Chris Harman


Cuba behind the myths

(Summer 2006)

From International Socialism (2nd series), No.111, Summer 2006.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Downloaded with thanks from the International Socialism Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered
Sam Farber
University of North Carolina Press, 2006 £36.50

Cuba: A New History
Richard Gott
Yale, Nota Bene series, 2005 £9.99

One side-effect of the current upsurge of struggle in Latin America has been to focus attention once more on Cuba. Castro’s name is bracketed with those of Chavez and Morales, and the island is still seen as a model for much of the Latin American left. Even those who are critical of the Stalinism which passed away with the collapse of the USSR usually still speak of Cuban socialism, and few of those who are marching behind red banners on the streets of Caracas or La Paz are happy to hear critical remarks about Cuban society.

Yet there is also a sense of the need to go beyond Cuba. Talk of ‘socialism of the 21st century’ involves aiming for things not achieved by any of the societies of the 20th century still (mistakenly in my view) referred to almost universally as ‘actually existing socialism’. When the need for democracy and participation is added to this, there is often an at least implied desire to achieve something not existing in Cuba. But how can this something extra be achieved? What needs to be done that was not done in Cuba?

It is impossible to answer any of these questions without looking once again at the revolution of new year 1959.

These two new books provide a useful introduction for anyone wanting to do so.

The authors approach Cuba from rather different angles. Richard Gott’s book is an outline history of Cuba from the Spanish settlement 500 years ago to the present; Sam Farber is concerned with the forces leading to the revolution of January 1959 and developments in its first couple of years. Their political approaches are also distinct. Gott is an honest supporter not only of the revolution but of the Castro regime, willing to admit to its faults (unlike many Cuba enthusiasts), but still, as a socialism-from-above man, with considerable faith in Castro’s politics. By contrast, Farber is a Cuban exile of an unusual sort, a revolutionary socialist Cuban exile. He is someone who has been critical of the Cuban regime at the same time as trying to advance the various struggles against capitalism in the US, where he has lived since the early 1960s. He wrote his first analysis of the revolution in this journal in 1961 under the title Yanqui No, Castro No, Cuba Si [1] (and then engaged in a polemic with Tony Cliff who objected to treating Castro as an enemy in the same league as US imperialism). [2] His work therefore complements the out of print writings of opponents of imperialism like K.S. Karol [3] and René Dumont [4] who went to Cuba as enthusiasts during the revolution’s first decade and returned considerably disillusioned.

Farber argues that the revolution could occur because the dictator Batista had lost the support not only of the workers and peasants but also of most of the bourgeoisie, leading his army to collapse in the face of a small rebel force. The great mass of people supported the new government because it gave them positive reforms, and it was this which prevented its overthrow by supporters of imperialism and enabled it to take the major means of production under its control. But the government was not based on the workers and peasants: the command posts in the rebel army were held by ‘declassés’ members of the petty bourgeoisie and at no point were democratic organs of genuine popular power established in which the workers and peasants could debate and decide upon the great questions of state. Such discussion was confined to the inner ranks of the regime itself.

All these points are relevant today because there are those in Venezuela and Bolivia who would see the revolutionary processes there occurring along similar lines, through control of the state from above with workers and peasants at best ‘participating’ but not controlling. This seems to be the advice Cuban advisers are giving to Chavez – although usually adding that ‘Venezuela cannot be Cuba’, in that control of the state must be achieved through the mechanisms of bourgeois democracy and most industry can be left in private hands. What matters, despite these differences, is that change takes place from the top down. But what created the conditions in which such change could happen in Cuba? Can they be replicated elsewhere?

The roots of the revolution

Farber began, in an earlier book, Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960 [5] to point to peculiar features of Cuba that allowed such a revolution to occur. He elaborates the case more fully in this book. [6] What he brings out more fully than most other accounts of the revolution – for instance that contained in Richard Gott’s – is the degree to which it was a product of a cycle of political instability which began with an earlier revolutionary upheaval in 1933 that was aborted.

The Cuban economy had been devastated by the economic crisis of the early 1930s. Until then it had grown massively, with sugar output increasing sevenfold in 30 years and providing living standards high enough for a sufficient proportion of the population to attract immigrants not only from elsewhere in the Caribbean, but also from Europe, especially Spain. For these reasons Cuba at the time was by no means a typical impoverished Third World country.

But the economic prosperity had been based upon the production of a single product, sugar, and the moment the world market was thrown into slump incomes and employment in the island collapsed. Nor was that all. The Cuban uprising against Spanish colonial rule four decades earlier had been subverted by US intervention. There followed a period of occupation and the imposition of a constitution which gave the US the right to intervene in the supposedly liberated country’s politics (one clause of the Platt Amendment still gives the US the now notorious Guantanamo base, though it was on a 99-year lease and should have reverted to Cuba by now). US capital seized the opportunity to dominate the Cuban sugar industry, using it as an economic base from which to supply the US market, on terms determined through trade treaties in which the US government had the upper hand.

One consequence was the extreme devastation caused when the US economy went into crisis in 1929. As Dudley Seers explained many years ago, ‘The Cuban economy was so wedded to the US economy that the country was in many ways an appendage of it – though without enjoying, as a poor state of the US does, federal social services or access to US sources of employment.’

Another consequence was a weakness and lack of coherence within the Cuban bourgeoisie. Here was a situation similar to that in Central America, but very different to that in much of South America, where as Claudio Katz has recently pointed out [7], the bourgeoisie has often been able to assert a degree of autonomy from US imperialism by playing off one imperialist power against another (which is why, in my view, it is a travesty of Marxism to apply the term ‘semi-colonial’ to countries such as Brazil or Argentina). [8]

The Cuban president, Gerardo Machado, had already taken dictatorial powers in 1928. His response to the economic crisis was repression, with increasing brutality, including assassinations, directed not only against the students and workers, but also against the country’s traditional political forces. Things came to a head in July 1933 when a Havana bus drivers’ strike against heavy taxes escalated into a general strike against the government which got support from ‘commerce and industry’ as well as workers [9], who took over sugar mills and railway centres, held managers prisoner, formed what they called ‘soviets’, and fraternised with soldiers and police. [10]

The movement of 1933 effectively destroyed the old political order, but it lacked the cohesion and consciousness to establish its own power. The most influential ideas came from student-dominated currents with a vague populist ideology of anti-imperialism and national economic development (although some of the leadership of the struggles was provided by unions and the Stalinist PSP Popular Socialist Party which favoured calling off the strike in return for concessions.) This lack of revolutionary leadership allowed power in the army to fall into the hands of a group of sergeants led by one Fulgencio Batista. He cleverly manoeuvred with the various forces involved in the revolution while allying himself with the US to roll it back. By 1935 he had a mastery of Cuban politics which lasted for the next quarter century. His power flowed from the Cuban bourgeoisie being too weak and fragmented to rule in its own name, while the Cuban working class lacked the leadership and consciousness to do so when it had the chance.

But Batista’s military dominance could not restore stable bourgeois rule. The condition of the Cuban economy did not permit that. Real Gross National Product per head in the mid-1950s was the same as in the 1920s. Economic development in the cities laid the basis for a powerful trade union movement, but did not spill over to end the scourge of poverty in the countryside. There was a high level (15 percent of more) of unemployment, while the labourers in the sugar plantations got work only for a few months of the year.

Batista allowed a certain leeway for constitutional politics, ruling as elected president though most of the Second World War (with the support of the Communist PSP) but with governments from 1944 to 1952 of certain populist leaders from 1933 (who soon lost their popularity). The political climate was marked by an alienation of much of the population from the regime, but a passive alienation. It was also marked by bitter disputes between the fragments of the once united revolutionary movement, the two populist parties, the Autenticos and the Ortodoxos, and the various factions of the students’ movement who used weapons as they fought with each other as well as the state. Throughout this period Cuba’s capitalists had to pay a double price for not having a stable political structure. One was reliance upon the increasingly gangster-like regime of a man whose own interests did not always coincide fully with their own, and the other was having to accept that certain concessions had to be made to at least the unionised section of workers, conceding wage claims and state intervention to stop industries going bust.

Batista seized full power for a second time in 1952, just as a fall in world sugar prices cut Cuba’s per capita income by 15 percent in a year. His control of the army and police gave him political power in such circumstances, but it did not give him a strong social base. He could not buy active support from the workers and peasants. But neither was he strong enough to impose the measures on them that the Cuban bourgeoisie wanted. And the discontent among the lower middle class/student milieu remained unabated. Under such circumstances his rule no longer rested on co-option of one or other political forces, but on vicious repression directed against all of them. By the time Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and a score of other guerrillas landed on the Cuban coast in late 1956, there was bitter opposition to Batista from all the political parties and social organisations, even those connected to the bourgeoisie.

Resistance, revolt and the guerrillas

The key initiatives in trying to overthrow him came from the same populist milieu that that played a role in 1933. As Farber explains, the ‘youth Ortodoxo milieu became the principal source of recruitment for Castro’s 26 July Movement. In the late 1940s Fidel Castro was a second-rank leader of the party who attempted to form a more socially radical tendency within its ranks’. [11] The workers were not in a position to take the initiative in an uprising. Their unions were run by nominees of the state, even if it was forced to make concessions to prevent a challenger to their positions: the main organisation of left wing resistance in the unions, the Communist PSP, was compromised by past cooperation with Batista and had to operate clandestinely. And there was an enormous unevenness between the situation of the rural workers and the relatively protected position of many urban sections. The lack of involvement in the insurgency of the main sectors of workers was shown clearly in April 1958 when an attempted general strike flopped almost completely. By contrast, the populist student/middle class tradition from the 1930s, with its proliferation of armed actions, fitted the situation. Only relatively small, completely underground groups were able to plan action against the regime without falling into the hands of its secret police. But when they took action, they received acclaim not only from the fellows in the same milieu but from all those forces in Cuban society who were desperate to get rid of Batista, including even some sections of the bourgeoisie.

Castro first made his name with an attempted uprising in 1953, when a small group of his followers attacked a barracks. But his was not the only such group to try such tactics. Another group, the Student Directorate, tried to kill Batista with an attack on the presidential palace in March 1957. And when Castro and Guevara landed with the small nucleus of a guerrilla band [12] in December 1956, it was not the only group to turn to such tactics. There was a wide network of underground struggle, much but not all linked to Castro’s 26 July Movement. Julia Sweig has recently provided a graphic history of how the various insurgent groups from this milieu organised in the cities in the year 1956-58. [13] They planted bombs, carried out assassinations and tried to foment strikes, with the perspective of igniting an urban-based insurrection, as well as smuggling in weapons for themselves and for Castro’s small guerrilla forces in the mountains of the east of the island (the Sierra Madre). Farber writes that ‘the movement’s urban struggle, contrary to the myth, accounted for the great majority and the most dangerous activity of the 26 July Movement’ [14] – 1,500 to 2,000 members of the urban resistance lost their lives in 1957-58 [15], up to ten times more than the casualties suffered by the rural guerrilla groups.

The regime was able to crush the urban resistance, but only by a level of repression that turned more people against it. And that produced a growing sense of popular identity with Castro’s group, as it survived in a relatively remote part of the country in the face of ineffectual attempts to crush it too. By the summer of 1957 Castro was already in a position to negotiate a common platform with leading figures from the mainstream bourgeois opposition to Batista. By mid-1958 he was hegemonic over all the other forces and able to negotiate both with the Cuban bourgeoisie proper and with the one political party to have an organised base among the workers, the Communist PSP.

This does not mean that Castro’s force was large in number. At that time it was 300 strong and had only grown to 2,000 or 3,000 at most when its units crossed the island to the major cities in December 1958. [16] Nor did it mean that he could smash Batista’s forces in massive battles. Rather, what happened was that Batista’s soldiers refused to fight. As the rebel army advanced, the official army melted away. The US government had already recognised that Batista was finished and tried to organise a military coup to replace him. But ‘the struggle against Batista had a denouement that neither the United States nor the rebels had anticipated: the complete collapse of the dictatorship, the Cuban armed forces and consequently the key structures of the Cuban state’. [17]

The new power

The rebels entered Havana not only as the dominating presence in a new government, but as the only organised armed force, and one enjoying immense support from all sections of the population. A general strike this time was completely successful, celebrating the fall of the old regime and emphasising that any attempt to snatch governmental office from the rebel army would face massive popular opposition.

But there was one feature of the takeover that was to be of decisive importance for everything that has happened since. The popular support for the new power was not the same as popular control of it or even participation in it. The rebel army had been hierarchically organised – as the military titles assigned to its key leaders (e.g. Comandante) showed – and had exercised the most severe discipline over its members, as is the case with all effective guerrilla groups. [18]

This did not mean that its leaders, and Castro in particular, were somehow able to ignore other social forces or the feelings of the masses. In the exuberant turmoil of Havana in the first months of 1959 they would not have been able to survive more than a few days if they had not responded to the massive feeling from below for change – whether it was dealing with the Batista torturers and secret police (who were put on public trial and executed), giving improvements in wages and welfare provision, or promising land reform to break the hold of the big landowners of the mass of the rural population. But the movement from below never reached a sufficient level of organisation to control directly what the revolutionary leaders did.

Castro very cleverly made the position of the group who had led the rebel army virtually unchallengeable during the first eight months of the revolution. He played on the fears the bourgeois and populist political leaders had of the Communist PSP and the more radical elements within the 26 July Movement, presenting himself as the only person popular enough to keep the movement from below in check. At the same time, he played the 26 July Movement’s independent elements and the PSP leaders off against each other, making it clear that the only way either group could have influence was to accept his say-so.

At key moments of political crisis he would address enormous mass meetings to show his power – but in such a way as to not let those present at the meetings take decisions or initiatives of their own. Such meetings might have been full of enthusiasm, but they were a million miles from the mass participation in decision-making that characterised Russia in 1917. That is why histories of the Cuban Revolution concentrate on the guerrilla combats of 1957-58 and on the subsequent political changes at the top, not on what was being said and done by the mass of workers, agricultural labourers and peasants. Hugh Thomas’s authoritative history provides a couple of sentences about strikes and hunger strikes by workers in the first weeks after the fall of Batista, but that is all. [19] Richard Gott’s book provides even less information.

This is undoubtedly in part bias of authors whose main interest is history from above. But it also reflects the reality that enthusiastic support for what leaders were doing was not the same as the workers and peasants taking things into their own hands. And the leaders did not encourage moves in that direction. Castro attacked the strikes, even though the bulk of the economy was in private capitalist hands at the time. Workers did seize the opportunity of the fall of Batista to elect new union leaders in the spring of 1959, most of whom belonged to the 26 July Movement. In the autumn the labour ministry intervened to purge about half of them without organising new elections for their replacement. [20] One of the most significant of the 26 July Movement’s trade union leaders, David Salvador, was arrested in 1960. Accounts of Cuba in the 1960s often comment on the virtual lack of union activity or influence. As one sympathetic observer, the left Keynesian economist Joan Robinson, noted in Monthly Review, ‘trade unions ... represent the views of the party and government rather than the workers’. [21]

The same attitude applied to the peasants and agricultural workers. When the Communist PSP encouraged peasants to take the land reform into their own hands with ‘spontaneous land seizures’, Castro issued a severe rebuff: ‘We are opposed to anarchic land distributions ... Any provocation to distributions of lands disregarding ... the agrarian law is criminal’. [22] When the final version of land reform was finally implemented, it was done without even the participation of the peasants and landless labourers. René Dumont, a left wing agronomist who was twice invited to Cuba (in the early and late 1960s) to advise Castro on agricultural matters, tells how plans for cooperatives were developed and then replaced by what were effectively state farms:

The statutes governing the cooperatives were worked out behind closed doors and not in public discussions ... By August 1960 ... the cooperative formula was definitively set aside, without those involved being either advised or consulted. [23]

What leaders said went – and among the leaders what Castro said went. As Farber writes:

These masses would support and participate in what came to be known as the mass organisations but would not truly and democratically control these organisations, let alone their own destiny. The mass rally, in which the leaders control the podium and speak and spell out policy which the masses applaud, not daring to amend or object, became emblematic of the new regime. [24]

Dumont noted that by the early summer of 1960 ‘stringent criticism, even of a technical nature, was no longer fashionable in the Cuban press’. [25] Farber points out that ‘the elimination of all opposition and independent newspapers ... occurred during the summer of 1960, when most of the printed and visual media supported the regime and the government faced no clear and present danger’. [26] Dumont summed up the attitude of the leaders of the revolution as he found it, saying this was rule ‘for the people, but it was not government by the people, who, it was assumed, did not know what they needed’. [27]

It was an attitude reflected in statements of Che Guevara at the time. For instance, in a speech of April 1961, he explained how ‘the leaders of the country, in close identification with the people, consider what is best for the people and put that into numbers ... and send them from the top down’ [28], at the same time complaining that ‘the urgent need for relations with the masses’ was ‘not a fault on our side alone. It is a fault on both sides. The workers are still not fully conscious of their strength, their duties and their rights’. [29] If plans were drawn up ‘bureaucratically from the top’, ‘that is the fault of the masses’. [30] His solution to this was to try, from the top down, to win workers to the proposals of the leadership, not to base their proposals on discussion starting from the bottom upwards, so as ‘to make the workers feel a deep involvement in their revolution’. [31] ‘We are not concerned with giving them a sense of collective ownership, group ownership. The problem is to develop revolutionary consciousness to the point of making them totally devoted to revolution’. [32]

Reflecting on the experiences of the revolution in 1965, he recognised that ‘a more structured connection with the masses is needed.’ But this was something for the longer term, to be improved (presumably from the top down) ‘in the course of the next years’. [33] In the meantime, there was the need to ‘educate’ the masses by converting ‘society as a whole ... into a gigantic school’. [34] ‘The mass must be subjected to stimuli and pressure ... That is the dictatorship of the proletariat being exercised not only against the defeated class, but also individually upon the victorious class’. [35]

There can be little doubt about Guevara’s good intentions in wanting to achieve a socialist society. Nevertheless, this was not Marx’s approach, based upon the self-emancipation of the working class, but the approach Marx castigates when he writes of the ‘doctrine’ which ends up dividing society into two parts, ‘one of which is superior to society’ and which forgets that ‘the educator himself must be educated’. It was the logic of believing that a small leading stratum could escape from the pressure of all social forces and introduce a new society for the masses.

For the first and decisive years of the Cuban Revolution there was not even a structured organisation of this leading stratum. The leaders of the rebel army took power on behalf of the wider 26 July Movement. But that movement never developed into a coherent organisation, with branches, conferences, elected leaders and so forth. As Farber says, ‘Fidel Castro discouraged any attempts to make the 26 July Movement into a regular party with an ideology, programme and organisation ... Fidel Castro allowed the 26 July Movement to deteriorate organisationally until it was merged into what eventually became the new and reconstituted Communist Party in the mid-1960s’. [36] This new party did not hold a congress of any sort until 1975, by which time all the fundamental decisions about the direction of Cuban society had long been taken.

The leaders did not come from the ranks of the organised working class or peasantry. Some came from working class or peasant families, some from the student/radical middle class milieu. But in either case the experience of struggle of the great majority was not the experience of mass struggle including workers or peasants acting collectively, but struggle in the hierarchical organised guerrilla groups. Only four of the 100-strong central committee of the party, when it was eventually formed, had traditions of organising workers before the revolution. [37]

In the absence of a structured organisation and debate, key decisions were made by a small coterie of people around Castro who could only attempt to realise their sincerely held ideals by manoeuvring from above in response to different social pressures. They reacted pragmatically to other forces over which they had no control, sometimes channelling them in one direction or another, unable to avoid a final outcome very different from their original hopes.

Reform and radicalisation

In the first period of the revolution it was this response to other pressures that led to its radicalisation. The Cuban masses demanded reform, and the new government could only have denied this by attempts at mass repression which would have emulated the worst behaviour of Batista and probably led to its rapid replacement by a government much more to the right – the fate of the populist government thrown up by the 1933 revolution. The ideals of the revolutionaries coincided with the desires of the masses, even if the masses did not control the revolutionary power. As Seers noted, ‘Much of the investment, especially in the first three years, was social rather than productive and in various ways raised living standards’. [38] It was in this period that cheap and eventually free healthcare was brought to the mass of rural as well as urban workers, that a literacy drive brought hundreds of thousands of people into education, that jobs were provided (usually in the towns) for those unemployed much of the year in the countryside.

But reform, as Farber spells out very well, was incompatible with the interests of American imperialism and the main sections of Cuban capitalism. [39] The push for reform led one after the other of the mainstream capitalist figures in the revolutionary government to resign and much of the upper middle class to leave Cuba for Miami, expecting that they would be able to return with the collapse of the regime in a short time. Things worked out very differently. Their flight weakened the social base of opposition to reform, leading to further radicalisation.

The moment reform clashed with the interests of major US companies, the US took economic actions to try to force the Cuban government to backtrack (notably banning US oil companies from refining Russian crude oil), and the Cuban government responded by taking over US and then Cuban companies. The US government’s abortive attempt to overthrow the revolutionary regime with the CIA-run landing at the Bay of Pigs early in 1961 created even greater support for the regime than before.

There has been much debate since over whether Castro intended all along to turn the populist revolution into an onslaught on private capitalist profit. Farber argues persuasively that this is not the real issue, because whatever Castro’s intention, the logic of adhering to a reform programme in 1959-61 conditions led to a clash with a Cuban capitalism that was thoroughly intertwined with US imperialism. The result was that the major sections of the economy (the sugar plantations, the large farms, and all but the smallest industrial and service enterprises) were state owned within three years of the revolution, but without even a modicum of control by the workers.

One immediate paradoxical consequence of reform from above without mass control and debate below was that reforms led to massive economic problems. There were no mechanisms for the workers and peasants to work out for themselves which reforms should have priority and which not. Cut off from discussing openly what was realistically possible, those who had suffered under the old order simply pushed, quite naturally, for more. Meanwhile those trying to change Cuban society from the top down set out costly plans to develop the economy industrially and agriculturally, with an attempt to introduce a four-year plan in August 1961 which spoke of a growth rate of 10 percent a year.

The resources simply did not exist to achieve such targets, especially against the background of the US refusal to buy Cuban sugar in retaliation for the nationalisations, and the embargo on trade with Cuba which has continued ever since. The revolutionary state could nationalise property inside the country. But it could not break the dependence of a small economy upon the rest of the world system for many of the things it consumed, and for the capital goods it needed if was to industrialise. Many of the improvements in living standards were cancelled out by shortages and rationing of basic goods.

The new dependency

The effects of the US blockade were mitigated by the willingness of the USSR to buy the sugar harvest at a price a little lower than that of the US but above the free market price and to supply many essential goods in return. This has usually been seen as a subsidy by the USSR to Cuba – supporters of the USSR presented it as ‘fraternal’ assistance from one ‘socialist’ country to another. Critics, like Tony Cliff, saw it as a way of making strategic Cold War gains in much the same way as the aid given by the US to Yugoslavia after its break with Russia in 1948. [40] Other commentators have pointed out at that at the time the USSR was looking for food imports to raise its domestic living standards and that the price paid by the USSR was quite normal, since most of the world’s sugar market was supplied by fixed contracts at above the free market price. [41] Gott accepts the subsidy view. But whatever the interpretation of the figures, there can be no doubt the US blockade forced the Cuban revolutionaries into replacing dependence on its market by dependence on the USSR and its East European satellites. By 1966 80 percent of Cuban trade was with the Eastern bloc and half of this with the USSR.

The economic relationship with the USSR eventually led to an acceptance that the Soviet model was the way forward for Cuba, not only economically but politically.

A central goal for the Cuban revolutionaries was to overcome the backwardness of the economy and its dependence on the fluctuating world price of sugar. Their initial view was that this was to be done by diversifying agriculture on the one hand and rapidly industrialising on the other. But by 1962 food shortages were ‘severe’ [42], and differences emerged within the leadership as to how to cope. One section, identified with the old Communist, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, looked to the latest Soviet approach which involved setting profit targets for particular sections of the state owned economy. The other, identified with Che Guevara, looked towards replacing incentives by ‘socialist morality’ as a way of getting people to work harder. In fact, neither was able to break the logjam. Gross National Product per head was lower in 1965 than in 1962. [43]

What is more, the Cuban leaders became concerned about the scale of their dependence on the Russians after the missile crisis of October 1962. The Russians had installed nuclear missiles on the island supposedly as a way of providing it with a defence against any US attack, but then withdrew the missiles after negotiations with the Americans in which there was no Cuban participation. Gott quotes Tomás Diez Acosta, ‘the official Cuban historian of the crisis, whose account reflected the views of Castro’: ‘The events of those days left behind feelings of disillusion and bitterness’. [44]

By 1965 Che Guevara, at least, saw that there were very narrow limits on what could be achieved by an isolated Cuban Revolution, with or without Soviet assistance. He left the country for good in an attempt to overcome the isolation by spreading the revolution elsewhere. [45]

Castro believed he could push ahead with the rapid economic development in one country, regardless of obstacles. He closed down the last forum for discussion of any sort over the economic model, the magazine Cuba Socialista, where Guevara had once debated with the French Marxist economist Bettelheim [46], and pushed for a level of investment in the economy of 30 percent – a figure matched only in dictatorships like that of South Korea or China. Such investment was to be financed by producing and exporting more sugar than ever before, with a target of 10 million tonnes for 1970. In an effort to achieve it, the old talk of diversifying agriculture was forgotten, the economy was centralised more than before, with a 1969 decree ending all private business, even small shops, and there was in effect a state takeover of most of the land in peasants’ hands. [47]

Dumont, in Cuba at the time, describes a top down model with a vengeance: ‘All important posts are contracted to the army; all important enterprises are headed by a major, a captain or a first lieutenant’. [48] In 1969 the Russian system was introduced of making each worker carry a work book which contained a record of any infringements of labour discipline. [49] The death penalty was introduced for ‘armed robbery of occupied premises’; Castro declared that the ‘conception of the minor should be revised’ so that someone of 16 could ‘bear penal responsibility’ [50]; a young worker was sent to prison for 15 years for allowing cows to graze in among rice plantings [51]; the writer Heberto Padilla was denounced as a ‘counterrevolutionary’ and placed under house arrest for a poem which included the lines, ‘The poet! Kick him out!/ He never even sees the miracles ...’ In the same year there was a symbolic expression of the separation of the ruling group from the rest of the population when 600 of its members were given free Alfa Romeo cars, imported at considerable cost at a time when most Cubans had difficulties getting hold of many basic necessities. [52]

The target for the sugar harvest was too ambitious to be achieved. Castro sacked his sugar minister for saying so [53], but simply exerting pressure from above could not bring the miracles about. And the effort to achieve them did damage to the rest of the economy as resources were diverted to the sugar crop. [54] So, for instance, Castro had promised in 1965 that milk output would quadruple in a couple of years; in 1972 it was lower than it had been then. [55] The food shortages then were as bad as ten years earlier. [56]

Still there was no letting up of the top down approach to ‘development’. There was, however, another shift in the economic model, towards that prevailing in Brezhnev’s Eastern bloc. ‘Castro now turned the economy over to a new team of Soviet advisers’ [57], with ‘perhaps as many as 10,000’ Russians in Havana. [58]


The fluidity of the years 1959-61 had now given way to a new rigidity in the social structure, with Eastern Europe and the USSR seen as providing the model which Cuba should attempt to copy. If the copying was not perfect, it was because Cuba had had a revolution that still left its imprint, while the Eastern European regimes, with the exception of Yugoslavia, had been brought to power by Russian troops. Nevertheless, there were all the paraphernalia of a Russian-type one party state, with no room for genuine debate within either the ranks of the party or the supposed organs of ‘popular power’. As Gott says, ‘Cuba ... would reconstruct its society in the Soviet mould’, something achieved by the mid-1970s. [59]

There was still less inequality in Cuba than before 1959 and elsewhere in Latin America. The health and educational gains of the first years of the revolution remained; the 2,500 doctors who left Cuba after the revolution were replaced by doctors from other Latin American countries, with their services extending not just to the cities as before 1959 but to the poorest areas of countryside. But there were still important social divisions. The top fifth of the population had incomes 4.8 times those of the bottom fifth in 1973 (as against ten times in 1958); the top 10 percent seven times the bottom 10 percent. [60] These ratios were lower than in most Western capitalist countries, although very similar to those for Taiwan in that period. But this conceals the degree to which the narrow group at the top lived a life completely apart from the rest. As Dumont writes after mixing with them on his visits:

There are the beautiful villas and the magnificent Veradero beach where officers and their families vacation free of charge. A new ruling caste is being established in Cuba. It is well disposed to the workers and the poor but in a paternalistic way. Solidly established in its privileges, suffering no privation, this new class does not really understand the people’s material difficulties ... [61]

The difference existed even in the teams of ‘volunteers’ that were conscripted for the sugar harvest: ‘A ladleful of mush is the most likely to be the meal of the young people in the Columna, whereas high officials get chicken and rice, avocados, cigars and coffee’. [62]

The mass of people were expected to identify with the regime by attending the periodic giant rallies where Castro would speak for several hours. And no doubt many did identify. But attendance at the rallies was not really voluntary. Dumont says, ‘You leave from work and it is compulsory ... In public everyone is for Castro; in private his partisans are less numerous’. [63] Once the new Communist Party was fully formed in the late 1960s, it did recruit workers. But these were ‘exemplary’ workers, selected from above by party committees and then ratified at mass meetings. And the ordinary party members did not have any say in the great decisions which would affect their own lives – the targets for the economic plans, the balance between consumption and accumulation, the distribution of scarce consumer goods between the ruling group and the rest of the population.

This was shown dramatically every time a split occurred within the ruling group. So the discussions that led to Guevara’s departure from Cuba in 1965 were private discussions, not open to the ordinary activists who defended the revolution. Nor were the arguments leading to the dramatic arrest and 15-year imprisonment of the veteran Communist leader Escalante in 1968, accused by Castro of forming a ‘microfaction’ and converting ‘the party apparatus into a nest of privileges and favours of all kinds’. Nor were things much different 20 years later, when a leading general – Arnaldo Ochoa, the guerrilla veteran who had commanded the Cuban forces in Angola and a ‘hero of the revolution’ – was arrested on the eve of his appointment as military commander for the Havana military district, put on trial and summarily executed within four days for ‘treason’ and ‘corruption’. ‘Participation’ for the mass of party members and the mass of people consisted in approving decisions that had already been taken behind closed doors.

Trapped in the world market

Where did such methods come from? No doubt the traditions of a guerrilla army, with its strict hierarchic discipline, played a role. But more was involved than that. What was central was that the leaders of the revolution once in power were in a trap. They wanted to develop the country’s economy, to overcome the decades of stagnation, but they could not break free of its dependence on a world economy organised along capitalist lines. State ownership in one small island could not do away with such pressures. To survive, that state had to sell goods on the world market. The revolutionary government was a commodity-producing and commodity-selling government. Castro admitted as much in 1977 when he said there had been a failure to take into account ‘the law of value’ in the heady days of the early 1960s. [64]

Competing to sell goods meant a continual pressure on the mass of the population – and, with that, a systematic clampdown on any means by which the mass of people could express their views. In that situation even a poet who said there was ‘no miracle’ was a menace.

But however much effort was put into trying to achieve the economic goals, dependence on the world economy could upset them. There was economic growth between 1971 and 1975 until per capita output was above the 1967 (and 1957) level. [65] But the 1975-80 plan was not met, because, as Castro said, of ‘the plummeting price of sugar, world wide inflation, the deterioration of trade relations and the aggravation of the international economic crisis’. [66] Continued global economic crisis in the 1980s had its effect on the country. As Gott says, ‘By the middle of the 1980s the economy was to falter and Cuba was faced with a serious crisis in its economic relationship with the non-Communist world’. [67] Per capita output in Cuba stagnated from 1984 through to 1989. This was slightly better than happened in this decade in most of the rest of Latin America, (where output per head fell by 0.7 percent a year), but it was not what had been expected in the aftermath of the revolution.

The ‘special period’ of hardship

Then came the final proof of Cuba’s continued dependency on the world system – the collapse of the Eastern bloc from 1989 to 1991 and with it the Soviet purchase of much of the sugar crop. [68] The price Cuba got for its sugar exports fell from $602 a tonne in 1990 to $200 in 1992. GNP fell by 10 percent in 1991, 11.6 percent in 1992 and 14.9 percent in 1993. [69] National output per capita slumped by over a third between 1990 and 1993.

The emphasis on sugar meant that the country had been importing a lot of its food. Now shortages returned for the mass of Cuba’s people to a terrible degree. ‘Food and fuel were both in desperately short supply and, although outright starvation was kept at bay, malnutrition – unknown in Cuba for generations – became widespread’. [70] ‘Food consumption fell by 36 percent. Daily calorific intake fell from 2,908 in the 1980s to 1,863’. [71]

But the regime survived. Predictions of its demise forgot the essential difference between Cuba and the East European states. Like them it was a small country trying unsuccessfully to break the constraints of the world capitalist system by the typically capitalist method of building up competitive industry and agriculture. But unlike them, its revolution had been home based and had produced some real reforms for its people. Even émigrés in the US told opinion pollsters they recognised the value of its health and educational system. [72] At the same time, the continued US pressure on the regime had the effect of winning it nationalist backing from people with historic memories of what the US had done to the island in the past.

But its survival did not only depend on the regime having at least residual support in a way that was not available to the East European regimes in 1989. It also depended on it moving back from its three-decade dependence on the USSR to embrace sections of Western capitalism. It announced a ‘special period in peacetime’ and opened up industries and some services to foreign capital. As Gott summarises developments:

The state’s monopoly of foreign trade was abolished in 1992, and the constitution was amended to permit the transfer of state property to joint ventures with foreign partners. A new foreign investment law was drafted ... Under its generous terms, a foreign enterprise could own up to 49 percent of the joint venture, hire foreign executives, be exempt from most taxes and repatriate its profits in hard currency. [73]

By 2001 there were 405 joint ventures and partnership agreements, with foreign investment commitments of $5.4 billion dollars. [74] The investments tend to be concentrated in the tourism sector, but also include the very important nickel industry, the country’s telephone system (sold to Mexico’s Grupo Domos) and Havana’s water system (run by a public-private partnership with a subsidiary of the French firm Suez). ‘More than 140 of these foreign firms operate in ‘free trade’ zones. [75] Foreign investors pay the state a monthly amount per worker in hard currency and workers then get paid a figure in the local currency, equal to a only a small fraction of what the state gets. [76] Foreign investment accounts for about 6 percent of total investment, and employs about 100,000 workers. The turn to foreign investment was accompanied by a law allowing people legally to own and use the US dollar, and by permitting the emergence of 150,000 private farmers and 150,000 self-employed businesses. There was a relaxation of central control over state enterprises, allowing much greater leeway to their managers than before. There was a concerted attempt to build up tourism into a major industry, until it has become the major source of income for paying for imports. And there was what Gott has referred to as the ‘export’ of Cuban doctors [77] to earn hard currency for the regime by working abroad [78] (in much the same way as other countries use construction teams on overseas contracts).

The return of inequality

The ‘special period’ did not only see a drop in nutritional standards. Unemployment rose, particularly among manual workers and the black population. The maternal mortality rate rose, as did that among over 65s. There was also a big increase in income inequality, with the usual statistical way of representing it, the ‘Gini coefficient’, rising ‘from 0.22 in 1986 to 0.407 in 1999’ according to both ‘Cuban and foreign estimates’, and the ratio between the richest fifth of the population and the poorest fifth rising from 3.8 in 1989 to 13.5 in 1999. [79] Those with access to dollars were suddenly visibly much better off than the rest of the population. This included those getting remittances from relatives abroad, those running the small businesses catering for tourism, and those in the upper echelons of the state industries whose jobs brought them into contact with foreign businessmen. The explosion of the tourist industry led to the re-emergence of two of the vices that had disfigured pre-revolutionary Cuba: prostitution among poor women and corruption among those much further up the social scale. There were also claims from American sources that highly placed state managers were indulging in the Eastern European practice of making themselves in effect owners of state industries by ‘spontaneous privatisation’. [80]

With the economic changes of the early 1990s went some relaxation of the characteristically Stalinist methods of the previous decades. Novelists and poets were allowed a freedom they had not enjoyed before – if Pedro Juan Guttiérez and Leonardo Padura [81] could not publish their realistic depictions of life in the country at home, at least they could live there freely and publish them abroad. There was even a brief flurry of talk about open participation in electoral politics. Politburo member Carlos Aldana said supporters of ‘the opposition’ would be able to be elected to the country’s provisional and national assemblies. But once the situation had stabilised, such talk was soon forgotten and Aldana was removed from the leadership, allegedly for ‘corruption’. Candidates for positions in the structures of ‘People’s Power’ are chosen by Candidacy Commissions and the mass of people then urged to vote for them. The National Assembly meets for a few days twice a year. The membership of the Communist Party grew in the 1990s and restrictions on who could join were relaxed. But it remained a top down body, with Congresses postponed for years at a time while those at the top decided what policies were to be approved by those below. So the Sixth Congress, due a couple of years ago, has still not taken place at the time of writing and it is nine years since the previous one.

The inner core of the Cuban leadership around Castro remain terrified of any opening up to genuine involvement of the masses in political discussion. Their reaction has been to clamp down very hard on the visible expressions of discontent. That was the significance of their actions three years ago when they executed three Afro-Cubans who tried to hijack a boat to leave the island, and sentenced a group of peaceful dissidents (including the son of the veteran Communist leader Blas Roca) to long prison sentences. A whole section of the left internationally backed such actions, seeing them as the only way to protect Cuba against the influence of imperialism. But a regime that feels it has to react in such ways is showing its weakness, not its strength.

The weakness flows from the harsh reality that all the efforts of the last 47 years have not enabled Cuba to overcome the poverty imposed by its insertion in the world system. The country eventually began to emerge from the worst shortages and hunger of the early 1990s, with per capita output restored to the level of 1977 – but that was only marginally above the level of 1957. Frank W. Thompson has pointed out that over the whole period since the revolution:

The Cuban economy has performed poorly for nearly half a century – to be sure, with some periods better and some worse, as measured by the statistic of per capita GNP. The Cuban average is at best marginally better now than in 1957. In Latin America, only Jamaica and Nicaragua have suffered worse. [82]

In absolute terms, living standards are higher than in many other parts of Latin America. But they were before 1959. The Cuban Revolution, after all, was the result of a relatively developed country that stagnated because of the world system, not of one that had always been very poor.

What applies to the figures for economic growth applies also to human welfare. Statistics from the United Nations Development Programme show that, as far as health and education are concerned, ‘Cuba has performed better than any other poor country’. [83] But when it comes to other things affecting the welfare of the mass of people, like housing provision, Cuba has not done nearly as well. Thompson concludes that Human Development Index statistics ‘at best allow one to argue that Cuba’s position has not slipped relative to the rest of Latin America’. [84]

The balance sheet of isolation

Castro’s regime over the last 47 years has amounted to a dictatorship by a group who think they understand what the mass of Cuban people really need – a variety of modern ‘enlightened despots’. They sincerely believed at the beginning that they could motivate the people to bring about a completely new society. But the isolation of the revolution meant in practice that Cuba was locked once more in the position of being a commodity producer to other parts of the world system. Maintaining their own control came to mean building up managerial structures that pressured the mass of people to labour to produce the necessary commodities – and the surplus to go into accumulation to keep the cost of producing the commodities competitive. It is an endless struggle to keep ahead of other elements in the world system. Having survived the ‘special period’ of the late 1990s, Cuba was once again affected by the worldwide economic downturn of 2001-02, with a slowing growth rate and accumulating debts. It has to rely heavily on short-term loans to finance imports, chiefly food and fuel. Because of its poor credit rating, an $11 billion hard currency debt, and the risks associated with Cuban investment, interest rates have reportedly been as high as 22 percent.

Under such conditions there will continue to be recurrent discontent among the mass of people, and there will be efforts by managerial sectors, particularly those working with the multinationals, to impose their will and their increasingly corrupt practices on the rest of society, regardless of what those who idealistically made the revolution of 1958 think.

In a recent interview Castro, asked about the future of the revolutionary process in Cuba, said:

This country can autodestruct ... if we do not manage to put an end to the many vices: to a great deal of robbery, to many deviations and to the many sources of money of the new rich ... We are moving toward a total change in our society ... There has to be change again because we are in difficult times, inequalities and injustices are being created. And we are going to change this without committing the most minor abuses. [85]

But a group at the top of society cannot indefinitely stop social development created by the very economic structures it rules over.

There is admiration for Castro among many people in the rest of the world for holding out against US imperialism for so long. But survival alone is not what is needed to fundamentally change the world, and in the Cuban case survival has been accompanied by a regrowth of the class divisions and corruption that fuelled the revolution in the first place.

The editors of this journal wrote back in the heady days of 1960 in defending the Cuban Revolution against the threat of a US invasion (which materialised three months later):

Firstly, the Cuban Revolution is an important defeat for American imperialism ... Secondly, regardless of how we characterise the present social forms, it is clearly a people in revolt ... The revolution that they have made is unlike all bourgeois revolutions in passing beyond private property. It is unlike a socialist revolution in that ... it has not yet created the kind of political institutions which would permanently express ... mass participation ... Thirdly both the Communist Party and the State Department will try to identify the struggle of the Cuban people against imperialism with the Cold War ... The Cubans have found it ... unavoidable to accept Soviet aid ... the pressures on Cuba toward integration into the Soviet bloc will exert bureaucratisation of the revolution ... The Cubans only turn to Russian power because there is no power of the international working class for them to turn to ... [86]

The revolution remained isolated as the attempts to spread the example elsewhere in Latin America failed, leading Castro to acquiesce in the Russian policy of looking to the reformist policies of the existing Latin American Communist Parties which he and Guevara had once criticised. The outcome has been a regime moulded by its need to produce commodities, first mainly for the Eastern bloc, and now for the world market at large. The mass of Cubans have paid the price for that with the emergence of characteristic structures directed to competitive accumulation, and with them the crystallisation of the very processes of class formation and exploitation that Castro occasionally rails against even as repressive measures prevent the mass of workers organising against them.

The isolation of the Cuban Revolution reflected an important reality. The Cuban economy may have not been doing very well in the mid to late 1950s. But the important Latin American states were still experiencing economic growth – and with it had confident bourgeoisies, capable of imposing their will on the rest of society in a way the Cuban bourgeoisie could not. While Cuba never really recovered from the crisis of the early 1930s, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and even Venezuela (where revolution overthrew the Jimenez dictatorship in January 1968) did. It was not until a decade and a half after the Cuban Rsevolution that revolution became a real possibility in Chile and Argentina.

Another model is possible

The point is very important today. Virtually the whole of Latin America has been through two decades of economic difficulties for its bourgeoisies as well as for its workers and peasants – the ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s and then the impact of neo-liberalism in the 1990s. Hence the difficulties its ruling classes have in recovering from the political shocks produced by sudden upsurges of popular discontent – the Caracazo riots in Venezuela in 1989, the Ecuadorian uprising of 2000, the overthrow of the Argentinian government at the end of 2001, the mass upsurges that kept Chavez in power in 2002-03, the uprisings in Bolivia in 2003 and 2005.

The revolutionary processes in Venezuela and Bolivia do not need to be isolated as Cuba was. And they already involve much greater levels of mass participation, of the struggle for power from below, than was the case in Cuba. It has been the massive upward thrust of mass movements, not the heroism of top down guerrilla groups, that has propelled Morales to the presidency and kept Chavez there.

The revolutionary processes do, however, face dangers – and not only from outside, from the US and from strongly rooted local capitalist classes intent on re-establishing their untrammelled rule. They also face dangers from within, from those who, looking to the Cuban model, try to hold back the movements from below and lead the process back into established bureaucratic channels. And if these channels in Cuba were those of a state machine newly created by the victorious Rebel Army, in Bolivia and Venezuela they are those of an old state machine, created by the local bourgeoisie and tied to its rule. The paradox is that those who look to Cuba are looking towards limiting the revolutionary process in such a way that it will not, if they get their way, even lead to a full-blooded attack on private capitalist property such as occurred in Cuba.

The Cuban government itself has long seen mass movements in other countries as little more than a means of putting pressure on established capitalist governments to establish friendlier relations with Cuba. It endorsed the parliamentary as opposed to revolutionary road in Chile in the early 1970s, when Castro toured Chile alongside Allende, and it tried to restrain the revolutionary Sandinista government of the 1980s in Nicaragua. As Gott says, ‘Castro was at pains to caution the Sandinistas not to antagonise the United States unnecessarily. He recommended them to concentrate on establishing a mixed economy and a pluralistic political system ...’ [87]

There are attempts today to use Cuban prestige to hold the mass movement in Venezuela back from moves against local capitalism and any serious break with the multinationals. This means pushing the country towards what in effect would be acceptance of a social democratic mixed economy domestically, despite the talk of ‘socialism of the 21st century’. In international terms it involves trying to build a bloc with the wholeheartedly capitalist governments of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay as well as Cuba and Bolivia. Part of this push is to try to use Cuban top down methods to isolate those within the Venezuelan process who are encouraging workers, peasants, the urban poor and the indigenous peoples to fight for their own demands in a thoroughgoing revolutionary manner. Dressing up the commercial exchange of Cuban doctors for Venezuelan oil as an act of ‘socialist solidarity’ is then used to attempt to derail revolutionary possibilities today just as the exchange of Cuban sugar for Russian oil was 46 years ago.

Yet options are open for Venezuela and Bolivia very different to those that materialised in Cuba with the isolation of the revolution and the institutionalisation of top down rule. There are vast numbers in the unions and social movements of both countries who have learnt through great struggles of the last six years what it means to make decisions democratically from below. That is why there is so much talk about the need for democracy and participation among even the most fervent supporters of Chavez and Morales. Their struggles have the potential to go forward to create living examples of revolutionary democracy which can spread beyond national boundaries to the rest of Latin America as the revolution of 1958 never could. In the process, they can provide a real focus for those, toiling and complaining amid the shortages and corruption of present day Cuba, who do not want 47 years of isolation to end in a return of US domination.

But revolutionary breakthroughs are never just the result of spontaneous upsurges of struggle. They also depend on arguments which take place within those struggles about possibilities and directions. And an important argument in Venezuela and Bolivia is against those who would use the Cuban example to put a brake on the revolutionary process. Support for Cuba against US imperialism, its threats and its embargo must not turn into support for a Cuban model that offers nothing to the new revolutionary movements.


1. Sam wrote under the pseudonym Sergio Junco, in International Socialism 7 (first series) (Winter 1961), pp.23-28.

2. This was in the only internal bulletin produced by the Socialist Review Group (the forerunner of the SWP) in those years, of which no copy seems to survive today.

3. K.S. Karol, Guerrillas in Power (London 1971).

4. R. Dumont, Is Cuba Socialist? (London 1974). For another still relevant analysis see the article which Mike Gonzalez and Peter Binns wrote in issue 8 of this journal in 1980, Cuba, Castro and Socialism, available on

5. Wesleyan University Press, 1976.

6. The earlier work did not spell out the debilitating effect of US imperialism on the Cuban economy and the way it led to political instability from the early 1930s onwards.

7. C. Katz, Mercosur: Crisis o Resurgimiento, available on his website

8. As Lenin insisted during the First World War in polemics with Bukharin and Piatnitsky, colonialism is a relationship of direct political control, and not to be confused with a purely economic relationship. For the full argument, see my endnote 11, in C. Harman, Argentina in Revolt, International Socialism 94 (Spring 2002), pp.43-45.

9. Press reports quoted in S. Farber, Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960, p.37.

10. As above, p.37.

11. S. Farber, The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered (Chapel Hill, 2006), p.47.

12. Gott points out that although legend speaks of 12 guerrillas surviving the landing without getting captured, the real figure was higher. R. Gott, Cuba: A New History (Yale, 2005), p.155.

13. J. Sweig, Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground (Harvard 2003).

14. S. Farber, The Origins ..., as above.

15. Figures given in Hugh Thomas’s authoritative history, Cuba (London 1971), p.1044.

16. As above.

17. S. Farber, The Origins ..., as above, p.75

18. See, for instance, the stress on the need for ‘a unified command’ in Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare: A Method, in Che Guevara Speaks (New York 1996), p.89; for the way discipline was imposed on the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra, see, for example, Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (London 1997), pp.230, 232, 236-237, 282-286.

19. H. Thomas, as above, p.1196.

20. S. Farber, The Origins ..., as above, p.122.

21. J. Robinson in Monthly Review, February 1966.

22. Quoted in S. Farber, The Origins ..., as above, p.121.

23. R. Dumont, as above.

24. S. Farber, The Origins ..., as above, p.133.

25. R. Dumont, as above, p.29.

26. S. Farber, The Origins ..., as above, p.133.

27. R. Dumont, as above, p.22.

28. Che Guevara, Cuba’s Economic Plan, in Che Guevara Speaks, as above, p.42.

29. As above.

30. As above, p.43.

31. As above, p.44.

32. Quoted in R. Dumont, as above.

33. Che Guevara, Man and Socialism, in Che Guevara Speaks, as above, pp.124-135.

34. As above, p.127.

35. As above, p.129.

36. S. Farber, The Origins ..., as above, p.122.

37. A. Suarez, Leadership, Ideology and Party, in C. Mesa-Lago (ed), Revolutionary Change in Cuba (Pittsburgh 1971).

38. D. Seers (ed.), Cuba: The Economic and Social Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1964).

39. The great superiority of his latest book, as opposed to his earlier Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, is that it spells this out, rather than seeing the development of the Castro regime simply as a result of Castro’s ability to manoeuvre and manipulate.

40. See T. Cliff, Permanent Revolution, in International Socialism 12 (first series), Spring 1963, reprinted in T. Cliff, Marxist Theory After Trotsky (London 2003).

41. See the discussion in A. Zimbalist and C. Brundenius, The Cuban Economy (John Hopkins, 1989), p.151.

42. R. Dumont, as above, p.58.

43. Figures given by F.W. Thompson, Cuban Economic Performance in Retrospect, in Review of Radical Political Economics, vol.37, no.3 (Summer 2005). They are based on those in A. Maddison, The World Economy: Economic Statistics (Paris OECD, 2003).

44. R. Gott, as above, p.208.

45. For a long discussion on this, see M. Gonzalez, Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution (London 2004).

46. R. Dumont, as above, p.122.

47. See R. Gott, as above, p.240; R. Dumont, as above, p.63.

48. As above, p.96.

49. As above, p.113.

50. As above, p.114.

51. As above, p.115.

52. As above, p 127.

53. As above, p.240.

54. For some details, see my analysis at the time: C. Harman, Cuba, The End Of A Road?, International Socialism 45, first series (November-December 1970).

55. R. Dumont, as above, p.152.

56. As above, p.58.

57. R. Gott, as above, p.242.

58. As above, p.243.

59. As above, pp.230-240; see also p.246.

60. C. Mesa-Lago, The Economy of Socialist Cuba (Albuquerque 1981), p.144.

61. R. Dumont, as above, p.128.

62. As above, p.60.

63. As above, p.59.

64. Quoted in P. Ruffin, Capitalism and Socialism in Cuba (Macmillan, 1990), p.132.

65. Figures in F.W. Thompson, as above.

66. Quoted in P. Ruffin, as above, p 154.

67. R. Gott, as above, p.174.

68. For a contemporary analysis of the Cuban model’s subordination to the world system, see M. Gonzalez, Can Castro Survive? in International Socialism 56 (September 1992).

69. R. Gott, as above, p.288.

70. As above.

71. Economic Research Service, USDA, Cuba’s Agriculture, Agricultural Outlook (October 1998).

72. See W. LeoGrande, The Cuban Communist Party and Electoral Politics (Cuba Transition Project, Miami, 2002), p.37.

73. R. Gott, as above, p.290.

74. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Survey Cuba, 2002.


76. See, for instance, Cuban Economy Benefits From Foreign Investment, UF News,

77. R. Gott in the Guardian, 18 April 2006.

78. Venezuela is currently the best known example, with Cuba being paid in kind with cheap oil, but Cuban doctors have long been sent elsewhere in this way – for instance, Zimbabwe.

79. C. Mesa-Lago, Social and Economic Policy in Cuba, on

80. F. Gonzalez and K.F. McCarthy, Cuba After Castro (RAND Corporation, 2004).

81. See P.J. Guttiérez, Anclado en Tierra de Nadie (Barcelona 1998), and L. Padura, Havana Red (London 2005).

82. F.W. Thompson, as above.

83. Figures quoted in F.W. Thompson, as above, p.317.

84. As above, p.217.

85. Interview with Ignacio Ramonet, El Pais, 2 April 2006 (my translation).

86. Revolution in Cuba, International Socialism 3, (first series) (Winter 1960-61) (a proofreading error gives the number on the cover as 6).

87. R. Gott, as above, p.270.

Last updated on 14 January 2010