First Issued: September 1969
First Published: As an editorial in Progressive Labor, Vol. 7, No. 3, November 1969
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
In Herbert Matthews’ book, “Fidel Castro,” the former New York Times editor relates a conversation he had with Che Guevara about Marxism in Cuba: “A story had been published in the United States quoting Che Guevara as saying that Cuba – in August 1960 – was Marxist. I asked him about that. He got out the text of his speech and read me what he had said. I then paraphrased the passage for him as follows: ’This is not Marxism. If it seems so, it is an accident of history. Cuba did not choose a Marxist line. If we now seem to be Marxist, or to be doing what Marxists would be doing, that is simply because in carrying out our revolution in our own way we did things that paralleled Marxism.’
“He said, ’Yes, that is the meaning of what I had stated.’”
I remember being in the group of foreign young communists doing volunteer work in Cuba to whom that speech was delivered. I thought at the time it was a nifty gimmick. This was Che’s slick way of moving Cuba to socialism behind everybody’s back. My enthusiasm blinded me to the fact that Che was being completely honest with us.
Within a year Fidel announced they were all “Marxist-Leninists.” None of us questioned that announcement then; after all, why look a gift horse in the mouth? And no one ever thought back to Che’s rather obscure speech of eight months before to try to reconcile the two positions. I mean, just how do you make a country socialist behind the people’s back without them knowing it?
A few years later a friend of mine was spending a couple of days skin diving with Fidel, who brought this theme up. He advised my friend that what we in PL ought to do is forget socialist agitation and stick to being good militant democrats who could maneuver themselves into the leadership of the mass movements. Then, having won the trust of the people, we could spring socialism on them – and they’d love it. My friend disagreed, pointing out the practical and theoretical impossibility of such a scheme. After a while Fidel shrugged and said, “Well, it’s your country, you know best,” implying, evidently, that in his country he could pull off a stunt like that.
In this article I want to examine some aspects of Cuba’s “socialism.” Today I no longer believe in nifty gimmicks.
The experience of two generations in more than a dozen countries has revealed that an important problem confronting communist revolutionaries in power is guaranteeing that the working people control both policy and the policy makers.
History shows that with each great transformation of production relations a new class arises from a position of political impotence to one of political power. Hunters, herd-owners, farmers, slave – owners, aristocrats, merchants, industrialists and financiers have successively become the subjects of history; the working people have always remained its objects. But no longer! Socialism is the working class in power. It is dictatorship over society by the proletariat. If supreme authority is vested in the working class, it cannot at the same time be vested in a handful of men sitting at the top of any hierarchy.
In this respect socialism differs from every previous type of human society (except the most primitive). For in every previous society a small group owned the heart and soul of the society, those things that were needed to maintain that society: weapons, land, herds, slaves, machines and capital. Those few among the already small group of owners who owned and controlled the decisive part of these means of production quite naturally controlled all of society.
But socialism is built upon workers’ common ownership of the means of production. There is no way to own the decisive part of things owned in common. Therefore there is nothing in the workers’ dictatorship that leads to control from above except the perversion of workers’ dictatorship. Equality, destruction of privilege and rank, and control from below are features characteristic of the proletarian dictatorship. Politics under socialism consists of fighting selfishness and privilege, individualism and elitism. Elitism is the ideological enemy of socialism.
The mass line is the fundamental political approach for the success and consolidation of the socialist revolution. By “mass line” we mean that the masses of working people in any given situation themselves decide and carry out the revolutionary action. No one decides or acts for them. If they won’t do it then it can’t be done. No revolutionary, understanding the essential characteristics of the proletarian dictatorship, would want to separate himself from the masses, to rise above them. And yet obviously the masses in an imperialist country, as an example, are deceived and often do not act in their own best interest. How is this to be handled?
The only solution is to persuade the masses to act in their own best interests, to clarify what those interests are and organize behind them. Both the clarification and the organization can only be done by those who are part of the masses themselves. And this process can only go on within the context of class struggle. A part of the masses, the more class-conscious part, must persuade the rest to act in a certain way, in this way enlarging the group of conscious activists. The goal is to make everyone a conscious activist on behalf of the working class; that is, the working class, rather than any small group, exercises supreme authority, decides everything and carries everything out. It is the relationship between the already conscious workers and the not yet awakened workers that is critical.
Everyone knows that this struggle is carried out through organized forms. The conscious element organizes itself, and in an organized way seeks to arouse the rest of the masses. This growing organization of conscious revolutionaries, the communist party, is the mechanism the masses use to control society. But the masses must also control their mechanism of control. The organization cannot rule over the working people; it must be ruled by them.
Marxists differ from anarchists in their understanding that the state is a necessary tool to suppress counter-revolution. The party of the workers’ dictatorship is necessary as long as the state is necessary. It will become unnecessary and disappear when the masses are fully conscious and active, and capitalism and other systems based on private ownership of the means of production (or on the alienation from the workers of the fruit of their work) and the cultures based on such systems have been completely destroyed. Therefore the main tasks of the party are to spread knowledge of Marxism-Leninism among the masses and win the masses to the Marxist-Leninist ideology, to organize the masses to participate in managing state affairs, and to organize it so it is really controlled by the masses and reflects their will. By doing these things the party learns from experience and especially the people. This learning process enriches Marxism-Leninism and makes it an indestructible force for the working class.
The revolutionary leadership must ask itself this fundamental question: Does it conceive the revolution to be a struggle it has undertaken, needing the masses mobilized behind it in order to win? (This way of seeing the revolution is elitist. It cannot lead to the proletarian dictatorship.) Or does it conceive the revolution to be the necessary goal of the workers’ struggles (struggles they cannot avoid because they are inherent in the social relations the workers are in) but a goal that will escape them unless there is a conscious leadership to direct the struggles toward it? (This way of seeing the revolution is based on the mass line and is the prerequisite for building the proletarian dictatorship.) It is instinctive for the leadership to adopt the first attitude because it is itself the product of bourgeois upbringing. And that upbringing has inculcated a drive for personal power in all it has touched.
Elitism is a very great danger to the revolution; it throws militants who could be good mass leaders off course. Identifying themselves (or their group) and their interests or beliefs as the embodiment of the masses’ will, they view the revolutions as the struggle for their power through the mobilization of the masses to win victory for their program. (This is what I mean by elitism within the revolutionary movement.) To be sure, their program is full of benefits for the working people. But it is paternalistic; ultimate control resides in the elite group. Naturally, if the working people control everything they will manage affairs so as to benefit themselves. This is the result of the mass line, the result of socialism. It is NOT socialism. The fact that a paternalistic elite group wins political power and effects radical reforms does not make the result socialism.
An elite can exist only at the expense of the masses. A revolutionary elite takes political power in the name of the masses, and must keep power from the workers. Even if the elite allowed the masses to criticize it, or to elect representatives to join it, the masses still would not have political power. They would have only the power to help choose the group that monopolized the power. The elite invariably develops not only a better living standard than the masses, they develop intellectual arrogance; they avoid physical work; they become corrupt; they trust only their friends and family. No matter how radical the initial reforms, the masses remain alienated from the means of production and alienated, therefore, from the fruits of their labor. They soon find a new, not-so-paternalistic ruling class fattening on them. All this is the result of elitism.
Despite Fidel Castro’s undoubtedly genuine desire to serve the working people, he confuses cause and effect. He believes that to alter society’s structure so as to force a general increase in living standards will mean a better way of life. He is content to describe that as “socialism.” But a way of life – say socialism – is a political organization, a culture, a set of customs and a mode of thought resting on a unique base of production relations. It is not enough to change the production relations. There must be the mass line that will lead to a revolution in the customs, ideology and culture as well.
Socialist culture and customs require a collectively-owned economy in order to exist; but, more important, without the socialist thought, culture, customs and mass line, the collective economy will be undermined and transformed. When Lenin defined socialism as “Soviet power plus electricity” he was careful to put Soviet power – that is, control by the working masses – in first place. Focusing on production and increased living standards will not produce a better way of life much less socialism. (In the 1930’s the German people living under Nazi rule enjoyed much better living standards than they did in the 1920’s living under the rule of the democratic bourgeoisie.)
Fidel gave a good example of his approach – his attitude of “I’ll do it for them, if only they’ll let me” – in this exchange reported by Lee Lockwood in his book, “Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel”:
“Lockwood: “Are you predicting a socialist revolution in the United States?”
Castro: “No. I am a Marxist. As a Marxist I believe that revolutions are engendered by a state of misery and desperation in the masses. And that is not the condition of all the people of the United States but only of a portion, especially the Negroes. And I do not believe that socialism can be imposed for purely theoretical or philanthropic reasons. Only the masses can bring about a change in social structure, and the masses decide to make those great changes when their situation is one of desperation. Many years could pass without that happening to the masses of the United States. In reality the struggle between the classes is not being conducted inside the United States. It is being conducted outside the United States’ borders in Vietnam, in Santo Domingo, in Venezuela and in certain other countries, including Cuba. It is not the people of the United States who fight today against the North American capitalists because United States citizens have a relatively high standard of living and they are not suffering from hunger or poverty.”
A remarkable statement for a Marxist: The class struggle is not a constant, an absolute, the motive force in class society. It gets shut off and turned on by some force outside class society. That force is poverty, which produces desperation. The masses of people are therefore not decisive, merely necessary foot soldiers. What is decisive is an enlightened elite that can mold the masses’ desperation. (In other writings the Fidelistas claim that the elite itself can induce the necessary state of desperation. See the second of Guevara’s famous three “universal laws” of the Cuban revolution on the first page of his book “Guerrilla Warfare.”) So far as the masses are concerned socialism is mainly a method for raising them from poverty (and its attendant social problems), while for the elite it is a method for mobilizing the masses. Increasing production, not class struggle, is understood to be the main problem in building socialism.
Matthews argues that Fidel may call himself a communist, but he is by no means a Marxist. Here is his argument:
“He knew that he wanted to make a radical social revolution but he did not know “how to get it.” His experiences gradually convinced him that the way to “get it” was to employ the communist method...
“When he came to put his ideas and hopes into practice, he found himself driven, as he thought, into the communist position... He said to me often, as he did to others, that a radical revolution can be made only under a strong centralized government. Liberal democracy is a luxury that can come afterwards...”
The formula for the Cuban Revolution is what it has always been – Fidel Castro plus the masses. However Castro has to reach the masses in more ways than by making speeches at meetings or on radio and television... In an authoritarian regime the men who perform these tasks must be controlled, through a chain of command, from above. The machinery to do this is provided by the Communist party of Cuba. It is nothing more or less than a machine, run by Fidel Castro and his powerful group of companeros.”
And Matthews again: “’Major Guevara, when you were fighting in the hills of the Sierra Maestra, did you foresee that the revolution would take so radical a turn?’ ’Intuitively I felt it,’ Che answered. ’Of course, the course and the very violent development of the revolution couldn’t be foreseen. Nor was the Marxist-Leninist formulation of the revolution foreseeable. That was the result of a very long process, and you know it very well. We had a more or less vague idea of solving the problems which we clearly saw affected the peasants who fought with us, and the problems we saw in the lives of the workers.’”
I have the pretty clear idea that what is called “communism” came to Cuba through the press of events. Trading blow for blow with the United States and with the Cuban domestic reactionaries, Castro and the other revolutionary nationalists were finally forced to rely on the local revisionists at home and on Moscow for foreign aid to institute the living standard they had promised the Cuban people. The alternative would have been to rely on the masses.
But by then that choice was almost impossible, because on the one hand Castro was not conditioned to rely on the masses, only to lead them. And on the other hand, the masses had not gone through the political experiences nor gained the revolutionary awareness that would have enabled them to put up with the sacrifices and difficulties made necessary by breaking with U.S. imperialism without falling into the web of Soviet imperialism. Castro’s revolutionary nationalist ideals and politics could produce only a very limited revolutionary movement.
Examine for a moment the chief problem in Cuban agriculture, the main form of production. There seems to be some disagreement over what this problem is. The elitists see it this way: The problem is a labor shortage caused by generally high wages coupled with a shortage of consumer goods. Working less than before the revolution the agricultural worker can still live better than previously. Anyway, beyond a certain point there is no reason to work because there is nothing to buy. So on the average the men work about half a day, on days when they go to work, and absenteeism is enormous.
I disagree. I don’t think this is the problem. I think this is merely a description of the form the problem takes. It seems to me the problem is in the regime’s elitism. The farm worker has materially benefited from the revolution: taxes abolished, land rent abolished, free education to university level for workers’ children, free medical care, increased wages, full-time employment. But all this was given him by the Government in order to win his support, and, as Che said, because the leaders were compassionate men. What the Government could not give was control of the revolution, ownership rights, if you will.
Knowing they are not in command, knowing it is not they who make the decisions, feeling none of the responsibilities the master feels (because they have none of these responsibilities), confined still in capitalist production relations, the workers have no reason to regard work as anything other than the sale of their labor power for adequate food, shelter and clothing. And the evidence says that is just how they do consider work. So as I see it, the chief problem in Cuban agriculture is the absence of the workers’ dictatorship, which makes it impossible for the workers to change their attitude about work.
The Castroites, typically, have a different solution. On the one hand, increase the commodities available for purchase. On the other hand, teach people that the essence of socialist politics is “Work Hard and Produce!” This is the Castroite version of moral incentives. This same policy could be expressed in a slightly different way: Cut real wages so that the workers will be forced to put in a hard day’s work in order to stay alive. Expressed this way the policy is identical to the material incentive policy favored by Moscow and its more servile followers in the Cuban leadership (and of course all other capitalists).
Looking ahead a little, Fidel proposes to change the workers’ attitude toward work by eliminating work through the introduction of technology. More structural change to avoid class struggle. In the meanwhile, before the technology and commodities arrive, men are drafted into agricultural armies that are sent to work the fields under military discipline. To sum it up, this is a “socialism” whose policy towards its working class ranges through four choices: bribe ’em, starve ’em, chain ’em, replace ’em.
The most important economic activity in Cuba is farming. Imperialist control was centered in sugar, and the sugar land was confiscated by the nationalist revolution. The first Agrarian Reform (in 1959-60) resulted in the creation of 166,000 family farms. Taken together these farms accounted for 56 per cent of all the land in Cuba, the state owning the rest. But there was a small upper stratum that owned an enormous chunk of the private land. Some 7 per cent of the farms – the largest farms naturally, each made up of more than 165 acres – totaled 47 per cent of all privately-owned land. In other words, a small group of farmers, some 11,000 in all, controlled 25 percent of all the land. And it was a stratum disloyal to the revolution, aiding the CIA and the counterrevolutionary groups.
As a direct result of their disloyalty the Cuban Government confiscated the holdings of this stratum in the Second Land Reform (October 13, 1963). This reform confiscated all holdings over 165 acres. When it was over there were some 200,000 private farms, which included 43 per cent of all the arable land, or 39 per cent of all the land in Cuba. This is the situation as it exists now. These owners of the means of production in Cuba’s chief industry number about 10 per cent of the population, but their economic significance is very great.
According to Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy’s book, “Socialism In Cuba” (from which these figures are taken), in 1966 the private sector produced a third of the sugar, virtually all the tobacco, cocoa and coffee, most of the fruit, garden vegetables and root vegetables, about half of the milk and perhaps more than a third of the meat.
In order to produce this the private farmers exploit, besides their own and their families’ labor, some 60,000 farm workers. Many of these workers are regular employees on Government-owned farms. This labor exploitation is supposedly illegal; but it is tolerated. In other words, in the Cuban countryside, keystone of the Cuban economy, we find large-scale capitalist production relations with individual capitalists, alongside state capitalism.
For the individual capitalists, life could hardly be better. Government policy has relieved them of all financial and business responsibilities while guaranteeing them ownership, ownership rights and income, and income for their labor. In this way the Government hopes to raise their productivity and induce them to cooperate with the state planning system. Their ownership status is absolutely guaranteed, a guarantee often repeated by Fidel, who has promised no more land reforms. As Fidel put it in explaining the “Green Belt” plan for Havana:
“In the first place all investments are made by the state ... The farmer does not have to get involved, does not have to go one cent into debt to the state. Thus we develop that unit of production, and the ultimate responsibility of the farmer is simply to care for it, using adequate technical methods, and derive the maximum yield from it. If it is a crop that calls for additional effort, we mobilize the nation’s labor force and bring in the harvests just as on the plantations...”
What the hell happened to the class struggle in the Cuban countryside? The State Planning Agency’s decree seems to have replaced the agricultural working class’s political role. The farm workers are to remain merely a productive force. This is a plan that will continue capitalism in the countryside forever, because the capitalist is to share in the increased production both as worker and as owner. Far from being “communist distribution” it will merely increase privilege, create new class interests and invigorate the rural bourgeoisie. The private farmers, who have a typically petty-bourgeois class nature (selfishness, cynicism, market-and-money orientation, provincialism), thus have both the freedom and the opportunity to act as their class nature dictates, and get rich in the bargain.
As a group the rural capitalists are the richest Cubans, with incomes of 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000 pesos a year not uncommon. (By comparison the minimum wage is about 1,000 pesos a year, and a cabinet minister earns 8,400 pesos a year.) In a certain sense they are the true victors of the revolution. Certainly they form the strongest base of support for revolutionary nationalism.
Bear in mind that children can inherit their parents’ land, but can sell it only to the state. Castro would like to eliminate these individual proprietors in favor of state-capitalism. He therefore has a plan for luring the children of the privileged rural stratum off the land by offering them the chance to become privileged urban stratum.
If capitalist agriculture is largely a continuation of past individual capitalist ownership, outside of agriculture, individual capitalist ownership has been produced by the revolution. In a speech on March 13, 1968, Fidel revealed that nearly a third of the retail food trade was carried out by private groceries selling the produce of private farmers; that there were 995 privately-owned bars in Havana alone, whose owners were making a profit of from 25 to 100 pesos daily; that 31 per cent of the private businesses in Havana exploited labor.
But more to the point, Castro also revealed that in metropolitan Havana nearly 52 per cent of the private businessmen were in business less than eight years. In other words they went into business after the triumph of the revolution, most of them after the revolution declared itself “socialist”.
In Havana 27 per cent of these businessmen had been workers. In Havana province 33 per cent had been workers. In Las Villas 34 per cent had been workers. In Oriente 29 per cent had been workers. Cuban “socialism” may have trouble growing sugar cane, but a new bourgeoisie is springing up like weeds.
In March, 1968, Cuba, a country with as many people as New York City and which was “socialist” seven years, had 55,636 private businesses. 1968 was a tough year for Cuba. Everything was scarce, everything was rationed, and much that was rationed was unavailable. There was great pressure from the Government on the working class for it to work harder and produce more. Because there was no workers’ control there was a perceptible loss in morale and a growth of individualism and apathy. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie was living well, thriving on the troubles of the masses. This caused the growth of cynicism in the working class. More workers tried to become small businessmen. This endangered the entire economic development program. For these reasons Castro precipitously nationalized all the businesses. (See Granma, March 14, 1968.)
This administrative act got rid of the bourgeois stratum. (The working class had nothing to do with it.) The bourgeoisie was punished by the paternalistic government. Since the working class did not have the experience of repudiating and defeating the bourgeoisie, since there is still no proletarian dictatorship and since there is still scarcity alongside of excess disposable income (the Castroite bugbear), what will prevent a new bourgeoisie from developing (this time illegally)?
Edward Boorstein, who worked as an economic technician in Cuba for three years, has written a book about it called “The Economic Transformation of Cuba.” The book is merely an extended apology for Castroism. Boorstein is trying to prove that Castroism is orthodox Marxism-Leninism.
According to Boorstein’s mythology Castro and Guevara were wise and shrewd Marxist from the earliest moments on: “Their understanding of the Marxist theory of the state and revolution is one of the master keys to the strategy and tactics of the Cuban revolutionary leaders from the early days in the Sierra to the economic reorganization of the government several years after they had come to power.”
Taking into account Boorstein’s motives his book becomes interesting for what it reveals rather than for what it proclaims. Boorstein gives as capable a “leftist” presentation of the Cuban version of Marxism-Leninism as one is likely to come across.
“... Cuba’s problems were the inherent result of the presence of American monopolies... what was really necessary to solve Cuba’s problems was a revolution against American imperialism... To get rid of imperialism means a life or death fight. The only way for a Latin American government to win such a fight is to mobilize the people behind it... When the people of any Latin American country have kicked out the imperialists, how much of the typical lopsided economy will remain in private hands?... Kicking out the imperialists means taking over the foreign trade... Just kicking out the imperialists will place the strategic parts of the Latin American economies in the hands of the state. Strong government land-reform agencies ... will be required throughout Latin America... The revolutionary governments will have to carry out industrial development... The revolutionary governments will have to move quickly to economic planning... Finally what political power will the local bourgeoisie have after the imperialism which sustains it is gone?... The armed struggle will give rise to the nucleus of a new revolutionary state. What can this be but a socialist state? The key cadres of the new state will have been formed in a fight to obtain not crumbs, but power – peoples’ power. And how can the people’s power be used to solve the people’s problems except through socialism?”
What is bad about imperialism is that “the monopolies cannot create economies from which the people of Latin America can live. And by blocking them from their own resources, their own markets, and control over the policies and politics of their own countries, the monopolies prevent the people from creating such economies themselves.”
And in a “thank God there is a socialist Soviet Union” spirit: “... the developed socialist countries should lean over backward not to exploit the weakness of the underdeveloped.” Not only that but “the Soviet Union... had recently become interested in a socialist international division of labor...” Thus, “What Cuba needs most to develop is the production of food, clothing and houses. These are the things her people need most. Improving the life of her people is what will best enable Cuba to serve as an example to the rest of Latin America and other underdeveloped areas.”
Notice first the fact that the struggle for socialism, far from being a mass struggle, is understood as a struggle by a leadership that mobilized the masses behind it only in order to win. From this conception of the struggle naturally flows the conclusion that socialism is equivalent to structural change – a state-controlled economy. Nowhere in Boorstein’s whole book does one find any mention of the proletarian dictatorship. (In this respect Fidel is cleverer but he means what Boorstein says.) In place of the proletarian dictatorship is “people’s power,” which, to be sure, requires the form of socialism if it is to solve the “people’s problems.” This formulation has one merit: its consistency. For if socialism is merely, or even mainly, structural change, then we have no need of the concept of class struggle or class dictatorship. The structure is above classes; there is an un-class-differentiated “people,” and the structure can serve it and is controlled by it to the extent the leaders struggle for national economic independence.
Despite Boorstein’s talk about the people winning state power with guns, the old state smashed, and so on, what he means is that a small radical nationalist group seizes power and then enacts popular reforms aimed at U.S. imperialism for the purpose of winning the support of the people. Imperialism retaliates, but the new revolutionary government, now supported but by no means controlled by the people, is able to withstand the attack. In this way Nassar is a socialist revolutionary, the Peruvian generals are potential socialist revolutionaries, etc. National struggle replaces class struggle except if there is a pro-imperialist domestic stratum to be ousted.
In other words, revolutionary nationalism can produce socialism only if socialism is deformed to mean mainly structural change, with the socialist mass line replaced by elitism. That is in fact the Cuban experience, and the Fidelista theory of revolution is merely a “Marxist” justification for it.
Second, notice that what the Fidelistas consider bad about imperialism is that it cannot allow “the people” to develop economies that let them live. Again, this is clearly no more than a structural defect. U.S. imperialism cannot overcome it but a state-controlled economy with new market outlets (“Socialism”) can. Say for the sake of argument that there existed a form of imperialist control that permitted “the people” to live. After all, a different imperialism will not necessarily be able to use the old imperialistic structure; its economy will be different and so require different inputs from its colonies, and it will have different exports. What could prevent the revolutionary nationalists, who are committed to no more than structural reform and a redivision of the wealth (call it whatever fancy name you like), from falling into the hands of this new imperialism?
The masses could not. The masses have been promised no more than a rise in living standards and the dignity that accompanies regular employment and sufficient food, shelter and clothing (using the middle class in the capital city as the model). If it is lucky and there is enough to seize from the old imperialists, the new revolutionary government can distribute this, and the revolution will immediately produce material rewards for a large part of the population. This will inspire them to have confidence in the new order, which anyway has left them powerless, except for their inherent power to work with initial enthusiasm. But because of the ideas motivating them, their enthusiasm will continue only if the government is able to convince its new trading partner and master to allow virtually unlimited borrowing. These credits must be used mainly for consumer goods, with the people’s labor going into the production of raw materials or semi-processed goods for the new imperialist master.
This kind of full employment can continue only as long as the imperialist power is willing to put up with a progressively increasing non-profitable production, which implies a declining rate of accumulation and an increasing national debt. When the credit advanced produces a situation in which the tendency of the profit rate to fall is no longer offset by the increased production of total profit realized through the control of the resources and production of the new colony (and this state of affairs is inevitable) then the aid or credit must be shut off. But this spells ruin for the masses living in the colony. Even during the period in which the aid is freely given, the imperialist power must exert pressure in the form of higher prices for its goods (exchange with the colony at unequal values) to hold down its accumulating debt; that is, to try to offset the falling profit rate.)
The revolutionary nationalists have no defense against this kind of aid-giving imperialism (which explains both why the imperialists are in love with revolutionary nationalism and why they compete in handing out foreign aid); they always get sucked in. In the name of structural reform they have always ended up the new rulers of essentially the same old structure.
Third, even from a propagandistic point of view the revolutionary nationalists are trapped. In the era when autocratic British, French and Dutch imperialism reigned, American imperialism outflanked them all and swallowed up the revolutionary nationalists with the slogan of “democracy.” The Japanese won the allegiance of the Asian nationalists with a version of “Asia for the Asians,” playing on America’s racism, which made her vulnerable.
Today “socialism” has replaced “democracy” and “racial solidarity” (since the latter two have been thoroughly exposed before the masses and can no longer be used to mobilize them) as the chief slogan of the nationalists. And this gives the Soviet imperialists that much more leverage against the American imperialists. In their mutual attempt to hoodwink and mobilize the masses, both the “socialist” imperialists and the “socialist” nationalists act as character witnesses for each other, each vouching for the other’s “revolutionary” and “socialist” qualities. The Soviets have become state-monopoly-capitalists practicing imperialism. Cuba is a colonized state capitalism.
This, of course, explains the fact that in Cuba there is no political life allowed, apart from the effort to increase production. Castro characterized the class struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism, the class struggle between the road of building socialism and selling out to capitalism, which is the decisive political struggle of our era, as “Byzantine... angels dancing on the head of a pin.”
Of course, this was really an attack on Marxism-Leninism; it was the justification for suppressing Marxism-Leninism. But in order to keep it suppressed he had to take into account the essentially imperialist relations Cuba has with the Soviet Union. These relations are bound to give rise to national conflicts. In fact they have already done so. If to cement the alliance with Soviet imperialism, Fidel was moved to proclaim himself a “communist,” then to protect his power over the masses at home he was forced to declare himself in addition a “Marxist-Leninist,” opposed to certain aspects of Soviet doctrine, but more opposed to the “anti-Cuban” Chinese (for there lay the ultimate peril – the mass line).
No one, least of all the Soviets, has ever questioned the accuracy of the statistics about world-wide Soviet economic penetration. It must be admitted that they form a powerful demonstration that Soviet imperialism does exist, functioning in classical imperialist ways to achieve classical imperialist ends: control of the colony’s resources, labor markets (internal and foreign) and policies.
The Cuban leaders, predictably, refuse to concede the reality of Soviet imperialism. To the extent there is any discussion of this question at all, it is about “self-sufficiency.” Chatter about economic self-sufficiency hides the real issue: Cuba’s colonial relationship to Soviet imperialism.
Boorstein, presenting Castro’s case, says that inasmuch as Cuba cannot produce what she needs she must depend on foreign trade and guard her sovereignty against any pressures:
“Economic independence cannot be mechanically equated with self-sufficiency and Cuba is not the Soviet Union or China; they have possibilities for self sufficiency not open to her... There is at present no realistic socialist theory of economic independence ... Economic independence means that the people of a country control its economy and its destiny themselves, free of interference from abroad; they control its resources, its markets, its trade, its policies ... Imperialism by its nature precludes such independence for the underdeveloped countries with which it deals... The socialist economy does not by its nature drive toward domination... A socialist country... does not... acquire property... This does not mean that there can be no abuses in the economic relations between socialist countries. Self-sufficiency is one factor to be considered—to be balanced against others – in determining economic policy. It cannot be made into an absolute, a general policy for all socialist countries... Cuba has won her economic independence. She controls her resources, her markets, her trade, her policies... True, some three-quarters of Cuba’s foreign trade is with the Soviet Union. But it is nonsense to talk – as some do – of the Cuban economy being an appendage of the Soviet economy in the same way it once was of the United States economy...”
This shows how important it is to expose the mumbo-jumbo about there being “no realistic socialist theory of economic independence.” The fact is that there is no nation economically independent in the sense of being completely unrelated to the world market. Every nation trades what it has for what it needs. Boorstein’s “profundity” about “self-sufficiency” is just a revisionist’s attempt to smother politics with technical economics. Victory over imperialism is what we are interested in. Everyone knows that today foreign trade, the world market, is controlled by imperialism in imperialism’s interest. One engages in international trade on imperialism’s terms. (The only exception is bilateral exchange at equal values with China and Albania – but though that is outside the bounds of the world market, it is conditioned by that market.)
If we are interested in smashing imperialism we must destroy this imperialist trade. That must be the strategic goal of the states ruled by the workers’ dictatorship. Therefore the consistent day-to-day policy is to avoid the world market as much as possible. This is clearly also a defensive action, for reliance on international trade, as the Cuban example proves, places you at the mercy of imperialism. The workers’ dictatorship trades with imperialism only for what it absolutely must.
But it relies on itself and on the other workers’ states. It is not the economic appeal of the workers’ state that will destroy imperialism but the working peoples’ force of arms in the not-yet-liberated countries. One of the specific duties of the workers’ state in this international revolution is to take steps to weaken the imperialists economically and politically.
Working people everywhere are poor. Winning their liberation and control over society won’t make them wealthy. The promises of the revolutionary nationalists notwithstanding, increasing living standards are an important but secondary aspect of the revolution. Putting primary emphasis on raising living standards can only lead, as we have seen, to selling out to one or another imperialist, and that will only plunge the vast majority back into wage-slavery. Beyond question, when the working people win their freedom from exploitation they will do away with the lusting after possessions that capitalism preaches is the good life. But this cultural change can only be brought about by the proletarian dictatorship through mass struggle for workers’ control of the state and society, against elitism, against bureaucrats, technocrats and a professional intellectual stratum. The Fidelistas, who can only resolve the contradictions in their policy through binding their country to Soviet imperialism, raise the straw man of “self-sufficiency” in order to blind the working people to the possibility of self-reliance.
Of course, the only thing Boorstein doesn’t explain is precisely the most important thing: Just exactly how is Cuba to resist Soviet pressure against her? This resistance is not a matter of will power. Cuba exists in a real, material world, and Fidel’s wishes can only be carried out as policy if Cuba’s material circumstances permit it.
Now according to Boorstein, imports and exports equal 30 per cent of Cuba’s gross national product. Sweezy and Huberman quote Soviet and Cuban statistics to the effect that half of Cuba’s foreign trade is with the Soviet Union, with another 25 per cent of foreign trade with Eastern Europe. (Boorstein says three-quarters of Cuba’s foreign trade is with the Soviet Union.) Imports from the Soviet Union run, as of 1967, from $600-$700 million. Of this, $220 million is in the form of raw materials and parts for industry, $80 million (Boorstein says $100 million) is for oil, $30 million for wheat and wheat flour, and $10 million for cotton and cotton thread. (Boorstein notes that Cuba is dependent on the Soviets for fertilizers, tractors and trucks, but these are included in the figures just given.) Of course Cuba’s army, navy and air force is supplied, trained and advised by the Soviets. Much of the equipment the Soviets gave free of charge. In any case, the need for ammunition, spare parts, replacing obsolete equipment, continued training – whether paid for or not – effectively ties Cuba to the Soviets.
Everyone recognizes that oil is a key import. The Cubans get all their oil from the Soviets, except for domestic production of 113,000 tons (in 1967). That same year they imported 4,867,000 tons from the USSR, or about 97 per cent of total oil consumption. Oil consumption is rising by at least 5 per cent per year, Huberman and Sweezy estimate. But already on January 2, 1968, Fidel indicated that the Kremlin bosses weren’t eager to send Cuba oil: “But everything points to the fact that that nation’s (the USSR) present possibilities of providing fuel at the rising rate of our needs are limited” (Granma, January 3, 1968).
The “fact” Fidel alludes to should be taken with a grain of salt since the USSR’s current oil production is about 300 million tons per year and she is actively looking for markets, especially in Western Europe, for her growing surplus. But then, that’s business; why give away what you can sell? Why let your colonies develop too much?
Cuba’s trade deficit with the USSR – that is, the difference between what she bought from the Soviets and what she sold to the Soviets – is enormous. According to Soviet figures quoted by Huberman and Sweezy, the average Cuban deficit for the years 1961-67 was $114.8 million per year. And this was a rising deficit. In 1966 the trade deficit was $174.6 million, and in 1967 it was $220 million. Of 1968 Fidel said it would “be considered as one of the rough years of the Revolution.”
Now taking all this into account, and taking into account that Cuba has nowhere else to turn for the commodities she gets from the Soviets, and that she is determined to have the commodities, how effective do you think Castro’s resistance to Soviet economic and political pressure will be?
Taking the fact of Soviet imperialism into account, examine Cuba’s plan for “economic development.” Boorstein, who helped draw it up, explains: “Because so much of the capital equipment must come from abroad, development depends not only on general surplus, but on the capacity to import beyond the level required to meet current needs. It therefore depends in large part on exports.”
And that is the justification for the concentration on sugar, particularly the 10 million ton goal. That is the only commodity the Cubans can produce in sufficient quantity to export in payment for the raised standard of living the revolutionary nationalists call “socialism.” (The Soviet empire is supposed to get 7 million of the 10 million tons, if they are actually produced.) As Boorstein puts it: “The objection to concentration on sugar is not to concentration as such, but to its meaning and its consequences under imperialism.” He chooses to deny the existence of Soviet imperialism. The facts scream it to the heavens. Therefore the sugar policy guarantees that capitalist production relations will remain the norm in Cuba. For all intents and purposes the economic development plan integrates Cuba into the Soviet empire’s economy as a giant sugar plantation.
Soviet history proves that capitalist production relations can generally exist without individual ownership of the means of production. As far as the working class is concerned, centrally-determined appropriation of surplus-labor by the government can be socialist appropriation only if the working class controls the state. If control of the state is the privilege of a separate social group (even if some workers can join the group) as it is in Cuba and the USSR, social relations of production remain capitalist relations, even though there may be no individual capitalists. As far as the working class is concerned, whether there are individual capitalists or the state is the capitalist doesn’t much matter; it finds itself in an identical social position under both regimes.
The Cuban experience makes one thing painfully clear: Socialism can’t be built unless the masses participate in every phase of the socialist development. What the people of Cuba participated in was a bourgeois democratic revolution. Its aim was the defeat of Batista and sweeping reforms in all areas of Cuban life. U.S. imperialism over-reacted to this development and pushed Castro & Co. into the arms of the Soviet bosses. To fit this new set of relations Castro proclaimed Cuba socialist, and then Marxist-Leninist.
The people acquiesced because of their great faith in the Castro leadership, enormous latent sympathy with socialism; and because U.S. imperialism and Batista showed that almost anything else must be better. But this isn’t enough. Socialism is much more than sweeping reforms. It is much more than replacing the control of one imperialist for another. True, the new relations with the Soviets seem better. This is because of intra-imperialist rivalry between the Soviets and the U.S. But the essence of the relationship is the same: control. Changes in economic relations and the dictatorship of the proletariat give the people the chance to fight out their problems and completely remake their lives. The primary aspect of socialist development is in the ideological sphere. Man’s thoughts and actions in relation to one another are fundamental. Changes in thinking can not come about by decree, but by long ideological struggle.
Castro has misused the great confidence bestowed on him by the people. He has taken the people into alliances with the most reactionary forces on earth. His one-man paternalistic rule smacks more of feudalism than socialism. Reforms that have been made are giving way to huge problems because of the inherent capitalist relations in the country, which now manifest themselves in economic debacles. The world now sees that socialism by edict is nothing but opportunism. Only the masses can decide to fight for socialism.