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International Socialist Review, Summer 1961


Editorial Comment ...


From International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.3, Summer 1961, pp.87-88.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Cuban Revolution has proved to be of consummate interest to the radical movement throughout the world. Partly this is due to the heroic and dramatic way in which the tiny island republic has met the relentless economic, diplomatic and military efforts of the United States, the most formidable power on earth, to smash the new government and uproot its achievements. But it is also due to the fact that this revolution is sensed to be of extraordinary import. Its freshness and spontaneity bespeak a new generation and new forces on the march and a great new chapter in history. Indeed it takes but little study to come to the realization that one of the greatest social upheavals mankind is destined to face – the continental-scale Latin-American revolution – has already begun. Cuba is the opening scene.

To defend the Cuban revolution is to defend the beginning of the Latin-American revolution. This implies at once that the foremost means of defense is to foster extension of what has been begun in Cuba; that is, to assure the normal development of this new economic and social order so that its immediate benefits and the great perspectives it opens become available to all the peoples of Latin America and, for that matter, the entire hemisphere. From this point of view, Cuba appears as an example demanding the closest attention and study. To thoroughgoing revolutionists, of course, analysis is part of the process of determining in principle what attitude to take on all the key questions.

Thus the immensely practical task of defending the Cuban revolution insistently points to theory, for the lessons that can be drawn from the Cuban experience receive due weight, appreciation and correct political application only if they are tied in with the main body of revolutionary theory, the great arsenal of generalized experience assembled over the years by countless fighters and some of humanity’s most lucid minds.

Despite the apparent simplicity of its actions, the Cuban revolution presents some unusually knotty theoretical problems. These have given rise to a variety of proposed solutions and many nuances of opinion. Some of these, of course, reflect inadequacies among the theoreticians. Aside from this, however, the Cuban revolution does present genuinely new developments that are not easily assessed.

The Cuban leaders themselves have made no major contributions as yet to the theory of their own revolution. They have firmly maintained that they are primarily practical men of action who have much to learn about theory. This is a responsible attitude that actually reveals respect for theory. It is evident that the best of them, although already familiar with Marxist views like every cultured person in the world of today, are renewing their acquaintance with the writings of such figures as Lenin, now bringing to their studies rich experiences gained in the school of revolution itself. Eventually we can expect important contributions from them as part of the collective efforts at a rounded Marxist theoretical appreciation of the Cuban revolution.

Among the various Trotskyist currents in the world, the Cuban revolution has brought jubilation, primarily for what it has revealed about the decay of imperialism and the strength of the revolutionary-socialist potential, but also for its fresh validation of the theory of the Permanent Revolution. The main course of the Cuban revolution was projected by Trotsky as early as 1905!

The Latin-American Trotskyists especially have reason to rejoice over the Cuban revolution. Indicative of their reaction is the resolution of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario of Chile printed above. As can be seen, they are unqualified supporters of Cuba as an example for other Latin-American countries.

Their study of the Cuban events has led them to stress the importance of the peasantry as a revolutionary ally of the proletariat, the organization of guerrilla action and the interlinking of the slogans of agrarian and urban reform. Of special interest is the assessment they make of the impact of the Cuban revolution on the various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist movements in Latin America and the encouraging possibilities now opening for the regroupment of revolutionary-minded fighters.

We agree with the main conclusion of the resolution that Cuba became a workers state with the overturn of capitalist property relations in the key sectors of the economy in August-October 1960. However, we have differences with various formulations and positions, some of which are important enough, we think, to specify.

For instance, we think that the use of “deformed” to indicate the kind of workers state is not a happy choice. The adjective was first used in connection with the extension of Soviet property relations to Eastern Europe and then applied to Yugoslavia and China. The qualification was never completely satisfactory, particularly in the cases of Yugoslavia and China where powerful independent revolutions occurred, but it did serve to indicate that the leadership had been schooled in Stalinism and that it fostered the growth of a privileged bureaucratic layer from the very beginning, not to speak of its predilection for bureaucratic political practices.

In Cuba the revolution bypassed Stalinism, bringing to power a much more revolutionary-minded leadership which, whatever its mistakes, has demonstrated its capacity to develop in the revolutionary-socialist direction in the very process of revolution. The inclinations of this leadership are clearly democratic, not antidemocratic. To call Cuba a “deformed” workers state implies the imposition of a systematized bureaucratic structure not much different from that which would occur under a Stalinist leadership. But this has not occurred and it remains to be seen whether it will. The final outcome will depend on world forces not under the control of the Cuban leaders. In the struggle to prevent the bureaucratization of the Cuban revolution, it appears to us that the Castro leadership stands on the side of proletarian democracy. It would seem more accurate, if somewhat clumsier, to use a descriptive phrase such as that employed by the Socialist Workers party, a workers state “lacking as yet the forms of democratic proletarian rule.” The content of this phrase, we think, comes close to the meaning which the POR invests in the word “deformed.” It has the advantage of indicating that the question is still open.

The possibility that the Cuban Popular Socialist party (Communist party) can take over the revolution and thereby bureaucratize it seems to us over-estimated. We recognize that some of the old-time Communist leaders do represent a certain danger, since in accordance with their school they are inclined to abuse government posts and utilize them for factional advantage, not hesitating at the worst bureaucratic practices. The material aid from the Soviet countries on which Cuba is, for the time being, completely dependent gives such figures undue weight. It is even possible that the Castro leadership as a whole, out of gratitude to the Soviet Union or what they conceive to be political necessity, may make unwarranted concessions in this direction.

However, the main fact in the Cuban revolution is still operative – in toppling Batista, it bypassed Stalinism. The men who led the revolution to victory are not Stalinists but revolutionists dedicated to the highest of emancipating goals. They are the figures revered by the Cuban masses and rightly so. The Stalinist current by itself cannot alter this even if it were foolhardy enough to attempt it.

In addition, the Communist party is subject to revolutionary pressures. No matter how case-hardened some of its leaders prove to be, the rank and file are certainly responsive to the course taken by the Cuban revolution and to the guidance provided by the main leaders of that revolution. The inclination to break from the Stalinist heritage, already set in motion by such events as Khrushchev’s revelations at the Twentieth Congress has been greatly reinforced by everything that has happened in Cuba.

As for the experts from the Soviet countries, they are certainly to be welcomed. Their skills as a whole constitute a necessary part of the material aid. This is not a one-way process, it should be noted. The delegations of Cubans sent to the Soviet countries are imbued with revolutionary fervor. The big receptions given these delegations are a measure of their great popularity among the Soviet masses and an indication of the completely favorable repercusions the Cuban revolution has had among all the Soviet bloc countries.

The fear of Stalinism, which certainly has historic justification, leads the POR to advocate strengthening the July 26 Movement and the Directorio Revolucionario as counterweights to the Communist party. To us it seems that the larger problem is to organize a mass revolutionary-socialist party to strengthen the political defense of the revolution. But this requires the subordination of factional differences.

The appearance of a mass revolutionary-socialist party in Cuba would obviously be a most favorable development. In correspondence with the norms of democratic centralism, every tendency should be included with full right to participate in the internal life of the party. If the rights of all tendencies are respected, on what valid grounds could the present Communist party be excluded?

As for the Cuban Trotskyists, we would take it for granted that they would hail such a development and participate in it as completely loyal party builders.

The Castro leadership would naturally be elected to head the party. They have demonstrated their fitness and capacity to such a degree that we think every Cuban revolutionist would give them a vote of confidence. Their taking the initiative to form a mass revolutionary-socialist party would in itself constitute fresh evidence of their ability to lead the Cuban revolution.

From what has been said, it should be obvious that our inclination is to be much less critical of the Castro government than the POR. We think that the top leaders have done pretty well, most remarkable of all being the way they have evolved from their original petty-bourgeois positions toward socialism. This has become a historic example that Marxists can utilize from now on. In Cuba it was proved that a petty-bourgeois position, even with the most honest and sincere intentions, is not enough – if you are genuinely concerned about the welfare of the people and the fate of the nation it is necessary to go beyond bourgeois democracy to socialism!

Workers councils have not yet been set up, it is true. We agree with the POR that their appearance would bring the Cuban revolution into close similarity with the Russian revolution as it existed in the days of Lenin and Trotsky. That this would enormously facilitate the defense of the Cuban revolution is obvious and we would very much like to see it occur. But we think – and in this we may have a disagreement with the POR – that Cuba is evolving in this direction.

We are not inclined to specify the exact form which we think proletarian democracy should take in Cuba. First of all, this is a question for the Cubans to decide. Secondly, with all the ingenuity they have displayed up to this point, they may well come up with new forms. We await with the keenest interest the working out of the socialist constitution to which Fidel Castro has referred in public speeches.

The workers councils which appeared for the first time in the 1905 Revolution in Russia under Trotsky’s leadership were unforeseen, let us recall. They were a product of the revolution itself. The Cuban revolution which has given us so much that is new may also give us something new here too.

We should like to close by expressing our solidarity with the Latin-American Trotskyists. The Cuban revolution has opened up great new perspectives for them. As the first point on the agenda, we are completely united with them in doing everything in our power to defend the Cuban revolution, this magnificent opening of the mighty Latin-American revolution.

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