spare parts carefully, keep your factory in production for your Socialist revolution! Defend it!” exhorts the radio announcer.
The Cuban Communist party, known as the P.S.P. (Partido Socialista Popular) cautiously distributes stickers warning against extremism, using a quote from Lenin, while local revolutionary defence committees energetically stick up garish tableaux warning the Brazilian workers, peasants, students and other revolutionary classes to defend the Brazilian constitution from military coup d’etatists and Yankee Imperialists.
Despite these public spirited attempts of the Cuban regime to instil a revolutionary consciousness into the Cuban people and into the working class in particular, there are indications that the attempt to impose socialism upon the development of Cuba is going to fail. The argument is not merely one of “socialism” imposed from above versus socialism adopted from below. It involves the entire process of the Cuban revolution. The very nature of Fidel Castro’s historical struggle is sufficient explanation. Never at any time during the guerrilla war against Batista was the revolutionary struggle a mass, class struggle. The overthrow of the tyrannical, semi-colonial government of Batista was achieved mainly in an atmosphere of passive, middle and working class acquiescence, by a small army which was able to overcome the demoralised troops ordered to support the corrupt regime. EssentIally the revolution took place at the top. The subsequent stages of revolutionary change from economic dependence upon the U.S.A. to economic dependence on the U.S.S.R. were also largely prompted and carried out from above. The process was accelerated by U.S. intolerance of genuine agrarian reform and by U.S. failure to understand Cuba’s balance of payment difficulties brought about by her one crop economy. But the initiative in changing the sluggish outlook of the Eisenhower government should have come from the Castro government.
Fidel Castro’s first attempts at political and economic programming after his 1953 “History will Absolve Me” speech, were distinctly placatory of American interests. In statements to the press during his guerrilla war, he ruled out nationalization and his October 1958 Agrarian Reform project, drawn up before the collapse of Batista, was mild enough to win the acceptance of the capitalist press.
His later moves, when in power, showed a tendency to the opposite extreme. His more radical Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959 provided for compensation payments with Cuban Government 4 per cent bonds which were never printed or issued. The post revolutionary executions, Castro’s acquiescence in the stifling of the press by a minority of Communist Party journalists, his sacking of his social democrat ministers, his purging of the genuine trade unionists such as David Salvador, all contributed to a breakdown in U.S. – Cuban relations. Also, the holding of democratic elections was a necessary prerequisite for U.S. economic aid and tolerance of radical reforms in Cuba.
Tolerance is almost a prohibited export from the U.S. these days, but that economic aid would never have been granted to Cuba is doubtful. It might even have been forthcoming had Fidel Castro attempted to build up a social-democratic regime based upon land reform and partial nationalisation. Such a regime would not have been socialist, but neither is the present one. When socialism is unattainable, a democratic parliamentary regime is the best for all, including the working class, with its own independent trade unions. One thing is certain. A social-democratic revolution was possible while Castro had the support of all the Cuban people and while he held the power of victory.
However, Castro did nothing to create a “socialist” revolution until his own actions, and those of the CIA, had pushed Cuba into the arms of Soviet trade. Then he announced “Socialism” almost overnight, surely the most rapid road to socialism ever travelled; a brand new political model for 1961, with upholstery of deepest red and a horizontally-united two million worker-power “Marxist-Leninist” motor to drive it.
Prior to his announcement Castro had never built up a revolutionary party to increase working class consciousness. His 26th of July Movement fell apart soon after victory, its members taking administrative jobs or going into opposition and its clubs ceasing to function. Castro never attempted to replace it and he never attempted to imbue the largest class in Cuba with the knowledge that theirs would one day be the task of running the nation and its industrial and agricultural resources. In fact, talk of nationalization by any militant union was frowned upon until Castro’s government found it politic to announce mass nationalisation over-night as a reprisal to a U.S. embargo on Cuba’s sugar exports, not as a basic plank in a conscious policy towards socialism.
Apart from that carried out under the Agrarian Reform Law, the first act of nationalization was the taking over of the Havana Hilton (now the Havana Libre) and National Hotels, in June 1960, followed by the take-over of the foreign oil companies due to their refusal to refine oil bought in Russia. This was followed on July 5th, 1960, by U.S. suspension of the remainder of the sugar quota. Then came Cuban government intervention in U.S. owned firms and complete nationalisation when the owners of these firms began to run them to a halt.
There need be no quibble with Castro’s nationalization policy as a move against economic imperialism. What is to be doubted is whether he intended this policy to be a means towards Socialism or, whether he prepared Cuban workers for it by taking their side in the class struggle, particularly in the trade unions. In fact, mass state nationalization is now seen in Cuba as the end to which all other interests, including those of the workers and their unions should be subordinated. According to the PSP, the nationalization of 85 per cent of Cuba’s economy has created a state developing into socialism. But this same Communist Party has never attempted to raise working class consciousness. In fact, by curbing or even replacing the most militant and popular unionists it has helped to prepare the trade unions for their new role in the revolution. Trade unions are now forbidden to organize the workers’ bargaining power. It is the depressing East European policy all over again.
Evidence for the failure even to start out on the road to Socialism is manifold in Cuba today. There neither exists, nor are there any plans for a structure whereby decisions of political policy can be made at the base of society, at factory, urban and rural levels, from whence they can be transmitted to a central congress, discussed democratically and openly and a national policy evolved. Dissenting minorities are crushed as a way of preventing them from forming opposition groups. There is no such thing as a constructive right to disagree. In the climate of present day Cuba dissenting minorities tend to be looked upon as counter-revolutionaries, which is the usual method of defending bureaucratic power.
Any structure of government which does evolve will be dominated by the proposed United Revolutionary Party, which in turn will be dominated by the PSP. The fusion of this well organised and tightly knit party with the two loosely dispersed groups, which hardly qualify for the definition “political party”, namely the 26th of July group and the similar 13th March Directorate, can only lead to a single state authoritarian party. In fact, this already exists and is known as the Integrated Revolutionary Organisation, the preliminary base for the URP. The IRO is already making and carrying out policy and probably has considerable funds at its disposal.
In preparation for the new party a booklet of instruction to party cadres has been published, giving the rules of entry, organisation and control of the single party. The familiar phrase, “democratic centralism”, beloved of East European bureaucrats in describing their electoral systems, is fully explained and described as the basis of the new party. It is the basic political philosophy of the growing band-waggoning crowd of middle-class “Marxist-Leninists”, and a very useful slogan for perpetuating the class structure.
All the apparatus of an exclusively one-party authoritarian state now exists in Cuba. A monolithic and pathetically uncritical press, radio and TV service; state controlled management of factories and farms; a militia which is no longer based on factories and places of work (except for key government buildings which are guarded by the Rebel Army) and is now being dispersed into barracks under a full time corps of officers; a full time national revolutionary police; a secret police, the G-2; a youth organisation controlled by the PSP, and local Revolutionary Defence Committees consisting of small groups of people selected and controlled by the IRO’s and acting on Castro’s instructions to maintain revolutionary vigilance (which elsewhere would be called informing). All this may be explained by the constant threat of invasion and by the economic embargo, nevertheless, there is no reason why an “armed camp” should not be a democratic one.
The Cuban worker is outnumbered two to one by State representatives on all factory committees. He is urged to accept these arrangements and to accept trade unions which are not permitted to involve themselves in industrial disputes nor to interrupt production for any cause. He is urged to accept the need for strict industrial discipline and the need for uncritical unity to beat the counter-revolution (the bomb-throwers are still around in Cuba), but never is he politically consulted about the way things should be done or what should be done.
By giving Cuba’s workers, not merely those few who have graduated through the layers of the PSP bureaucracy, but the rank and file workers, an increase of control and responsibility, such problems as the shortage of personnel in administrative and distributive problems would be brought nearer to solution. However, any group which advocated such a policy of primitive workers’ control would be resisted by the PSP and Blas Roca its general secretary, who has already said that workers must not interfere even with the remaining private entrepreneurs, because they are needed by the Revolution and most of them are good revolutionaries anyway. To allow even a minimum of workers’ control in a small firm, even if its boss has fled, would set a dangerous precedent in the nationalized industries.
If the Cuban people were treated as capable individuals and not as an ideological and remote mass to be manipulated by the state for the sake of vulgar-Stalinist dogmas, if the leadership fully realized in the words of the Communist Manifesto: “…that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the working class to the position of the ruling class, to win the battle of democracy,” then there might be some hope for Socialism in Cuba.
The present policy of the Castro regime in making economic progress an end in itself must retard the political progress of the Cuban people. That political and democratic rights should be denied in the name of economic development does not make sense in a country that will soon be agriculturally self-sufficient. Furthermore the low population density (total population 6,700,000) in a very fertile land which equals the combined size of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, and the absence of widespread destruction during the revolution makes possible economic growth without the authoritarian structure that usually accompanies primary accumulation.
Nor should we expect a spread of Castro revolution to the rest of Latin America. No longer is it possible for guerrilla bands to be able to count on the passive support of the national bourgeoisie. Fears of mass state nationalization will be enough to provoke greater resistance and bloody civil wars. The relative ease with which Castro took power cannot be repeated. Even if a coup d’état was successful the other countries of the southern continent will not be able to rely on Soviet aid. The still relatively poor Soviet Union bloc could not come to the aid of seventy million Brazilians as it has done for the seven million Cubans.
Thus Cuba is no “socialist light” guiding the rest of Latin America. Her support in the United Nations of Soviet power politics marks the decline of the once romantic, once hopefully progressive Cuban Revolution. Faced with renewed onslaughts of Strontium 90, slogans about the unity of mankind and the socialist brotherhood seem hollow. Perhaps the only conclusion to be drawn from the Cuban story is that although socialism must be fought for in all countries, it will have to conquer the advanced industrial countries, before it can succeed in the semi-colonies.
CUBA and SOCIALISM
Some “socialists” seem to forget nowadays that Marx and other Founding Fathers of our movement fought the type of economic and social relations being built under a capitalist form of economic development both because this system necessarily implies minority rule based on the exploitation of the majority of the people and because of the inhuman methods often employed by the capitalist ruling classes in order to maintain and consolidate their power. We hear from some that it is necessary to industrialize the under-developed countries at any cost. Here we must ask a very basic question: economic development for whom and for what? Socialists are certainly not interested in the type of economic development which in the process destroys all progressive human values, consolidates elitist rule, and that equals or surpasses the alienation which people already suffer in capitalist countries.
In the case of Cuba, for example, it is usually ignored by the defenders of the present regime, that its economy, before the Revolution, was in a higher stage of development than most other underdeveloped countries. With a great disregard for the actual revolutionary process in Cuba, it is also maintained that whatever has gone wrong there has been a mere reaction to American imperialism. The latter has certainly been an important factor in the worsening political situation there, but it should also be considered that there have been many other powerful internal factors at work. Among these is the fact that the present government came to power only as a result of the active struggle of a small minority enjoying the passive support of most Cubans. Castro never allowed or encouraged, even at the peak of his popularity, the creation of revolutionary institutions which might have eliminated or at least diminished the monopoly of power enjoyed by his ruling elite. Even the tremendous passive political support that the regime had at one time has been greatly diminishing.
In response to this charge, it is usually argued that since the people are armed and that since Castro consults the people on all important decisions, the present Cuban government is a progressive regime. First of all, the militias do not have any decision making power at all and separate militia units do not have political contact with each other. Countless workers have been forced to join the militias lest they lose their factory jobs. Secondly, Castro goes to a certain part of the people after the decisions have been made. These meetings are rallies in which there is no deliberation nor even a right of amendment, let alone the right to oppose the rulers’ proposals.
Given the fact that there has never been any popular control of revolutionary institutions in Cuba, it makes no sense to say that this is a socialist or even a progressive society. Nationalisation is conducive to Socialism only when there exists a state which is owned and controlled by the majority of the people. Otherwise, we get a type of state and society which is less progressive than say, liberal democracy, since in the latter the popular forces are able to organize and actively work for the earliest possible substitution of the system. In Cuba, on the other hand, it is legally impossible to have independent organizations which could threaten the monopoly of power held by the intellectual elite. One example of this impossibility was the seizure of the newspaper Voz Proletaria (Proletarian Voice), and the destruction of the plates of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution in compliance with an official order of the Ministry of Labour. The Cuban Trotskyist newspaper had a position of “critical support” for the present Cuban regime.
Naturally, any opposition to the present Cuban regime must be absolutely independent and separated from those organizations which are fighting Castro with imperialist support and who have little interest in advancing and consolidating the social revolution and upholding the abolition of the old order. Any movement of opposition should point out the contradictions of a system which while on the one hand verbally proclaims the abolition of the exploitation of man by man, on the other hand maintains a regime of class rule, and absolute lack of democracy. The political consciousness of the Cuban people should rise to such a height that they will be able to see that both the Eastern and Western imperialists and their friends are profoundly mistaken in their common assumption that the “lower classes” are not able to understand political affairs and rule themselves.
All these elitist and totalitarian movements in Cuba and other underdeveloped countries are bringing to the attention of the socialist movements in the more advanced countries that now, more than ever before, it is urgent that the peoples of these latter countries should accelerate their fight for international socialism, not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of their more unfortunate brothers in the less developed countries. By doing this, the more advanced working classes may one day offer their material help to the peoples of these developing countries and thus destroy the excuses of the new exploiting groups who insist that all excesses are necessary and justified in the higher interest of economic development.
Sergio Junco is a Cuban Socialist student now living in Europe. A longer and more documented article by Sergio Junco will appear in the coming issue of International Socialism (Winter 1962).
reply to Junco,
As one of the “socialists” (in inverted commas) that Sergio Junco gets at in his article “Cuba and Socialism”, I should like to make a few enquiries of him.
I personally am most interested in a “type of economic development which…destroys all progressive human values, consolidates elitist rules, and that equals or surpasses the alienation which people already suffer in capitalist countries”. It would fascinate me as much as a zoo full of unicorns would interest a zoologist, and I should appreciate Sergio’s advice on how to find either. In the same issue of Young Guard as this one, there appears an article by Reg Lewis in which we are told that the Labour camps in Russia disappeared not because Khrushchev is a nice chap, but because they had “become an economic hindrance”. Heads I win, tails you lose.
I don’t know how alienated the Cuban people are, since I have no alienometer. (Indeed, I’m most interested to get a look at the Junco model: is it secret?). On the whole, I suspect that here we have another case of the tyranny of the machine, and that comrade Junco is being had: but if he isn’t, then Young Guard should go out of business, for all that will happen if the programme on the back page is implemented is that alienation will vastly increase. Comrade Junco is already halfway to drawing his conclusion: he thinks that Cuba is “less progressive than say, liberal democracy.” Which liberal democracy is it that he thinks we should look at? Off hand I find it difficult to think of one in which any recent government has had a fraction of the support that Castro draws from the people of Cuba.
Some of comrade Junco’s “facts” are off the mark, by the way. The Cuban Trotskyists are not “critical”, but unconditional defenders of the revolution, and rightly so. Their paper was seized, but is now re-appearing, which is a significant defeat for those misguided people who wanted to make the Revolution really like the strange thing comrade Junco has in his head.
From: Young Guard Issue Number 6 February 1962 Page 3
These lines are in answer to Ken Coates’ enquiries as addressed to me in a letter published in the January 1962 edition (No. 5) of Young Guard.
I did not say that I was opposed to industrial economic development. I did say, and I repeat, that I was opposed to such types of industrial economic development as are usually proposed and realized by both capitalists and bureaucrats, mainly because of the social, political and juridical relations they create. Whether we regard a certain economic stage as inevitable or not, there is no doubt that socialists have to oppose it if the content of that system goes against our political principles. I think that Ken Coates will agree that a regime which, among other things, prevents workers from freely electing their own trade union leaders, which abolishes, in practice, the right to strike, and which faces so much absenteeism in factories that it has to call national conferences of bureaucrats in order to deal with it (similar to the conference held in Bauta, Cuba in September, 1961), must have created a tremendous amount of alienation among Cuban workers.
When I compare a totalitarian system with a liberal-democratic one, I intend mainly to show that in the latter system it is much easier and much less dangerous to struggle for workers’ rights and socialist democracy. I am sure that many workers, who are now in prison in Cuba would be willing, if a choice was possible, to enjoy the same political opportunities for struggle that Ken Coates has. Would you believe me, comrade Coates, if I say that a cell in the giant prison of the Isle of Pines or of the “G2” (Secret Police), or the firing squad, are places from which it is infinitely more difficult to carry out the struggle for people’s rights? This does not mean at all that we should follow the example of those Cubans who are friendly to American imperialism and who put forward demands for the establishment of liberal democracy. For many reasons, the only progressive thing to do in Cuba is to struggle for the establishment of socialist democracy.
In regard to the question of popular support, let me say that witchunter Joe MacCarthy or Liberal Crook Ramon Grau San Martin (who was elected President of Cuba in 1944) had no less support than witchunter Fidel Castro has now. (I am not referring here to the support Castro had twelve to eighteen months ago). And just in case anybody is in doubt about Castro being a witchunter, let me just say this: is it not witchunting to say, as Castro did recently, that anybody who considers himself a neutralist is serving the interests of Western imperialism, or again, anybody who is not for me, is against me?
The Cuban Trotskyists, who are unknown to the bulk of the Cuban population, are unconditional defenders of the Revolution, but were “critical supporters” (and quite critical) of the regime. I hope that Ken Coates, unlike the Jesuits, does not establish as a proven fact that Revolution and present regime are identical. This identity is to be proven, if this is possible at all, and not to be taken as a matter of course.
Since Ken Coates seems to be so well versed in Cuban affairs, could he provide me with some facts supporting his assertion that the Trotskyist newspaper “is now reappearing”?
P.S. “Sergio Junco” is a pseudonym, not my real name. I hope that Ken Coates will always be able to afford the use of his real name.
From: I.S. Internal Bulletin January 1963 (1)
“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.”Communist Manifesto.
Castro’s Revolution, an Extreme Case of Middle Class Leadership
A case in which neither the working class nor the peasantry played a serious role, but where middle-class intellectuals filled the whole arena of struggle, is Fidel Castro’s rise to power. C Wright Mills’ book, Listen Yankee, which is a more or less authentic monologue spoken by the Cuban leaders, deals first of all with what the revolution was not:
“… the revolution itself was not a fight … between wage workers and capitalists … Our revolution is not a revolution made by labour unions or wage workers in the city or by labour parties, or by anything like that” (Listen Yankee p.46)further: “…. the wage workers in the city were not conscious in any revolutionary way; their unions were merely like your North American unions: out for more money and better conditions. That was all that really moved them. And some were even more corrupt than some of yours.” (Ibid p.47).
Professor Paul Baran, an uncritical admirer of Castro, after discussions with Cuban leaders, wrote:
“It would seem that the employed section of the industrial working class remained, on the whole, passive throughout the revolutionary period. Forming the aristocratic layer of the Cuban proletariat, these workers took part in the profits of monopolistic business – foreign and domestic – were well paid by Latin American standards and enjoyed a standard of living considerably in excess of that of the masses of the Cuban people. The fairly strong trade union movement was dominated by “business unionism” United States style, and was thoroughly permeated by racketeering and gangsterism.” (Baran, Reflections on the Cuban Revolution. p.17).
The indifference of the industrial proletariat led to the complete failure of Castro’s call for a general strike on 9 April 1958, that is, some sixteen months after the beginning of the uprising and eight months before the fall of Batista. The workers were apathetic, and the Communists tried to sabotage the Castro movement. (It was some time later that they jumped on Castro’s bandwagon.)
The Position Regarding the Peasantry was no Better
Regarding the role of the peasantry in Castro’s rise to power, remarks made by the Cuban leaders and commentators are more positive. Thus Wright Mills quotes the following. During the insurrection:
“the peasants played the big role. Together with the young intellectuals, they became the rebel army that won the insurrection. They were the decisive ones, the intellectuals and the campesinos” “… rebel soldiers (were) formed of peasants and led by young intellectuals …” (Wright Mill, op. cit., pp. 46-8).
Who were these peasants?
In similar vein Baran reports:
“The class that made the revolution is the rural campesinos.” (Baran. op. cit., p.11). And these were agricultural wage earners, not petty owners. “Not being inhabited by a petty bourgeois stratum of small peasant proprietors, the Cuban countryside … never became a ‘breeding ground of bourgeois ideology’.” (Ibid., p.12).
This description, however, is belied by two things: first, the peasantry was very little involved in Castro’s army. As late as April 1958, the total number of armed men under Castro numbered only about 180 and at the time of Batista’s fall there were only 803 (eight hundred and three). (Speech of Castro, December 1, 1961, El Mundo La Habana, December 22, 1961). The cadres of Castro’s bands were intellectuals. Any peasants that did participate were not agricultural wage earners, collectivist in inspiration, as Mills and Baran state. Thus ‘Che’ Guevara describes the peasants who joined Castro in the Sierra Maestra thus:
“The soldiers that made up our first guerrilla army of country people came from the part of this social class which shows its love for the possession of land most aggressively, which expresses most perfectly the spirit catalogued as petty bourgeois.” (“Che” Guevara, Cuba: Exceptional Case? Monthly Review, New York, July-Aug. 1961, p.59).
The Castro movement was middle-class. The 82 men under Castro who invaded Cuba from Mexico in December 1956 and the 12 who survived to fight in the Sierra Maestra all came from this class:
“The heaviest losses were suffered by the largely middle-class urban resistance movement, which secreted the political and psychological acids that ate into Batista’s fighting force.” (T. Draper, Castro’s Cuba. A Revolution Betrayed?Encounter, London, March 1961).
Castro’s Original Programme
From the outset Castro’s programme did not go beyond the horizon of broad liberal reforms acceptable to the middle classes. Thus, for instance, in an article to the magazine Coronet of February 1958, Castro declared that he had no plans for expropriating or nationalising foreign investments:
“I personally have come to feel that nationalisation is, at best, a cumbersome instrument. It does not seem to make the state any stronger, yet it enfeebles private enterprise. Even more importantly, any attempt at wholesale nationalisation would obviously hamper the principal point of our economic platform – industrialisation at the fastest possible rate. For this purpose, foreign investments will always be welcome and secure here.”
In May 1958, he assured his biographer, Dubois:
“Never has the 26th of July Movement talked about socialising or nationalising the industries. This is simply stupid fear of our revolution. We have proclaimed from the first day that we fight for the full enforcement of the Constitution of 1940, whose norms establish guarantees, rights and obligations for all the elements that have a part in production. Comprised therein is free enterprise and invested capital as well as many other economic, civic, and political rights”. (Quoted by Draper, Ibid.).
On July 20, 1958, a unity manifesto written by Castro stated merely:
“A minimum governmental programme that will guarantee the punishment of the guilty ones, the rights of the workers, the fulfilment of international commitments, public order, peace, freedom, as well as the economic, social and political progress of the Cuban people.” (Ibid.).
As late as May 2, 1959, Castro declared to the Economic Council of the Organisation of American States in Buenos Aires:
“We are not opposed to private investment … We believe in the usefulness, in the experience, and in the enthusiasm of private investors… Companies with international investments will have the same guarantees and the same rights as the national firms.” (Plan for the Advancement of Latin America. Havana, 1959, p.32).
The extent to which the logic of anti-imperialist nationalism and the industrial revolution, in the political vacuum created by the impotence of all contending classes – landlords and capitalists as well as workers and peasants – leads middle class elitist governments in the direction of state capitalism, is made very clear by the Cuban example.
Quite characteristically ‘Che’ Guevara raises the weakness and impotence of the industrial working class as a central element in all future socialist revolutions:
“The campesinos, with an army made up of their own kind fighting for their own great objectives, primarily for a just distribution of land, will come from the country to take the cities … This army, created in the countryside, where subjective conditions ripen for the seizure of power, proceeds to conquer the cities from the outside…” (Guevara, op. cit., p.63).
Industrial advance is described as an impediment to the socialist revolution:
“It is more difficult to prepare guerrilla bands in those countries that have undergone a concentration of population in great centers and have a more developed light and medium industry, even though not anything like effective industrialisation. The ideological influence of the cities inhibits the guerrilla struggle …” (Ibid., pp.65-6). “… even in countries where the predominance of the cities is great, the central political focus of the struggle can develop in the countryside.” (Ibid., p.68).
Paying lip service to the role of the industrial proletariat, “Che” says that the peasant guerrillas will have to accept “the ideological base of the working class – Marxism” – forgetting that the very heart of Marxism is the fact that the socialist revolution is the act of the working class itself, is the result of the proletariat becoming the subject and not the object of history.
The impotence of the contending social classes, workers and capitalists, peasants and landlords, the inherent historical weakness of the middle class, and the omnipotence of the new Castro elite, who were not bound by any set of coherent, organized interests, explains the ease with which Castro’s moderate programme of the years 1953-58, based on private enterprise, was cast aside and replaced by a radical programme of state ownership and planning. It was not before 16 April 1961, that Castro announced that the revolution had been socialist. Then, in the words of the President of the Republic, Dr Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado, the people “one fine day … discovered, or confirmed, that what they have been applauding, which was good for the people, was a Socialist Revolution.” (Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado, The Institutional and Political Changes made by the Cuban Revolution. (Cuba, Havana, November 1961). An excellent formulation of Bonapartist manipulation of the people as the object of history, not its conscious subject!
The Cuban crisis of October last has been enveloped in so much interpretive hindsight that there is a danger we might forget some of the major lessons it holds for us.
Kennedy’s class was quite willing to sink Cuba as a warning to all trespassers in “their” hemisphere: Kruschov’s bureaucracy was equally willing to ditch Cuba when expansion through competitive coexistence became too dangerous to sustain. The terrible fact was that the Cuban people and the rest of us were held to ransom from both sides of the iron curtain. If that has not laid the myth that rocketry on one side of the curtain is somehow more humane and defensible than it is on the other nothing short of war will.
Another myth that should have been laid by the crisis, is that rocketry can be of use in a national struggle for independence. True enough, playing the “bloc game” has become standard for backward countries struggling toward independence and the prerequisites of growth. It is natural in a world riven between two super powers willing and able to subsidise ruling classes the world over. Didn’t Tito hold off the Russians with U.S. aid? Nasser, the British with Russian aid? The F.L.N., France with Russo/Egyptian and Chinese aid? And so the round goes on, with the “bloc game” paying off in terms of national independence. Or so it had until Cuba. Then, for the first time in practice, the game was played with nuclear stakes. And with what result? The contrast with any other National movement since the war is too glaring to need comment – where weapons of mass annihilation replace mass mobilisation, power and independence even a hearing – are irretrievably lost.
The only legal party in Cuba is the ORI (Integrated Revolutionary Organisation) made up of a fusion between the Communist Party (Called the Peoples Socialist Party) (3). The Communists are now the backbone of ORI making up an overwhelming majority of its membership and officialdom. The Cuban Communists were in no way more independent of Moscow than for instance the CPGB. The Peoples Socialist Party (Communist Party) supported Batista’s rule between 1938 and 1946. Indeed, they participated in Batista’s first ministry with two ministers, Juan Marinello and Carlos Rodriguez both key leaders in Cuba today. In 1946 Hoy the CP paper addressed Batista as “the idol of the people, the great man of our national policy the man who incarnates the sacred ideals of new Cuba.” Castro was declared a petty bourgeois adventurer. As late as June 28th, 1959, (4) they were timidly advocating “clean democratic elections” to get rid of Batista.
Cuba and the Fourth International
It is pathetic ignorance or plain hypocrisy for the F.I. to claim a special relationship with the Castroites. Indeed at the first Latin American Youth Conference in Havana in the summer of 1960 the Cuban delegation issued a long denunciation of the Latin American Trotskyist delegates in these terms:
“The project of the manifesto presented by the Trotskyists repeats in its observations on the Cuban revolution the same counter-revolutionary calumnies that issue from the imperialist arsenal by the mouthpieces of the U.S. State Department.” (Revolution August 5, 1960).
Two years ago the printing of the Trotskyist journal Voz Proletariat was stopped. The plates of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution were smashed. The F.I. reacted by saying that it was only the work of some local Stalinist officials, but why has the publication of the journal not been resumed, nor the publication of Trotsky’s book.
The whole substitutionalist attitude of the F.I. to the Castroites is reminiscent of the story of the fly and the ox. A fly was standing on the head of the ox during a whole day that he ploughed. At the end of the day the fly said: “Christ we ploughed a lot today.”
- This article by Tony Cliff is the only item in this Internal Bulletin. Here, however, is the introduction to the bulletin, written by Jim Higgins:
“This is the first of the bulletins which were promised at the last E.C. They are intended to provide comrades with information and material for branch and outside political discussions. For obvious reasons it is difficult to guarantee a regular monthly bulletin, but within the confines of our limited resources all contributions will be published. Material for inclusion in the bulletin should be sent to the secretary. This month’s material by T.C., an evaluation of the Cuban situation, should be particularly useful as the basis for discussion in the Y.S. Next issue an article on the Labour Party work can be expected.”
- In addition to the errors in this article, it is badly laid out. I have attempted to improve readability by setting it out more clearly.
- There is an error in the original document and some words have obviously been omitted. As the ORI was a fusion between the CP, Castro’s 26th of July Movement and the student-based Revolutionary Directorate it is not difficult to ascertain what is missing.
- Cliff has his dates wrong as Batista actually fell on 1st January 1959.
From: “A Socialist Survey” Number 2 – No Date but February 1963 pp. 6-8.
A criticism of T.C.’s analysis of the Cuban situation
Although as a whole, the analysis of Cuban events which T.C. recently wrote for this bulletin, was sound, there are some aspects of it which I would like to criticize. I am doing this not because of a pedantic desire for scholarly accuracy, but because this criticism will deal with problems with important political consequences. These criticisms are not supposed to be an articulate exposition of the whole problem of Cuba but an exploration of some of its aspects.
T.C. tells us that, “The extent to which the logic of anti-imperialism and the industrial revolution, in the political vacuum created by the impotence of all contending classes – landlords and capitalists as well as workers and peasants, leads middle-class elitist governments in the direction of state capitalism is made very real by the Cuban example.” This, unfortunately, sounds to me very like our old friend “inevitable”. According to this simplistic description of the situation, the innocent and politically virgin leadership of the 26th of July Movement would, in the midst of a forest of “objective condition”, be raped twice; firstly by American imperialism and then by Stalinism. Since the political will of this leadership was irrelevant to the situation and since ideological and political processes were also irrelevant, then the whole process is reduced to a twentieth century Cuban version of Greek tragedy. This would also prevent us, in a very subtle way to be sure, from assessing the respective shares of guilt which should be allotted to American imperialism, Russian imperialism and the Castroite leadership.
T.C. does not take into account, for example, the fact that there always was a powerful tendency for the 26th of July Movement to have Stalinist inclinations. This was the tendency led by such men as Che Guevara and Raul Castro (whether Fidel himself was originally part of this tendency nobody really seems to know). Of course, in the early stages of the Revolution, this tendency existed within a broader movement which also contained radical democrats, nationalists, etc. Fidel Castro was either cold or frankly hostile to attempts which were made during 1959 to organise the non-Stalinists into a balancing wing of the Movement. This was the case, for example, when some trade unionists and nationalist revolutionaries tried to organise a “Humanist” wing within the Movement.
The Cuban C.P. certainly did not share T.C.’s analysis of what the mere “logic” of anti-imperialist nationalism could lead to. They saw the need for very hard and shrewd work to turn the workings of that “logic” into their own channels. For example, in 1959 their recruiting tactics emphasized the need for “leadership types”, particularly in the Cuban Student movement. Thus, in the midst of a revolutionary situation with full organisational freedom the C.P. was not interested in mass recruitment, but to recruit “quality” towards the party itself or to its wider periphery. There were two main reasons for doing so: an early mass activity of the C.P. would have created troubles and embarrassments for Fidel Castro, and they also needed sufficient trained leading cadres as soon as possible. It is no coincidence that most of my former associates, given the fact that I was involved in the Cuban student movement, are now government functionaries of one sort or another. While this happened the non-Stalinists failed to organise effectively, and Fidel’s attitude contributed to this.
T.C. also forgot to mention that, although the 1958 Castro had advocated quite moderate views on nationalisation etc., five years earlier he had made the quite radical speech which ends with the words “History will absolve me”. Thus, he had not been simply a middle-class leader as one would gather from T.C.’s analysis, but he had also a radical past. Of course, this is little compared to the particular brand of tourism which took Raul Castro to a congress in Prague in 1952 or to Guevara’s thinly-veiled defense of Josef Stalin’s regime as told in K.S. Karol in an interview which appeared in the French weekly, L’Express during May ’61. These are just some of the numerous political and ideological facts relevant to the Cuban situation which do not follow from a certain structural framework of underdevelopment and imperialism.
T.C. also talks about a “middle-class elitist government”. This needs a good deal of clarification. If this refers to the social background of the leadership, he is right, but this does not tell us much and may even be misleading. The overwhelming majority of the Cuban middle-class is either in Miami or would like to be there as soon as possible. Even most intellectual middle-class people are opposed to the regime (for example most staff-members of the University of Havana resigned and/or left the country when the government took over the University in 1960). In reality, Castro’s leadership forms a section of the intellectual middle-class. This section behaves much more like declassés than like solid orthodox middle-class elements. Those who have a preference for obscure terminology may call it a sort of lumpen-bourgeoisie. This social group is very often the main propagator of what is, unfortunately, the present predominant ideology of the “Left” – Stalinoidism. This is the case both in developed and underdeveloped countries, but particularly in the latter. It is high time that revolutionary socialists face this fact squarely and decide what attitude to take. Do we compromise with it or do we fight this ideology from a Left-wing, anti-imperialist, revolutionary position?