Joseph Hansen

Theory of the Cuban Revolution

(Winter 1961)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.1, Winter 1961, pp.3-10, 29.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The author is the editor of The Militant who has just published the Pioneer pamphlet, The Truth About Cuba.

No revolution has ever anywhere wholly coincided with the conceptions of it -formed by its participants, nor could it do so.” – Leon Trotsky.

LISTEN, YANKEE – The Revolution in Cuba
by C. Wright Mills
Ballantine Books, New York. 1960. 192 pp. 50 cents.

CUBA – Anatomy of a Revolution
by Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy
Monthly Review Press, New York. 1960. 176 pp. $3.50.

IN THE first stages of the Cuban Revolution, not much appeared about it in the way of searching analysis. Publicity was largely agitational, whether for or against. Consequently the worth of most early writings hinges largely on the accuracy of the reporting and the extent to which documentary material is included. This is especially true of some items, highly laudatory of the Revolution and its leaders, by authors who have since gone over to the counter-revolution.

The situation today is quite different. The character and meaning of the Cuban Revolution, of the government that displaced the Batista dictatorship and of the state now in power are under intense discussion throughout the radical movement on an international scale. The theoretical questions have come to the fore.

This reflects the course of the Revolution itself. It began as an ill-reported and ill-understood revolutionary democratic movement in a small island ruled by one of a dozen strong men in Wall Street’s empire. Today it stands as a colossal fact in world politics – the opening stage of the socialist revolution in Latin America, the beginning of the end of American capitalist rule in the Western Hemisphere.

The two books under review are among the best in a new literature appearing about the Cuban Revolution, a literature written by serious thinkers accustomed to probing for the deep-lying forces and trends in modern society. These thinkers are fascinated by what this Revolution has revealed, for they feel that perhaps here may be found clues to titanic revolutionary events now drawing near. As Huberman and Sweezy express it: “In Cuba they are actually doing what young people all over the world are dreaming about and would like to do.” (Emphasis in original.)

Let’s begin with Listen, Yankee. In writing this book C. Wright Mills displayed considerable courage. The author of The Power Elite and White Collar, to mention his best known books, staked a big reputation and high standing in academic circles when he decided to support the Cuban Revolution with such forthrightness. That he weighed the issues is evident from the following statement:

“Like most Cubans, I too believe that this revolution is a moment of truth, and like some Cuban revolutionaries, I too believe that such truth, like all revolutionary truth, is perilous.

“Any moment of such military and economic truth might become an epoch of political and cultural lies. It might harden into any one of several kinds of dictatorial tyranny. But I do not believe that this is at all inevitable in Cuba. And I do believe that should it happen it would be due, in very large part, to the role the Government of the United States has been and is continuing to play in Cuban affairs ...

“The policies the United States has pursued and is pursuing against Cuba are based upon a profound ignorance, and are shot through with hysteria. I believe that if they are continued they will result in more disgrace and more disaster for the image of my country before Cuba, before Latin America, and before the world.” (Emphasis in original.)

To help enlighten his fellow Americans and as a service in countering the hysteria, Mills presents the Cuban revolutionary case. As a succinct presentation of the main facts that led to the revolutionary explosion, of the achievements since then, and of the aims, attitude and outlook of the main rebel forces, the book is a remarkable accomplishment. I cannot recommend it too highly to anyone seeking a quick briefing, particularly as a knowledgeable Cuban revolutionist, leaving aside diplomatic considerations, might give it to you on a visit to the island.

It’s Not Stalinist

The salient feature of Listen, Yankee is the clarity with which it presents the anti-Stalinist aspect of the Cuban Revolution. Most readers of the International Socialist Review will understand at once, I am sure, that this has nothing to do with the anti-Communism of the House Un-American Activities Committee or similar bodies of witch-hunters and counter-revolutionaries. Even in most Communist parties where the cult of the late dictator was once the first commandment, it is generally accepted today – since Khrushchev’s Twentieth Congress revelations about Stalin’s crimes and paranoia – that to be anti-Stalinist does not automatically put you in Hitler’s camp.

An understanding of the attitude of the Cuban revolutionists toward Stalinism is particularly important. The Cuban Communist party supports the revolution. The government, in turn, has respected its democratic rights, as it has the democratic rights of other radical groupings. It has refused to engage in any witch-hunting and has denounced anti-Communism as a divisive weapon of the counter-revolution. This, plus the aid solicited from the Soviet bloc countries (which undoubtedly saved the Cuban Revolution from going down), has been utilized to falsely picture the Cuban government as having succumbed to Stalinism.

The issue happens to be crucial in the United States for winning support for the Cuban Revolution in sectors of the trade-union movement, among intellectuals and on the campus. It is not just a matter of attempting to overcome hysterical Stalinophobia. In these circles the truth is widely known about Stalin’s suppression of proletarian democracy, his frame-ups of working-class political opponents, mass deportations and assassination of socialist leaders. Many rebel-minded people in the United States, who offered their support to the Soviet Union, felt betrayed on learning the facts about Stalinism. Consequently, out of fear of being burned again, they are cautious. On the other hand, the appearance of a genuinely democratic socialist revolution could reanimate them. Besides constituting the only sectors of the population ready at present to give a fair hearing to the Cubans, they are an essential link in rebuilding a mass socialist movement in America.

Mills gives the question the importance it warrants, citing many facts to indicate the profoundly anti-Stalinist nature of the revolution. Among these he notes the stress placed on immediate benefits for the people, the readiness to listen and learn in all fields, the freedom that makes Cuba so exhilarating to radicals, above all those on vacation from the stifling atmosphere of McCarthyland.

On the decisive political fact of leadership, Mills has his Cuban protagonist write an entire letter (No.5), explaining why the Communist party is not in power in Cuba and why it is highly unlikely even to seek power.

“The plain fact is, our revolution has outdone the Communists on every score. From the beginning up till today, always at every turn of event and policy, the revolution is always faster than the Cuban Communist Party, or individual Communists. In all objective facts, then, we are much more radical, much more revolutionary than they. And that is why we are using them, rather than the reverse; they are not using us. In fact they are being very grateful to us for letting them in on the work of the revolution.

“In fact, this is the case generally with local Communist parties in Latin America. In a real revolution today, in Latin America at least, the local Communists are to the right of the revolution. Here in Cuba, certainly the revolution has outpaced them and does on every front. They always arrive too late and with too little. This has been the case in Cuba and it still is the case: They lag behind our revolution.” (Emphasis in original.)

The truth is that Stalinism proved to be an insuperable handicap for the Communist party of Cuba, no matter how revolutionary-minded its ranks were; and it was by-passed by Castro’s July 26 Movement.

Capitalist Base Destroyed

On the theoretical assessment of the Cuban revolution as it stands today, Mills offers some interesting opinions. “The Cuban revolution,” he observes, “has swiftly destroyed the economic basis of capitalism – both foreign and Cuban. Most of this power was foreign – in fact, North American. It has now been destroyed with a thoroughness unique in Latin-American history.”

In his sociological estimate, Mills says,

“The Cuban revolutionary is a new and distinct type of left-wing thinker and actor. He is neither capitalist nor Communist. He is socialist in a manner, I believe, both practical and humane. And if Cuba is let alone, I believe that Cubans have a good chance to keep the socialist society they are building practical and humane. If Cubans are properly helped – economically, technically and culturally – I believe they would have a very good chance.” (Emphasis in original.)

As to political power, in Mills’ opinion,

“The Government of Cuba is a revolutionary dictatorship of the peasants and workers of Cuba. It is legally arbitrary. It is legitimized by the enthusiastic support of an overwhelming majority of the people of Cuba.” In letter No.6, the Cuban spokesman specifies that it is not a Stalinist-type dictatorship:

“In the most literal sense imaginable, Cuba is a dictatorship of, by, and for the peasants and the workers of Cuba. That phrase, ‘dictatorship of workers and peasants,’ was turned into a lie by Stalin and under Stalinism. Some of us know that. But none of us is going about our revolution in that way. So, to understand us, you must try to disabuse yourself of certain images and ideas of ‘dictatorship.’ It is the pre-Stalin meaning of the phrase that is accurate for Cuba.”

It is in the political area that Mills expresses the greatest worry for Cuba.

“I do not like such dependence upon one man as exists in Cuba today, nor the virtually absolute power that this one man possesses.”

However, Mills believes that

“... it is not enough either to approve or to disapprove this fact about Cuba. That is much too easy; it is also politically fruitless. One must understand the conditions that have made it so, and that are continuing to make it so; for only then can one consider the prospects of its development.”

The conditions include the form of struggle needed to overthrow Batista, the enormous counter-revolutionary pressure of the United States, and the fluidity of the present situation in which democratic forms have not yet been worked out in the living experience of the revolution.

Castro’s leadership in the difficult revolutionary struggle brought him this exceptional personal power, but it is Mills’ conviction that Castro is opposed to any leadership cult, is aware of the danger and will help the revolution to pass through it.

“In my judgment,” says Mills, “one must take seriously this man’s own attempts to shift roles, even in the middle of his necessary action, and his own astute awareness of the need to develop a more systematic relation between a government of law and the people of Cuba.”

“Anatomy of a Revolution”

Let us turn now to the book by Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, the editors of the Monthly Review. They wrote this after a three-week visit to Cuba in March 1960 publishing it as a special edition of their magazine. Events soon dated parts of it. The authors took another trip to Cuba and have now published a supplement, Cuba Revisited (December 1960 issue of the Monthly Review), which, I understand, is to be included in a new edition of the book.

The strong side of Cuba – Anatomy of a Revolution is its emphasis on economics. The authors do a good job of summarizing the main facts about Cuba under Batista, available in such books as Lowry Nelson’s Rural Cuba, then turn to current problems where they offer the results of their own investigations on the scene. The facts they have assembled are encouraging indeed. Instead of collapsing, as the capitalist press has been predicting, the Cuban economy has grown stronger. Consider, for instance, the main crops, which have been the center of a planned expansion drive:

“Their total volume increased by almost one third in the first year of the Revolution, and there is no doubt that a comparable rate of expansion is being maintained this year. China, it seems, is not the only country capable of ‘big leaps forward’! But what other country has ever staged such a leap forward in the very first year of a Revolution and in the midst of a far-reaching agrarian reform? It can be said without exaggeration: in the Cuban Revolution the world is witnessing a process of socio-economic transformation and vitalization that is in many important respects without any precedent. Let the world look hard and draw the appropriate conclusions!” (Emphasis in original.)

When the agrarian reform was put through, predictions were freely made in the big press that the Cubans with their “lack of know-how” would speedily bring the cattle industry to ruin by slaughtering the breeding stock, some of it of top quality. The spiteful forecasts of the dispossessed cattle barons were not borne out. Huberman and Sweezy cite a representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization who said that while no figures were available for the island as a whole, Havana was eating 60 to 70 per cent more beef in March, 1960, than the previous year while the supply of beef cattle had also been sharply stepped up “chiefly owing to better feeding methods.” The authors conclude:

“There could be no better evidence than this that (1) the Revolution has already transformed the standard of living of the Cuban masses, and (2) this new and higher standard of living has come to stay.”

Some Flaws

In political matters, Huberman and Sweezy in general leave much to be desired, in my opinion. A few indications:

They manage to “credit” the “administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt” with having “abrogated” the Platt Amendment. They also criticize the same administration for withholding recognition of the Grau government and granting it to Batista; but the political necessity of tipping their hats to the FDR myth blocks them from seeing Roosevelt’s role in establishing the foul Cuban dictator and maintaining his brutal rule.

In lauding the readiness of the Cuban peasantry to go directly to agricultural cooperatives, Huberman and Sweezy refer to the views of bourgeois land reformers who have aimed at breaking up large landed estates into small peasant holdings.

“More radical thought, at least from the time of Marx,” they say, “has generally rejected this aim on the dual ground that small-scale peasant cultivation of the soil is hopelessly inefficient and that a small peasantry is inevitably a reactionary, counter-revolutionary force. However, the Russian Revolution showed the difficulties which confronted any attempt to go directly from a system of latifundia to some form of collective agriculture. In spite of themselves, the Russian Bolsheviks were forced to distribute the land to millions of small peasants, and it was only much later after fierce and bloody social struggles and frightful agricultural losses that they succeeded in establishing the system of collective and state farms.”

Thus they amalgamate Lenin’s adherence to the political position of Engels with its direct opposite, that of Stalin. Engels held that collectivization in agriculture, despite its obvious economic advantages, could proceed only in accordance with the will of the peasants themselves. A revolutionary government could seek to convince them by argument and examples but in no case force them. That was how Lenin proceeded. Stalin, after first pandering to the rich peasants, collectivized Soviet agriculture by force. The catastrophic consequences still plague the Soviet Union. If a real lesson is to be drawn from the Cuban experience, it is the advantages to be gained by following the method worked out in theory by Engels and put into practice by Lenin in contrast to the brutal method used by Stalin. Huberman and Sweezy credit Cuba’s success to Castro’s knowledge of the peasantry and sensitivity to their deepest wishes. If Castro is not aware of the theoretical and historical background, the confirmation of the Marxist view is all the more notable.

A serious political error which Huberman and Sweezy themselves admit in their postscript to the book was the estimate that Washington would not slash the Cuban sugar quota. We remain uncertain as to why they made the error. Did they calculate that it was not in the best interests of capitalism to do this and that the powers that be would recognize this? Or did they underestimate the deeply reactionary character of both the Democratic and Republican machines? Fortunately, the politically astute Cuban leaders were not caught by surprise. As Castro indicated in his speech at the United Nations, they are well aware of the true relationship between “the shark and the sardine.”

I mention these items with no thought of disqualifying Cuba – Anatomy of a Revolution. They are minor, if annoying, flaws in an excellent report and strong defense of the Cuban Revolution. My intent is to suggest that if the authors have any predilection it is in the direction of the Communist party. This gives certain of the things they say about Cuban politics much greater weight than they would otherwise have; for, representing a break with their predilection, these views were undoubtedly pondered many times over before being expressed.

Made by Non-Communists

From the origin of the July 26 Movement in 1953 until the rebel army was well on the way to victory, Huberman and Sweezy declare, “the Cuban CP was cool to and sometimes critical” of Castro’s organization. The leadership of the revolution “owed absolutely nothing to the Communists ...” Only Castro, if he should join the Communist party, could persuade any of the others to follow him.

“Since no responsible observer, to the best of our knowledge, has ever suggested that Fidel has done any such thing, we conclude that the hypothesis of Communist infiltration of the leadership is a pure figment of the anti-Communist imagination.”

Can the Communists get into position to “wrest leadership of the masses, of the revolutionary movement itself, out of the hands of Fidel and his colleagues in the army and government?” Huberman and Sweezy ridicule the possibility, pointing to the smallness of the Communist party and its lack of standing as against the size of Castro’s following and their revolutionary record.

The authors go even further:

“In our judgment, for what it is worth, the Communists could make no bigger mistake, now or in the foreseeable future, than to challenge Fidel and his close associates for the leadership of the Revolution. They would lose, and in losing they might easily do irreparable damage to the cause of the Revolution, which of course is also their cause. On the other hand, if they continue to pursue their present course, they may play an important, and in some respects perhaps an indispensable, even if subordinate, role in the building of socialism in Cuba.”

To make their meaning still clearer, they compare the Cuban Communists with the American Communists in the New Deal period.

“They worked hard and often effectively, trying of course always to push matters somewhat further to the Left than they would otherwise tend to go. While they won control in some unions, they were never in a position to make a bid for political leadership in the country and never caused any serious problems except in the minds of the right-wing lunatic fringe.”

In short, although the authors do not say it, since the thirties neither the Cuban nor the American Communists have played the role of revolutionists.

“All the charges and accusations concerning the alleged Communist character of the Cuban government and/or Revolution tend to hide what may turn out to be historically one of the most important facts about the Cuban Revolution: this is the first time – ever, anywhere – that a genuine socialist revolution has been made by non-Communists!” (Emphasis in original.)

Castro and the rebel army, “calling themselves neither socialists nor Communists, in fact without any clearly formulated ideology, seized power in Cuba after two years of bloody civil war and proceeded with elan and dispatch” to do what needed to be done. “No one can now foretell the full implications of this startling fact,” Huberman and Sweezy believe, “but no one need doubt that it will open up new vistas not only in the realm of social thought but also in the realm of revolutionary action.”

Although there is considerable difference in the angle of view, in emphasis, in political inclination, and in the way they express what they observed, it is clear that the impressions which the Revolution made on C. Wright Mills on the one hand and Huberman-Sweezy on the other were not greatly different. The similarity extends to other fields.

What kind of social order does Cuba have? “For our part,” declare Huberman-Sweezy, “we have no hesitation in answering: the new Cuba is a socialist Cuba.” (Emphasis in original.)

How did it get that way? After the seizure of power, “the aspect which the Cuban Revolution first presented to the world was that of a quite respectable middle-class regime.” This gave rise to many misunderstandings. However, the real power remained in the hands of Castro. “A sort of dual system of government began to emerge, with Fidel on one side and Urrutia and the cabinet on the other.” The “paradox between the essentially revolutionary character of the regime and the predominantly liberal-to-conservative personnel which represented it before the world” was resolved by March

1960. Two of the landmarks were Castro’s resignation in July 1959 to force the resignation of Urrutia and Che Guevara’s assumption of the presidency of the National Bank in November in place of Felipe Pazos. The Castro regime carried the revolution through to the establishment of a planned economy.

Communist Party Viewpoint

Cuba – Anatomy of a Revolution was saluted with vexed criticism from spokesmen of both the Cuban and American Communist parties. (At this writing they have not yet got around to reviewing Mills’ book.) The CP finds it obnoxious to think that the label “socialist” should be applied to Cuba. It’s a national democratic revolution, you see, in which the national bourgeoisie still plays an important role and in which the need for “unity” is foremost. In addition, Huberman-Sweezy slight the role of the Communist party in the Revolution and the increasingly important role it will play after the proletarian stage opens.

The two derelict authors answer the criticism somewhat disrespectfully with a footnote in their postscript:

“Now that the big majority of the means of production are in public ownership, and the regime is rapidly developing a consciously socialist ideology, the Communist argument against classifying Cuba as socialist appears more and more clearly as mere verbal gymnastics. The reason for the Communists’ adopting this position, however, is straightforward enough: they don’t want to admit that it is possible for socialism to be built under non-Communist leadership.”

One wishes that Huberman and Sweezy would venture to analyze this reluctance of the Communists. The question would seem not unimportant and very definitely related to their own belief that the Cuban Revolution has opened up “new vistas not only in the realm of social thought but also in the realm of revolutionary action.” Isn’t the failure of the Cuban Communist party central to this far-reaching conclusion? Wouldn’t a knowledge of the reasons for the failure be of considerable value to other Communist parties – to the revolutionary-minded rank and file if not to leaders who never cause “any serious problems”?

In the dispute between the Communists and the editors of the Monthly Review, it appears to me that Huberman and Sweezy have the stronger case. In fact they hanged the Communist party theoreticians with their own terminology. If each of the countries in the Soviet bloc, including Albania, is “socialist,” then why should this term be denied Cuba, which now has a planned economy – and far greater freedom than any of them?

The fact is that “socialist” was used by Stalin in the years of his psychosis as a mislabel for Soviet society. It was a way of proving that you can build “socialism in one country.” This played into the hands of the worst enemies of the Soviet Union, for they never tired of agreeing and even emphasizing that socialism was what the Soviet Union had all right and therefore Stalinism and socialism were one and the same thing and if America went socialist you’d lose democracy and get frame-up trials and concentration camps here, too. To confer the badge “socialist” on Cuba may thus – unfortunately – be taken as a somewhat dubious honor. The repugnance the Cubans feel for much that goes by the name of “theory” is not without good political justification.

In the early days the Soviet Union was called a workers’ state; “with bureaucratic deformations,” Lenin added. It was socialist in tendency; that is, it was a transitional formation on the road to socialism but not there by a long shot. Nor could it reach socialism on its own resources – such a concept, had anyone suggested it in Lenin’s time, would have been dismissed as self-contradictory. The Soviet power was a working-class conquest in the international struggle for a world-wide, scientifically planned society built on the foundation of capitalism as a whole, or at least on the combined resources of several industrially advanced countries.

The concern the Bolsheviks felt for terminology was not due to an aesthetic pleasure in splitting hairs. Precision in applying labels reflected their concern over knowing exactly where they stood in relation to the goal still to be achieved. It was a good tradition, well worth emulating, like much else in Leninism.

What Is It?

If Cuba is not “socialist” and is highly unlikely to achieve socialism by itself on one small island, what is it?

The Cubans themselves have been reluctant to say. Professing some disinterest in abstruse questions of theory, they have politely invited those of their supporters and well-wishers who are better informed in such matters to have at it. Meanwhile they propose to move ahead, with or without labels, to work out problems that permit no delay and that have kept their limited personnel going twenty-four hours a day. As their own guide, they find it sufficient to follow the broad generalizations of a humanism concerned with the fate of the humble. If you can tell a guajiro from an imperialist and hold government power, it seems to work out all right.

This pragmatic approach has added to the theoretical puzzle. If the Cubans don’t know whether Cuba is socialist or not, how is anyone else to know? Jean Paul Sartre, on visiting Cuba, came away with the conviction that the world was witnessing something completely novel – a revolution impelled by blows from an imperialist power to respond with counterblows, each more radical than the previous. Would a revolution driven forward by such a process create its own ideology? That remains to be seen. In any case, Sartre found it a refreshing contrast to what he considers the sectarian approach – applying a preconceived ideology to a revolution.

Others, stimulated like Sartre by the Cuban Revolution, have decided that even Marxist theory breaks down before such phenomena. What provisions are there in Marxism for a revolution, obviously socialist in tendency but powered by the peasantry and led by revolutionists who have never professed socialist aims; indeed, seem to have been limited to the bourgeois democratic horizon? It’s not in the books!

If Marxism has no provisions for such phenomena, perhaps it is time provisions were made. It would seem a fair enough exchange for a revolution as good as this one. On the other hand, what books do you read?

Paradox of Russia

The Cuban Revolution is not the first to have given the theoreticians something fresh to consider. The Russian Revolution exceeded it in that respect. In 1917 the entire world socialist movement was caught by surprise, including the Bolshevik party – not excepting even Lenin. Socialists wielding power at the head of the workers and peasants in a backward country like Russia! It wasn’t in the book. Well ... most of the books.

The Russian Revolution was fortunate in having a leadership as great in theory as in action. Four decades ago it was common knowledge in the socialist movement that one at least of the Russian leaders had accounted in theory for the peculiarities of the Russian Revolution in all its main lines – some twelve years before it happened. His name was Leon Trotsky.

Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution greatly facilitated the Bolshevik victory by giving the revolutionary cadre the clearest possible conception of the import of their action. But if Trotsky had not been there, had not made his great theoretical contribution, we may be sure that Lenin, consummate socialist politician and man of action that he was, would have led the Bolsheviks to power just the same and an accurate reflection in theory of the Revolution would have come later.

I mention this not only to defend the right of the Cuban Revolution to have its own peculiarities but to draw from Bolshevik theory to attempt to explain certain of these peculiarities.

The main power in the Cuban Revolution was the peasantry (as in Russia). But this peasantry shaded into the powerful mass of agricultural workers, which, because of the role of the sugar industry, constituted the most dynamic section of the Cuban proletariat. The agricultural workers solidly backed the Revolution. The city workers favored the Revolution but were not in position to head it (unlike Russia) for two reasons. (1) The unions were strapped in the strait jacket of “mujalismo”; that is, a bureaucracy tied directly to the Batista dictatorship. (2) The political leadership was held by the Communist Party, an organization devoted to “peaceful coexistence,” “people’s frontism,” and the cult of Stalin, an organization which, as Huberman and Sweezy put it diplomatically, “never caused any serious problems.” (The CP leaders actually went so far in avoiding causing any serious problems for Batista that they pictured him as a man of the people and took posts in his government.)

The main demands of the peasantry were an end to hunger, an end to Batista’s savage killings, and agrarian reform. (In Russia: Bread! Peace! Land!) These demands became the slogans of the July 26 Movement. By all the criteria of origin, aims and social following the July 26 Movement was a petty-bourgeois formation, but an extremely radical one. It had one plank in its program which separated it from all similar groupings and which was to prove decisive. It made a principle of armed struggle without compromise against the Batista dictatorship. To carry out this aim, it organized a peasant guerrilla movement that has been compared to Tito’s and Mao’s. Parallels can also be found, however, in the rich revolutionary experience of Latin America, including Cuba itself. Its formation was not as novel as its success.

Character of Government

On coming to power, the July 26 Movement set up a coalition government that included well-known bourgeois-democratic figures – and not in secondary posts. In retrospect these may have seemed middle-class decorations or mere camouflage hiding the real nature of the government. It is more accurate, I think, to view this government as corresponding to the political aims of the revolution as they were conceived at the time by its leaders.

But such a government stood in contradiction to the demands of the insurgent masses and to the commitment of the July 26 Movement to satisfy these demands. The Revolution urgently required far-reaching inroads on private property, including imperialist holdings. As Castro and his collaborators moved toward fulfillment of the agrarian reform they met with resistance from their partners in the coalition, a resistance that was considerably stiffened by support from Wall Street, which viewed them as the “reasonable” elements in a regime packed with bearded “wild men.”

As Huberman and Sweezy correctly observe, “a sort of dual system government began to emerge.” The displacement of Felipe Pazos by Che Guevara in November 1959 marked a decisive shift and the resolution of the governmental crisis, whatever hang-overs from the coalition still remained. The government that now existed was qualitatively different from the coalition regime.

Its chief characteristics were a genuine interest in the welfare of the bottom strata of the population, readiness to entrust the defense of the Revolution to them by giving them arms, clear recognition of the identity of the main enemies of the Revolution and resoluteness in disarming and combating them. It was even free from fetishism of private property. Yet it did not think of itself as socialist. It did not proclaim socialist aims. What should we call such a strange government?

Among the great discussions organized by the Bolsheviks in the first four congresses of the Communist International was one precisely on this question. Deeply buried under landslides of Stalinist propaganda, the minutes and resolutions of that discussion are not readily available. When you unearth them, your feeling is one of shock at their timeliness. Did the Bolsheviks really discuss such a question four years before Castro was born!

The Bolsheviks analyzed several varieties of “workers and peasants government”; that is, radical petty-bourgeois governments, indicating differences that would cause a revolutionary-socialist party to offer support or to refuse support. They also left open the possibility in theory of variants they could not readily foresee at the time. The general label they used for such regimes was “Workers and Farmers Government.” Here we must expostulate a bit with the Bolsheviks; they also called the dictatorship of the proletariat a “Workers and Farmers Government.” A representative from theoretically backward America might have asked for distinctive labels so he could more easily tell them apart. But the Bolsheviks discussed this point, too, and felt that it would not be confusing so long as everyone was clear on the difference in content, since the first kind of government would likely prove to be only a transient form preliminary to the latter type.

Of course, the Communist delegates in 1922 could not visualize such a change without the helpful presence of a genuine revolutionary-socialist party such as the Russian workers had in the Bolsheviks. A key question requiring our attention, therefore, is the absence of this factor in Cuba. To find the answer we must turn to the world situation in which Cuba is locked.

Death Agony of Capitalism

The most prominent conditioning force in international politics today is the deep decay of the capitalist system. Leaving aside the effect of such general threats as another major depression or atomic annihilation in a third world war, Cuba has experienced the decay of capitalism in two specific ways: (1) the deformation of national life through imperialist domination – monoculture, super profits, hunger, disease, ignorance, dictatorial rule, etc. (2) the economic and diplomatic strangulation a power like the US applies to a colonial nation seeking independence. The moves emanating from Wall Street and the State Department, as many observers have noted, powerfully accelerated, if they did not make inevitable, the radicalization of the Cuban Revolution. Eisenhower “lost” Cuba much the way Truman “lost” China.

Next in importance to the death agony of capitalism is the existence and the growing power of the orbit where capitalist property relations have been transcended and planned economies constructed. Showing what can be achieved in economic, scientific and cultural progress, not to mention sovereign standing, these countries serve as practical object lessons. Their tendency to magnetize attention, especially in the underdeveloped areas, has become an active political factor that is now powerfully strengthened by the possibility of securing material aid from this source. The Soviet Union, by its mere existence, has always been – even in the terrible years under Stalin – a radicalizing force among oppressed peoples. The attraction was enormously increased by the Chinese Revolution and the fresh example which China has provided of how to break out of age-old stagnation and imperialist oppression. Cuba has been affected by all this in the most vivid and concrete way.

The third feature of world politics is the long default of the Communist parties in providing revolutionary-socialist leadership to the working class. For decades this signified betrayal and defeat in the most promising of revolutionary situations. Today it has finally begun to signify the emergence of alternative leaderships – the masses in the underdeveloped areas, having lost fatalistic acceptance of hunger, misery, ignorance and ruthless exploitation, have become impatient and are pushing forward whatever leaderships are at hand. Nationalists have filled the vacuum at least temporarily in many areas, but the tendency is toward much more radical currents. Nowhere is this to be seen with greater clarity than in Cuba.

Finally, there is a tendency among the nationalist movements and newly emerging countries in the Far East, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America to seek mutual encouragement and support. The Cuban revolutionists for example, are in close touch with the Algerian freedom fighters. They have diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia, India, Ghana, etc. Sekou Toure and Soekarno have been honored guests in Havana. Lumumba is a hero in Cuba. A radical move taken by any of them that proves successful has big impact on all the others. For instance, Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal when Egypt suffered the combined attack of Britain, France and Israel made a lasting impression.

In the light of this international background, the series of countermeasures taken by the Cuban government under pressure from the State Department are seen to have an ideological origin that does no violence to Marxist theory; in fact these countermeasures are explainable only by a theory grounded in the international class struggle.

Character of the State

Whatever the consciousness of the Cuban revolutionists may have been, not a single major measure undertaken by them was unique. “Intervention” of the latifundia and domestic and foreign capitalist holdings was undoubtedly as Cuban as the royal palms, but it finds a precedent in the “control” exercized over private enterprises under the Bolsheviks prior to the establishment of workers management of industry. A similar stage appeared in the Chinese Revolution. The expropriations and nationalizations are likewise far from novel. A government monopoly of foreign trade is in the Russian tradition; and the planned economy which Cuba has now begun is, of course, recognized by everyone as in the pattern initiated by the Russian workers and peasants.

In the October, 1960, issue of Political Affairs, James S. Allen, a spokesman of the Communist Party, labels these as “measures of a state-capitalist type.” This effort to avoid the label “socialist,” as advanced by Huberman and Sweezy, is not very satisfactory. Are the measures of similar kind in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia, Albania and China also to be labeled as “of a state-capitalist type”? Evidently not.

Aside from this, Allen’s position has another flaw. What about the state? Is it capitalist? Can a capitalist state carry out such measures and still remain capitalist? Judging from the shrieks of the counter-revolutionaries and the froth on Wall Street’s mouth, it is not possible.

The fact is that the state structure began to undergo alteration upon Castro’s coming to power January 1, 1959. For good and valid political reasons, Castro insisted on smashing both the old army and the old police force. The lesson of Guatemala had been well absorbed by the July 26 Movement. A new army and a new police, based on the rebel forces, replaced the old. A nationwide militia was organized.

One could have decided that this was enough to require us at the time to call Cuba a workers state. But the premise for such a conclusion is that the conscious aims of the leadership are revolutionary-socialist, openly proclaimed, so that it remains only a question of time until the entire state structure is altered to conform to the needs of a planned economy. This political premise, of course, did not exist. It remained to be seen what course the pragmatic leadership would take and whether their proclaimed political aims would become altered as they sought to put into effect the reforms they advocated; or whether in sticking to their political positions they modified or gave up their social and economic aims. The outcome could only be determined by the struggle itself.

The results are now in. In the two years since the victory, the holdovers from the old state have been sloughed off in the key positions although they may still hold authority in some sectors. With the completion between August-October, 1960, of the nationalizations in the major areas of Cuban industry, a new state had come into being so deeply committed to a planned economy that Cuba’s course in this direction cannot now be changed save by an imperialist invasion and a bloody civil war.

Since the transcending of capitalist property relations and the construction of a planned economy correspond with the economic interests of the working class and are objectively socialist in tendency, we must, if we are interested in exact terminology, call this a “workers state,” signifying that it is a state committed to the task of carrying Cuban economy and society forward through the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Proletarian Democracy

It is true that this workers state lacks, as yet, the forms of proletarian democracy. This does not mean that democracy is lacking in Cuba. Far more democracy exists today in Cuba than ever existed under any previous regime. It does mean that a government based on workers, peasants and soldiers councils, or some form of councils in democratic control of the government, has not yet been worked out. Mills’ observations about the concentration of power in one person are accurate.

Marxist theory admits the possibility of situations in which no alternative exists save such concentration of power. However, it regards this as exceptional and dangerous to the revolutionary interests of the workers and peasants. It is a sign of weakness in the organization of the struggle. The norm is the extension of democracy into all phases of the nation’s life. It is not just a question of democratic rights but of organizing the most powerful defense and bringing the maximum power to bear in carrying out the structural changes and constructing the planned economy. Consequently, while defending the present Cuban government from attack from all quarters, Marxists advocate the earliest possible development of proletarian forms of democracy in Cuba. It would seem self-evident that this would add greatly to the political defense of the Revolution, above all as an example to be emulated in other countries.

This is the tendency in Cuba, as Mills notes, and one must join him in ardently hoping that the ferocious pressure from American imperialism will not lead to retrogression.

What Next?

A new stage in the Cuban Revolution is now opening up of the greatest interest and importance. The leaders have convincingly demonstrated that they really meant it when they said they were prepared to carry the Revolution through to its necessary conclusion no matter where it took them. What have been the consequences in their thinking?

Looking back, they must note with some astonishment, I imagine, that it proved impossible to carry through simple humanistic aims, all of them long proclaimed by the bourgeois society that toppled feudalism, without taking measures that transcended capitalist property relations. Capitalism doesn’t work for the poor. To fulfill their desire to turn the promise of a better life for the humble into reality, these men of powerful will found they had to put Cuba on the road to socialism. They discovered this through practical experience and not through preconceived notions. It is almost like a laboratory test. What theories did it confirm or disprove, or must we wipe the slate of theory clean and start fresh?

Is this experience not worth evaluation? Wouldn’t the way be smoothed for revolutionists in other Latin-American countries, for example, if they knew the reasons for the course that had to be taken in Cuba? Surely the experience will be similar elsewhere in Latin America and other continents as revolutionists follow the example of the Cuban vanguard and bring their peoples into the mainstream of history.

Up to now the Cuban leaders have appeared as great revolutionists of action. Perhaps some of them may now venture into the field of theory with commensurate contributions. It is time, we think, to attempt to bring the theory of the Cuban Revolution up to the level of its practice. From such a development all the friends and supporters of the Cuban Revolution stand to gain – not least of all in the United States where the success of the July 26 Movement has brought new hope and inspiration to the radical movement.


Last updated on: 7.3.2006