Trotskyism and the Cuban Revolution page | Main Newspaper Index
Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive
Source: International Socialist Review, Vol. 29, No. 2 , March-April 1968, pp. 1-20.
Transcription: Daniel Gaido.
Mark up: David Walters for ETOL.
This article by a leading Bolivian Trotskyist was written last year when the first reports appeared of a new guerrilla front. This was before it had been disclosed that Che Guevara was in the leadership of the front, before Che’s historic letter calling for “... two, three, many Vietnams,” before Che’s murder at the hands of the Bolivian military authorities, and before the Organization of Latin-American Solidarity conference in Havana. The article was written for an anthology commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution to be published by Merit Publishers later this year. Hugo Gonzalez Moscoso is the general secretary of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario, Bolivian section of the Fourth International.
* * *
The Cuban revolution and the workers state it produced, together with the Russian, Chinese and similar revolutions, are positive achievements expressing the aspiration of all the colonial and semi-colonial masses to free themselves from imperialist exploitation and to raise themselves to a better life.
However, the Cuban revolution was not a unique or exceptional occurrence but rather the culmination of a process which, aside from specific national features, started from a level common to all the underdeveloped countries. This means other peoples can also follow the Cuban road, adapting its general features to their own national, regional and local characteristics.
Because Cuba is an example of what the revolutionary masses of a semicolonial country can accomplish with correct leadership, it is necessary and useful to bring out its lessons, experiences and teachings so that they may be assimilated by the revolutionary vanguard of the colonial and semicolonial world.
The course of uneven development divided the world into advanced industrialized countries and underdeveloped countries. As the former expanded, they came to dominate the latter, converting them into colonies or semicolonies. But from the beginning, the underdeveloped countries struggled to shake off this domination. The idea of liberating themselves was coupled with that of overcoming their backwardness by emulating the development of the advanced countries.
The two world wars and the victory of the Russian, Yugoslav and Chinese revolutions spread and encouraged uprisings and revolutions of the colonial peoples. Today the tremendous mobilization of the colonial world is continuing in its course, shaking the foundations of the capitalist world and opening the way for an unlimited development of workers states. Huge economically and culturally backward masses are demonstrating their desire to enjoy the benefits of modern civilization. In ceaseless struggles, with their ups and downs, they seek not only equal political rights with the developed nations through formal independence but they also demand equal living standards. National liberation from imperialist domination is bound up with the idea of development, diversification of the economy and improved living conditions for the masses.
The national bourgeois and petty-bourgeois layers, echoing these profound mass currents, have espoused some demands of this type, which would grant a measure of economic development without disturbing the capitalist economic structures. As was inevitable, in undertaking this, these leaderships came into conflict with the world reality of our epoch. In order to develop an underdeveloped country, capital and an accumulation fund are required to finance the development projects which it lacks precisely because it is a backward, semicolonial country. The bourgeois and petty-bourgeois layers do not advocate expropriating without compensation the surplus value which the imperialists extract, and the land rent, and they do not support economic planning under state control to exploit the natural resources.
Without transforming the structure of an underdeveloped country, the need for capital must be exclusively or in large measure satisfied through foreign credits. Imperialism then moves back in and imprisons the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaderships which initially rose against it, impelled by the mobilized masses. The imperialists grant credits; however, because of their meagerness, because they are assigned to works of a secondary importance and because of the conditions attached to them and the demands they impose, these credits work against the aspirations of the underdeveloped nations for economic development and industrialization.
This is the history of the Latin-American peoples, who sink deeper and deeper in debt to Yankee imperialism without emerging from their wretched backwardness!
The national bourgeoisie go around in a political circle. Under the pressure of the mobilized masses, seeking to control them, they lead the struggle for national independence and raise the banners of economic development; however, failing to break out of the confines of capitalism, they fall back under imperialist domination, which signifies national oppression and underdevelopment. Under imperialist rule no underdeveloped country will ever be able to progress and reach the level of the industrialized countries. That is the lesson of history. In the present world situation, the bourgeois leaderships cannot accomplish the tasks of national, economic and political independence. They cannot promote industrialization, achieve national unity, plan economic development or carry out a real agrarian reform. That is, they cannot usher in a period of growth in the productive forces which would transform the colonies and semicolonies into advanced capitalist countries and thus repeat the role played by the bourgeoisie of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the present stage of the death agony and putrefaction of imperialism, the bourgeoisie of the underdeveloped countries are incapable of accomplishing the tasks assigned to their class, which the bourgeoisie in the central capitalist countries accomplished during the period of the rise of capitalism.
Against this bourgeois dead end, where instead of liberating themselves and moving forward the underdeveloped countries reinforce their oppressive chains and increase their backwardness, we revolutionary Marxists and Trotskyists have proposed taking the revolutionary road of expropriating imperialism, liquidating the national exploiters, undertaking a radical agrarian reform carrying out the postponed bourgeois-democratic tasks, combining them with tasks that are properly socialist, including establishing a workers state.
The big mobilizations of the colonial masses have followed two paths. Under bourgeois leadership they have ended in exhaustion and defeat, with their aspirations for economic development and a better standard of living for the masses left frustrated. Under revolutionary leadership they have been victorious, showing that the road to modern civilization for the underdeveloped countries leads through the destruction of the capitalist and imperialist order to the construction of socialism.
The Cuban revolution followed the revolutionary road and for this reason succeeded in establishing the first Latin-American workers state. We maintain that this was neither foreordained nor was it a unique and exceptional process – any Latin-American country in the objective conditions prevailing on this continent and in the world can attain a victory like the one in Cuba. To appreciate this more fully, nothing is more instructive than to compare the Cuban and Bolivian processes and to consider the reasons for their different outcomes.
Let us begin by recognizing that both Bolivia and Cuba, prior to their revolutions, were typically semicolonial countries, formally independent but totally dominated by imperialism. As is typical in semicolonies, they were one-product countries – sugar in Cuba and tin in Bolivia – with both sources of wealth controlled by imperialist concerns. In both countries the land was in the hands of big landowners, and in Bolivia the survival of serfdom of a feudal type was an aggravating factor.
Commerce, the banks, the means of transport and the other principal economic activities were controlled by the imperialists. In neither of these countries had there been any economic diversification or development of manufacturing industry. As a result the national bourgeoisie was weak and parasitic; it depended on the crumbs left it by the imperialist concerns, in the service of whose interests the entire economic and political life of the nation was oriented. The successive governments were imperialist agents not remotely representing the national interests.
The people – the working class, the peasants, the poor middle class – lived in conditions of poverty, backwardness and humiliation. They were exiles in their own land, discriminated against and without rights in face of the all-powerful oppressor, the gringo imperialist agent.
This identical situation of subservience, poverty and backwardness was the starting point for the development of both the Bolivian and Cuban revolutions.
In Bolivia, on April 9, 1952, the masses defeated the tin magnates’ government of General Ballivifin. What was initially projected as a coup d’etat involving only the military, the police and the MNR [Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario – Revolutionary Nationalist Movement] became a popular insurrection through the intervention of the industrial proletariat of La Paz and impoverished sections of the middle class. The coup d’etat was defeated and the uprising was victorious. The POR [Partido Obrero Revolucionario – Revolutionary Workers Party, the Trotskyist organization] helped to bring about this victory but because of its organizational weakness the political power did not fall into its hands but into those of the MNR. This meant that while the masses triumphed over the army and the oligarchy they did not themselves take power. A petty-bourgeois party with leftist and anti-imperialist trimmings stole the revolution from them.
From the first moment of the Bolivian revolution, two diametrically opposite political lines were counterpoised: the revolutionary Marxist position of the POR and the bourgeois capitalist position of the MNR. The POR called for an all-out struggle against imperialism, active and organized participation of the masses in the government and in the management of the economy, a real agrarian revolution and replacement of the petty-bourgeois leadership by a proletarian leadership in order to move toward the constitution of a workers and peasants’ government. The MNR, which was in firm control of the government, maintained that the revolution was to be bourgeois democratic in character and proposed to develop a strong national bourgeoisie in order to build an independent capitalist economy in Bolivia.
In the conflict and confrontation between these two conceptions in the first years of the revolution, the MNR found itself forced to make concessions to the masses. In order to maintain itself in power, it had to enact an agrarian reform, nationalize the mines, establish workers control etc. But at the same time that the MNR yielded to the pressure of the masses, it vitiated these conquests and emasculated them of their revolutionary content. The agrarian reform was reduced to a long-drawn-out bureaucratic process of handing out land titles without any attempt to solve the economic and technical problems involved. The payment of heavy compensation upon the nationalization of the mines recapitalized the mining industry; workers control was narrowly based and was constantly whittled down still further by the bureaucracy.
Commerce, the banks and the other imperialist or national concerns were not touched.
The revolution was halted after having gone only a short distance. Many of the conquests of the masses were gradually wiped out. The doors of the country were opened to imperialism and imperialism became the ally of the MNR and its regime.
The army was reorganized and turned over to Yankee military missions along with the police. When, with the government of Paz Estenssoro, the MNR was no longer capable of containing the masses, this army staged a preventive coup on November 4, 1964, and assumed complete control of the government.
The military regime, first under the Military Junta and later under the Barrientos presidency, carried forward the work left unfinished by the MNR of dismantling all the conquests of the masses, destroying the unions, cutting wages, attacking nationalized property and converting the country into a Yankee colony.
Under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, the revolution was led to disaster. The economy did not develop, mine production fell by fifty per cent, reaching the brink of collapse; the petroleum industry was reopened to the Yankee monopolies which are now strangling the government-run concern, the YPFB [Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos – Bolivian State Petroleum]; manufacturing became semiparalyzed; agricultural production dropped; unemployment rose; the living standards of the people became more wretched. These were the results of twelve years of MNR rule!
The road followed by the Bolivian revolution under MNR leadership did not lead to national independence; it did not develop the economy; it did not improve life for the masses. It ended finally in restoring to power the military and the oligarchs who had been defeated in the 1952 insurrection.
The road followed by the Cuban revolution under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the July 26 Movement was quite different. If, indeed, the declarations of the revolutionaries in the Sierra Maestra were of a limited character at first, proposing the “humanization” of capitalism and the organization of a national-democratic government, soon, impelled by the needs of the struggle itself and by their contacts with the landless peasants, the revolutionaries found themselves forced to draft an advanced program of agrarian reform. Later, after they came to power, in order to preserve their regime, they responded to the attacks of imperialism and the national exploiters with measures which liquidated the economic, political and military apparatus of the capitalist regime. In order to confront his enemies, Castro inspired the workers, the peasants and the people to mobilize repeatedly, based himself on them and deepened the revolution. The agrarian reform which had been initiated in the Sierra Maestra was followed by nationalization of the imperialist and national capitalist enterprises, and then by the urban reform, monetary and educational reforms, economic planning with diversified industrialization and the raising of the standard of living of the peasant and urban masses. The dissolution of the old army was followed by the armed organization of the people in the militias and the Rebel Army.
This process led irresistibly to the constitution of the Cuban workers state, the first in Latin America. But to reach this level, the revolutionary leadership went through a process of purging itself. As the revolution deepened and the masses won their rights, the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements abandoned its ranks and went over to the imperialist counterrevolutionary front. The Cuban revolution was directed against imperialism and the national bourgeoisie. In order to win, Fidel’s government based itself on the Cuban masses, the world colonial masses and the workers states. In Bolivia, on the contrary, the MNR regime allied itself with imperialism against the masses at home; internationally it took the side of the imperialist Western world against the camp of socialist revolution.
With seven years difference in time, the Cuban and Bolivian revolutions started from more or less the same level but followed different roads. The main nuclei in the two leaderships also conducted themselves in opposite ways. The Castroist leadership rooted itself first among the peasants and later the worker masses, mobilizing them against imperialism and national capitalism. The MNR leadership moved away from the masses, betrayed them and allied itself with imperialism and the Bolivian oligarchy.
As a consequence, the Bolivian revolution led to defeat, crisis and prostration before imperialism, while the Cuban revolution led to victory, economic development, a better life for tie Cuban people and national and social liberation.
Thus we see how two revolutions, following two distinct paths, ended with only one victorious, although they both had the same possibilities of succeeding. This outcome was not foreordained, but was the result of the opposing tactical and strategic conceptions of their leaderships.
This general conclusion, however, is not enough. The lessons of the Cuban revolution must be more concretely established. We must learn what needs to be done to lead the masses to victory and what errors lead to defeat, as in the Bolivian case, and must be avoided.
In my opinion, the following are the principal lessons that confirm Trotskyist theory:
I. The revolutionary process is permanent and does not go by stages.
The first practical theoretical lesson that the Cuban revolution teaches us is that the revolutionary process in the colonial countries is not divided into stages and does not stop at an intermediate stage.
In an uninterrupted process, the revolution drives out imperialism and liquidates the national capitalist regime. This is the prerequisite for victory, for political liberation and economic development.
The Cuban process did not stop at any intermediate stage but advanced to the point of creating a workers state. Because of this it triumphed. In Bolivia, on the other hand, after first advancing, the revolution was contained and precisely for this reason degenerated and was defeated – and, after twelve years of struggle the military regained power. In Cuba, however, a workers state developed after only two years. This shows that in order for any backward colonial or semicolonial country to progress and transform itself into a free country on the road toward industrialization, it must combine the struggle against imperialism with the struggle against native capitalism, proceeding from the national bourgeois-democratic tasks to tasks of a socialist order in accord with the interests of the working class. The uninterrupted and combined realization of these tasks assures political victory and opens the road for economic development. In this process, the revolutionary leadership must purge itself, disengage itself from the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois elements that go along with the revolution, and become a revolutionary Marxist team at the head of the working class, the peasantry and the poor sectors of the middle class.
This process developed clearly in Cuba. The Batista government fell on January 1, 1959, and a new government arose, presided over by Manuel Urrutia with Miro Cardona as prime minister. On February 16, Cardona left the government and Fidel Castro came in. On July 18, after a crisis, Urrutia and his ministers left and Raul Castro and Che Guevara took their places. Finally, on April 16, 1961, Fidel Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution. This winnowing out of the revolutionary leadership was the result of the advance of the process and the radical measures adopted.
The new government’s first measures sought to improve the living conditions of the people. The law lowering electric power rates was enacted on March 3, 1959; the law cutting rents on March 6 of the same year. On May 17, the agrarian reform was enacted. The law on recovery of misused property of December 13, 1959, was already an advanced measure because in itself it signified the expropriation of the expropriators. In July and August of the following year, the nationalization of the Yankee imperialist enterprises began. Later foreign trade came under the control of the state, which established a state monopoly of foreign trade. On October 13, 1960, the banks were nationalized along with 383 industrial and commercial enterprises controlled by international finance and native capital. On October 14, the very next day, the urban reform law was enacted. Later internal trade was also nationalized, etc., etc. Thus the economic power of imperialism and the native bourgeoisie was destroyed. Capitalist ownership virtually disappeared in revolutionary Cuba. The persistence of small private ownership represents a secondary factor and makes no difference to the general economic and social situation of the island, although it merits the leadership’s attention to promote its gradual disappearance.
These events were inseparably linked. The national-democratic measures went hand in hand with the socialist ones. No matter how one tries, it is difficult to separate the Cuban process into two stages, each with its distinct and specific measures. The schema of a revolution in stages exists only in the reformist and opportunist mentality of the Stalinists and the petty-bourgeoisie who seek to put a brake on all revolutionary processes.
The masses of the underdeveloped countries, as we see, refuse to separate their revolution into stages; they are unwilling to restrict their struggle to fighting against the imperialists for national independence; they also want to settle accounts with their national exploiters. The masses are loath to escape imperialist exploitation only to remain subjected to the exploitation of their national bourgeoisies.
In Bolivia, it did not prove possible to remove the MNR leadership and supersede it with a Marxist working-class leadership. The MNR stopped the process midway at a point where its class interests were satisfied, creating a caste of newly rich persons and disregarding the interests of the nation and the exploited classes. This would have happened in Cuba also if Miro Cardona and Manuel Urrutia had come out on top in the first crisis and held on to their positions in the government.
The leadership of the Bolivian revolution did not do away with national capitalism; on the contrary, it bolstered it, seeking to develop a strong bourgeoisie. Faced with a mass mobilization outside their control, it appealed for help from yesterday’s foe, imperialism. The national capitalists allied themselves with the imperialists against the masses.
Bolivia has been a negative confirmation of the Cuban lesson. Only by permanent, uninterrupted struggle, by driving out imperialism and doing away with native capitalism, is it possible to win and to build a new socialist society.
Both experiences, the positive Cuban one and the negative Bolivian one, in turn confirm the Trotskyist thesis of permanent revolution: that while revolutions in underdeveloped countries begin on the level of a broad united front, in order to be victorious they must consolidate working-class revolutionary Marxist leaderships and not stop at accomplishing the democratic tasks but carry out the socialist tasks, dealing ever more deadly blows to capitalism.
The Cuban revolution is a living example of how the Trotskyist theory works in reality.
The Trotskyists strive to bring the working class to power with the support of its natural allies, the peasantry and the poor middle class, and through the construction of workers and peasants’ governments. The Stalinist reformists and revisionists, like the bourgeois tendencies, counterpose the theory of revolution by stages to the Trotskyist thesis: A first stage in which the working class must support its bourgeoisie so that it can take power and industrialize the country. A second stage, far in the future, when the workers will aim for power. This theory was applied in Bolivia and proved to be false, because the bourgeoisie once in power did not liberate the country from imperialism or develop it but was satisfied with exploiting the masses as a partner of imperialism. On the other hand, the Trotskyist theory was exemplified in Cuba, leading to a complete victory over imperialism and all the national exploiters and opening up the way for socialist construction.
2. The role of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie.
It must be stressed, from the above it follows that the outcome of a revolutionary process depends on its leadership. If the capitalist bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie cannot be dislodged, as in Bolivia, then the revolution is condemned to defeat or at least to paralysis and stagnation and there is serious danger that the conquests of the masses, including the democratic ones, will be abrogated.
In the present imperialist stage, these classes are incapable of leading a revolutionary process. In Cuba, after the first successes in the Sierra Maestra, many petty-bourgeois sectors joined. After the victory, when power had been won, more bourgeois elements moved in. But when the agrarian reform was enacted and then came the nationalizations, these elements began to criticize and sabotage the revolution and to fight against it, even taking up arms as in the case of the Escambray events. These elements quickly re-cemented their ties with the foreign concerns and the agents of the Batista tyranny. The leaders of the first hour, beginning with Urrutia and Huber Matos, (etc.), went over to the counterrevolution. Thus the incapacity of the bourgeoisie or the petty-bourgeoisie as a class to stay with the revolution to its final outcome showed up clearly in practice and not just in theory. If this element is able to maintain itself in power, it blocks the process and diverts it; if it is ousted from the leadership, it goes over to the enemy bag and baggage.
3. Armed struggle and guerilla warfare.
When the democratic roads are blocked by a capitalist dictatorship, when the normal methods of struggle run up against an unyielding repressive government apparatus, when the exercise of the most basic democratic rights leads to loss of jobs, jail, exile and to concentration camps, the peoples, the masses and their vanguard, have no other alternative than to take up arms and prepare an insurrection.
The revisionist theories of peaceful roads to socialism developed by the Stalinists are not only false and impracticable in underdeveloped countries but become a useful weapon for the oligarchies and their governments, which use them adroitly to lull the masses to sleep and to combat the “extremism” of the revolutionary vanguard.
In the majority of the colonial and semicolonial countries, particularly those in Latin America, political power is held by military camarillas or else oligarchic minorities elevated to power by fraudulent elections and imposed by military and police pressures. In the majority of these countries democratic freedoms for the masses and their vanguard have been abolished. Parliamentary rule flounders in a hopeless crisis. In practice, the parliaments have no significance, not even as a platform for denunciation; completely housebroken as a result of electoral fraud, they are nothing more than docile instruments of the regime.
In these conditions, which are similar in all the countries of Latin America and in the majority of colonial countries, armed struggle is the only correct way to fight the ruling camarillas. Everything else becomes mere charlatanism. Verbal or written protests, which are quite restricted by repression, become a farce. The masses may listen to these remonstrances but they do not find them convincing because they do not see in them an organized and militant will acting against the regime but rather an adaptation to the conditions created by the dictators.
Cuba showed that under these conditions, the appropriate response to liberate the people is to take the road of armed struggle. Armed action in the form of guerrilla warfare destroyed the best equipped army in Latin America and touched off a gigantic mobilization of the masses.
Broadly speaking, the guerrilla war in Cuba produced the following results:
- It brought about disintegration in the government and accentuated its crisis.
- It undermined the morale of the army. An army without confidence and without morale falls like a house of cards, notwithstanding its armament, its airplanes, its artillery and its napalm bombs.
- It raised the confidence of the masses and the people in their own strength and stirred their combative spirit. The skepticism and lack of confidence inspired by the traditional parties’ verbalistic opposition to the dictatorship and the deals made by the traditional parties with Batista were replaced by a new, radical, fighting spirit. The masses saw the determination and firmness of the fighters and felt themselves drawn to the struggle, to revolutionary action – they felt inspired and their confidence mounted. The inner forces of the masses were unleashed in a mighty, irresistible torrent which in its turn also imparted momentum to the leading group in the Sierra Maestra itself.
In the prevailing conditions in Latin America, the results achieved by the guerrillas in Cuba can be realized in any country. Therefore, I say that guerrilla warfare is incontrovertibly the road which revolutionaries must take to liberate their peoples from capitalist and imperialist exploitation.
Armed action and guerrilla struggle have been much criticized. Two criticisms deserve analysis: (a) The exponents of the peaceful road to socialism accuse the guerrillas of being putschist adventurists; (b) they claim that the attempt to create the objective conditions with a few guns and a bold group of men flies in the face of the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and that, moreover, this is a substituting for the action of the masses and the revolutionary party.
The first criticism is tendentious and lacks serious foundation. The partisans of the “peaceful road to socialism” would have to show us where the bourgeoisie and oligarchies have ever handed over power to the masses amicably and without a struggle. This argument merits no further attention.
The Cuban revolutionaries have advocated armed struggle for this period of the collapse of bourgeois democracy, of merciless dictatorships, of bureaucratization of the trade union leaderships, and of the existence of small traditional Marxist parties; that is, the period of the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Those of us who assert the validity of guerrilla struggle start from the incontrovertible fact that the objective conditions for revolution are already overripe.
Capitalism and imperialism are rotten and have long been awaiting their gravedigger.
Guerrilla warfare does not create the objective conditions. They already exist. Guerrilla warfare as a political, social and military movement starts from the given situation. And it is all the more justified because, while the objective conditions are ripe, the traditional workers and Marxist parties are unable to mobilize the masses for an insurrectional strike to take power, the classical form of proletarian struggle.
It is not true that guerrilla warfare negates the role of the revolutionary party; on the contrary, it reinforces it. In Yugoslavia, China and Vietnam, the guerrilla struggle was led by Communist parties. In Cuba and Algeria, where the traditional workers parties proved incapable of breaking out of their passivity, errors and conservatism, they were supplanted by new groupings which assumed the role of parties.
Guerrilla warfare cannot be viewed in its armed struggle aspect alone, but must be considered as an inseparable part of the overall political struggle of the peoples for their national and social liberation. The guerrillas are the military arm of the people to be used in breaking up the oppressor armed force on which the capitalist regime is based. Thus guerrilla warfare is not a substitute for mass action nor even for certain other forms of struggle. We might say that guerrilla warfare is a continuation of the class struggle at a special juncture by armed means, which does not include other forms of struggle but rather combines with them.
It would be one of the gravest possible errors for the guerrillas to isolate themselves from the urban masses. The armed struggle in the countryside and the mobilization of the cities must be combined to assure victory.
The guerrilla method advocated by the Cubans is applicable to all underdeveloped countries, although its form must vary in accord with the peculiarities of each country. In those countries where there exists a great peasant mass with an unresolved land problem, the guerrillas will draw their strength from the peasantry; the guerrilla struggle will bring this mass into action, solving their agrarian problem arms in hand, as occurred in Cuba, starting from the Sierra Maestra. But in other countries the proletariat and the radicalized petty-bourgeoisie of the cities will provide the guerrilla forces.
In Bolivia, for example, an agrarian reform has already been carried through which, although limited, has solved the basic land problem. However, guerrilla warfare is still the necessary road to defeat the military dictatorship. In our case, the mines, the slums around the cities, as well as certain agricultural zones where the conditions of life are very difficult, will be fertile fields for the development of guerrilla groups. The peasantry of the densely populated regions whose receipt of land and titles has not altered their under-development and poverty will also be won to the struggle under the influence of the proletariat. In practice, capitalist agrarian reforms like the Bolivian one, and others which are projected, are too limited to convert the peasants into a conservative force. Only the paid, bureaucratized leadership of the peasant organizations is so affected. In Bolivia, the peasants will not be enemies of the guerrillas. In the beginning they will be sympathetic onlookers, later actively revolutionary. The poverty and backwardness in which they live will continue to make them a revolutionary force.
In the last analysis, the Cuban process buried the revisionist Stalinist theories on peaceful roads to socialism and peaceful coexistence.
4. The role of the revolutionary party.
It has been repeatedly and emphatically claimed that the Cuban process disproves some Marxist theses, such as the need for a party. This has gone so far that some say that a party is not needed because the masses can take power without it.
It is true that one of the most notable features of the Cuban revolution is that it was accomplished without the participation of the so-called workers parties and even in opposition to their policy. And from this the simplistic conclusion is drawn – that the masses can take power without the leadership of a Marxist revolutionary party.
Revolutionary socialist activity in Cuba dates back to the second half of the last century. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Marx’s ideas were rather well-known on the island. In the first five years of our century, the first workers parties with a clear Marxist orientation developed. With the degeneration of the Third International and its Stalinist bureaucratization the Cuban workers movement was not left unaffected by the struggle waged by the Communist Left Opposition and later by the Fourth International.
After innumerable fusions and maneuvers, the Communist party adopted the name, People’s Socialist Party, under which it functioned until the Castroist revolution.
Despite this party’s long experience and influence, the revolution led by Castro passed it by. What is worse, the PSP opposed the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra, calling Fidel Castro an adventurer and putschist.
This experience holds a lesson of great value. In our epoch we are witnessing a tumultuous advance of the revolution of the colonial and semicolonial peoples. The force of the masses shakes the foundations of capitalist society. The onrushing revolution blocks off the bourgeoisie of the underdeveloped countries and develops its own instruments of struggle in a political and ideological climate strongly influenced by Marxist ideas and by the objective victories of the socialist countries.
In Cuba, under conditions of intolerable dictatorship, the traditional workers parties were unable to fulfill their function of leading the masses, because of organizational weakness in some cases and in the case of the Stalinist Communist Party, because of an incorrect political position which led it to collaborate with Batista. In these circumstances, a group of radicalized youth, expressing the historical necessities of the moment, created the July 26 Movement and later in the Sierra Maestra organized the Rebel Army with a broad peasant base. These new political formations, in an exceptional way, performed the role of a revolutionary Marxist party, substituting by their actions for the traditional parties which had proved unable to rise to the height of the political tasks of the moment.
There can be no certainty that the Cuban masses would have taken power and begun the socialist revolution without a party. The Rebel Army and the July 26 Movement filled this role. This experience can be repeated in any country where the workers and Communist parties prove unable to take the leadership of the masses by beginning an armed insurrectionary struggle and fall into conservatism and political passivity. It is elementary that if a Marxist party does not play its historical role, new political forces will move into its place. To think otherwise would be to fall into mechanical determinism or messianism.
In the present conditions of a favorable correlation of forces for the revolution and the extreme weakness of the semicolonial bourgeoisie, such parties can be substituted for, as occurred in Cuba. The revolution and the masses cannot wait; in certain circumstances they will follow those who with audacity and valor strike hardest at their enemies and strive in action to resolve the historical crisis. Moreover, while previously many years were necessary for the formation of a political leadership, in our epoch, convulsed by the tumultuous mobilization of the colonial masses, marked by the progress of the workers states and a high level of social consciousness, such leaderships can be formed in a short time.
It is true that, at the beginning, the July 26 Movement and later the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra did not have a well-defined theory and fell into confusion and errors. However, their fusion with the landless peasants, and with the agricultural workers of the plantations, coupled with the profound mobilization of these layers, later supported by the proletariat of the cities, enabled the leadership of the July 26 Movement to raise themselves to the level of Marxist-Leninist conceptions, following in practice the line of permanent revolution formulated by Leon Trotsky.
By its own experience the Fidelista leadership confirmed the thesis that to solve the problems of the underdeveloped countries, socialist means must be adopted without stopping at the accomplishment of mere bourgeois-democratic tasks.
This is the indubitable merit of the Fidelista leadership of the July 26 Movement and the Rebel Army, made possible by its fusion with the masses in the context of the present situation in the world and in Latin America.
In the socialist construction which followed victory, the leadership of the July 26 Movement and the Rebel Army proved insufficient and the necessity reappeared for a mass revolutionary Marxist party. Then the Stalinist party played its hand – from opponent of the revolution it jumped to the opposite position, seeking to seize control of it. The development of the ORI [Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas – Integrated Revolutionary Organizations], the PURS [Partido Unificado de la Revolución Socialista – United Party of the Socialist Revolution] and finally, of the PCC [Partido Comunista de Cuba – Communist Party of Cuba] reflected the need for a party as well as the conflict between the leadership of the revolution and the Stalinist elements which, assisted by Soviet pressure, strove to put their stamp on this process and promoted the emergence of a conciliationist right wing. The outcome of these frictions, which came to a head in the Escalante affair, will have very great import for the future of the Cuban workers state.
5. The role of the peasantry in underdeveloped countries.
The still unresolved agrarian problem in the majority of the underdeveloped countries results in the presence of an enormous peasant mass making up the overwhelming majority of the population and endowed with extraordinary revolutionary potential and explosiveness. Trotsky in his What is the Permanent Revolution? Basic Postulates [the concluding chapter of Permanent Revolution], assigned the peasants an important, exceptional position in the revolution, categorically declaring that the proletariat could win only by allying itself with the peasantry.
The Cuban revolution has shown that the peasants in an underdeveloped country can play a revolutionary role and that in fighting to win the land and their liberation from feudal-capitalist exploitation, they can become a mighty stimulus to the working class. The peasantry in underdeveloped countries has close ties with the proletariat. In Cuba the sugar workers had very close connections with the peasantry. In Bolivia the workers in the factories and mines have relatives and families in the countryside, and on their vacations they work the land together with them. But when they return to the countryside they bring their proletarian spirit with them.
Peasant rebellion is a characteristic feature of underdeveloped countries in this epoch of capitalist and imperialist disintegration. But the role of the peasantry has its limitations, and it is impossible to speak of a “peasant revolution” or a “peasants government.” In the epoch of the rise of capitalism, the rebellious peasantry did not take power for itself but instead brought the bourgeoisie to power, demonstrating its limited capacity for assuming the leadership of the process. In the present epoch, in which the proletariat is the most dynamic and progressive class, peasant rebellions lead representatives of the working class to power on the basis of a worker-peasant alliance which emerges and is consolidated in the midst of struggle.
The driving force in the victory of the Castro revolution was the peasantry. The Rebel Army brought the agrarian reform on the points of its bayonets. However, as this force merged with the workers movement in the cities and on the sugar plantations, this basically bourgeois-democratic task combined with others of a socialist character. The involvement of the workers blocked the influence of the liberal bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie in the regime and later gave impetus to the anti-imperialist and anticapitalist tendencies of the revolution.
6. Geographic determinism.
Before the Cuban revolution, every time we revolutionaries raised the question of the struggle for workers power, we were told that the conditions for this did not exist, that since we live in the geographical domain of Yankee imperialism we could not maintain ourselves in power for even twenty-four hours. In Cuba, the cowards, the reformists and the opportunists maintained that their island location was prejudicial to revolution, that it was a disadvantage to be surrounded by the sea since it could serve as a highway for an invasion or a blockade. In the case of Bolivia, it was its landlocked position that constituted the disadvantage, since imperialism could instigate the neighboring countries to intervene or set up a blockade. This deterministic criterion served as the basis of a theory that the underdeveloped countries had to wait for revolution in the imperialist centers as the necessary precondition for making their own revolution. The Latin-American peoples had to wait for a social revolution to triumph in the US, then, with the oppressor’s grip broken, they could begin their own revolutions.
The triumph of the Cuban revolution upset this geographical determinism, If Cuba, barely 90 miles from the world’s greatest imperialist power, could liberate itself and abolish the regime of capitalist exploitation, the other Latin-American countries can do it also. If Cuba, a country of eight million inhabitants, could overcome economic blockade and defeat military intervention, the other peoples of this continent can do it as well. Whatever its geographic location, any people can liberate itself and maintain its revolutionary government.
The Cuban revolution has buried the geographic determinism which the pseudo-revolutionaries used to bolster their arguments.
7. Exporting revolution.
Geographic determinism exists no longer because revolution in any part of the world generates a force both domestically and internationally against which capitalism is impotent.
The Cuban revolution filled the masses of Latin America and the world with enthusiasm. Not only did it sweep away the false and opportunist notions of revolution by stages, peaceful roads and national-democratic fronts with the native bourgeoisies, not only did it isolate those who preached that a socialist revolution could not win, etc., but also, and this is the most important, it gave a powerful impetus to the mobilization of the Latin-American masses, it speeded up their political maturation. In every country the slogan, “Struggle the Cuban Way,” became the order of the day, meaning armed action and guerrilla warfare, implacable struggle against imperialism and native capitalism, radical agrarian reform, nationalization of the foreign and national exploiters – in sum, socialist revolution.
Not only were the colonial masses shaken by the Cuban revolution but so were the workers states. For the first time in history a workers state arose right under the nose of the most powerful imperialist power and without any part having been played by the Soviet Union or the Communist parties.
The Fidelista leadership had the great sagacity as well as the virtue of basing itself on these international forces. And it was precisely the mobilization of these forces which paralyzed imperialism. The US has sufficient military means to crush Cuba but does not do so for fear of the mighty international force represented by the masses mobilized in support of Cuba. The US could easily bomb Cuba but it is stopped short by the effect this would have on the Latin-American masses, who would rise up against it with colossal force. Cuba strikes fear into the US not because of its military or economic strength but because of the tremendous social power of its example for the masses.
This is what the imperialist bourgeoisie call “exporting revolution”; it is nothing other than the dynamics proper to any revolutionary process and might be termed normal for such processes. The revolution extends itself by the attractive power of its example. The world reality is a single whole, and one country’s victories are the victories of all the oppressed because they have a common enemy in imperialism. Of necessity, the revolutionary leadership is forced to guide this natural process, as Cuba did with the Second Declaration of Havana and the Tricontinental Congress, supporting revolutionary struggles and initiatives in all countries. It is still more necessary to proceed to build a Latin-American mass united front including all Marxist, workers and popular political tendencies, which would lead a coordinated struggle of our continent for national and social liberation.
The example of the Cuban revolution is valid for all of Latin America and must develop into a Soviet Socialist Federation of Latin America.
The Cuban revolution has become the heritage of all the revolutionaries and masses of Latin America and the world. Therefore it is the duty of the masses and leaders to defend it. The Tricontinental Congress showed its understanding of this in approving a resolution of support for the Cuban revolution. However, the important thing is how to make this support effective so that it does not remain a mere declaration of good intentions.
We pose the defense of the Cuban revolution in two spheres: inside Cuba and outside Cuba.
1. Inside Cuba.
The internal dangers to the revolution arise, basically, from the revolution wearing out and dying down, and from the party and the state becoming bureaucratized. These causes affect mass support of the regime, not only at home but also internationally.
Ever since Marx, revolutionaries have understood that once a revolutionary process is set in motion it must advance continually without stopping. The masses constantly require new victories, however small, to maintain their confidence. When the revolution does not advance, it slips backward.
For this reason the masses and their revolutionary leaders must be wary of theories which would check the impetus of the masses from developing, which advocate conciliation and coexistence of the contending forces, which seek to divide the process into stages.
In the initial phase of the Cuban revolution the danger of stabilization and conciliation was rather remote. But today, since the fusion of the Stalinists with the revolutionaries of the Sierra Maestra, this danger has become real. The Stalinists are promoting tendencies toward conciliation with imperialism, seeking to restrain the advance of the revolution, and they may go still further in this. Revolutionaries have a duty to warn against this danger and to combat it energetically, as in the Escalante case.
With regard to bureaucratization of the party and the state, which is a clear danger in any revolution and particularly so in underdeveloped countries, these can be averted by involving the masses in all the functions of the new state. Real socialist democracy is the antidote for bureaucratic deformations, both in the Marxist party which controls the government and in the apparatus of the workers state.
After the victory of the revolution, the revolutionary leadership has the mission of destroying the old capitalist apparatus and creating a new political organization on its ruins – the workers state.
It is in this area, that of political organization, that the Cuban revolution has made the least progress. I do not deny that the Fidelista leadership exercises some kind of check over the danger of bureaucratization, nor that this leadership has instituted a kind of “consultative or plebiscitary assembly’ where the masses come to be informed, but where they neither deliberate questions nor decide them. In our opinion, this paternalistic democracy is inadequate. In the view of the Trotskyist movement, the fact that Cuba does not yet have the proper political-social organization for a workers state represents a weakness of the revolution.
The structure of a workers state was expounded by Lenin in his fundamental work, State and Revolution: it is based on bodies democratically created by the masses.
Cuba needs soviets or workers councils. I am not arguing what form they should take, but fundamentally they must be democratically elected and must serve as instruments by which the masses can intervene, deliberate and decide on the administrative, economic and political affairs of the country. It must not be forgotten that the state which replaces the capitalist regime is nothing but the whole of the producer-masses democratically organized.
But without the wide and free play of all the different political tendencies which respect and defend the socialist organization of the country, the political organs of the Cuban workers state will have neither vitality nor the capacity to develop.
After a period of feeling their way, the Cubans organized a new Communist party under the leadership of Fidel Castro. The existence of this single party governs all political relationships in the country and other tendencies are not allowed to operate. This is a very grave error and constitutes a very serious danger, one of the most serious, because it limits the free initiative of the masses, promotes division and inhibits the enthusiasm of the masses.
In defense of revolutionary Cuba, we Trotskyists propose, on the one hand, the organization of the Cuban government along the lines of workers councils and, on the other, recognition of a plurality of organized political tendencies, either inside the present Communist Party and with all the guarantees necessary to their functioning, or within a system admitting a plurality of revolutionary parties.
It is the active masses, through the confrontation of ideas about the best forms and ways of constructing socialist Cuba, who by their initiative, their will and their courage will block the conservatization and exhaustion of the revolution and will root out bureaucratization early enough to preserve the health of the revolution.
2. Outside Cuba
We Trotskyists are convinced that only the development of the revolution breaking through national limits and extending throughout the continent and the world can insure the total and definitive triumph of socialism.
In part, this concept, which is essentially Trotskyist and opposed to the false theory of “socialism in one country,” has been adopted by the Fidelista leadership of the Cuban revolution. The appeal in the Second Declaration of Havana and the resolutions of the Tri-continental Congress calling on the Latin-American masses to take political power are examples of this. But in order to impel the world revolution forward, more than resolutions and declarations are needed; it is vital that the Cuban revolution continually advance, that it deepen and win victory after victory that can serve as an objective spur to the Latin-American masses. Thus there is a dialectical interrelationship in this process. The Cuban revolution spurs the masses on and they in turn give impetus to it. The political leaderships must understand this process, make it a conscious thing and develop it to the maximum, intervening in a resolute manner and planning action on a continental scale.
Thus from the international standpoint, defending Cuba means making the revolution in each and every one of the Latin-American countries and struggling to drive out imperialism and liquidate capitalism starting in one’s own country. We Bolivian Trotskyists want to do in Bolivia what the Fidelista leadership did in Cuba – construct our Bolivian workers state, our workers and peasants government. The Trotskyists in other countries have the same attitude. We understand that the defeat of capitalism in any one of the Latin-American countries will be the best assistance to the Cuban revolution. It is not speeches, compromises and cheap adulatory literature which will save Cuba. We Trotskyists oppose the opportunists and charlatans who maintain that the revolution is a good thing for Cuba and support it within the confines of that island but hold that it is not a good thing for Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, etc. The Stalinists seek to set up committees to support Cuba in which even the national exploiters are permitted to enter, instead of organizing revolutionary action by the masses, thereby losing the revolution’s socialist perspective.
The defense of Cuba internationally demands an energetic attitude of taking the conquests of socialism to the masses. As the decisive step toward the triumph of the world socialist revolution, the influence of the Cuban revolution must be extended to the workers of the imperialist centers, primarily the US, to sap the foundations of imperialism and prepare its rapid collapse.
The best defense of socialist Cuba is audacious, resolute revolutionary struggle.
Trotskyism and the Cuban Revolution Page | Main Newspaper Index
Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive
Last updated on 23 June 2009