MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—Cuba

The Cuban Revolution and Marxist Theory

by Mage, Wohlforth and Robertson, 17 August 1960
(As submitted to the January 1961 Plenum of the SWP)

Written: 17 August 1960
Source: Cuba and Marxist Theory, Marxist Bulletin No. 8, New York. 
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.

The Cuban Revolution, as it has developed in the last 19 months, poses some uncomfortable theoretical problems for Marxists. Of course these are problems that should fill us with delight, for they stem from the fact that the Cuban Revolution has gone farther, faster and deeper than any of us had anticipated; has, in fact, become a profound social revolution. Nevertheless, the paradoxes and problems remain and can even pose certain dangers for us.

What is so shocking about Cuba is this: that a revolutionary movement stemming from the urban middle classes and winning the support of the peasantry, which gained power when the U.S. finally decided to dump its former puppet, Batista, proceeded once in power to follow an authentically revolutionary course. It broke up the old army and police forces and armed the workers and poor peasants, expropriated the major economic holdings of U.S. capital, broke with the representative political leaders of the Cuban liberal bourgeoisie. And all this without the existence (Not to speak of the intervention) of a revolutionary socialist party and without any autonomous action on the part of the working class!

The inconsistency of all this with certain of our expectations deriving from the Theory of Permanent Revolution is only too obvious. If we rightly believe that every revolution in our time must go beyond “bourgeois-democratic” bounds in order to achieve real success, and can find full vindication for this aspect of the theory in the Cuban Revolution, we also have believed that this process can take place only under the leadership of the working class and with the guidance of a Marxist party!

Some comrades have sought to conjure away this difficulty by slapping a ready-made label onto the Cuban Revolution. Cuba, we are told, has become a “workers’ state” or, alternatively, is ruled by a “Workers’ and farmers’ government.” Alas, to substitute a system of ready-made categories for Marxist analysis, far from solving any theoretical problems, merely generalizes them, gives them an urgency and importance far beyond their present status. Cuba is to be called a “workers’ state”? Then isn’t it necessary to answer the general problem of the conditions under which we can expect proletarian revolutions to be victorious under middle class leadership and without even the participation of the working class or a working class party? The Castro regime is a “workers’ and farmers’ government” And what, then, is the nature of the Cuban state? If anything, the social composition of the state apparatus, of the armed forces and militia, is more proletarian than that of the government—and thus we are back with our previous problem. Even dodging that undodgeable question, we are still confronted with a very queer animal—a “workers’ and farmers’ government” in which there are no workers or farmers and no representatives of independent workers’ or farmers’ parties! Surely neither the Fourth Congress of the CI nor the Transitional Program envisaged such a phenomenon.

We make no contribution to Marxist theory or to an understanding of the Cuban Revolution if we start from the idea that before we can support a revolution we must baptize it “proletarian”, or if we are looking for non-working class shortcuts to socialist revolution. Above all must we abjure the tendency to think in abstract categories, to seek before all else for a tidy ideological pigeonhole into which to cram an unruly reality. A scientific theory is perpetually on trial before the facts and every failure to correctly predict and explain the facts points to the possibility of an inadequacy in the theory. Concretely, if in certain specific countries at the present specific historical conjuncture our theoretical expectations as to the need for working class leadership in order to achieve the main goals of the bourgeois-democratic revolution are contradicted by reality we must recognize that, although this does not require a general theoretical revision, it most certainly does require a reexamination and modernization of these specific aspects of the theory.

In this brief paper we do not intend to carry out such a reexamination, nor have we any intention of here setting forth a developed theoretical analysis of the Cuban Revolution; rather, we will try to lay out a theoretical framework within which such an analysis can eventually be developed.

Our starting point must be the immediate historic task confronting the Cuban Revolution: overcoming the backwardness and impoverishment of the masses imposed by centuries of colonialism and most particularly by the past 50 years of sugar monoculture inspired by and benefitting only the U.S. capitalists. To do this required one absolute precondition—a radical land reform. But since the great sugar estates and sugar mills were largely U.S. owned no step could be taken without an immediate clash with U.S. imperialism, and no thoroughgoing reform could be carried out without an end to U.S. economic domination of the island.

Now these aims—modernization, land reform, national independence—most assuredly are not socialist tasks. They merely lay the foundation upon which the Cuba of the future will be built. But will that Cuba be capitalist or socialist? Posing this question indicates one essential aspect of the Cuba problem—that the answer will not be found in Cuba. An independent, isolated, socialist Cuba against the enormous power of the U.S. is an obvious absurdity. But no less absurd is the idea of an independent development of Cuban capitalism. It is therefore false to argue that Cuba must be either a “capitalist state” or a “workers state”; either a “capitalist government” or a “workers’ and farmers’ government.” We are dealing with an extremely dynamic and contradictory process whose fate is bound up with that of the entire Latin-American revolution.

The U.S. State Department, for so long so brutally blind in its Latin-American policy, has awakened abruptly to this fact. The sharp switch in 1959 from a pro-Castro to a violently anti-Castro line was scarcely motivated by considerations restricted to Cuba; the essential was that by expropriating U.S. property and above all by reorienting its trade from the U.S. to the Soviet bloc, Cuba had taken a decisive lead in the Latin-American revolution and was leading it in an exceedingly dangerous direction.

The aim of U.S. policy has finally become perfectly clear: to prop up, at whatever cost, the more-or-less “democratic” bourgeois regimes while gradually liquidating the old-style dictatorships; and at the same time to intensify to the breaking point the economic pressures on Cuba. After a certain time the Castro regime, out of pure economic necessity, would be forced to come to terms with the State Department. The alternative of complete economic dependence on the Soviet bloc is, in fact, no alternative; as the New York Times put it in a recent editorial, “Castro is in danger of becoming a Soviet pawn and he should remember that the fate of pawns is usually to be sacrificed.” Who can doubt that Cuba would be on the bargaining table at any future Summit?

This is not an unreasonable strategy; far from it. It can be upset by only one thing—a dramatic spread of revolutionary unrest which would break through the solidarity of the Latin-American bourgeoisie with U.S. imperialism and open a real perspective for Cuba. Although “Castro-type” revolutions remain a possibility in the most backward countries, such as Guatemala and Paraguay, the decisive countries of Latin America are those which have already experienced the initial growth of capitalism and in which there exists an already sizable industrial working class: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Mexico. In these countries a “classless” revolution is impossible—the task of leadership is already on the shoulders of the proletariat.

Thus we see the two possibilities open to the Cuban Revolution—to return to subordinate status in a U.S.-dominated capitalist Western Hemisphere, or to be taken up and carried forward, by a Latin-American socialist revolution.

In this context is there anything concrete to be said about the nature of the Cuban government and state? It is clearly too early to answer in terms of finished categories, for the nature of the Cuban Revolution itself is not yet decided by history. Given the enormous prestige of Fidel Castro and influence within the government of the Cuban Stalinists a deal between Castro and Kennedy/Nixon, with the tacit blessing of Khrushchev, would require no political counter-revolution within Cuba. Similarly, if successful proletarian revolutions were to break out in the main countries of Latin America no additional revolution would be required to bring Cuba into a socialist federation of the Americas.

Our emphasis must therefore be on the transitional and open character of the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban state is a developing state, scarcely more than a year old: its class character will be determined by the development of the revolution. The Cuban government is a democratic middle-class regime basing itself on and under continual pressure from, the workers and peasants. Is this self-evident description any less useful than the abstract, arbitrary and false label “workers’ and farmers’ government”?

It is precisely because the Castro government is so clearly not a workers’ government that it is so important not to hastily label the state a “workers’ state.” If a workers’ party were in power it would little matter how quickly nationalization of industry proceeds. In the present fluid situation the middle class leadership of the Revolution presents the greatest internal danger to the advance of the revolution. This makes it mandatory that we advocate the creation of a genuine revolutionary working-class party in Cuba today.

If we say that the final decision as to the Cuban Revolution will be made on a Latin-American scale, this is not to counsel passivity upon Cuban Marxists. The Cuban Revolution has still a lot of room for progress toward the establishment of an authentic workers’ democracy, with its own institutional forms of workers’ and peasants’ power and with a functioning system of workers’ control of production on all levels. Tendencies toward authoritarianism, paternalism, bureaucratization, and thus eventual bourgeoisification are obviously present and strong; the status of the Stalinists in the government and unions, the suggestion of the need to restrict the right to strike, are ominous signs. As American Marxists, our obligation, as the most outspoken and militant defenders of the Cuban Revolution against our own ruling class, is at all times to discuss it clearly and critically, and without any fetishism.

Shane Mage
Tim Wohlforth
James Robertson

17 August 1960