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

Introductory Note to
“Cuba and the Deformed Workers States”

Written: 9 June 1966
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 document which follows was written in July 1961 by Tim Wohlforth who broke in November 1962 from the tendency which became the Spartacist group. Wohlforth held the position reprinted here for only a few months, afterward reverting to variants of the views of the British Socialist Labour League. Nonetheless, Wohlforth left behind a valuable contribution in reducing to literary form the understanding of how the Cuban Revolution led to a deformed workers state.

Wohlforth’s subsequent and presumably still current views are summarized here from later documents. In his letter to James Robertson, 12 August 1964, presenting objections to Robertson’s proposal for reunification of the two groups, Wohlforth states:

“We must begin with an understanding of the process going on in Cuba. Once we understand that process within the framework of worldwide social processes then we should not have any difficulty placing a proper label on Cuba.

“We have gone into this process in considerable detail in our article ‘The Cuban Way—A Pattern for the Future?’ in the SWP discussion bulletin in 1963. A more current exposition can be found in the article by Ed Stillwell in the July 18th Newsletter. At no time in the revolutionary process in Cuba has the proletariat achieved its dictatorship in a distorted or any other form. The process from beginning to end was carried out with the petty bourgeois Castro formation in control of the state. Therefore under no conditions can we consider Cuba to be a workers state of any kind. The current moves of Castro aimed at reintegration with the capitalist market fully confirms our position.

“It should be clear from our own analysis that we do not see a social revolution as having taken place in Cuba. Therefore, obviously, we must continue to struggle for a social revolution in Cuba which will bring the working class to power. How can you claim to have a convergence of views with us on political tasks in Cuba?”

The other expositions of his views to which Wohlforth refers above present the following central points:

“The Cuban Revolution had in its first stage a capitalist state apparatus, weakened, yes, but still capitalist....This state apparatus has under-gone a deep process of erosion under the impact of profound revolutionary developments .... Thus we must characterize this state as a decomposed, partially eroded capitalist state susceptible to the pressure of the working class as well as other social forces but not under the control directly or indirectly of the working class. [“The Cuban Way—A Pattern for the Future?”, 17 April 1963.]

“Cuba can and will be defined as a workers’ state only when a revolutionary party based on the programme of the Fourth International has successfully overthrown the capitalist state—at present represented by the bonapartist dictatorship of Castro—and replaced it by the dictatorship of the working class. [“Bankrupt Middle-Class Programme Leads Castro into U.S. Hands,” Newsletter, 18 July 1964.]

Robertson replied for the Spartacist Editorial Board to Wohlforth’s 12 August 1964 letter, stating:

“While no immediate programmatic clash between us is engendered by this recent and much harder position of yours (since you continue to stand for the defense of Cuba against American imperialism on other grounds), the direction of your motion on the question does disturb us considerably since it constitutes such a gross denial of reality in dealing with the development of the Cuban Revolution. Further, your position is but a short step from challenging the underlying working-class character of the present Chinese state as well.

“We would like to draw your attention to our own views on the Cuban Question. We believe these views to be a major contribution to the necessary theoretical rearmament of the Trotskyist movement in the period since the Second World war in the struggle against Pabloist revisionism and against sectarian reactions to such revisionism. We note that in line with the rest of your 12 August letter you chose to characterize our approach to the Cuban Revolution as one of static, external labelling. You are within your rights to believe, if you like, that we err in our conclusions on the Cuban question. But you yourself participated in our then-common effort to understand the internal class dynamics of the revolution leading to a deformed workers state. It was with considerable inspiration from me personally that you then actually wrote a substantial draft document [“Cuba and the Deformed Workers States”] outlining the course of the revolution and its implications for proletarian revolutionists. You can therefore understand why we are led to believe that your characterization of our approach was deliberately designed to deceive the unwary and unaware. What particularly bothers us in the present context over your procedure is the doubt it reinforces as to your seriousness about unity.” [22 December 1964.]

Wohlforth’s group responded in a letter of 25 January 1965 admitting Wohlforth’s earlier adherence to the deformed workers state view: “We have proceeded in a different manner after of course first sharing with you your incorrect methodological approach.” They then showed their own underlying fear in stating that: “In truth your theory leaves no role whatsoever for the proletariat in social overturns in backward areas and like Pabloism opens the way for the erosion of the role of the proletariat in the advanced countries.” Wohlforth here commits a willful misunderstanding. He knows well that our recognition of the fundamental deformation of a developing social revolution kept within Maoist bounds leads not to our passive support of armed struggle by peasant-based Stalinists, but to the exact opposite. Our position gives a theoretical foundation for the urgent necessity, as in Vietnam today, for the proletariat to be regrouped under its revolutionary vanguard and intervene to take command of the struggle, thus realizing the perspective of the Permanent Revolution.

At bottom what this assertion of Wohlforth’s means is that he believes or fears that the state of Lenin and the state of Stalin are identical as regards their ability to move forward to socialism. Thus Wohlforth’s current views are methodologically identical to those of the SWP’s Joe Hansen whose contribution to the theory of the Cuban revolution was to argue that workers’ democracy is merely normative in character. Consequently workers’ democracy would vary only quantitatively: from a large amount in a very good workers state (i.e., Lenin’s Russia) to very little in a bad one (like Stalin’s). Thus Hansen sought to deny the qualitative difference between the exercise of political power by the working people themselves or by a Bonapartist bureaucracy. In this way he tried to pass off Castro’s Cuba as a very good workers state “though yet lacking the forms of workers’ democracy.” History has now rendered her judgment against Hansen’s Pabloist theorizing. In method Wohlforth tail-ends Hansen with only his conclusions turned inside-out.

The basic justification for the political revolution projected by L.D. Trotsky is for Wohlforth non-existent. Otherwise how could Wohlforth assert that Cuba’s becoming a deformed workers state (like China) wipes out any role for the working class? We insist that the regimes in Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, etc., require by their nationally limited and bureaucratically deformed character such a political revolution by the workers just as does Russia. The Stalinist bureaucracy must be smashed in order to open the road to socialist development.

J.R., 9 June 1966