The Cuban Revolution at the Crossroads

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 is one of the most significant events of the last 50 years. The elimination of capitalism and landlordism and the introduction of a nationalised, planned economy allowed collosal advances to be made. But the disappearance of the USSR has had catastrophic consequences for the Cuban economy. David Rey looks at the current perspectives and the tasks of revolutionaries.
Translated from La revolución cubana en la encrucijada de David Rey

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 is one of the most significant events of the last 50 years. Cuba has been a beacon of struggle and resistence against American imperialism for millions of workers, poor peasants and youth of Latin America and the rest of the world. The Cuban Revolution forged leaders of the stature of Che Guevara, martyr and revolutionary, heritage of the oppressed of the world. His image and fighting spirit have been justly transformed into a raised banner for millions of revolutionaries all over the world.

The elimination of capitalism and landlordism and the introduction of a nationalised, planned economy has allowed collosal advances to be made in Cuban society - in areas such as health, education, culture, childcare and an improvement in the situation of women - despite the enormous difficulties, the lack of resources and the economic blockade imposed on Cuba by American imperialism for over 40 years.

It is a duty for all Marxists and conscious workers to unconditionally defend the conquests of the revolution and oppose by all means any attempt by imperialism to undermine the planned economy and reestablish capitalism in Cuba. Furthermore, given the undeniable sympathies that the Cuban revolution has arisen in millions of workers and youth all around the world, its defeat would give the bourgeoisie a formidable ideological and propaganda weapon - to show the workers once more that there is no alternative to capitalism - which would undoubtedly have an effect on the consciousness of the masses.

The hypocrisy of imperialism

The bourgeois intellectuals and the capitalist press have all these years insisted on hightlighting the absence of democratic rights in Cuba.

Obviously, whatever criticisms that are made by these people are brimming with hypocrisy. In particular, the concern for human rights on the part of the leaders of the (Spanish) Popular Party is outrageous - buddies of the Miami-based Cuban mafia, and participants and heirs of the Franco dictatorship in Spain, that working class families suffered under for 40 years. It goes without saying that the same concerns coming from the mouths of US presidents and their acolytes in the rest of the world hardly have any effect on the class concious workers and youth of the world.

These are the same people who have supported and promoted vicious dictators in every region of the planet to safeguard the interests of the monopolies and the multinational capitalists! They planned and perpetrated every type of crime in the bloody dictatorships of Chile, Argentina and Indonesia and brought destruction and poverty to Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia and more recently, Afghanistan. No, we the workers cannot give these people the slightest creditability. There are our class enemies, and tomorrow they will not hesitate to try to use the same methods against us if they see that the continuation of their system is in danger.

In reality, to these people the most basic of human rights and democracy are of no consequence - neither in Cuba nor the rest of the world. What they cannot stand in Cuba is the existence of a social system that is at odds with capitalism, that prevents the multinationals and the metropolitan imperialists from taking over and plundering the resources of the island to increase their profits - at the expense of taking Cuban society back 50 years and leaving in their wake poverty and hardships for the masses - like we see in the surrounding countries.

The reintroduction of capitalism in Cuba would bring with it a gigantic catastrophe - economic, social and cultural.

But at bottom what worries them most about Cuba, is that the economic system and the conquests of the revolution that it has inherited, might become at a given moment a point of reference for the masses in the poorest and least-developed capitalist countries, giving impetus to the fight against capitalism in these countries.

Nevertheless, Cuba is confronted with important challenges and it is vital for the future of the revolution to take a correct position in relation to these. For the same reason Marxists have an obligation to carefully follow the situation in Cuba and study and explain our opinions on it.

Socialism in one country or world socialism

The Marxists of El Militante have maintained a clear position on the Cuban Revolution from the outset.

However, for Marxists socialism is something that must be constructed on a world scale, because only with the democratic and harmonious planning of resources and the productive forces on an international scale, can the necessary premises be created for ensuring superior conditions of life, society and culture for the whole population of the planet to those that now exist in the most developed capitalist countries - and from here to continually raise these and end the legacy of barbarism and poverty that capitalism has to offer. Surely this is the historical justification for socialism?

It is our obligation as Marxists to tell the truth to the workers in Cuba and the rest of the world. In this sense we are disciples of the Latin maxim that says: "Plato is my friend, but I like the truth more."

An isolated country with a planned economy as exists in Cuba, and as existed in the former USSR, cannot survive indefinitely surrounded by a hostile capitalist environment. Decades of isolation and fierce imperialist harassment have given rise to inevitable distortions in the economy and the political leadership, that can threaten at a given moment the continuation of the system. Furthermore, the loss of the goal of the world socialist revolution will always degenerate into a narrow nationalist vision, with the search for impossible diplomatic agreements with the different capitalist powers and the abandoning of the fight for the world socialist revolution.

The only guarantee of the survival of the Cuban revolution lies in the world revolution, in extending the socialist revolution to the whole of Latin America and then to the most developed capitalist countries. In this way socialism would have a guaranteed future, not only in Cuba but on an international level.

The nature of the Cuban regime

Unlike the classical workers' revolutions, the Cuban revolution did not triumph as an insurrectional movement of the working class in the cities, but through a guerrilla army composed of peasants, intellectuals, isolated workers on the run in the mountains, and students. Despite this, the final triumph was decided thanks to a general strike in Havana. The Cuban working class was not the leading force of the revolution nor did it act though its own organs of workers' power, like it created in Russia and in other places. The subsequent nationalisation of the majority of the economy gave rise formally to the creation of a workers' state in a peculiar way. Unlike Russia in 1917-22 when power rested with the soviets (workers' councils) of workers and peasants, the real power in Cuba rested with the hierarchical structure of the guerrilla army that occupied the empty space left by the disappearance of the capitalist state. This was inevitable, given the absence of genuine organs of workers' power emanating from the factories, companies, and agricultural estates. And this continues to be the case today. All fundamental decisions on the economy and society are taken directly by the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. The problem is that this creates the conditions for the appearance of bureaucratic tendencies and social differentiation in the standards of living between different layers of the population, according to the position that they occupy in society.

The links between the Cuban leaders with the Stalinist USSR forced them to perpetuate this political system. But this form of state is not the true workers' democracy that Lenin summarised in his famous four points, extracting the lessons from past revolutionary experiences.

  • Free and democratic elections to all positions in the state, with the right of immediate recall.
  • No state employee should receive a wage higher then the average wage of a skilled worker.
  • All the tasks of administering and running the economy and the state to be performed by everyone in turn.
  • No standing army separate from the people. Arms must remain in the hands of the population in the form of workers' militias.

It is true that because of the reasons given above - the isolation of the Cuban revolution, the shortage of resources and the small size of the country in an implacably hostile capitalist environment - makes it very difficult to put these measures into practice, which is why we emphasise that the only hope for the Cuban revolution is its extension on an international scale.

It is impossible to construct socialism in an isolated country. If by socialism we understand the existence of a society where the development of the productive forces, social welfare and culture would be superior to that of the most developed capitalist country that exists today, then we must admit that in Cuba socialism still does not exist - and neither did it exist in the former USSR - but it is a regime in transition to socialism. On the other hand, authentic workers' democracy implies that the elements of coercion and repression, far from growing stronger, should wither away and finally disappear. Socialism is incompatible with the absence of basic democratic rights, such as freedom of expression, the existence of whatever organisations defend the conquests of the revolution and the freedom to publicly participate in all aspects of social life. And we have to admit that all these elements of workers' democracy are still not present in Cuba.

Who are the true friends of the Cuban revolution?

We think that the Cuban leaders, with Castro at the head, are mistaken when they seek the saving of the destiny of the Cuban revolution by trusting in reaching diplomatic agreements with some capitalist governments, by taking advantage of possible frictions that these may have with American imperialism, or creating illusions in the work of characters like Jimmy Carter (former president of the United States) or the Pope, professed agents of capitalism and its interests. These "friends" will not hesitate for an instant to help the counter-revolution in Cuba to reinstate capitalism there when the conditions demand it.

The Cuban leaders must find their allies in the world working class, making a call to the workers of the world to actively oppose the attempts by the capitalists to stifle the Cuban economy, and to encourage them in their fight for socialism in each country. It is true that the Bolsheviks, in the life of Lenin, also signed commercial and diplomatic agreements with the different capitalist powers, but this did not stop them for a moment in encouraging the socialist revolution in every country. This was the role of the Communist International.

If the Cuban leaders acted like true communists they would make a call to the working class, to the youth and to the rank and file of the communist and socialist parties and organisations of the world to organise themselves within these organisations around the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. At the same time, an energetic call would be made to promote a new international Marxist organisation which would find a powerful echo everywhere, and the position of Cuba would be strengthened, as would the forces of revolutionary Marxism on an international level. In this way the task of the socialist revolution would advance tremendously in every corner of the planet.

The economic situation in Cuba

In the last analysis, the development of the economy is decisive for the future of the Cuban revolution. No country in the world can escape from the crushing domination exerted by the world market. Cuba is learning this lesson harshly, particularly after the fall of the Stalinist regime in the former USSR.

After the elimination of capitalism on the island and its passing into the "soviet" orbit, the economic dependence on the USSR was decisive for the growth and development of the Cuban economy. More than 40% of foreign trade was with the USSR and 80% of trade was with the former Stalinist countries of Eastern Europe and Asia. The USSR sold oil very cheaply to Cuba, which subsequently resold some of it at international prices, obtaining important hard currencies. At the same time it was the USSR that bought the best part of the Cuban sugar production, the principal productive resource of the island.

But the disappearance of the Stalinist Bloc has had catastrophic consequences for the Cuban economy. Between 1989 and 1993 the gross domestic product, that is the wealth created in the island, fell by an astonishing 35%. Today Cuba produces only 87% of what it did in 1989.

In view of the economic catastrophe, in 1991 the Cuban leaders launched the so-called Special Period: the establishment of a kind of "war economy" in order to face the crisis, fixed a serious cut in the standard of living of the population, cut back expenditure and stimulated production of consumer goods for export at the expense of the internal market - to obtain the maximum hard currency with which to buy the essential goods that were lacking.

The other aspect of these measures was the opening up of the Cuban economy to foreign investment to stimulate the development of the productive forces, at different levels. In some cases with the freedom to export capital for these companies and others with shares in joint projects. The monopoly on foreign trade was partly liberalized and in a limited way individuals were allowed to open businesses, mainly orientated towards tourism. The foreign investment mainly centred on tourism, although also in other fields such as nickel production, Cuba being the sixth biggest producer in the world. The aim of these measures, besides reviving the economy, is obtaining hard currency in dollars through the profits of tourism and taxes on the private sector.

In Cuba today there is a monetary system with two parallel currencies: the dollar and the Cuban peso. This has deepened the social inequalities. This is owing to the fact that the population that lives on dollars has access to a much larger market of consumption goods than those that live on Cuban pesos (the vast majority), besides taking into account that the American dollar is worth around 21 pesos.

This has increased the contradictions within Cuban society between the majority that suffers shortages and a minority that lives comfortably. Inside this last layer is the petit bourgeoisie that lives off private business, but also the best part of the ruling stratum of the Cuban state. For this reason the Cuban government is obliged to periodically limit the petit-bourgeois tendencies to soften the social clashes. In all cases the state sector of the economy continues to be overwhelming, around 90%.

The dependence of the Cuban economy on the ups and downs of the world economy is greater than at any time in its history. This has meant that in recent years, from 1997 to 2000, Cuba experienced a significant growth, with GDP growth exceeding 5%. Nevertheless, this tendency came to an end last year when economic growth remained low at 3%. The perspectives for this year is that the stagnation will deepen. This is for various reasons. There has been a strong fall in tourist activity which is the principal productive activity of the island. Tourism grew only by 1% in 2001 and between January and April of this year fell by 15%. The international prices of sugar and nickel have also fallen, and have consequently generated less income in hard currencies to the Cuban economy. Today the sugar sector is suffering from a severe crisis (3.5 million tonnes were produced in 2001, compared with around 9 million tonnes in 1989) and the Cuban government has announced the cutting of 100,000 jobs in this sector.

The increase in the price of oil is also having fatal consequences for the Cuban economy. Cuba imports around two thirds of its crude oil requirements. Until April, Chávez's Venezuela supplied a third of this at friendly prices - less than what was paid on the world market, providing a breathing space for the Cuban economy. But after the failed coup against Chávez, the Venezuela state oil company has surprisingly decided to cut the supply to Cuba using the excuse that they have not paid for some of the supplies. This has further aggravated the situation. It is calculated that for each dollar rise in the price of a barrel of oil, Cuba has an additional annual expenditure of almost $50 million.

Thanks to the planned economy, the state subsidises the most part of basic products of consumption of the population, which partially cushions the effects of the crisis. But a deep and long-lasting economic crisis in the capitalist world economy would create unsolvable economic contradictions in the Cuban economy by the lack of resources and hard currency.

Political perspectives

Despite the capitalist propaganda, Fidel Castro still enjoys a significant political and moral authority amongst the majority of the Cuban people. That does not mean that the Cuban people are unaware of the shortages in their standard of living and the abuses, of the suffocating bureaucracy and of the corruption that occurs in the highest spheres of the political system. But they compare their situation with that of the surrounding countries and are conscious that the conquests of the revolution are indissolubly linked with the maintenance of the nationalised planned economy.

But in the medium to long term this situation cannot be maintained. In particular, with the disappearance of the figure of Castro, without the existence of a leader with the same authority and influence among the masses.

The capitalist powers would manoeuvre between the Cuban leaders to attempt to open up larger holes for the penetration of the capitalist economy; they will attempt to widen their base of support amongst the population for capitalist ideas - in particular those sections that live off dollars - with lots of propaganda containing impossible promises of increases in the standard of living and with a high dose of demagogy in favour of "democracy". They would open inevitable fissures between a section of the Cuban CP leadership that would bet on opening up to the market and another section which would understand that dismantling the planned economy would lead to disaster. The Cuban mafia of Miami will remain eagerly waiting with a knife in its teeth to take its revenge after decades of humiliating exile. This situation of uncertainty will move a section of the population. And that could even include a civil war and the possibility of a bloody victory of the capitalist counter-revolution on the island.

We consider it an incorrect position of those who, coming from the left, attempt to make the Cuban people drowsy with soothing phrases asserting that the capitalist counter-revolution will never come to Cuba. They said the same about the former USSR and the Stalinist countries of Eastern Europe.

In the coming years the Cuban revolution will face a crossroads: capitalism or socialism, socialism or a regression to barbarism. Correspondingly, the Cuban working class and the militants and leaders inside the Cuban CP that are truly communist, will equip themselves with the political and organisational strategies needed to face this challenge, fighting to change the deficiencies in the Cuban regime and promoting the socialist revolution beyond the frontiers of the island.

July 2002

This article was translated from the original Spanish version.