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

Notes on the Cuban Discussion within the Revolutionary Tendency

by James Robertson, 30 April 1961

(Summary of remarks made in oral discussion)

Written: 30 April 1961
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.

(1) The spawning since 1943 of a whole series of anticapitalist states in various of the more backward portions of the world has impaled the world Trotskyist movement on assorted dilemma horns. The theoretical impasse and political crisis for the movement arises through the apparent absence of either proletarian base or Bolshevik leadership to the revolutionary civil wars waged in Yugoslavia, China, Indo-China, or Cuba. An additional consideration involves the Cuban revolution whose victorious leadership was not Stalinist in its origins.

Trotskyists have reacted in four kinds of ways in measuring this twenty-year development and in assigning plus and minus signs from the standpoint of the road to socialism: (1) Some, currently Swabeck over China, come to convince themselves that the revolutions in question are clearly proletarian and with a Marxist-Leninist leadership to match. This position continually eliminates itself by the defection from the Trotskyist movement of its supporters and indeed is nothing but an overt writing off of authentic revolutionary working class struggle of which Trotskyism is nothing other than the consistent program in historic depth; (2) The SWP Majority and the European Pabloites have come, by and large and with certain formal pretense to the contrary notwithstanding, to view the revolutions as basically sound, but with any flaws present to be located in the leaderships which are insufficient, unconscious or absent. (Once holders of this view find the leaderships to have become generally sufficient, conscious and present, centrism becomes galloping revisionism rapidly leaving the arena of alleged Trotskyism.) (3) Those who hold the views expressed in these notes look upon the revolutions as fundamentally defective, limited, and moreover with leaderships to match; (4) Finally those who share the stand of the SLL as expressed in ‘Trotskyism Betrayed’ generate an approach that in large measure either denies that social revolution, solid or defective, has taken place at all and correspondingly that the leaderships are capitalist-bonapartist; or else as over China leave inexplicable the admitted fundamental transformation.

Several observations about this spread in approach are evident. (a) The symmetry between our and Swabeck’s positions flows from our both seeing the revolutions and their leaderships as in consonance with one another. (b) The basis for a common stand between ourselves and those such as the SLL exists at this juncture because the same programmatic points flow from each approach. (c) The position of the French IC group is one of straddling the last two basic viewpoints—thus the amorphousness of ‘phantom-like capitalist’ or of ‘transitional’ states.

(2) More specifically, the position of the French IC’ists suffers from the central weakness that it views the Cuban revolution as analogous to the Spanish experience of the 1930’s in which the Stalinist forces propped up the ‘Loyalist Government’—an insubstantial capitalist regime—in the face of a raging proletarian revolution and by repression and terror smashed that revolution. The analogy is not merely defective—it emphasizes exactly what is not in common between Spain and Cuba—a bona-fide workers’ revolution!

Moreover the French comrades make sweeping denials of the significance or applicability of all elements in the Cuban situation which might be deemed to have led to a fundamental and decisive break from internal and world capitalism. But the depth and extent of the denials are too great. The Chinese revolution, a true analogue to the Cuban, falls under this ban as well. Thus the interpretation ‘proves’ too much; that is, it does not accurately reflect the true structure of reality.

The phrase ‘structural assimilation’ and the nebulous but ‘magical’ qualities attributed to it by some Trotskyists are irrelevant to the Cuban discussion. The phrase was a way for the Trotskyist movement to convince itself that, following the victory of the Soviet Army in Eastern Europe, in certain cases the Kremlin was actually sufficiently unconciliatory to capitalism as to consolidate economic and state power in the wake of military conquest. What is presently under discussion is the creation of those states which came into existence essentially independent of any immediate or direct role of the Soviet Union.

(3) The entire structure of the French IC theoretical viewpoint flows from the initial premise which is treated as axiomatic that any kind of workers state must originate in a workers revolution.

Hence (a) the class nature of the state issuing out of the Cuban revolution is not determined by indigenous events-likewise for China, Yugoslavia, Indo-China—since manifestly the working class was not essentially involved in the domestic revolutionary processes.

And (b) ‘structural assimilation’ is the way in which these states have had transmitted to them the workers state quality of the only workers revolution still extant, the Russian October of forty-five years ago.

And (c) the proof of ‘structural assimilation’ as the decisive link in the change in the class character of these new regimes is that they have become in every way in essence identical with the Soviet Union, hence must have been ‘structurally assimilated.’

As an aside (d) it is suggested that there are capitalist states (Burma, Egypt, etc.) which have pretty much the same formal economic structure as the emergent anti-capitalist regimes, but which lack the vital sharing in the Russian ‘original good’ and so cannot transcend state-capitalism.

Sad to say, this example of pure scholasticism is the central core of such a theoretical insight. A critical way of putting its substance is to suggest that in this view ‘the class character of a state is determined by its foreign policy’!

(4) In the present discussion it has been proposed that we base our position upon our ‘Draft Resolution on the Cuban Revolution,’ a three-page YSA document printed in Young Socialist Forum No. 15, December 1961. The most serious criticism of this document arises out of its very excellence at many points. As presented, the resolution only makes sense in the context of its viewing Cuba as a deformed workers state; but none-the-less, the characterization is withheld. With the passage of another year and a half, it is high time to grant it! For example, all of the shortcomings and weaknesses of the Cuban revolution as cited in the resolution and all of the measures and demands proposed to combat them are consistent only with the view of Cuba as a variety of deformed workers state. No suggestion is offered at any point in the draft resolution that capitalism still needed to be eliminated in Cuba! (Except that basic consideration common to the entire Soviet bloc that a bureaucratic ruling stratum is itself a reflection of the dominance of capitalist imperialism in the world.)

(5) There is no need among partisans of the deformed workers state interpretation to be excessively modest in upholding the position. There is sometimes encountered a feeling that this view is perhaps the best around—but the best of a bad lot. Essentially this deprecation arises from the circumstance that the theory explains events deeply repugnant to genuine Trotskyists—non-proletarian leaderships and bases in mass struggles—and some of the feeling rubs off. But the dissatisfaction and the ambiguities are lodged in the realities of the interval since the Second World War, not in a now adequate theoretical interpretation and guide to action. The theory has the necessary values of a simplicity to the extent reality will allow, predictability (thus in knowing how the movement should intervene in colonial situations so as to break up the peasant-based military formations by a polarization process through working class activity and in direct opposition to, e.g., section 13, of the SWP Majority’s ‘For the Early Reunification of the Fourth International’), and as a sharp tool for historical analysis, e.g., as in recognizing the decisive points in the chronology of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, i.e. focusing on the pivot point at the end of the year 1923 over who ruled, for what aims, and by what method.

(6) The fullest and best available document analyzing the Cuban revolution as having led to a deformed workers state is Wohlforth’s draft of July 1961, ‘ Cuba and the Deformed Workers States.’

This document is divided into six sections:

1. Their Method and Ours
    2. The Evolution of Cuba
    3. Workers States and Deformed Workers States
    4. The State in Transition
    5. The Role of the Working Class
    6. The Political Revolution

Of the material covered in these sections, there are two points about which some reservations should be made. Section 4, the State in Transition, has throughout a rather superficial quality. At one point Wohlforth was reduced to taking refuge in some dubious ‘dialectics’ to slide over difficulties in his explanations. These difficulties arose out of not paying sufficient attention to the prior history and nature of the newly victorious states which had won in geographically separated dual power situations, i.e., civil wars.

In Section 6, the Political Revolution in Cuba, the call is made ‘for us to advocate a political revolution in Cuba.’ Yet it is asserted to be one which could be consummated without organizing ‘an armed insurrection;’ thus hope is seen for the possibility of a ‘non-violent political revolution.’ Particularly for Cuba this tactical outlook gets matters twisted. The reasons for this approach seem to be taken in large measure from dubious formal definitions contrasting Cuba with pre-1933 Soviet Union.

These criticisms should not be allowed to obscure the general correctness and clarity of the document in systematically presenting the deformed workers state interpretation of contemporary Cuba.

(7) Both the delineation of a more considered approach to the political revolution in Cuba and a useful summary for these notes as a whole is found in the letter of 24 February 1963 from J. Robertson to B. Martin, which formally proposed opening a Tendency-wide Cuban discussion in preparation for the party convention:

“As you probably know, I hold that Cuba is a ‘deformed workers state.’ more precisely expressed by me as a ‘workers state of the second kind,’ or to put it empirically, as a ‘state resulting from the same kind of revolutionary process as won in Yugoslavia and China.’ Further, I think that the program of political revolution for Cuba ought to be given a transitional formulation (e.g., ‘Make the Government Ministers Responsible to and Removable by Workers’ and Peasants’ Democratic Organizations’). Not only has the Cuban regime issued out of a revolution like China and Yugoslavia (and unlike Stalin’s Russia which was created in a political counter-revolution), but in addition in Cuba the lack of a prior formed bureaucratic party and system of rule, i.e., full-blown Stalinist practice, left an initial ‘openness’ to the undeniable rule from above. While this advantage for proletarian intervention is, or more likely was, transient, it should not just be written off but tested out in practical agitation as the Cuban BLA’ist Trotskyists were doing in their press up to the time it was closed down.”

(8) Therefore I stand for the adoption by the Revolution Tendency of the general line of the viewpoint developed in ‘Cuba and the Deformed Workers States.’

James Robertson, 30 April 1963

(expurgated version for use in class on ‘The Russian Question—from the October Revolution to Cuba’, 24 November 1964.)