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International Socialism, Summer 1980


Robin Blackburn


Class forces in the Cuban Revolution

A reply to Peter Binns and Mike Gonzalez


First published in International Socialism 9 (2nd Series), Summer 1980.
Copied with thanks from REDS – Die Roten.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Cuba, Castro and Socialism by Peter Binns and Mike Gonzalez (International Socialism 2:8) represents, in certain limited respects, an advance on the analysis of the Cuba revolution to be found in the pages of International Socialism. In particular comrades Binns and Gonzalez handsomely acknowledge two facts of major importance about the revolution: (1) that Fidel Castro, and the revolutionary movement of 1958–60, did not simply lay hold of the pre-existing state apparatus and that, in fact, the latter was “definitively smashed” (p.27). (2) that “... the 1959 revolution was supported by virtually every section of Cuban society, and was (and remains) incredibly popular.” (p.6). Notwithstanding the recent wave of emigration from Cuba – a trickle by comparison with the millions of legal and illegal Mexican emigrants to the US – this last statement is still largely true. While as many as 100,000 are leaving, or want to leave, the great bulk of the population is proud of the Cuban revolution and its achievements, despite all difficulties. Indeed reports of the millions who demonstrated on May Day, and subsequently, refer to an intensified and vociferous enthusiasm for the revolution as it passes through a new and severe crisis, exacerbated by economic problems. But if the article by Binns and Gonzalez concedes both the radical nature of the overturn in 1958–60 and the continuing ability of the post-revolutionary government to attract popular support it cannot be said that their article effectively explained these facts. This is partly because they have so little to say about the achievements of the Cuban revolution; it is also, and most decisively, because they fail to develop a class analysis of Cuban history and Cuban society.

The profound popular support for the Cuban revolution cannot be explained without some reference to its outstanding achievements in the field of social and economic transformation. Thus the campaign against illiteracy in 1961 came at a crucial turning point. Not only did it virtually abolish adult illiteracy but it also gave urban youth direct experience of the problems of the rural workers and peasants. Today Cuba can send thousands of doctors, teachers and technicians to Angola, South Yemen or Nicaragua because of the extraordinary success of the post-revolutionary programme of educational, medical and technical development. Within two decades the Revolution has brought the general health and educational standards of the Cuban population up to the level of the advanced countries; this helps to explain the undoubted prestige of the Cuban revolution in the Caribbean and Latin America. Moreover these achievements have themselves been the product of popular mobilisation and popular initiative; thus many health programmes have crucially depended upon the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, just as the campaign against illiteracy depended upon volunteer teachers. It is also worth noting that the culture to which Cubans now have access is more various, and of higher quality, than in the past. The Instituto del Libro distributes vast quantities of classical and modern literature; the leading literary review in Latin America is Casa de las Americas while Cuban films, Cuban documentaries, Cuban posters all enjoy a justified international reputation. I do not intend to labour these points since none of them are difficult to verify. I would simply insist that the educational and cultural achievements which the revolution has made possible released popular and creative abilities on a scale which is unmatched either elsewhere in Latin America, or elsewhere in the Communist world. By focusing almost exclusively on economic problems and setbacks, and referring only to those areas of Cuban life that are regimented or bureaucratised, Binns and Gonzalez give a deeply misleading picture and fail to explain the radicalism and popularity of the revolution, even though they do not deny it. Bureaucratic and commandist structures, are all to be found in Cuba but they cannot explain the dynamic quality of the revolution.

The primary aim of the article by Binns and Gonzalez is that of offering a theoretical, historical and political analysis of Cuba and its revolution. From this standpoint their failure to advance an adequate class analysis of Cuban society, now or in the past, is more serious than, though not completely unconnected to, their failure to refer to the revolution’s undoubted successes.

The political heritage of Cuban workers

The brief sketch of Cuban history given in the article manages to omit reference to those class struggles which decisively shaped Cuban political culture and contemporary Cuban political institutions. Instead we are offered a somewhat diluted version of nationalist history, in which the perennial problem and struggle is against foreign incursion and domination, while political institutions, instead of being analysed in class terms, are treated as almost wholly autonomous entities, after the fashion of the “left Weberian” school of sociology. Thus the authors begin their section on “The Background to the 1959 Revolution” with the bald statement: “Cuba was the last remnant of Spain’s Latin American Empire and when, in 1898, it finally freed itself from Spanish rule the USA was to step in.” (p.2). This single sentence, of which the subject is apparently the entire Cuban nation, is all we hear of the most protracted, turbulent and socially divisive liberation struggle in Latin America. The Cuban liberation struggle spread over thirty years and led to the displacement of oligarchic leadership by new leaders thrown up by the former slaves of the countryside and the urban petty bourgeoisie and working class. Such men as José Marti, the black general Antonio Maceo, the peasant General Maximo Gomez, the black journalist Gualberto Gomez, became the acknowledged leaders of the liberation forces; they received the support of the Federation of Cuban Workers while losing that of the large landowners. With the exception of the workers’ leader, Carlos Baliño, these men were not socialists, but they were passionate adherents of the ideal of the Social Republic, as represented by Paris Commune of 1871 or the Spanish Federal Republic of 1874–5. Binns and Gonzalez mention that the Constitution of the Cuban Republic was composed in the office of the US Governor of the Island; they fail to add that the island’s rather more influential “unwritten constitution” was formed in the deeds of a radically populist liberation movement that was opposed by most sectors of the Cuban oligarchy.

Binns and Gonzalez write that there was a worker-student rising in 1933 which led to the overthrow of the military dictator Machado. This statement would have to be both qualified and deepened. The general strike of 1933 certainly included most shop-keepers, professionals, and many employers: it was not dissimilar to the General Strike movement, with bourgeois participation, that recently toppled Somoza in Nicaragua. On the other hand Binns and Gonzalez fail to mention the long series of class struggles beginning during the First World War, but gaining new strength and momentum in the years 1925–33, which certainly helped to promote bourgeois disenchantment with the Machado regime. The Cuban Communist Party (PSP) grew from a party of less than a hundred in 1925 to a party of over ten thousand, leading a trade union federation with 300,000 members by 1933. In fact the Cuban CP, unlike any other affiliate of the Comintern, actually became a mass party during the course of the ultra-left “Third Period”. Binns and Gonzalez rightly mention the PSP’s shameful negotiations with Machado but fail to register the ways in which the class struggles of the 1920s and 1930s decisively re-shaped the political traditions and level of organisation of the Cuban poor. They mysteriously refer to the Cuban trade unions as having a “limited membership” whereas in fact rates of unionisation in Cuba were consistently and systematically higher than in other Latin American countries. The PSP liked to proclaim its utter fidelity to Stalinism but the fact that it was established as a major national party meant that some Marxist ideas, albeit in a crude and adulterated form, were introduced into popular political culture.

Binns and Gonzalez rightly indict the class collaborationist policy pursued by the PSP in the 1940s but then add: “... despite the fact that the party had grown, the government was able to take control of the leadership of the CTC in 1947 and ban the CCP”. This gives a misleading impression of the weaknesses of the Cuban Communists. They were dislodged from leadership of the CTC, the trade union federation, only by a campaign of terror and legal intimidation in which a dozen trade union leaders were shot and their offices occupied by police, or hired thugs. Communists remained quite influential at the rank and file level and played a leading role in the 1955 and 1956 sugar workers’ strikes. As for the Communist Party itself it was banned in 1953 not 1947. In 1950 its candidates received the second highest total of votes in the Havana Municipal elections. While it is quite true that the Communist Party leadership denounced Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada barracks in 1953 as an adventure, and abstained from the guerrilla struggle against Batista until the last months of 1958, it would be wrong to underestimate the significant role the Communists played in the revolution of 1958–60. There were different currents within the PSP. Many of its youth section joined Fidel Castro’s 26th July Movement, among them Raul Castro. The largest “liberated area” during the guerrilla struggle of 1956–8 was in the Sierra Cristal in Oriente; during the period 1932–8 this very same area had been the base of a Communist-led guerrilla movement known as Realengo 18. There is no doubt that many of the members of Raul Castro’s group in the Sierra Cristal were dissident members of the PSP; Raul Castro’s column was itself about three times the size of that led by Fidel. Another grouping within the PSP, led by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez negotiated an agreement with Fidel in the Sierra Maestra in the summer of 1958 and participated in the final campaigns against Batista. After Batista’s fall the official leadership of the PSP pursued a cautious and conservative policy; on no occasion did they initiate any revolutionary measure. But in the interests of simple historical accuracy, however distasteful one finds Cuban Stalinism, one must concede that the 18,000 or so militants of the PSP loyally supported the revolutionary measures taken by the Castro government, and, unlike some members of the July 26 movement, could be relied upon not to join the exiles in Miami. The reason for insisting on the presence within the revolutionary process of the PSP, albeit in a quite subordinate capacity, is that this helps to establish one current of working class politics in Cuba and its relationship to the revolution. The PSP was a predominantly proletarian party and the great majority of its militants in 1959 were certainly possessed of some anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist zeal. The purely opportunist party members would certainly have dropped out after the campaigns of official harassment. As for the thoroughly Stalinist central leadership their control over their own membership was destroyed by the audacious revolutionary policy adopted by Fidel Castro. By pursuing a model “united front” tactic with the PSP Fidel Castro ensured that the weight of several thousand working class activists was thrown on the side of the revolution, and that much of what was valuable in Cuba’s strong Communist tradition, was recuperated.

Binns and Gonzalez supply an even more misleading account of the 26th July Movement. They write that it was a “revolutionary student group” affiliated to the Ortodoxo Party which organised the assault on the Moncada barracks and they declare that this grouping was animated by “an ideology of independent national development.” These characterisations of the Fidelista movement help to perpetuate some cherished myths about the Cuban revolution. Firstly it is now well established that the initial group who participated in the attack on the Moncada barracks were not students: in fact Fidel and Raul were the only participants in the attack who had been to university. All were young, some were white collar workers, others unemployed and quite a few manual workers. As for the ideology which motivated them this cannot be described simply in terms of “independent national development”. In fact the Ortodoxo Party, from whose youth section they were drawn, was not a particularly anti-imperialist force; its main campaigns were directed against Government corruption and Government repression. It was, linked to that radical popular tradition stemming from the liberation struggle and the 1933 revolution. Fidel Castro’s famous speech History Will Absolve Me sums up the ideology of the 26 July movement and the reader will find no mention of “independent national development” in this passionate indictment of Cuba’s corrupt and repressive political system and of the profoundly unequal social order which it defended. The absence of conventional anti-yanqui rhetoric in this speech is the more remarkable in view of the fact that nearly every Latin American political leader will utter it, however reactionary and pro-imperialist their basic policy. On the other hand the speech does contain an element missing from conventional Latin American populism. Instead of invoking an undifferentiated “people” he analyses the separate and distinct ways in which peasants, unemployed, workers, teachers etc. are exploited or oppressed. This speech is not either socialist or anti-imperialist in its explicit avowals but it does represent something close to a transitional programme for a semicolonial country oppressed by a military dictatorship.

The intervention of the masses

The account given by Binns and Gonzalez of the Cuban revolution itself manages entirely to avoid the decisive intervention of the masses in the process. On January 1st 1959, when Batista fled, there were, at most, four thousand guerrillas with Fidel, backed up by perhaps twenty thousand urban sympathisers. How did this tiny group bring about such a fundamental transformation in less than two years – completely smashing the pre-existing state apparatuses, carrying through an Agrarian reform and an Urban Reform which expropriated all large landowners, nationalising all large enterprises, successfully confronting the United States and defeating the internal counter-revolution? Firstly there was a nationwide general strike in the first days of 1959 – not even mentioned by Binns and Gonzalez – which prevented an attempt to salvage the old order without Batista. This movement had a multi-class character but from this point on bourgeois support for the revolution peeled away, layer after layer. until there was none left. Each major item of revolutionary legislation was opposed by members of the former bourgeois opposition to Batista. On every important occasion they were defeated by the intervention of the masses in gigantic popular mobilisations. It is quite true that the initiative for these measures, and certainly their programmatic form, came from Fidel Castro. But it is not true to declare, as Binns and Gonzalez do, that there is not “the least evidence that Castro was pushed from below by the workers or peasants”. These authors have simply not looked for such evidence or they would have found it soon enough. Thus Juan Martinez Alier in his research in the archives of The Agrarian Reform Institute for the year 1959 and 1961 [1] found many examples of pressure from peasants and rural workers for expropriation of the large estates. The pages of the magazine of the Labour Ministry, Trabajo, also supply evidence of the thousands and thousands of demands (expedientes) made upon the Ministry by Cuban workers in the years 1959 and 1960. In some eases the demands were highly specific – removal of a personnel manager who had collaborated with the former secret police – in others the demand was simply for “intervention” or nationalisation. In many cases the workers warn that unless the enterprise is taken over the owner will sell off its stocks and equipment, and abscond to Miami. When the sweeping nationalisation measures were decreed in 1960 it is noteworthy that as many, if not more, Cuban enterprises were taken over as US companies. Moreover how do Binns and Gonzalez imagine that a nationalisation programme of this sort can be implemented if not through the massive intervention, either of the workers themselves or of some external agency. In Cuba the Rebel Army played an important role in carrying through the Agrarian Reform of 1959, but when it came to the nationalisation of hundreds of sugar mills, of thousands of miles of railways, of electricity generating plant, telephone exchanges, television stations. newspapers, oil refineries, textile works and food processing plants, the task was quite beyond it. In most cases the nationalisation decree was implemented by the workers of the enterprise themselves who nominated an administrator from their own ranks. Much of the process of nationalisation in Cuba in the years 1959–60) anticipates what was to be seen in Portugal in the years 1974–5; Cuba had its saneamento, though it was more thorough than in Portugal. Prior to nationalisation of the newspapers the Cuban printers took to running colatiulas, or “tails”, beneath editorials or news reports which attacked the revolution. There was, then, a vitally important intervention by the masses in the revolutionary process. At the same time it is evident that the revolution was successful without soviets or workers councils. The old order was sufficiently rotten to be swept away by a popular movement which had not developed the higher forms of proletarian organisation. Instead there were Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. and a massive popular militia, with initiative residing with the leadership around Fidel Castro. Thus from its inception the Cuban revolution was marked, and limited, by the absence of an institutionalised socialist democracy. But to say this is not to concur with the absurd claim by Binns and Gonzalez that “the Cuban masses did not make the Cuban revolution.” (p.33) [2]

One highly significant moment in the revolutionary process was the open and official declaration that it had a socialist character in April 1961, followed, in December of that year, by Fidel Castro’s further clarification that the socialism at which the revolution aimed was that defined by Marx and Lenin. On both occasions Fidel Castro remarked that these avowals had been long anticipated by the masses and that he was only acknowledging an already overwhelming mass sentiment, The timing of the declarations helps to confirm the truth of these statements. The April proclamation that Cuba was making a socialist revolution came in the midst of the US sponsored invasion of the island at the Bay of Pigs. It is inconceivable that, at a moment when the revolution was in mortal danger, Fidel Castro would have taken this stand unless he was secure in the knowledge that it corresponded to the wishes of those who were mobilising to defend the revolution, The Cuban workers and peasants had by this time seized all important means of production; teachers, doctors, writers and film makers were discovering a new social role; youth, blacks and women found new possibilities and responsibilities open to them. Long before Fidel’s April speech the mass of Cubans were speaking of socialism: in the years 1960 and 1961 the basic works of Marx and Lenin sold in editions of hundreds of thousands. This was not the official “socialism from above” found in the rhetoric of so many Third World governments; rather it was a recognition, coming from the masses themselves well in advance of official declarations, that only socialism made sense of the class struggles they had been through and of the future of a planned, collectively appropriated system of production. Undoubtedly the Cuban vision of socialism – its aspiration to social justice, its stress on education, its concept of human dignity – contained within it a continuing influence of the 19th century democratic ideal of the Social Republic, associated in Cuba with the writings of José Marti. But at the same time the insatiable popular appetite for the works of Marx and Lenin marked the birth of a new understanding amongst the mass of Cuban workers and peasants. Thus at the end of 1961 The Communist Manifesto and State and Revolution were to be found outselling such current best-sellers as Lolita on the pavement bookstalls and newsstands in Cuban towns and cities. So far as Cuban toilers were concerned the actions of the revolutionary government, and the new institutions which they themselves sustained, were an embodiment of the programmatic ideas set out by Marx, Engels and Lenin.

Post revolutionary perspectives and institutions

The account of post-revolutionary Cuba supplied by Binns and Gonzalez is heavily distorted by a nationalistic version of the state capitalist thesis. Cuba is described as a “tentacle of Russian state capital” and it is declared that “Cuban state capitalism is at the present time a completely dependent formation.” Binns and Gonzalez also wrongly claim that the Cuban revolutionary leadership set itself the goal of developing an independent and self-sufficient economy and of, in effect, withdrawing from the world market. In fact the Cuban leadership never displayed any hankerings after the sort of autarky and “self reliance” associated with the doctrines of Mao, Kim Il Sung or Pol Pot. While wishing to diversify the Cuban economy they have always envisaged this as involving a more complex and many sided relationship with the world market and other transitional economies. As José Marti used to put it Cuba stands “at the cross-roads of the world”: its population and its productive forces were assembled from diverse ingredients during the phase of primitive capitalist accumulation. Cuban culture and the Cuban nation are profoundly cosmopolitan, mingling European, African and American elements into a distinctive combination. The Cuban economy has long depended on quite advanced technology and a high index of foreign trade. This background has not encouraged myths of national self-reliance or socialism in one island. In both economic and foreign policy the revolutionary government has sought to strengthen the revolution by extending and multiplying international contacts rather than retreating into national isolation. Cuba has become a member of Comecon but also has extensive exchanges with the capitalist world market. In foreign policy the Government will encourage any signs of opposition to imperialism, even on the part of third world military dictatorships, but it has only extended massive material, military and moral support to movements engaged in genuine national liberation struggles (Vietnam, Angola, Nicaragua) or those faced with the possibility of fundamental social overturns (Chile in 1970–3, Ethiopia today). Binns and Gonzalez fail to explain how Cuban diplomatic support for the Peruvian nationalist generals differs in principle from the support extended by Lenin and Trotsky to Kemal Attaturk in the early 1920s. In their references to Ethiopia they manage to omit entirely any mention of the social revolution which has swept away a thousand year old feudal system in that country, and claim, without any evidence, that the Cuban government sacrificed “without the least hesitation” the interests of the Eritrean liberation movement. In fact there have been many signs not only of Cuban “hesitation” but of Cuban abstention from, and opposition to, the military campaigns waged by the Dergue in Eritrea. This has been acknowledged by the ELF

It is evident to all Cubans that Soviet military and economic support has been a vital factor in sustaining the revolution; those Cubans who support the revolution naturally welcome this support as they do Soviet assistance to the liberation struggles in Vietnam and Angola. On the hand this is not seen in terms of a dependence on the Soviet Union in any way comparable to Cuba’s former domination by imperialism. While the latter involved the extraction of hundreds of millions of dollars of repatriated profits each year and virtual monopoly of Cuban trade, economic exchanges with the Soviet Union are heavily weighted in Cuba’s favour and the island’s trade and economy are much more diversified. Sugar looms large in Cuban exports but its sale to the Soviet Union is governed by long term contracts and guaranteed prices; Cuba has available to it generous Soviet credits, though it still buys many imports from the capitalist countries. Cuba’s policies in the field of culture and education, the operation of its judicial and penal system, all differ markedly from Soviet models. However in terms of fundamental categories of political analysis there is certainly a family resemblance between Cuba and the Soviet Union; despite the fact that Cuba seems to have very few political prisoners and never stages votes with those incredible 99% majorities.

What is a Workers’ State?

The decisive political institutions in Cuba have changed over the two decades since the revolution; to begin with there was the Rebel Army, the somewhat amorphous Urban Resistance and the tailist PSP. In the period 1960–64 the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution and the popular militia played a prominent role; in 1965 the new Cuban Communist Party began to acquire central importance and to recruit members through semi-elective procedures from the workplaces; in 1966 and 1970 the trade unions were reorganised with the evident aim of making them more responsive to the rank and file; between 1974 and 1976 a new system of Popular Power was organised combining executive functions with local initiatives and responsibilities. By the end of the 1970s the Cuban Communist Party had grown to over 200,000 members, while the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution embraced some 4.8 million members. There is no doubt that strategic decision making is highly concentrated in the dozen or so individuals who hold overlapping membership in the Politbureau and Secretariat of the Communist Party and in the Council of State. At one or another moment different of the basic institutions have become the main conduit of mass participation in the political process and in the administration of Cuban society. Binns and Gonzalez make little serious effort to understand the workings of the mass organisations or of the Party in Cuba. Their account relies almost wholly on emigré experts who have never visited revolutionary Cuba. No use is made of the large number of investigations of the working of Cuban institutions and Cuban society by visiting anthropologists, sociologists, economists, journalists, and political activists of various persuasions, or of the reports of those Cuban emigrés who have made return visits. While some of this literature is starry-eyed or naïve, it is not too difficult to discount for this and extract much useful information. Among those whose investigations or reports of the Cuban revolution over the last decade or more have considerable value are Ernesto Cardenal, Richard Fagen, Cynthia Cockburn, Marifeli Perez-Stable, David Barkin, Brian Pollitt, José Iglesias, Oscar Lewis and Marta Harnecker. [3] An early edition of Marta Harnecker’s book, Cuba: Dictadura o Democracia, receives passing mention in a footnote but otherwise this entire literature is ignored. Thus Binns and Gonzalez make no real attempt to establish the real extent and limits of popular participation in revolutionary Cuba, nor to arrive at an estimate of the structural imperatives constraining the initiative and power of, respectively, the party leadership, the activists and the masses. Furthermore, on the evidence of their article, Binns and Gonzalez do not possess a theoretical framework which could even identify this as a problem. Binns and Gonzalez do not explain what they would regard as a healthy workers democracy nor whether Cuba could become the latter through a change in its political institutions. Would they favour free political competition for elections to the National Assembly, including freedom for parties hostile to the revolution? Would they favour the introduction of a right to form tendencies and factions within the Cuban Communist Party? If they reject these institutions entirely what would they put in their place? Do they think that the media of information should be restructured, so to ensure that, so far as is technically possible, every citizen has access to them? By insistently labelling Cuba as a state capitalist country all these questions are evaded, Binns and Gonzalez can be systematically vague about the precise political implications of their alternative, and content themselves with a generic anti-capitalism. If the political tendency which Binns and Gonzalez support had elsewhere clarified its positions of these questions there would be less force in this objection. But if one consults, for example, the definition of workers democracy given in Paul Foot’s, Why You Should be a Socialist, it apparently boils down to the relationship which existed between orator and masses in the Cirque Moderne during Trotsky’s famous speeches there in 1917. As it happens Fidel Castro’s speeches of 1959–61 in the Plaza de la Revolucion replicated this relationship on an even larger scale: what was missing in Cuba was fully fledged institutions of the Soviet type, not popular orations, mass enthusiasm and spontaneity, or even committees in the workplaces.

There is, I believe, a scientific as well as a political weakness in the approach of Binns and Gonzalez. The workings of a publicly-owned, planned and administered economy cannot be grasped without the closest attention to the social basis that this requires. In the existing Communist regimes the decisive hinge of the system is the party activist. To the extent that the activists are, or become, routinist, cynical and “passive”, to that extent the system of planned economy will not be effective. In other words a planning system cannot simply consist of a team of technocrats and party leaders sitting in suites of offices; it also requires constant implementation, monitoring and revision in every place of work. This is why Mandel, writing of the Soviet bureaucracy, declares: “It is not a new class, but a privileged stratum of the proletariat which has usurped exclusive exercise of political power and total control over the social surplus product within the framework of a planned socialised economy.” [4] If the bureaucracy did not have an extensive social base amongst the direct producers themselves they would be suspended in mid-air as “pure administrators” and their orders or directives would have no point of engagement with the system of production. In theory a militarised labour system, or a penal labour system, could underpin a planned economy; in practice such systems simply do not produce the goods because of the extremely low productivity of forced labour and the high costs of policing it. During Stalin’s time the Gulag did represent such a system, and in virtually every existing society some uses are found for penal labour. But slave labour is not compatible with advanced and developing forces of production, such as are to be found in the Communist countries today. [5] Contemporary Communist regimes usually rest upon a transitional combination of market forces and party mobilisation, with the latter occupying the decisive sectors.

In Cuba, as in other Communist states, the reproduction and operation of the party-state depends crucially upon its links with the direct producers. In Cuba the mobilisation of the masses in the revolutionary process led to the large scale recruitment of workers and peasants to the tasks of economic and political administration. As most accounts agree a genuine element of choice permitted workers and employees to select, from amongst their own number, candidates for membership of the party and for positions of authority in the enterprise. On the other hand, the proportion of party members who presently work on the shop-floor, or in the field, is probably somewhat lower than in the Soviet Union. [6] Some of the present problems of the Cuban revolution stem from the fact that widespread popular support for the revolution, and a network of mass organisations embodying mass participation, have permitted the ruling party to be smaller, and in certain respects less extensively implanted amongst the direct producers, than is the case with the Soviet Union. But in Cuba, as in other Communist states, the Party and its ancillary organisations comprise a decisive segment of the “collective worker”; the discussion by Binns and Gonzalez of the Cuban “advanced workers movement” would seem backhandedly to acknowledge this. The privileges available to Cuba’s “advanced workers” are less extensive than those enjoyed by their equivalents in the Soviet Union and they are probably subjected to greater institutionalised pressure from the mass of their fellow workers. In Cuba as in the Soviet Union there is a higher incidence of party membership among skilled workers and technicians. But in both countries the viability of the economy is greatly dependent upon the quality and enthusiasm of the rank and file activist; however authoritarian the party structure may be, this fact, in its turn, exercises a structural constraint upon the policies of the party leadership. In these transitional economies there is little fear of unemployment and, by capitalist standards, labour discipline is slack. Evidently this is not the place to further pursue the characteristics of the workers’ states (a term that should be understood much more literally than is often the case), nor to examine more the transitional dynamic of these societies. [7] For the purposes of the present discussion it suffices to say that history offers us no guarantee that all workers’ states will be democratic in their functioning, or unambiguously dedicated to bringing socialism into existence. Bourgeois regimes have included military dictatorships, fascism and representative democracy; why should not proletarian regimes display similar diversity in kind?

So far as Cuba is concerned some of the prevailing historical conditions have tended to foster a bureaucratic trend (notably the military methods of the guerrilla struggle, the lingering influence of the old PSP, isolation and blockade by imperialism, Soviet “advice”); but, partially offsetting this has been the strength of Cuba’s own revolutionary tradition, popular enthusiasm for, and participation in, the revolutionary process, the development of anti-imperialist struggle in the Third World, and the democratic legacy of the Social Republic which helped to form so many of the decisive leaders and cadres of the revolution. All this means that Cuba remains some distance from the Stalinist model of a cadre-based polity (a model wrongly identified with “socialism” by Therborn and Szymanski). Failure to recognise that Cuba is both a dynamic and transitional post-capitalist society leads to incomprehension of a vital component of world politics in the closing decades of the twentieth century and implies a perilous ambivalence in understanding the reality of capitalism and imperialism, socialist revolution and proletarian democracy.


1. J.M. Alier, Haciendas, Plantations and Collective Farms (London 1977).

2. The best brief account of class forces in the Cuban revolution is J. Petras, Twentieth Century Socialist Revolution, New Left Review 111. See also, V. Bambirra, La Revolucion Cubana, Mexico 1975; K.S. Karol, Guerrillas in Power, London 1971; J. Hanson, Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution, New York 1978; M. Zeitlin, Revolutionary Politics and the Cuban Working Class, New York 1967. Fidel Castro’s speech to the First Congress of the CCP is also well worth reading.

3. A useful bibliography of this literature will be found in P. & J. Griffiths (ed.), Cuba, the Second Decade, London 1979.

4. Peaceful Coexistence and World Revolution in R. Blackburn (ed.), Revolution and Class Struggle, p. 275.

5. Those interested in understanding why this should be so should consult, for a theoretical exposition, G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence; and for empirical confirmation volume 3 of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

6. On this latter point see the evidence and argument in G. Therborn, What Does the Ruling Class do When it Rules?, London 1979 and A. Szymanski, Is the Red Flag Flying? A Political Economy of the Soviet Union, London 1979.

7. See the fascinating discussion of these questions in the third section of E. Mandel, Revolutionary Marxism Today.

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