Vultures hovering over Cuba after Fidel Castro steps down

On Tuesday, February 19, Fidel Castro announced he was no longer going to stand for the position as President of Cuba. This comes 19 months after Castro underwent stomach surgery. In fact he has not been in public since then. The media coverage since Castro announced his retirement has been sickening. No mention of the real social gains of the revolution, but plenty of talk about brutal dictatorship and so on.

Immediately upon hearing of Castro's statement, George W. Bush announced that this should begin a democratic transition and that, "Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections. And I mean free and I mean fair." He added that, "The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty." The blessings of liberty indeed! We may ask whether he is referring to the kind of blessings bestowed on the Iraqi or Afghan people.

The hypocrisy of the man has no limits. Everyone knows that irregularities took place when Bush was elected, so he has no authority to give lessons on democracy to anyone. Furthermore, the recent elections in Pakistan witnessed blatant vote rigging, which we can be sure was organised with the help and advice of US "experts".

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both suggested they may lift the trade embargo on condition that Cuba pursues "democratic reform". The main European powers also added their advice, saying that Castro's retirement could open the road to "democratic change".

The European Union has indicated that it wishes to relaunch diplomatic contacts with Cuba. "We reiterate our willingness to engage with Cuba in a constructive dialogue," announced EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel. He also plans to visit Cuba on March 6-7. According to one report, the EU's objectives are "to encourage peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy, respect for human rights and improvement in the living standards of Cubans".

They all pretend to be democrats when it comes to Cuba. In reality they are like vultures waiting for the day they can get their beaks and claws into the flesh of Cuba. What they are after is the end of the economic system brought into being by the Cuban revolution. They want capitalism to return to Cuba. That is what they mean by "democracy"!

"Engagement" or the Chinese road

Another fashionable term these days is "engagement". While Bush sticks to his guns and insists on the embargo being stepped up, the more intelligent bourgeois, both in the USA and Europe are raising the need for "engagement", i.e. on removing the embargo and opening up trade channels. Does this wing of the bourgeois have different interests or aims? No, they simply understand better than Bush and his obtuse circle of friends that the best way to re-introduce capitalism into Cuba is to lift the embargo, begin trading, flood Cuba with cash and let the process unfold.

That is why it is even more disgusting when we hear some reformist elements on the left advocating such "engagement". What they are actually doing is giving the bourgeois advice on how to remove this thorn in their side.

All this talk of democracy is in fact a cover for the real aims of imperialism. Not so long ago the Financial Times was giving more sober advice. They were suggesting a "Chinese road" for Cuba accompanied by a lifting of the US-sponsored embargo. The Chinese model would envisage an opening up of Cuba to capitalism accompanied by a firm grip on state power at the top.

Castro is an obstacle to capitalist restoration

Fidel Castro in fact visited China in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he didn't like what he saw. Ever since then, although forced by economic circumstance to allow certain opening to private investment he has resisted a full-fledged advance towards capitalism. That is the real reason why the bourgeois hate him: they hate the revolution that he symbolises.

We should remind these gentlemen what Cuba was like before the revolution. It was a dictatorship run by US-backed Fulgencio Batista. No calls then for "democracy". Batista was a friend of US imperialism. He ran the country for them. They were allowed to use it as their playground while the people of Cuba suffered terrible conditions.

The Cuban revolution put an end to that! It allowed the country to develop an advanced healthcare system, so much so that life expectancy was raised to the levels enjoyed in the advanced capitalist countries. It allowed for free education for all. It gave the Cuban people their dignity. It also removed the parasitic bourgeoisie and the domination of mainly US multinational corporations.

To bourgeois and petit bourgeois liberals sitting in London or New York these may seem unimportant details. After all, these liberals can pay for their healthcare. The people of Cuba cannot. These liberals will fight for "democracy" in Cuba. They will also fight for privatisation of healthcare, education and all the state-owned assets. They will fight for the right of the multinationals to plunder Cuba, to take it back to the days of Batista.

They also realise that as long as Castro is still alive, although he has retired, he will still have a lot of influence on events on the island. He still holds the position of first secretary of the Communist Party. That explains the caution of some bourgeois commentators.

They have, however, started speculating about the role of Raul Castro, who is stepping in to take over the leading role so far played by Castro. They hang on to every word the man utters, hoping to find an opening for capitalism. They have noted that as acting president since Fidel Castro fell ill 19 months ago, he has encouraged Cubans to openly debate the shortcomings of Cuba's "communist system". Although in reality he has made few changes so far, Raul Castro has raised expectations among the imperialists and the Cuban exiles in Miami, that this may be the beginning of a process that could lead to the restoration of capitalism at some stage.

Which way forward?

They will not have appreciated what Raul Castro said towards the end of last year: "The challenges we have ahead are enormous, but may no one doubt our people's firm conviction that only through socialism can we overcome the difficulties and preserve the social gains of half a century of revolution." But the same Raul Castro also announced last year in July that Cuba was open to talks to end the decades of hostility, but only when Bush has left the White House, leaving an opening for the future.

According to some reports, Raul Castro is considered to be an admirer of the Chinese model involving a loosening up of state controls. He is no doubt pushed by the need to develop the Cuban economy. The country has endured decades of embargo at the hands of US imperialism. And since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has suffered terribly. But he should be warned: the Chinese regime started with the idea of some loosening up of the economy to stimulate growth. They have ended up with the capitalist mode of production dominating the Chinese economy, i.e. with capitalism! With this most of the gains of the Chinese revolution have been lost.

The problems faced by Cuba are not to be found in the state ownership of the means of production. The problems lie in the isolation of the revolution to one country. Socialism in one country is not possible. If it was not possible in the mighty Soviet Union how can it be possible in tiny Cuba? Because of the isolation the Cuban revolution was forced to lean on Stalinist Russia and this enhanced bureaucratic tendencies.

The answer, therefore, lies not in the Chinese model. The answer lies in spreading the revolution to the rest of Latin America and beyond. This must be combined with the introduction of the workers' democracy that Lenin and Trotsky defended in the early years of the Soviet Union.

The whole of Latin America has been lurching to the left in the recent period. Venezuela is the most advanced point of the Latin American revolution. But we have also seen the revolutionary movement of the Bolivian masses, the tumultuous movement of the masses in Ecuador, the gigantic mobilisation of the Mexican masses against electoral fraud with three million on the streets.

The conditions exist for an all-Latin American Revolution. The bourgeois understand this. Cuba is still a beacon to the masses across the whole of Latin America. The imperialists want to crush the Cuban Revolution, for it still embodies the idea that an alternative to capitalism is possible, that the market is not the only economic system we can imagine. That is why they want to destroy every conquest of the Cuban Revolution. And there is a real danger that imperialism may succeed.

Imperialism cannot tolerate the Cuban revolution

If the Cuban revolution were defeated, as happened in Russia, it would have a demoralizing effect first of all on the workers, youth and peasants of the whole of South America, and even on a world scale. On the other hand the regeneration of the Cuban revolution and the victory of the Venezuelan revolution would completely transform the situation on a world scale.

Now there are important capitalist elements in Cuba. There is an increasing number of small traders, the people who hold dollars, black marketeers, who are increasingly interwoven with the party and the state. And that is the real threat to the Cuban revolution. A while back the leadership took measures to restrict the growth of the dollar economy. That will no doubt have an effect for a time, but in the long run it cannot stem the tide in the direction of a market economy.

One of the main reasons for this is the increased participation of Cuba on world markets, which they are compelled to do now with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They have no alternative. We are not against that. In and of itself it would be a progressive development. The Bolsheviks attempted to trade with the capitalists on the world market. Lenin and Trotsky actually offered American capitalists the possibility for them to conduct business in places like Siberia: to open up whole parts of Russia and lease it to them as concessions - rather it lease it to them to be correct, not give it to them. And that was absolutely correct, as long as the Bolsheviks maintained the firm control of the state. But the Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet state in its infancy was a direct threat, and therefore the American, British and French bourgeois would not trade with them. They wanted to crush the Bolshevik revolution because it was a threat.

The Cuban revolution represents a threat to capitalism and imperialism because it gives an example. Therefore the American imperialists at this stage they do not want to trade with Cuba, they want to throttle Cuba; they want to destroy Cuba.

If the truth were to be told, the American ruling class are a little bit lacking in mental equipment. If they were a bit more intelligent they would not blockade Cuba. On the contrary, they would promote trade with Cuba. That would materially assist the bourgeois counter-revolutionary forces inside Cuba. But because they are all a little bit thick - and the big boss in the White House is exceptionally thick - they do the opposite of what is required, from their class point of view.

Fidel Castro
Schafik Handal, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro and Evo Morales, in Havana in 2004.

In this way, they drive the masses behind Castro and hinder the counterrevolution. But one cannot ask an elm tree to produce pears and one cannot ask the American bourgeoisie and its political representatives to produce coherent ideas. The present US political Establishment is, in fact, a little bit mad. But as Shakespeare says in Hamlet, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it." The reason why they have this policy is that they are terrified of the effect of the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions in Latin America. They feel they have no alternative but to strangle the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions. That is why they are acting like political desperados.

The European bourgeois are more polished. They can afford to be, because their vital interests are not affected so directly. It is the US's "back yard" that is going up in flames, not theirs. Nevertheless, for all their polished politeness and diplomacy, they are equally hostile to the Cuban Revolution and equally in favour of a capitalist counterrevolution. The difference is between advocating murder by strangulation - which is noisy and inconvenient - or murder by slow poisoning - which is more discreet.

The intense pressure of American imperialism on Cuba has had the effect of infuriating the masses. There is a long tradition of anti-imperialist struggle in Cuba. The Cuban people do not like to be bullied by American imperialism. But of course this has provoked a split in the Cuban leadership. One wing wants to compromise with US imperialism and go towards capitalism and the other wing led by Castro wants to resist it.

The enormous authority of Castro galvanized the anti-capitalist elements. He has played a key role. They have been trying to take measures to stop the slide towards capitalism. They have recently taken a very drastic step of trying to stop the dollarization of the Cuban economy. The Cuban economy was becoming dollarized, and that was one of the spearheads of capitalist restoration. So they passed a decree to stop it on November 14, 2004.

El Pais, the Spanish paper, made quite a penetrating bourgeois analysis of this process. It says: "dollars brought to Cuba contamination and inequality [...] a real cancer for a system based on equalitarianism. As well as an economic perversion introduced by the system of a dual currency." The paper quotes a Cuban as saying: "On the one side there was the dollar, a strong currency produced by foreign banks, which entered freely into the market and over which there was no control. On the other hand there were Cuban pesos, of little purchasing power, which were used to pay us our wages."

The Cuban leaders tried to stop this. But they tried to stop it by bureaucratic means, and this will not work in the long run. The point that we would make in Cuba is that you cannot fight effectively against capitalism by bureaucratic means, and you cannot fight against capitalism without fighting against that wing of the bureaucracy that is pulled in the direction of capitalism.

Castro is very popular in Cuba but the bureaucracy is not popular. Therefore, it is not possible to limit the struggle against capitalist restoration to the demand for the maintenance of the status quo. The masses do not want the maintenance of the status quo, but to improve their living standards, to increase their rights and to push the Revolution forward to new heights. This is unthinkable without a struggle against the evils of corruption, careerism and bureaucracy - the real ground upon which the capitalist tendencies are growing.

Slogans like "Down with Castro. Down with the Castro dictatorship" are the slogans of the émigrés in Miami. They are not our slogans. At a time when Fidel Castro represents that section that is trying to fight against capitalism, that is a monstrous position. That is what Bush is saying. Instead, we should say, "let's direct our fire against these rotten bourgeois, these millionaires, these people who have accumulated fortunes in dollars. Let's purge them. Let's get rid of them. Down with the nascent bourgeoisie!" "Down with corruption." We should be attacking the agents of imperialism in Cuba who are undermining the planned economy and destroying socialism.