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Cuba: Radical face of Stalinism

By John Lister

Written: 1983 / 84.
First Published: January 1985.
Source: Published by Left View Books for the Socialist Group.
Transcription / HTML Markup: Sean Robertson for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

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Cuba: Radical face of Stalinism

Part I: The Cuban Conundrum.

2. The Revolution and its Background.

Those who have seen the film "Godfather 2" will recall the scene in which the New Year's Eve festivities in Havana are broken up on December 31 1958 by the announcement of the resignation of dictator Fulgencio Batista, which sends military men, wealthy Cubans, American business men and the Mafiosi running for their lives. It was precisely this surprising and abrupt turn in the situation which – after a two year guerrilla campaign – catapulted Fidel Castro and his 1,500-strong Rebel Army into power.

Batista's departure was not entirely a surprise to the USA. From March 1958 the Eisenhower administration, pressurising for an orderly end to the dictatorship and a transfer of power to suitably "liberal" bourgeois figures, had suspended arms shipments to Batista. They tightened this embargo still further in June. In November, US Ambassador Smith had concluded that the Batista regime was collapsing in the face of the guerrilla offensive led by Castro's forces. The rigged elections held that month had come too late to stem the growing tide of opposition. The CIA urged that Batista be persuaded to resign to forestall a Castro military victory. Envoys were sent in repeated attempts to twist his arm; on December 17, Smith himself – formerly the dictator's most fervent supporter – told Batista that the USA no longer backed his regime. But when Batista eventually did pack his bags and flee it was too late for any pro-US liberal administration to be cobbled together.

Batista's final act before rushing for the aeroplane which would make good his escape was to hand over power to General Cantillo and instruct him, under terms of a clause of the 1940 Constitution, to make the senior member of the Supreme Court, an unsuspecting Carlos Manuel Piedra, caretaker President. Castro and the Rebel Army, now rapidly gaining support in the towns, refused to accept the new regime: Fidel recognised that if some form of "anti-Batista" bourgeois government could be assembled as a fig-leaf for a military junta, the momentum of the fight could be lost. He called on January 2 for a revolutionary general strike, which secured massive, paralysing support: urban fighters began to force police precincts to surrender, and soldiers in their barracks, scenting the next developments, began deserting their posts, changing into civilian clothes and making their escape. General Cantillo, calculating that only an "anti-Batista" commander could hope to stem the flow of revolution, freed the oppositionist Colonel Barquin from jail, and handed over control to him: 24 hours later, Barquin ordered the arrest of Cantillo, and only a short time later he too surrendered, to the rebel forces. Castro's nominee for the Presidency, Dr Manuel Urrutia, took office. And on January 8, Fidel arrived to a hero's welcome in Havana, while the US administration announced its formal recognition of the new government.

As the leader of the predominant armed opposition to Batista, and with the longest record of consistent struggle against the dictatorship – dating back to his abortive raid on the Moncada barracks of July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro had already largely scooped the pool of popular support.

Encouraged by repeated assurances from the "July 26 Movement" that they did not plan wholesale nationalisations, a wide spectrum of middle class elements, and even sections of small and medium capitalists had joined with workers, peasants and students in backing Castro. Sugar mill owners, growers, cattlemen, even some bankers and industrial capitalists helped finance the rebellion to the tune of several million pesos. The very purchase of the aging yacht Granma, which carried Castro and the embryonic Rebel Army to Cuba, was financed by former President Carlos Prio Socorras.

The opposition of such wide forces to Batista flowed from a range of issues. Motivating Castro and many of the younger radicals were outrage and disgust at the corruption of the dictatorship, which stood in a long and unsavoury line of Cuban bourgeois governments through the whole of the 20th century. Many of the most wealthy and privileged in Cuba were amongst the most parasitic upon the sweated labour of the workers and peasants:

"A remarkably large part of the national income came from activities which can hardly be regarded as 'productive' or 'socially necessary'. The wealth of the upper classes was largely derived from ground rents, excessive profits, tax evasion, usury and all kinds of corruption. Part of the income from the middle classes came from similar sources – from sinecures and lottery transactions."
(Bruce Goldenburg: The Cuban Revolution and Latin America)

Though bare figures indicate that on a per capita basis Cuba was in many respects one of the wealthier and more advanced countries of Latin America, they also conceal the massive gulf between the wealth and idle luxury of the top 15% of exploiters on the one hand and the squalor and oppression faced by the working class, peasantry and unemployed on the other; the racial discrimination faced by black and mulatto workers; the level of oppression of Cuban women; and the grossly unequal division of services and wealth between the populations of town and countryside.

At face value, 1950s Cuba ranks high against Latin American countries in comparative social and cultural ratings. Its average illiteracy level – 23.6% – was the fifth lowest in the sub-continent, but in the Cuban countryside 41.8% were illiterate as against 11.6% in the towns. Though the land was on average more evenly distributed in Cuba than in Chile and Mexico, 75% of the land was owned by only 8% of the population: while smallholders owned 39% of all the farms, but only 3.3% of cultivable land. The land problem also took on the form of vast seasonal unemployment amongst the half million landless agricultural labourers. While a sizeable section of the non-agricultural working class was organised into (state-run) unions which had been favoured by Batista and received considerably higher wages than their country cousins, unemployment in the mid 1950s averaged over 16%, and in 1958 the value of wages began to fall back. The Cuban economy hardly grew in the 1950s and hardly any of the growth sectors were Cuban-owned: but its growth was exceeded in per capita terms by only two Latin American countries.

On other comparisons, too, the statistics can be misleading. Cuba had more TV sets per head (72 per 1,000) and came second in the number of radios compared to the rest of Latin America; it came third in the index of doctors and hospital beds per capita, and had the lowest death rate in the Western hemisphere and the lowest infant mortality in Latin America. But these bland figures conceal the fact that the vast proportion of the televisions, radios, doctors and hospital beds, along with most schools and well-paid jobs, were in the capital city – while in the countryside, poverty, disease, illiteracy and a chronic lack of amenities remained the daily reality of the vast majority (whose average per capita income, including homegrown food, was less than $100 per year). In the towns the unemployed faced long-term destitution. Eighty per cent of Cuban imports went to the wealthy top 15% of the population or directly as inputs to the largest (US-owned) corporations.

Coupled to this pattern of class inequality and corruption was the extent to which Batista was seen as a favoured servant of the major US corporations and crime syndicates, propped up by the US government. The army coup by which he climbed again to power in 1952 after previous periods of control and power in the 1930s and 1940s was widely seen as a new US imposition on Cuba. This impression was confirmed for many by the immense concessions which Batista made to American firms in his efforts to attract extra US investment that might generate growth in the stagnant, single-crop economy.

Batista certainly got his investment. Between 1950 and 1958 the level of US investments rose by over 50% to top $1 billion. The growth was principally in petroleum (where US corporations owned 2 out of the 3 refineries), mining (where much was US owned, particularly nickel), and service industries (90% of telephone and electric utilities were US owned 50% of the railways and much of the tourist industry, including the famous Havana brothels). 40% of Cuba's sugar production, 25% of the sugar mills and 7 out of 10 of the largest agricultural enterprises were also American-owned. Book value of the US holdings in Cuba was higher than in any other Latin American country except Venezuela.

While American corporations plundered Cuba for profits, the Cuban economy as a whole remained tied to imports of commodities from the USA and to the price of sugar in the international markets and in particular to the US market, which accounted for upwards of 70% of Cuban sugar exports up to 1958.

Small wonder that Cuban sugar growers, mill owners and small businessmen became more and more alienated from the Batista regime, which made lavish concessions to such weighty rivals, and which failed even to produce the promised economic growth in return.

For them, Castro's new July 26 movement offered an increasingly moderate-sounding programme. Castro's own political debut had been with the bourgeois Ortodoxo opposition, whose single campaigning plank had been "stamp out corruption". To this, in launching his armed resistance in 1953, Castro added policies for reform and democracy – pledging a return to the Constitution of 1940, overturned by the 1952 coup.

In November 1956, shortly before Castro and his supporters set sail from Mexico in the yacht Granma to renew the guerrilla struggle begun in 1953, the Manifesto of the July 26 Movement declared the objective of "seeking constructive friendship" as a "loyal ally" of the USA, calling for "solidarity and harmony" between capital and labour to "increase productivity". But this message was to be toned down still further as the campaign went on.

In July 1957, Castro's manifesto from the guerrilla encampment in the Sierra Maestra dropped previous calls for profit-sharing. In February 1958, Castro wrote an article for the US magazine Coronet, arguing that he no longer had any "plans for the expropriation or nationalisation of foreign investment", which would "always be welcome and secure in Cuba".

By May 1958, Castro was even more insistent: "Never has the July 26 Movement talked of socialism or nationalising industry". These were words designed to win the backing of sections of the urban middle class and nationalist elements of the bourgeoisie.

But while these forces offered useful cash, supplies and political support, Castro's main base was potentially far more radical – amongst the young generation of students, peasants, agricultural and (later in 1958) industrial workers, whose demands required measures far more sweeping in scope and impact. For them, Castro projected the vague revolutionary vision of his first, unsuccessful guerrilla exploit, the raid on the Moncada barracks (for which he was eventually jailed for 22 months of a 15-year sentence before being released under an amnesty). The political exposition of this vision – published as a version of his speech from the dock, entitled "History Will Absolve Me" – followed by Castro's continued campaign of armed resistance against seemingly impossible odds, fired the imagination of an important layer of radicalised youth. At a time of growing divisions within the capitalist establishment, in the absence of any militant working class party, and with the Cuban armed forces mirroring the sagging morale, the corruption and incompetence of the top-level administration of the state, a comparative handful of highly motivated guerrilla fighters were able to achieve the unthinkable victory.

In this respect it is useful to assess the role of the working class in the Cuban struggle. Despite an unmistakeably revolutionary past, the Cuban working class of 1956-9 was saddled with an entrenched bureaucratic "yellow" trade union apparatus tied hand and foot to the state, while lacking any political party offering any form of radical or even serious reformist programme.

As is so often the case with guerrilla struggles, the working class in the urban areas suffered the full brunt of police / military repression meted out by the dictatorship, while the guerrilla fighters largely confined their organising and agitation to the rural areas out of reach of the armed forces.

These factors helped produce a pattern of development in which the working class appeared to play the role of a passive spectator in the confrontation between the Rebel Army and Batista's state forces. Yet there is nothing to suggest that, despite the pressures, the Cuban workers were anything other than supportive of the struggle against Batista. In a few instances where they were given an opportunity to express their feeling this became clear.

In December 1955 there was the great sugar workers' strike, involving 500,000 workers who battled with police, burned canefields, set up barricades and took over some rural towns. This (victorious) strike was due in part to a resumption of organising work by the illegal "Communist" PSP, in retaliation for its exclusion from the union bureaucracy: but it clearly expressed the sugar workers' real willingness to fight Batista and also to fight the American corporations which owned the sugar canefields and mills.

Militancy and union organisation amongst Cuban workers was generally strongest in the imperialist-owned sectors – the sugar industry, copper mines, electricity and telephones, oil, rail and nickel refineries as well as the banks. To a certain degree the militancy of these workers, coupled with Batista's reluctance to antagonise the unions, helped create relatively privileged conditions which cushioned them against the worst aspects of Cuba's economic crisis. The wage structure in Cuba was described in 1954 by the British Board of Trade as "one of the highest and most rigid in Latin America". In 1957 real wages in Cuban manufacturing industry (a comparatively small number of workers) were higher than in any country in the Western hemisphere excepting the USA and Canada.

Nevertheless Batista's savage repression of the youthful guerrilla fighters in the cities could spark serious working class resistance, as was seen in August 1957 after the police murder of urban guerrilla leader Frank Pais in Santiago. There was an immediate general strike lasting five days, affecting the Nicaro nickel plant, shops and other local industries.

The strength of this response even prompted some of the July 26 Movement guerrillas to look towards mass strike action as the means to bring down the regime, as had occurred in the defeat of the Machado dictatorship in 1933. But the guerrilla leadership, including Che Guevara and Raul Castro, were hostile to the idea of a revolution which could develop to a large degree autonomously and outside the control of the J26M.

The orders were issued however for the preparation of a General Strike for April 1958. Sabotaged by the Stalinists in the union apparatus, and hampered by the guerrillas' lack of serious links with the unions in the cities, this strike failed disastrously in Havana, though once again the Oriente workers – possibly spurred on by a sharp drop in their wages – showed their solid support for the anti-Batista struggle.

Batista's sudden exodus from Cuba and the attempt to install a junta to maintain the old regime was met by Castro's radio broadcast appealing for a general strike – to continue until such time as the army placed itself unreservedly at the service of the revolutionary regime. The workers of Havana responded with a week-long generalised stoppage, despite the acute weakness of J26M forces in the city. It is open to doubt whether, without this level of response from the working class, Castro could have taken the capital city or so completely have toppled the old regime.

Though few workers (and indeed few peasants or rural workers, given that the total strength of the Rebel Army was only 1,500) actively fought as guerrillas alongside Castro, it is important to recognise the role of working class support as a factor in destroying Batista's dictatorship.

The extent to which either Castro or his followers saw their objective as an anti-capitalist as opposed to a democratic revolution is open to dispute. Certainly Castro himself and his leading supporters in today's CCP leadership now insist that throughout the guerrilla campaign they secretly held a socialist programme. A clear statement of this line came in a 1982 speech at an International Theoretical Conference in Havana, given by Jesus Montane of the CCP secretariat:

"Some say that Fidel and those of us with him had no defined ideology. Others say that the leader of the Revolution and his closest comrades were simply liberal democrats.
"Even today there are those who, while friendly to our country, echo the version according to which the cause for the Cuban revolution's having taken the socialist path is to be found in the hostile policy of harassment and aggression implemented by successive US administrations.
"Our Revolution did have an ideology from the very beginning. The reason we did not reveal it as a form of doctrine or theory was due, as Fidel has often explained, to a series of political and tactical considerations and to our innermost conviction that we should devote all our energies to the struggle itself and to the unity of all revolutionaries around concrete objectives . . .
" . . . The ideology that was our guide even before the Moncada, the ideology in which the leaders of our movement sought the answers to understand and transform the situation in Cuba, could be none other than the ideology of the working class, the ideology of socialism, integrally linked to the most advanced Cuban patriotic and revolutionary thought."
(Granma Weekly Review, 9/1/83) (emphasis added)

Montane's claims might seem to be borne out by Castro's 1954 letter to Melba Hernandez in which he cynically talks of a policy of "much guile and smiles for everyone", creating conditions where "there will be ample time later to squash all the cockroaches together" (Quoted by Edward Gonzalez in Cuba Under Castro: The Limits of Charisma, p. 46). Fidel made few bones about subsequently admitting to the fact that former Autentico President Prio Socorras had put up the cash which purchased the Granma. He told journalist Herbert L. Matthews:

"Our consideration was to make the revolution and the only way we could raise the money was from Prio. It was only $40,000 or $50,000. We knew what we were doing. The money meant nothing to him. Anyway the 26th of July had a policy that it was willing to wipe the slate clean so far as events before 10 March 1952 (when Batista staged his coup) were concerned. We made no concessions to Prio afterwards. He hung around for a year in Cuba and then left. I have no regrets about it. We were willing to do anything for the Revolution."
(Castro, A Political Biography, p. 81)

Certainly it was the consistent view of the US Ambassador and the State Department that Castro was a "Communist". Ambassador Earl Smith analysed that the USA had to choose between "a Rightist, corrupt dictator who was friendly to the United States, and a would-be Leftist dictator, who could be a Communist".

But against these pointers must be set the actual composition and power base of Castro's movement – which was predominantly petty bourgeois and rural – as well as his repeated emphatic denials of socialist intentions and an initial focus after 1959 not on the "working class" but upon the peasantry (though Castro's first decree as Prime Minister was a set of strict measures to halt land seizures). It was the peasant forces who were rallied into Havana in July 1959 to back Fidel's ousting of President Urrutia; and in the autumn of 1959 Castro pointed out that a weakness of Major Huber Matos and others arrested on treason charges was that they were not of peasant background. The peasantry, he declared, were "the elite and the flower and the cream of the most battle-tested, the most valiant, and the most firm of the Rebel Army."

Castro's attitude in 1959 also appears to have been ambivalent on the question of accepting possible loans from the USA. In mid-April 1959 he agreed to address the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, and announced that he would be taking his top three economic advisors "to undertake negotiations" on loans and improved trade relations. Yet he privately instructed these advisors not to engage in any negotiations on a loan. Castro may have taken this attitude in the expectation that the US Republican administration would itself take the initiative in offering loans to Cuba. Immediately after this visit he floated a plan at a meeting of the Organisation of American States in Buenos Aires, by which the USA should sponsor a $30 billion development programme for the whole of Latin America, including Cuba.

Castro's own rhetoric prior to and during the US visit (where he declared in a broadcast that "I am not a Communist, nor do I agree with Communism") was so distinctly anti-Soviet and even anti-Communist that he appears to have run into conflict with his brother Raul and with Che Guevara, who regarded his statements as pro-US in tone: but it certainly cut little ice with the Eisenhower / Nixon / Dulles administration in the USA, which regarded him purely and simply as a communist. Eisenhower even attempted to deny Castro a visa to enter the USA, and refused to meet him, while Nixon was forced to grit his teeth and go through the motions of discussion, showing him CIA dossiers on some of Castro's key supporters, despite his own strong objections.

It is probably now impossible to ascertain for sure the motives or the ideology behind Castro's actions from 1953-1959 (or, if subsequent accounts are to be believed, from before 1953 to 1961, the year he proclaimed himself a Marxist). It is beyond doubt, however, that the policies of the new Cuban revolutionary government remained for the first year restricted to radical reforms within the framework of capitalism. Initially Castro held no post in the bourgeois coalition government, which was presided over by a judge, Urrutia, and had the president of the Havana Bar Association, Jose Miro Cardona, as Prime Minister. Castro's first speech to a Havana mass rally in January 1959 did not even promise land reform. On January 21 he warned that "There are people behind me who are more radical than I am". But the bourgeois figures began to desert the new regime almost at once, with the ineffective Miro being forced to resign as Prime Minister in February, to be replaced by Castro.

March 1959 saw reductions in rent by as much as 30-50% for homes and apartments, measures to expropriate the homes, clubs and land of the Batistianos who had fled into exile, and all unused land. But in the same month Castro promised elections – which were never in fact held.

The remnants of Batista's army and police were disbanded, with the 600 most notorious torturers and executioners being put to summary trial and execution. May 1959 saw the adoption of sweeping land reform legislation, invoking forgotten provisions of the 1940 Constitution, which barred the holding of more than a thousand acres in a single property: holdings in excess of this limit were expropriated and redistributed to landless peasants and agricultural workers. A National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) was set up to oversee this programme. Cane land belonging to the giant sugar mills was expropriated, as was all land owned by non-Cubans. This radical move began the political split in the J26M, as the bourgeois forces and conservative elements came out in opposition. In June the Minister of Agriculture who opposed the reform was removed.

Taxes were reduced by two thirds for most working class families, while wealthy tax evaders were hounded for their arrears: prices of telephone, gas and electricity services were reduced after workers opened the books of the US-owned utilities to show the levels of profiteering.

In July President Urrutia (who had loudly denounced "communist" involvement in the revolution) was forced from office by a Fidelista mobilisation, and replaced by Osvaldo Dorticos. In November, Che Guevara took over as head of the National bank, marking the departure of virtually every one of the original bourgeois figures from the government.

The crumbling of the coalition was accompanied by a massive popular radicalisation of the masses in the towns and countryside in full support of the reforms brought in by the government. Indeed at least in the early days of the Revolution there is evidence that the workers were in advance of Castro. Early in 1959 there were frequent strikes as workers sought to raise wages and extract other benefits: among them were Shell refinery workers, who pointed out that since the British government had sold weapons to Batista, revolutionary laws enabled all British property to be socialised. Castro (not yet Prime Minister, but head of the armed forces) made a speech to the refinery workers arguing that nationalisation would be "a bad tactic at this time", and urging them to accept Shell's offer of withdrawing offending management personnel, raising salaries by 50-100% and donating $250,000 to housing and agrarian projects.

This radical spirit in the working class and peasantry could on the one hand assist Castro in conflicts with more conservative, bourgeois liberal forces in the government, and on the other provided a solid defence of the revolution against right wing reaction: but at the same time it posed real problems of control. The old trade union apparatus had been led by hopelessly corrupt bureaucrats subservient to Batista and the state apparatus; the July 26 Movement was not only weak in the working class but proved in reality to be hardly a party at all in the conventional sense. The only political formation which emerged from the Revolution with any solid structure and expertise at controlling movements of the working class was the discredited old "Communist" party, the Popular Socialist Party (PSP). The PSP's squalid record of class collaboration since the mid-1930s included a period in which it held ministerial posts under Batista in the 1940s; in 1953 it had denounced Fidel's Moncada raid as "putchist"; and the PSP then stood aloof from and hostile to the guerrilla struggle right up to the very eve of Batista's fall at the end of 1958.

But the new government needed some political mechanism to influence and control the working class. This was particularly the case because the whole pace of the revolution was – after the paralysis of the initial Miro period was ended on February 16 – set from above by the Castro leadership. The workers and peasants had no means to control Castro, his government, or the properties that were beginning to be expropriated. If this level of Fidelista control were to be maintained, then a deal would have to be struck with the PSP to enable the Fidelistas to establish the necessary network of organisation to reach and control the masses.

This incentive to a reconciliation between the Fidelistas and Stalinism in Cuba emerged at the same time as international developments which also made Castro begin to look increasingly for assistance from the PSP's mentors in the Kremlin. As the Revolutionary government embarked upon more radical policies and began to shed its bourgeois dignitaries it encountered an ever-more frosty response from Washington. The half-hearted US courtship of Castro during his April visit had long ago been abandoned.

Then in October 1959 came a new turn in events. Rebel Army Major (former schoolteacher) Huber Matos, who had joined the struggle late on, issued a statement offering his resignation as Commander in Camaguey, and denouncing "communist influences" in the government. He grouped around himself a number of young officers, reportedly ready to resist any effort to oust him. In the event Fidel Castro himself went to Camaguey to arrest Matos, who was later sentenced to 20 years in jail. Renegade Air Force Major Diaz Lanz went one step further than Matos and bombed Havana using a plane flown from Florida. Three more bourgeois ministers resigned from the government, and Castro hit back by stepping up his invective against the USA, turning more decisively towards hope of Soviet backing.

In November, the Cuban leadership began to argue for an extension of trade with the Soviet Union (which had begun with the sale of 170,000 tons of sugar in August and another 300,000 tons in October); Che Guevara had already opened up talks with the Moscow leadership. The Soviet Deputy Premier Mikoyan was invited to visit Havana. It is from this point onwards, and particularly in the aftermath of Mikoyan's January meeting with Castro that the "socialist" element of the Revolution was brought increasingly into the limelight. Cuba's move towards Kremlin assistance in turn further toughened the stance of the Eisenhower administration, which in March 1960 gave the CIA the go-ahead to organise an "exile" invasion, which was to bear meagre fruit in the Bay of Pigs debacle under Kennedy in 1961.

The "socialist" rhetoric which had – at most – been "left on the back burner" during six years of struggle, made its sudden appearance at the very point where the Fidelistas were looking for economic and military aid from the Soviet Union. And at exactly the same time the July 26 Movement conveniently came to terms with the former political pariahs of the PSP.

While this pattern of events does not itself rule out Castro's subsequent claim to have held privately to a socialist ideology since "before Moncada", there seems strong evidence to suggest that the Fidelistas actually shifted ground politically under pressure on the one hand from the radical mass movement of workers and peasants triggered by the fall of Batista and raising revolutionary demands, and on the other from the impossibility of striking any stable deal with the US imperialists.

Together with the PSP, Castro set out in the autumn of 1959 to hammer down potential opposition in the unions and the University Students Federation (FEU). Though the slate put forward by the July 26 Movement had a majority at the Congress of the Cuban Labour Confederation (CTC), Castro intervened, pressing for a "unity" slate with the PSP. The July 26 Movement was too volatile, unstructured and untested a quantity to be entrusted with the CTC leadership. When he addressed the Congress, Castro was loudly interrupted by the chanting of "Twenty six, twenty six". His angry response was to attack "those who would unfurl the banner of the Twenty Sixth of July to stab the Revolution to the heart". He hammered out the need for "harmony" and to avoid "partisan quarrels". In the end he secured a unanimous vote for a leadership "supported by all". To prevent any repetition of such opposition a top-level purge committee began in January 1960 to drive out the anti-PSP right wing as well as the anti-PSP left from the various bodies of the CTC.

But this "unanimity" was not secured without political cost. Castro's action brought him into conflict with the man who had stepped into the job as general secretary of the CTC, July 26 Movement militant David Salvador. Previously a Communist, an Autentico, and then an Ortodoxo before linking up with the J26M and playing an active organising role in the sugar workers' strike of December 1955, Salvador became in 1957 a provincial leader of the J26M's Frente Obrero Nacional.

In 1959 he was installed as CTC Secretary General after the incumbent, Eusebio Mujal (who had become a millionaire during his career as Batista's favourite "union leader") joined the general flight of Batistianos from Cuba. But as Castro developed his alliance with the PSP, Salvador's position hardened into opposition to the regime. In 1960 he went underground, linking up with the counter-revolutionary "30 November Movement" later he was arrested, and in 1962 sentenced to 30 years in prison for conspiracy against the government. His place was taken by veteran Stalinist CTC chief Lazaro Pena.

In a rather less overt clash, Castro also intervened in the Student elections to support a "unity" candidate, Rolando Cubelas, a member of the Revolutionary Directorate, for the FEU presidency against a J26M candidate. The July 26 man eventually withdrew.

December 1959 and January 1960 saw these manoeuvres in the unions followed up by a purge of the left and of the anti-PSP right wing of the J26M itself.

In the absence of any revolutionary Marxist party for the working class (or indeed any workers' party other than the PSP), the last possible avenues for independent organisation were thus brought firmly under centralised control, even while the regime turned to more overtly radical policies. Autumn 1959 saw the launch of the militia as a mass defence force: by April 1960 it had 100,000 members, and by 1961 had topped 300,000 – in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which it successfully repelled.

In December 1959 Fidel Castro announced the first nationalisations of foreign firms, and the seizure of large cattle ranches. And as a mark of the high seriousness of the new regime, Santa Claus was declared to be abolished as a "symbol of imperialism".

In January 1960 Eisenhower announced that he would seek authority to cut Cuba's sugar quota. The next month, Soviet deputy Premier Mikoyan signed an agreement to buy 1 million tons of Cuban sugar per year (¼ of total production) for the next 5 years, and supply oil. Castro declared that "As they (the USA) cut our sugar quota pound by pound, we will seize their mills one by one."

May 1960 saw Cuba opening diplomatic relations with the USSR; Moscow in exchange agreed to protect Cuba from any US blockade. In June 1960, when US and British refineries refused to process crude oil from the USSR, steps were taken to prepare for their nationalisation. The USA in turn cut off the Cuban sugar quota.

In July Nikita Khruschev pledged to defend Cuba against any invasion, and the first arms supplies began to arrive from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. US-financed counter-revolutionaries operating out of Florida bombed cane fields – and in August Castro announced the nationalisation of all the American-owned sugar mills, oil refineries, power and telephone companies. Compensation, he said, in a brilliant turning of the tables, would be paid out of revenue from future sugar sales to the USA.

The reaction of the PSP Stalinists was far from enthusiastic. In August, Blas Roca told the Party's Eighth Congress that:

"Private enterprise that is not imperialistic or monopolistic or of a parasitic nature is still necessary."

Anibal Escalante insisted at the same Congress that:

" . . . the revolutionary forces should and do endeavour to keep the national bourgeoisie within the revolutionary camp."

Within days of these speeches, Castro without heed to his Stalinist hangers-on was to take steps that effectively eliminated the last substantial remnants of the national bourgeoisie in Cuba.

The following month the banks were nationalised, and as the USA imposed a total embargo on trade with Cuba, Castro in October expropriated the remainder of US property and most large Cuban-owned businesses. Though it was not until April 1961 (after the Bay of Pigs invasion had been crushed) that Castro for the first time proclaimed the "socialist" character of the revolution, any substantial foothold for capitalism had been effectively wiped out by the rapid-fire measures of the autumn of 1960, backed up both by vast popular support in Cuba and by the global military and economic weight of the USSR.

Though the Stalinists were obliged to follow obediently along after the event, the final major round of nationalisations in October was met by at least veiled criticism as Hoy, the PSP daily paper, declared solemnly that the Cuban people awaited

"the word of their great revolutionary leader to explain to them how these measures jibed with their objectives of national freedom, economic progress, and social well-being that constituted their revolutionary aims."

It was to be another 18 months before the PSP's Moscow mentors were formally to recognise "Castroite socialism" in Cuba.

But if Cuba was no longer a capitalist state by the end of 1960, does this mean that it had become without qualification a workers' state? Such logic is primitive and such a conclusion would be one-sided and false. There is more to a workers' state than the nationalisation of capitalist industry: if not, then many petty bourgeois or bourgeois-led states particularly in the Third World, should be described as "workers' states", despite their oppression and exploitation of the working class. For a workers' state to be worthy of the name, the working class as a class, through its own organisations, must take and hold the power.

In Cuba, two years of revolutionary activity had created a state in which capitalist property had been expropriated ("down to the nails in their shoes"), but no workers' councils, no autonomous factory committees, no independent trade unions, and no revolutionary (or even social democratic) workers' party existed. It was a "workers'" state without organs of workers' power, in which the only authority was the Fidelista leadership at the top. The country certainly lacked the heavily bureaucratised "Communist" Party structure and state machinery of the type found in the post-war Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe. But, in the absence of a revolutionary Marxist leadership to offer a programme of workers' democracy and political opposition to the PSP and Moscow Stalinists, Cuba had emerged from the fires of revolution not as a workers' state, but as a misshapen, deformed workers' state.

Indeed 1961 was to see the start of efforts to create a Stalinist-style party in whose name formal power would be vested, while in reality power and day-to-day decision-making rested (and still rests, 23 years later) in the hands of the Fidelista leadership.

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