C.L.R. James

The Gathering Forces

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III. What Is Socialism?

Cuba: The Modern Population in Action

We will begin with a quotation from the central work of Karl Marx, Capital. Marx wrote in Volume III of Capital:

The actual wealth of society, and the possibility of a continual expansion of its process of reproduction, do not depend upon the duration of the surplus labor, but upon its productivity and upon the more or less fertile conditions of production, under which it is performed. (p. 954)

Referring in connection with this idea to “the realm of freedom”, Marx goes still further. “In the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of material production.”

The Cuban Revolution indicates the road to this realm of freedom. The Cuban Revolution does so in the fact that it begins to do away with commodity production. It is pulverising the myths about how the fate of peoples presumed to be backward must wait for their salvation upon the graciousness of the great capitalist states.

The Cuban Revolution must be seen as par t of t he Caribbean quest for national identity. Toussaint L’Ouverture, at the head of the Haitian revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, broke the back of the external foe, France, and helped establish the only successful slave revolt of all times, and the first black republic to free itself from European domination. Bolivar, San Martín, O’Higgins, Maceo and Martí completely smashed Spanish colonialism in the Caribbean and Latin America. That was the nineteenth century. The Cuban Revolution is of our century.

Earlier revolutionary movements fell from their heroic heights when faced with the task of overcoming the internal antagonisms, the set social limits that imprisoned the mass of people as helots in a backward economic and social system. But just as the earlier Haitian revolution smashed the notion of “no slavery, no Caribbean”, the modern Cuban people are riddling the notion of “no plantation, no Caribbean”. An outmoded system of production and social life in which a mass of producers and their families were compelled to make a living is now overthrown.

These sugar plantations (latifundia) have been at one and the same time the most civilising and the most demoralising influence in the historical development of the Caribbean . Slaves brought from Africa entered a new Caribbean environment which consisted of large-scale agriculture dominated by a single- crop market economy. This meant intensive exploitation . On the other hand it created a most modern population.

Steam power was applied to sugar production in Cuba and elsewhere early in the nineteenth century. Because it was seasonal, sugar cane had to be reaped and quickly transported to processing centres. Production was for the international market. Those who worked close together in the sugar industry also lived close together, thereby constituting in significant ways a socialised population far beyond any proletariat of their time.

The small size of the island and the newness of the lacnguage, contemporary Spanish, together with large-scale production of a commodity of worldwide importance, all precluded the atomisation of the peasantry. The very nature of imperial dominance, first Spanish and then American, prevented the development of an extensive middle class. The Cuban populatin were not isolated and rural-bound. They had instead the highest attribute of modern labour: the willingness and readiness to meet the most advanced changes in production. An army of colonels and a Colonel Batista. at the head of a totally brutal, callously corrupt regime was the way, . backed by the threat of American intervention, that a population of this type could be kept down.

History follows laws of development of its own, not those imposed upon it by pedants, bourgeois or otherwise. The Cuban Revolution began with the actions of a small, dedicated group of young men and women detached from the middle class and unwilling to accept the agonies of American imperialism and the weekly reddening of Havana Harbour with the blood of the victims that Batists ordered thrown to the sharks. They were met and joined by the landless rural population, socialised rural labour closely tied into urban life in the confines of a small island.

The pattern of struggle of the Cuban people consists of long periods of drift punctuated by vigorous bursts of activity thrown back by superior military migh t . Defeat clarified strategic considerations: retreat as the enemy advances, harass the tired enemy in his encampments, trap the military by superior knowledge of the terrain, capture weapons in short and quick engagements; in a word, guerrilla warfare, protracted conflict which demands the incorporation of the rural population, a people strengthened by their own experiences in sugar production and a self-developing national life.

The general strikes, August 1957 and April 1958, quickened the revolutionary spirit and determination towards victory. On the night of December 31st, 1958, Batista fled the country and the usual collection of bourgeois politicians attempted to take charge of the state. The large Cuban working class replied with the general strike of New Year’s Day, 1959, that completely foiled this attempt.

The revolutionary leadership, starting not with any particular ideology but the love of the Cuban people and nation, made its own experience. When it was isolated by the weight of American imperialism, it made alliances with the Russians and the small local Communist Party. It received economic aid from Russia in return for selling the bulk of its sugar crop to the Russians at prices far below those of the world market, and the Russians proceeded to resell this sugar at the international price.

The revolution learned by its closer relationship with the mass of the population; for at the same time as it temporarily tied itself to the Russians in the international field, it directed the self-activity of the population to building houses and creating universal literacy, this last through the great campaign whereby each one who could read or who learned how to read taught someone who had been illiterate. Moreover, it diversified the economy, beginning the flight from the monoculture that had forced Cuba into subordination to the Russians. From the mid-sixties to the Conference of the Organisation of Latin American States in the Summer of 1967, it sloughed off the bureaucratic Communist local leadership and took major steps to end the domination of the economy by the Russians. While in the mid-sixties postes showing a Russian soldier with his arms about a Cuban soldier with the slogan “Cuba is not alone” appeared through[out] Cuba, by 1967 Fidel Castro could defiantly declare to the whole world not only that “Cuba eta sola”, that Cuba now stood on its own, but that it could oppose the Communist Parties of all of Latin America and of the whole world by becoming the new centre of revolution for the Third World. While Cuba has yet to achieve the building of socialism, it has adopted that course which the Stalinists in fact destroyed.

The Cuban Revolution built mass movements of the population, concerned itself with counteracting the growing bureaucracy of the old-line Communists and their new adherents. It has educated the population not only in the simple tools of literacy but in politics, economics and military defence. It has worked hard and with increasing success to bridge the gap between town and countryside. In requiring that students ans administrators, including Fidel Castro himself, work beside the rural population part of the time, it combats the tendency present in any underdeveloped country for the intelligentsia and the administrators to coalesce as the new masters of capital.

Cuba in the sixties is proof that as a people West Indians are unique and moder n. The density of the population, the unifying effect of the sugar plantation, the modernity of language as a vital social medium, have produced such far-reaching figures as Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Frantz Fanon, Fidel Castro, and then incorporated into themselves an outsider, an Argentinian physician, Che Guevara, who, after having been an inspiration and leader of the Cuban Revolution and a Latin American socialist theoretician, moved on to the task of the world revolution.

As one symbolic expression of modernity, Fidel Castro used the most contemporary medium of mass communication, television, in a manner far beyond any political leader today. And that is but an example.

Invasion, economic pressures, infiltration have all been unable to undo a government based on the daily and hourly involvement of the overwhelming majority of the population. And once the Cuban people effectively demonstrated what is to be done, all of Latin America could no longer remain a dominated extension of the imperial colossus of North America. The tremendous climax of what has begun as a Cuban revolution is now awaited.

While it is clear that Cuban society has not yet been transformed into a socialist society and that the development of human history may yet demand the following of many tortuous paths, it is clear that the :revolution that began on the paths of the Cuban Sierra Maestra offers the world a clear view of the inevitable socialist future of mankind. We are offered a glimpse of this future in an interview by S.M. Karol with Fidel Castro printed in the New Statesman for Septembcr 22nd, 1967. This intervieew makes clear that what is being put forward in tosay’s Cuba is antithetical to the widespread misconceptions that socialism consists of plans, so much this and so much that, and its supposed humanitarian side, the equalisation of incomes. In the interview Castro said:

We are running our own little cultural revolution to get rid of the old mentality, but we shall succeed only with the new generation. This means an attack on material incentives incompatible with socialism.

Castro goes on to indicate that the problem is to end the treatment of the worker ns just one more commodity, one more equivalent in a world of exchange values. He told the interviewer: “Please get this clear – the real problem isn’t to distribute incomes or equalise wages.”

Wage slavery itself is the central issue. Concern with wage policy and income distribution still leaves labour power where it is always placed in capitalist economy: as a commodity. Castro, speaking of wage policy and income distribution, said:

Limit yourself to that and you still don’t break with the idea of a society based on money. It’s at the centre of social policy just as much in China, where they have financial equality, as in Russia, where they have graduated wage-scales. We want to get rid of the mystery of money. Indeed, we’re planning to got rid of money altogether.

In a country with a monoculture so geared to international market necessities it is easy to see the social-economic relations as a money equation. But to smash at this is the direction and force of the present stage of the Cuban Revolution. Health, education, water and the telephone are now free in Cuba, That is the astonishing fact, the beginning of what the socialist society will be. Castro goes on to say:

We’re giving people new homes completely furnished for nothing.

Rents will be abolished very soon, and so will fares.

That is the socialist society. And here is the summation of the spokesman for a people who have developed in action a sense of their own identity and thereby confirm the socialist destiny of all mankind. Castro again:

And it won’t be very long before we can give free food and clothing. Cuba isn’t a poor country. It’s full of mineral wealth, the land is excellent, the population isn’t large. Only imperialist exploitation made it an underdeveloped country. More than half the land was uncultivated ...

The New Statesman interviewer further describes the plans for the chief mineral region of Cuba.

Castro envisages jobs for 250,000 workers in nickel or chromium mines and refineries, plus a big scientific research centre.

Their food will be free – it will come from a huge farm at Pinares de Moyari, created on 62,000 acres.

Labour power as a commodity is being destroyed there. Most significant, besides the fact that food, lodging and clothes are to be free, is the socialist truth that their “wages are not related to output”.

One can insist that the forces of production have increased all over the world by which the increased wants of mwn, women and children can be satisfied. But every social revolution of our day is above all concerned with this:

The freedom in this field cannot consist of anything else but of the fact that socialised man, the associated producers, bring it under their common control instead of being ruled by it as by some blind powr; they accomplish their task with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most adequate to their human nature and most worthy of it. (Capital, Vol. III, p. 954)

The ideas of the Marx of Capital are actualised by the mass of the Cuban people in their social penetration into the supposed mystery of money. No Russians, no Chinese, no Americans could teach the Cuban people such powerful social actualities. That idea being worked out in practice is a great aspect of the celebration of fifty years since Russia succumbed to the victory of a rebellious people determined to scale the heights of a new society.

Last updated on 18 October 2020