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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.

5. The Cuban State Machine.

As the coalition government of 1959 began to turn increasingly in a radical direction and to shed its component of bourgeois ministers, the Castro leadership set out to create new bases of support and mobilisation amongst the working class and peasantry. In the Autumn of 1959 came the launching of a new mass militia, which grew rapidly in the course of 1960. Within 6 months it had organised 100,000 people; within 1 year 200,000 and by 1961 – the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion – its forces were near the 300,000 mark.

Yet from the outset this militia was firmly controlled from the top: it was a defensive mechanism to safeguard the new regime against any possible bourgeois or imperialist counter-offensive, under conditions where the old army of Batista had crumbled away and its remnants had been disbanded. In no sense were the local militia units autonomous bodies controlled by the working class or by any democratically elected leadership. Still less were they an open forum for democratic political debate.

In 1963, the militias were fused with the Rebel Army to form the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) as a professional fighting force – and a bedrock of political and material support to the regime.

Only in 1980, with a resurgence of US threats against Cuba arising from the Carter administration (with the "discovery" of a contingent of Soviet troops in Cuba who had been there for the best part of two decades) was the decision taken by the Fidelistas to relaunch the militia as territorial units to defend the island. Castro announced to the Second Congress of the CCP that the revived force would make up "the big popular army of our revolution".

"We will not rest until every Cuban willing to defend, inch by inch and house by house, his neighbourhood, his municipality, his place of work . . . can have a rifle, a grenade or a mine and be prepared to . . . defend the nation to the last drop of blood."

The willingness of the regime to entrust arms to substantial numbers of workers and peasants is certainly an indication that Castro is sufficiently confident that they will not be used against the government: it is hard to imagine such confidence being exuded by the regimes in Poland, East Germany or Hungary. But the launching of a mass territorial militia is not in itself any proof of the social or political character of the regime. Gaddafi's Libya, for example, has made similarly radical gestures, as – on a more restricted level – have the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. We should not forget either the old 1776 American tradition of the "Minutemen" (early namesakes of today's lethal missiles), whose possession of rifles and readiness to spring into instant action substituted for a regular standing army.

Defence of Cuba – with its geographical proximity to the hub of world imperialism, and a continued US presence in the Guantanamo base on Cuba itself – is a major problem. It is important to recognise that no matter how thorough the domestic preparations and how well trained the Cuban armed forces, Cuba's protection from US attack is a global as well as a national problem.

Since 1961, the Cuban leadership has enjoyed a degree of protection from the Soviet bureaucracy. This was put to the test in the Missiles Crisis of 1962. Though Khruschev climbed down on the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Cuba (doing a deal without even consulting a hostile Fidel Castro) he did procure a face-saving formula in the shape of Kennedy's pledge not to sanction a further US invasion of the island. Subsequent US Presidents have adhered to this general agreement and Soviet leaders since Khruschev appear to regard it as having almost the weight of a treaty, though in reality it has no binding authority.

However the cavalier fashion with which Kruschev handled the Missiles Crisis on a bilateral USA-USSR basis without even a reference to Havana gave the Castro leadership obvious qualms over entrusting their future security exclusively to Moscow. Indeed the Soviet abstention during the Bay of Pigs invasion, the absence of any categoric assurance of future military defence of Cuba against any other US attack, and the fact that Cuba has been left to this day outside the Warsaw Pact all underline the guarded extent to which the Kremlin leaders are prepared to underwrite the practical task of Cuban defence.

In response to this, the early 1960s saw the Fidelistas seeking to establish and maintain a degree of political independence, both with regard to Latin American politics and within the world Stalinist movement. But the Soviet Union's economic stranglehold on Cuba – arising from its exclusive role as a supplier of oil and its predominance as a trading partner – was sufficient to crush the last serious show of Cuban defiance in 1968 at the time of the jailing of the pro-Moscow "micro-faction". Since that time, increasingly explicit agreement on foreign policy questions has been linked with a coordination of military effort between the Soviet Union and Cuba – particularly with regard to the African interventions of the late 1970s.

Since 1961 the Soviet bureaucracy has backed up the Cuban revolutionary Armed Forces by a free supply of weapons and ammunition – estimated to be worth no less than $3.8 billion by 1979 – and by underwriting the deficit-laden economy to the tune of $9 million per day in subsidies.

The biggest boost to the Cuban military establishment came in the five years 1973-78, in which the defence budget was doubled, rising far in excess of the growth of the economy as a whole. By 1980, 10% of the Cuban budget was explicitly allocated or otherwise available for military purposes. The impact of such a build-up on the island's economy is much larger, however, since the military effort involves the allocation of trained and skilled labour, producing a spin-off in falling efficiency in industry as well as holding back economic growth.

The close working relationship between the Cuban military and the Soviet armed forces also helps cement the ideological links between these currents in the Stalinist movement. And, as in Eastern Europe, there are also parallel working links between the Soviet KGB and the Cuban equivalent, the DGI.

The Cuban armed forces are headed by veterans of the Sierra Maestra campaign, many of whom have since attended military academy in the Soviet Union, and are increasingly staffed with younger officers trained by Soviet advisors or in the USSR. The officer corps of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) is a bastion of Communist Party membership, with a large number of former officers moving outwards into civilian posts in the Party and governmental bureaucracy, from this reservoir of skilled organisational talent and ideological training.

During the big sugar production drives of the late 1960s and on other selected tasks, the organisational skills and the manpower of the FAR have been utilised by the leadership as a supplement to civilian labour.

While the armed forces have emerged as the backbone and external protection of the Cuban state, it would be false to equate the Cuban state machine with the hated, remote and overtly repressive Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe. Unlike any of these regimes, Castro's leadership had fought its way to power through revolutionary struggle, and derived from this a mass support which it has never really lost. Where the East European "Communist" Parties were created through the enforced merger between Stalinist and social democratic parties, only to be subsequently purged of dissidents under the watchful eyes of the GPU and Stalin's Red Army, Castro's "Communist" Party was formed by the merger of the Fidelista and Stalinist parties on Fidelista terms, preserving many of Castro's populist and individualistic methods, and resisting the heavy encrustation of bureaucracy and privilege which were present at the very birth of the post-war CPs in Eastern Europe. In part this greater degree of austerity should be understood – as in Mao's China – as the product of a much more economically backward and isolated revolution. Yet the Cuban economy had sustained a heavy level of parasitism and bureaucracy under Batista; the insistence upon austerity and sacrifice amongst the leadership was very much a component of Castroite politics throughout the 1960s and remains a factor today. Though the Cuban bureaucracy enjoys a lack of political accountability and a monopoly of political power, the actual level of its material privileges remains visibly lower than in other deformed workers' states of Eastern Europe or in the USSR.

Early in the radicalisation of the revolution, Castro moved to establish organisations of mass mobilisation which could be used to crush counter-revolutionaries and to mobilise for economic targets set by the leadership. One was of course the militia. But the same period also saw the launch of the Cuban Women's Federation (FMC), the Youth organisation (AJR), and the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) (September 1960). The CDRs were set up on every city block, in every large building, factory or workplace. Initially their task was little more than mobilising support for the government and reporting to the authorities information or rumours of counter-revolutionary activity. But as the revolution survived its initial tests of fire and began to consolidate, the CDRs remained in being, even extending their .recruitment, to embrace the overwhelming majority of the adult population. It is reported that even former members of the pre-revolutionary bourgeoisie, who in the early 1970s still sometimes lived on in large houses with servants, had become members of their local CDRs to avoid harassment and conform to the normal pattern. With up to 80% of adults in membership (some 4.8 million in 1979), non-membership of a CDR is almost in itself a political statement of opposition to Castro.

The CDR structure is controlled at each level by the Communist Party. It allows a strictly limited degree of independent initiative on minor local matters and in the actual implementation of top-level party decisions. As one CDR Secretary in Havana put it:

"There's no task assigned to the CDR by our Commander-in-Chief that the working people, unified by block, won't implement."
(Quoted in Marta Harnecker's eulogistic account of the Cuban regime, Cuba: Dictatorship or Democracy).

Tasks "assigned by the Commander-in-Chief" have included mobilisation for Havana mass rallies and for participation in elections (which runs consistently in excess of 90%); as well as vaccination campaigns, blood donation drives, the collection of silver coinage and jewelry for foreign exchange, and the mobilisation of volunteers for sugar harvesting or coffee cultivation. In November 1981, the CDRs launched an intensive campaign against rats – then numbering 4 per human inhabitant on the island. The "political" dimension was supplied by posters depicting rats in "Uncle Sam"-style hats. In each instance, however the CDRs' function has been to mobilise from the top downwards – and in no way have they acted as an independent forum for the expression of political demands originating from the workplaces or neighbourhood blocks they cover. While unquestionably mass organisations and tremendously effective in their allotted practical tasks, the CDRs are no evidence of participatory workers' democracy in Cuba. Indeed it was to be 17 years after their formation before a national Congress of CDR delegates established even the pretence of an organised national structure. The CDRs are not soviet bodies: they are tools for carrying out the "tasks assigned by the Commander-in-Chief".

The other "mass organisations", the Communist Youth League (UJC) and the Federation of Cuban Women, are similarly circumscribed in their functions and their leadership. The UJC is of course tied overtly to the CCP, though its membership qualifications are less stringent. It is however the prescribed route for a young Cuban to enter the power network of the Cuban CP itself. Its membership in 1972 was only 120,000 out of a population in excess of 8 million. Its restricted membership may well be a reflection of the fact that its role is seen as a force for "exemplary" behaviour by Cuban youth, a central element of which is voluntary work over and above three years' compulsory military service introduced for all youth in 1963.

The Women's organisation, the FMC, though not formally a Party body, has been built up to a mass membership under the watchful eye of Vilma Espin, a long-standing Fidelista, who is also married to Raul Castro. She was newly appointed to the Party's Political Bureau in 1983. There is no evidence of the FMC waging any independent fight to pressurise the leadership for policies or measures which it might otherwise have resisted. Once again the "mass organisation" is a system for top-downwards mobilisation, rather than a vehicle for the demands and criticisms of the masses of Cuban women.

It is in this context that we must understand the role of the Cuban "Trade Union", the CTC. From its origins at the hands of Stalinist union bureaucrats sponsored by Batista in 1938, the CTC has led an existence as an appendage of the Cuban state, further enmeshed in the coils of corporatism by the CP-drafted provisions of the 1940 Constitution.

The role of the CTC became particularly notorious under the General Secretaryship of Eusebio Mujal during the 1950s Batista dictatorship. This period was brought to an abrupt end by the victory of the Rebel Army: but the changes of leadership which followed did not herald any advent of political independence. While the "Mujalistas" were deservedly hounded out, the CTC was taken over by a coalition of pliable Fidelistas and experienced Stalinist bureaucrats, headed up by the veteran Lazaro Pena. The leadership of the CTC was arbitrarily changed at will by the Castro leadership, and union leaders were routinely booted out of their posts whenever the workers they supposedly represented were given any say in the matter. Of 17 national leaders of the CTC in 1959, only 5 remained in office in 1961; by 1966, at the next CTC Congress, only one member of the 1961 national committee survived in office. Of 28 other leaders of labor federations in 1961, only one remained in office in 1966. On the occasions when relatively free elections were permitted, the proportion of ousted officials rose as high as 75-80%.

There seems little doubt that in bare arithmetical terms the organised working class in Cuba suffered losses in the first decade of the revolution: from being one of the more privileged layers bought off by Batista, they suffered a lengthening of their working day, a loss of bonus payments and of privileged sickness benefits. Against this, of course, must be set the elimination of poverty and unemployment, and far greater equality of distribution of wealth achieved under the revolutionary regime, which undoubtedly benefitted many lower paid and less organised workers.

However, there was a form of revolt against the continued sacrifices and the pressures of the "10 million tons" campaign when, in the latter half of 1970 a wave of mass absenteeism hit production. In August and September, a staggering 20% of the workforce – 400,000 people – were absent on any given day. In August 1970, 52% of the agricultural workforce stayed away from work in Oriente province. Yet this revolt found only the most timid and belated reflection in the "unions", which have been legally barred from strike action since the early days of the revolution, and which have been routinely utilised by Castro as simply an arm of management in the search for increased productivity. In 1973, the CTC Congress adopted a palliative set of proposals to revise pay scales, limit hours of work and institute payment for overtime. Few of these proposals were ever implemented.

Small wonder, therefore, that when faced with the outbreak of the revolutionary resistance to the Polish Stalinist regime and the emergence of the 10-million-strong Solidarnosc trade union confederation, Castro, along with the East European and Soviet leaderships, sided with the Jaruzelski regime, extending in advance a blank cheque for the repression of Solidarnosc and endorsing the December 1981 declaration of martial law. Granma carried Soviet and Polish official news agency dispatches and supported the martial law. Castro himself effectively branded Solidarnosc as pro-imperialist when he declared "There is not the slightest question about the socialist camp's right to save that country's integrity and ensure it survives and resists at all costs imperialism's onslaught."

Though not led or formally expressed by the stooge "union" structure, however, pressures for increased wages and improved living standards have had an impact on CCP planning for the 1980s. The 1980-81 plan aims to yield a 4% annual rise in personal consumption and. to tackle the long-standing housing crisis which has remained unresolved since the early 1960s. In December 1981 the Minister of Internal Trade and the head of the State Committee for Prices were both removed from office after increases in prices in bars, cafeterias, restaurants and nightclubs as well as price increases caused by the removal of subsidies on some foodstuffs, petrol and cigarettes. Social security and welfare benefits were increased. More recent unconfirmed reports of echoes within of the Solidarnosc movement within Cuba itself, met by the arrest and imprisonment of individual workers charged with "sabotage" appear to be borne out by the appeal in early 1983 by Amnesty International for the release of five imprisoned Cubans. This may be symptomatic of more widespread rejection of the "official" union structure even while the regime continues to command wide popular support.

An examination of the mainlines of the Cuban leadership's structure of control – the armed forces and the organs of mass mobilisation and labour discipline – is a useful preparation for a closer look at the more conventional trappings of "democracy" – the system of elections for municipal bodies of "People's Power" and the National Assembly. This institutionalised set-up was first advocated in general terms by Fidel Castro in the wake of the failure of the "10 million tons" campaign in 1970. It began in experimental form in 1974 in the province of Matanzas. Until this point there had been no elections since 1959, and Castro had frequently declared that there was no need for such formal democracy, since the mass rallies and demonstrations backing the regime indicated popular acceptance of its legitimacy and its politics. There had however been mass referendums. The 1974 plan was seen as a pilot run for elections throughout Cuba to be held in the autumn of 1976 under a new and formalised Constitution which would replace the now largely discarded Batista Constitution of 1940.

One modification that was introduced between the initial experiment and the final procedure adopted in 1976 was the scrapping of embarrassing provisions under which no less than 57.2% of the candidates in Matanzas were disqualified in advance and failed to appear on the ballot paper. But the 1976 system retained other aspects tested in Matanzas; candidates needed to be nominated by local assemblies (it is illegal to run for office without such prior nomination), and nominating committees are presided over by party representatives at every level. No campaigning is allowed by, candidates; no debates, no discussions over differences or issues. No manifestos are permitted – the only information issued to distinguish the various candidates is a brief biographical statement of their work record.

With politics thus excluded (and parties and factions in any case banned) and with close Party surveillance of the electoral process, it is obvious that the odds are heavily stacked against even individual dissidents breaking through the wall of Party control and leadership opinion. Though Fidel Castro made a statement welcoming the fact that the 1974 experiment saw CCP members win only 59% of the seats in Matanzas, it is interesting to note that the full elections in 1976 saw a staggering 59.6% of sitting Matanzas delegates fail to win renomination – and throughout the country the results brought a much higher average of 70.6% of seats for PCC or UJC candidates at municipal level.

For the more important regional and provincial assemblies, the Party intervened in the nominating committees to increase the number of party members among those elected to the higher levels.

It is important to recognise that only the local municipal assemblies are directly elected. Municipal assembly delegates then vote on a proportion of delegates to provincial assemblies and the National Assembly: but over 40% of the deputies to the National Assembly in 1976 were not directly elected even at municipal level – they were Party and government bureaucrats constitutionally appointed as deputies by the Party-controlled nominating commissions. For these deputies, even the formal accountability and recall which notionally applies to their elected counterparts has no relevance.

As a result of this combination of election, selection and manipulation, the National Assembly of 1976 contained no less than 91.7% of Party members, plus an additional 5% from the UJC. The leadership was plainly taking no chances that it might lose control of this "democratic" structure of "people's power".

The powers of the local bodies are, predictably, extremely limited and circumscribed by the general guidelines of policies laid down by the elite at top level. Raul Castro made the cautionary remark that at all times:

" . . . the higher offices have the power to nullify an agreement or decision of the assemblies and executive committees at the lower levels when these contradict laws and regulations in force or affect the broader interests of other communities throughout the country."

But since nobody but the top elite has sufficient information to assess the impact of decisions upon other sections of the community, Raul's warning amounts to a blank cheque for the bureaucracy at top level to veto any decision they do not approve of at any lower level. The main task of local assemblies is therefore reduced to the small coin of repair and maintenance of existing facilities, the rectification of countless petty anomalies which do not require expenditure or outside resources, and the fulfilment of production and service plans handed down from above.

But the practical role of the National Assembly is scarcely any more influential or effective. The Assembly met for the first time in December 1976 to go through the motions of electing Fidel Castro as President and ratifying all his governmental appointments (under the 1976 constitution, the President chooses all eight Vice Presidents who will form the Executive Council of Ministers, as well as appointing – and replacing at will – the personnel to fill the other ministerial posts). All of the Assembly's votes were unanimous, save for the election of veteran Stalinist leader Blas Roca as President of the Assembly: one deputy broke ranks, and Roca received only 478 votes out of 479!

The National Assembly met again eight months later for two days – during which it rubber-stamped no less than nine Bills submitted by the government. Perfunctory discussion was followed in each case by unanimous endorsement. Significantly the Assembly has not held so much as one debate on the government's (enormously costly) foreign policy. The obvious parallel is with the USSR, where the equivalent body – laughingly referred to as the "Supreme Soviet" – enjoys similar notional powers and rights: in practice it makes only the most token, minimal and peripheral changes, affecting at most 1% of the USSR's annual budget.

With such a minimal, formalistic role in society, it is small wonder that National Assembly deputies for the most part hold on to their original jobs (though many are of course state or party bureaucrats). They enjoy no formal economic privilege – though access to even this limited degree of power and influence is indeed an element of privilege in a society where the majority have no chance to influence policies or events. Deputies get time off work for the twice-yearly sessions of the Assembly and, where necessary, to attend Assembly sub-committees meeting on specific topics.

This restricted level of overt bureaucratism and parasitic privilege has certainly assisted the Cuban regime to institutionalise a state structure on the Stalinist model, outlawing any political opposition, while avoiding the common trappings of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe – a large, active political police force, massive purge trials, and vast numbers of political prisoners. Partly, too, the popular base of the regime has been preserved intact through the skilful agitational methods of the Castro leadership, and has been assisted by the constant imperialist pressure and military threat, which have lent a ready explanation to calls for austerity, and credence to calls for mobilisation and unity against the common imperialist foe. But an additional and important factor has been the extent to which the Cuban regime has been able and willing to export its dissidents.

The initial flight of the Batistianos to Miami and other havens of capitalist stability after the 1959 revolutionary takeover allowed the incoming regime to embark upon its increasingly radical measures and mobilise mass support without fighting a prolonged and debilitating civil war. Though there were instances of last-ditch resistance to the new regime, they were easily isolated and crushed, while the Bay of Pigs invasion by the most hard-nosed exiles orchestrated by the CIA took on – by 1961 – the obvious character of an external attack rather than a civil war.

The Cuban attitude has always been to allow those who wished to leave to go freely: but the USA has not been so keen to receive them. In 1965 there was a mass exodus of Cuban oppositionists to the USA by boat from the port of Camarioca and by air from Varadero airport. Nevertheless, the first 15 years of the Cuban regime saw a large accumulation of political prisoners. According to Fidel Castro, as late as 1975 the government was holding 5,000 political prisoners – 2,000 in medium security prisons and 3,000 in rehabilitation camps. In July 1977 Castro declared that the figure had declined to around 2-3,000.

Late in 1978 came an opportunity to clear away this embarrassment to the regime. Castro announced a plan to release 3,000 political prisoners at a rate of 400 per month, so long as the USA would agree to accept all those wishing to go there. At this point, Castro gave the figure of 4,263 prisoners, of whom 80% – including Major Huber Matos – would be freed under the new policy. At the same time Castro revealed a new, more placatory stance towards the exile leaders, referring to them for the first time as an "exile community" rather than "gusanos" (worms) and "traitors". (This change by Castro prompted some comical attempts by leaders of the pro-Castro US Socialist Workers Party to direct a recruitment campaign into the Cuban exile communities of Florida, New York and elsewhere, with embarrassingly negative results.)

Castro's gesture was apparently geared to exploit hints that the Carter regime might respond by lifting the long-standing US economic blockade of Cuba, and even open up normalised diplomatic relations. These hopes proved still-born: the anti-Castro lobby in the USA was strong enough to halt any relaxation of American hostility to Cuba.

Then, in the Spring of 1980 came the spectacular scenes as thousands of Cubans invaded the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking a way out of the country. The Cuban government had lifted police guards from the gates of the embassy as part of an ongoing dispute with both Peru and Venezuela, whose embassies had been granting asylum only to those who gained entry by force – turning away those who tried to enter peacefully. One Cuban guard was killed in such an incident.

Castro announced that Cuban exiles in the USA would be allowed to collect by boat anyone willing to leave the island, and the port of Mariel was opened up for the new traffic. Between early April and the end of June an estimated 114,000 Cubans arrived in the USA by boat. They joined an exile community of around 500,000. Eventually the US administration began to impose restrictions on those entering, while the Cuban government mobilised mass demonstrations against the departing "gusanos" and welcomed the exit of those who were "ideologically in disagreement with the revolution and socialism". Those seeking exit visas were described in Granma as "delinquents, lumpen proletariat and parasites". These adjectives were shortly to be echoed by the Carter administration, which began to complain that Castro had used the occasion to empty his jails of petty crooks, violent convicts and mental patients. But not all were so delighted with the real face of American society, very different from the propaganda. In August 1980 22 Cuban refugees hijacked six planes back to Cuba within one week. As the USA warned that any criminals amongst the refugees would be sent back to Cuba, Castro declared on May Day 1980 that the USA had sought to provoke the outflow, and should now "swallow the dagger whole". In December 1980 he boasted to the Second CCP Congress that the "exodus of the scum" to the USA had reduced crime against property in Cuba.

Since then, the Cuban government has made propaganda from its low numbers of political prisoners. But such a heavy exodus of oppositional elements in 1980 – 20 years after the revolution and after repeated earlier outflows totalling nearly 8% of the population – is no record for the regime to be proud of. Though the Cuban revolution has obviously not been able to bring the underdeveloped and dependent single-crop pre-revolutionary economy up to the level of living standards and sophistication of the USA, it has largely eliminated poverty, ignorance and disease, and taken important strides towards social equality for the oppressed black population and for women. The bright lights, big cities and brash propaganda of the "colossus of the north" will obviously continue to attract a certain element of Cuban society more than the austerity, bureaucratism and egalitarian ethos of the Castro regime: but the toll they have taken appears to be excessively heavy.

Some of the insults hurled at the departing groups suggest that one aspect of the exodus may have been the continued oppression of gays in Cuba, though some reports suggest that the overt use of state repression has been considerably eased since the early days of the revolution. At that time, the introduction of military service was viewed by Raul Castro as one means of detecting "homosexuals and religious individuals for rehabilitation", and special military brigades were set up to "rehabilitate" those who offended Fidelista morality – the lazy, the corrupt, homosexuals and religious proselytisers (particularly Jehovah's Witnesses). Though anti-gay bigotry remains rife, it appears that laws punishing homosexuality as a crime have been relaxed or less vigorously enforced in recent years.

How, overall, should we view the Cuban state machinery, with its distinctive mixture of mass participation bodies in which the masses have no voice; "democratic" structures which operate in the shadow of an elite dozen top leaders; "trade unions" which see their role as speeding up production; and its systems of "elections" in which political discussion, manifestos, factions and parties are all outlawed? Is this a healthy workers' state, a system of workers' democracy in which the mass organisations of the working class control the economy and the state as a whole?

No, it is a state in which an entrenched minority, enjoying a continuing level of mass support but conceding no real power to the masses, governs through a mechanism of mobilisation from above. It is a state in which that minority enjoys the material privilege of decision-making and actual power, and certain other related privileges – access to superior food, accommodation, commodities and travel. In the land of equals, they are not only more equal than others, but they decide how equal all the others should be. And the politics which this ruling elite has adopted – partly as the price of its extended credit from the USSR and its military protection – are the politics of international Stalinism, dressed up in the colourful and dramatic rhetoric of the Fidelista tradition, and endowed by a talented and demagogic leader with a level of mass acceptance and support they could not hope to achieve in Eastern Europe.

But behind the trappings of mass participation and institutionalised democracy, the Cuban state remains quite clearly a state on the Stalinist model – in which the working class has not yet as a class organised independently, or taken the power in its own hands: it is a state in which the revolution was deformed at birth; it is a deformed workers' state.

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