I What is the Significance of the Cuban Revolution?
The historic significance of the Cuban revolution still has not registered among Marxist and revolutionary-minded people. One day the revolution will go down as one of the most important events in the history of humanity’s struggle for freedom. That Cuba’s significance is not fully appreciated testifies to the effectiveness of the imperialist blockade of the island. This blockade has been not merely economic, but also an intellectual blockade. That Cuban communism does not appeal to many Marxists in part reflects the blockade’s effectiveness in constructing an intellectual wall and poisoning the air. The blockade has cut off accurate information about Cuba, and instead broadcast years of misinformation.
Anti-Cuban stories have gained a measure of credibility among some of Cuba’s supporters, particularly by raising doubts in their minds. In the 1960s Fidel allegedly drove Che away and had him done away with. In the mid-70s Castro allegedly became a Soviet pawn. In 1996 Cuba allegedly shot down innocent planes over international waters. Castro deals drugs. “Human rights” activists are jailed for exercising their freedom of expression; even Amnesty International has jumped on this bandwagon. And the two propaganda favorites after forty years, Cuba is Castro’s private fiefdom and the economy is on the brink of collapse.
Anti-Cuban propaganda aims itself not only at the politically uneducated, but at progressives and Marxists, hitting on the sensitive issues: one-party dictatorship, bureaucratism, government corruption and privilege, inadequate aid to other revolutions. By then blockading access to Cuba’s response, it has scored a number of successes.
However, Marxists in the West have not forcefully combated this propaganda. Over the last 30 years, from the late 1960s until now, the degeneration of Marxism in the West, and the degeneration of the whole world revolutionary movement in the past thirty years can be measured by the extent they distance themselves from socialist Cuba. Very few Marxist newspapers and journals have celebrated 40 years of the Cuban revolution. Very few have printed any of Castro’s speeches defending revolutionary principles and socialism. Marxist tendencies worldwide announce their moral confusion by alienating themselves from the Cuban example. We must look again at what the Cuban revolution means to the world.
1. The Cuban revolution stands out in history for having not only successfully created its own revolutionary government, but also for adhering to its original principles and goals longer than any other revolutionary state. It has withstood imperialism’s unrelenting economic, political and military pressures for 40 years without compromising or caving in. Other revolutions that inspired the world have either collapsed after a few years or have backtracked to a great degree.
Revolutionary Soviet Russia and Nicaragua endured 7-8 years, the Great French Revolution about five, Grenada only 3-4. Vietnam’s liberation struggle, like China’s, degenerated a few years after victory. Most other revolutionary movements, such as France in 1968, Portugal in 1976, failed to establish their own revolutionary governments. And typically, if the movement did succeed in establishing a government it was not a revolutionary one (the American Revolution, Mexico in 1917, Chile in 1970, the 1979 Iranian revolution).
No revolutionary movement has been in power for this length of time, for half, or even a quarter that time. The powerful enemies of revolution have never succeeded in creating divisions in the Cuban leadership, nor in dividing the leadership from the people. Soviet Russia, Communist China, Nicaragua, the French Revolution, all succumbed to this fate.
Cuba outshines countless revolutionary and militant movements in our own country. For us in the U.S. today, the 1960s and early 1970s Black, anti-war and women’s movements are but a memory and examples of struggle. None created a leadership able to hold up in a long-term struggle to attain their goals. We can only look back on those times as partial victories, proud memories and inspirations for our continuing struggles.
But Cuba did not suffer this fate. Their revolutionary history is not a memory, but a living reality. Fidel speaks today just as he did when Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were alive; he speaks today just as he did during the 1960s anti-war youth movement. Che lives on in the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Cubans. Those of us committed to the struggle need to ask why Cuba has remained the same bulwark of struggle against the unjust world order while all others have caved in.
2. Like us, American fighters for social justice, Cubans have had to confront the effects of numerous defeats on national liberation struggles many times over the years. Defeats often turn revolutionary-minded people away from political action, towards abandoning their political convictions. Lack of visible struggles, and defeats without a fight, inevitably drives others to turn inward, towards minding their own private lives.
Cubans also have had to face this wearing effect of having no advancing liberation struggles to look to. Yet neither the Cuban CP nor the Cuban people have become demoralized by the long isolation of the Cuban revolution, which has now lasted at least 15 years.
It is all the more remarkable that the Cuban revolution has endured with such strength given the victories U.S. imperialism has scored over the past decade. By 1988 the Sandinistas had put aside their original program, and the whole Central American revolution soon compromised itself out of existence. Later, Cuba’s allies in the Soviet bloc disintegrated. This blow terminated the revolution’s relations with its established trading and political partners. Few expected Cuba could sustain itself without Soviet support. Later, in 1991 the U.S. went to war with Iraq, which similarly crumbled without a fight. Again, this year Belgrade’s resistance to the NATO onslaught disintegrated without a struggle. Not only have imperialist enemies collapsed with only token resistance, the worst sort of defeat, but there have been no new revolutions for twenty years.
These continuing defeats without putting up a fight stand in glaring contrast to the 1960s when the Vietnamese fought heroically against overwhelming military odds. In 1968 the future held exciting prospects of determined, self-sacrificing struggles winning victories against our common enemy. The determined struggle of a people fighting for freedom inspires people all over the world that they too can change their lives. They see there is a force in the world willing to fight to change the powers that be.
Now, on the other hand, imperialist military power simply overruns its opponents. Most of its opponents, rather than bracing for a principled and determined stand, simply talk tough, then run for cover.
This long drought has a profoundly bitter impact on revolutionary-minded people, which we may not consciously notice. Today the peoples still remain on the defensive, though we have survived the 1988-93 period when the U.S. government asserted its power over the world almost without resistance.
Yet, contrary to many Marxists, Cuba never abandoned its ideals; it never abandoned socialism in the early 1990s. It was not confused by the collapse of the Soviet bloc; this never led Cuban leaders to doubt their own principles. The Cuban Communist Party remains the only political force in the world of any weight that continues to fight against imperialism, that has not become demoralized, succumbed to political confusion, or capitulated.
3. The Cuban revolution has integrated the national aspirations of a people with Marxism more effectively and practically than any other 20th century revolutionary trend. The bedrock of the Cuban revolution lies in its satisfying the people’s longing for national independence, along with the natural humanitarian desire to aid the exploited classes. The two have become so closely intertwined that it is impossible to state whether the Cuban leadership is primarily nationalist or communist. This nationalist and humanitarian core of the Cuban revolution has remained at its center since the 1950s.
Only the hard-hearted can go to Cuba without being struck by the humanism, true Christian spirit that permeates the society. Putting the needs of those more disadvantaged than yourself above your own has been a sacred principle of the revolution. The basis for Cuba’s national and international policies is the feeling we are a human family, that our duty is to reach out and aid others in their struggle.
The humanism of Cuban communism contrasts starkly with Marxism in the United States. Here there is a distinct lack of comradeship among those who call themselves Marxists. A one-sided intellectual, semi-sectarian approach to Marxism has been the norm since the time of Eugene Debs. Here it is customary to regard Marxists who do not agree with us as opponents. This new type of infantile disorder of Marxism is alien to the Cuban revolution.
4. The Cuban revolution sets the only 20th century example of Marxism since Lenin that is not doctrinaire, derived from so-called first principles, be they Marxist-Leninist, Maoist, Stalinist, Trotskyist. The revolution has been practical, putting the interests of the working class movement above ideological schemas.
Marxism embodies the lessons of the history of the proletariat’s and poor people’s struggle to solve the problems we face in life. It explains that the solution to our problems lies in taking control of government power, in removing the parasites who nurture themselves on the sweat of our labor. Marxism is not a dogma, but the conclusions revolutionary fighters have drawn from painful practical experience in the struggle for our freedom. Here the Cubans’ Marxism is not just in their books, but runs in their veins.
5. The Cuban Revolution is the first and so far only victorious socialist revolution led by non-Stalinists since the October 1917 Russian Revolution. For a great period of time Stalinist parties were the only organizations able to carry through socialist revolutions. Yet these revolutions, occurring directly after World War II, have showed they could not survive under this form of leadership.
Cuba has shown that a socialist society can be built, one that does not fall back into capitalism because of its own contradictions. This had begun to happen in the Soviet bloc countries even before 1989. The ones that still exist, in China, Vietnam, and North Korea have increasingly adopted capitalist methods, and no longer serve as any inspiration to the people of the world.
6. In our own lifetimes, no Marxist grouping has ever been able to reach out to and integrate itself with the working class – save the Cuban Communist Party. In putting into practice this fundamental purpose of Marxist-Leninist party, the Cuban leadership has excelled all other leaderships. In the United States it became a leftist dogma that a communist party brought Marxism-Leninism to the proletariat and led it in the class struggle. Now it is a communist fairy tale. Only Cuba considers it a daily, practical task.
7. Working class history shows that the state power of the exploited classes, the revolution, cannot be maintained if the alliance between workers and peasants against their exploiters is broken. In Cuba the bond between these two classes has been the firmest of any popular revolution. Even under Lenin’s Bolshevik leadership, this alliance suffered more damage in five years than Cuba’s has in forty.
Cuba, for example, has been the only so-called Communist country that carried out a radical land reform with the actual consent of the peasants. The revolutionary alliance of workers and peasants has not been blighted by forced collectivization of the land, such as Stalin’s in 1928-29, or Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” These created a land “reform” against the desires of the peasants, sacrificing their interests to those of the urban classes.
8. Today the continuing Cuban revolution dispels the myth that a revolution in a small, poor Third World country cannot endure without the aid of a superpower, such as the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the Soviet Union was a bulwark new revolutionary countries needed to rely on. These countries required Soviet support; they could not stand up to American imperialism by themselves. Without this help they were forced to compromise with their powerful imperialist enemy to maintain even modest revolutionary gains.
Cuba’s continued survival shows this to be myth, not fact. It has faced as severe an economic dislocation as any revolution has, while receiving only token foreign assistance. The whole Soviet bloc collapsed in the early 1990s, causing a greater economic and political threat to the revolution than anything American imperialism had accomplished. Yet since Cuba measured its strength in its own workers and farmers, with or without a Soviet umbrella, it stayed afloat and firm. Even though undergoing a serious economic breakdown, even though self-doubt overcame the world progressive movement, Cuba showed that genuine revolutions can survive and advance while isolated in a capitalist world.
It is not merely false to claim that without the Soviet bloc, socialist revolutions in Third World countries are off the agenda for the foreseeable future. In fact only a popular revolution like Cuba’s can stand up to imperialism. No other country in the past 10 years has been able to withstand U.S. might: Panama, Russia, Iraq, Yugoslavia.
By withstanding 40 years of constant imperialist economic, political and military pressure, Cuba sets an example for all humanity how national dignity and economic independence can be won. The Cuban revolutionary movement never headed into the dead-end others did, but continues as a pole of attraction for revolutionary forces in the world, encouraging others to struggle.
It has shown the peoples how to defend themselves against long-term efforts to violently overthrow revolutions. We can recognize its uniqueness when we realize no other nation, movement or leadership has accomplished this in human history. Its firm example to the rest of the world explains the American rulers’ unending hatred. For if Cuba can still move ahead on its own, other peoples can say to themselves, why can’t we?
9. Cuba exists as living proof that a world can be built where no one has unearned or unmerited privilege or status. No, this is not some utopian dream. For those who have been to Cuba, the country presents a common sense and humane manner of ordering social relations. By contrast, relations at work in the US, between workers and bosses, or institutional relations, between customers and companies, between citizens and government bureaucracies, are hierarchical and typically authoritarian. Here in the U.S. we face a dictatorial system, both on the job and with the government. On the job we are all “associates”, with the government, we are all “citizens” but once we choose to exercise our supposed rights, their boot reminds us of our real place.
In Cuba work relations and relations with the government are predominantly communal and non-authoritarian. It is the only state on the planet with no entrenched bureaucracy keeping down the people. In daily life, in routine relations among people, between neighbors, in school, on the job, Cuba has created an alternative set of values to those of capitalist society. Cuba shows us a living example that we can now build an egalitarian socialist system.
10. The social accomplishments of this small Third World country clearly show that a practical and realistic alternative exists to the inhumane life which most people on the planet now suffer from. In Cuba there has been a thoroughgoing redistribution of wealth, a job for everyone who wants to work, a childcare system on a mass scale. It has a level of education, an infant mortality rate and life expectancy comparable to the richest countries of the world, major advances in the quality of life, and more equality for Blacks and women than we have here. These have been accomplished not by a wealthy country, but by one suffering shortages, rationing, and blockade. If a small country can build this humane system under these harsh conditions, then so can any other country.
Even the major worries haunting people who live in rich countries: insecurity over losing our job, having impossible medical expenses, affording a good education for our children, have been relegated to history in Cuba.
11. Equally important, culture, art and education in the rich countries have been commercialized, reduced to merchandise bought and sold on the market. Beyond eliminating material want, on the spiritual side of human life, Cuba has shown that culture and human values can exist as more than mere commercial products. In the U.S., property, wealth and social position determines our personal worth. The rich down to the middle class are regarded as possessing more value as human beings than the working poor and Third World peoples solely because they possess more green pieces of paper. Capitalist American society views our human value as measured solely by our wealth and earning power.
A visitor to Cuba is struck by the absence of this spiritual barrenness. Personal worth based on property and wealth has been discredited, replaced by a high level of social solidarity. Looking out for our family and ourselves has been replaced by pitching in to build a better world for all. Che’s statement, placed on every hospital entrance, exemplifies this spirit, “A child’s life is worth more than all the wealth of the richest man in the world.”
12. Cuba possesses the only revolutionary leadership in history that has continually relied on and organized massive popular mobilizations of not only hundreds of thousands, but millions of Cubans. No other leadership, no other movement, in the U.S. or elsewhere, has been able to sustain such popular participation for so long a period. Anyone who works in the movement here in the U.S. knows how difficult it is even to turn out a few hundred people for a political event. But Cuban leadership, in a country only moderately larger than the metropolitan areas of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, can organize over a million people to turn out annually in marches demanding national dignity.
13. The revolution draws its power from its organization of the people: PCC (Communist Party of Cuba), UJC (Union of Young Communists), ANAP (National Association of Small Farmers), FEU (Federation of University Students), CTC, (Federation of Cuban Trade Unions), CDR, (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) Poder Popular, FMC (Federation of Cuban Women), National Revolutionary Militias, later the Territorial Militias, FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces). People are organized in school, in factories, at work, in their neighborhoods. Few people are abandoned, disconnected from some social force. Yet belonging to an organization is entirely voluntary. In these organizations people discuss their problems and how to address them. They are learning to administer themselves, taking action to solve their problems collectively, rather than waiting on governmental decisions.
Here we see the state beginning to wither away: its functions are being taken over more and more by the people themselves. In Cuba the state is no longer an alien body ruling over society, but the two more and more merge into one.
14. One key to the continuing strength of the Cuban revolution is that the leadership always respected the people it represented. It always explained to the people what it was doing and why. In 1959 Cuba was merely a banana republic, a poor, backward country of six million, producing only sugar, having no military weight. Yet it was able to defend itself against the American superpower during the first years of the revolution solely because it politically educated its people. They accomplished this in a simple, but rarely tried means, by telling the truth to the Cuban workers and peasants. They knew that arming people with the truth concerning the causes and solutions to Cuba’s condition was decisive to defending the revolution.
As Harry Villegas, one of Che’s comrades in Bolivia, explained, “One thing the revolution has always done is explain things to those who don’t fully understand. In that sense, Fidel has been a patient teacher, concerning himself with reaching even the least informed citizen. That’s why people say that Fidel is an educator, and it’s true. He’s a master at helping people understand. And people have seen that his ideas correspond to reality. That is why they trust him.”
15. Both Che and Fidel have emphasized that building socialism and communism is not only a matter of increasing production to meet human needs rather than private profit, not only an equitable distribution of wealth among the people. Just as important is building the political participation and revolutionary consciousness of the toiling majority to create an economic reorganization of society in the interests of all. Other countries that attempted to build a socialist system went about it in a way that obstructed the direct, real, effective involvement of the population, relying instead on orders and obedience.
Cuba’s continued survival shows that a successful revolution demands that working people cease being objects of blind economic laws that determine our living and working conditions and social relations. A viable revolution demands more than some elite administering the means of production in the interests of the working class. Instead working people themselves must learn to take control over society’s productive forces and to solve society’s problems by themselves.
In Cuba we find working people being organized and politically educated, enabling them to slowly exercise growing decision-making power over economic and social questions that determine production and shape their own lives. As workers take increasing control of economic administration and political decision-making, they become increasingly motivated to work for the benefit of society, whether in Cuba or worldwide, not just to improve their own lives.
Therefore, for the first time in history a state has been built where the people are the subjects of history, making history, not merely the objects of historical process taking place over their heads, over their private lives.
16. Cuba has learned and taught us many lessons on the question of moral versus material incentives. These peculiar terms in fact address the question of what motivates human beings. To what extent do we learn by example, are we inspired to become better people by emulating those we find exemplary, and to what extent are we motivated to act because we are rewarded with more material possessions? This itself is the question of building the new man and woman, the type of person who embodies the humane values exemplified by Che, or the great leaders of the world religions.
Castro said on the 20th anniversary of Che’s death, “What are we rectifying? All those things that strayed from the spirit of solidarity among people.” Moral and materials incentives must be used to build solidarity, a collective spirit of cooperation among people to build a better society. Insofar as these incentives create the opposite, individual solutions to social problems, selfishness, they should be discarded.
17. Cuba’s international outlook was summed up by Che Guevara at the United Nations in 1964, and lives on today. “We morally support and stand in solidarity with peoples who struggle anywhere in the world to make a reality of the rights of full sovereignty proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.” Cuba has supported any struggle by any people anywhere aimed at achieving national independence, national dignity, that is anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist.
This has also been the core of its foreign policy, its approach to any new outbreaks in the world. Cuba supports those that improve the national struggle and living conditions of the peoples of the world, opposing those that set them back. As Jose Ramon Balaguer, a Cuban leader said in 1998, “Why struggle to adapt ourselves to the world instead of fighting for a new world? What is needed is a new world order that places human beings at the center of its concerns, that universalizes solidarity and social justice…. That is capable of replacing the anarchy of the market and of leading society to direct the world according to the interests of humanity.”
The Cuban Communist Party has always sought collaboration with any forces struggling against imperialist domination, whether they share the same perspectives or not. The Cuban CP has taken advantage of social and economic struggles around the world to try to push these movements forward. Being revolutionaries, they seek to bring together disparate movements into fighting alliances for common struggle.
18. Unlike the Bolsheviks the Cuban CP has never had a clear orientation to the working class, particularly in the imperialist countries. It adheres more to a Third Worldist than an international working class worldview, focusing on organizing the oppressed nations of the world, not on the world proletariat. Even with the former Soviet bloc countries, Cuba oriented exclusively to governments, not to the working people. Cuba centers itself in the Third World struggle against imperialism, not in the working class struggle against capitalism. One result is the working class, especially the white workers of the imperialist centers have not been given much attention. While Cuba pays attention to Black and brown Americans, it does so not as workers but as American representatives of the Third World.
19. The Cuban leadership has also been more empirical or trial-and-error than Lenin’s leadership. Comparing the New Economic Policy under Lenin to the Special Period under Castro illustrates this. During the retreat of the NEP, Lenin laid out clearly where the Bolshevik Party was leading Soviet Russia and why. The Cuban leadership did not in the early years of the Special Period. It adopted measure after measure to counter the desperate economic situation, but it presented no overall perspective to the Cuban people about where they were heading. The Cuban leadership simply held to its principles and continued fighting to preserve the revolution month-by-month, the best way they knew how. This now has changed considerably, since at least by 1997 there has been much greater confidence in the future.
The Cubans’ international revolutionary strategy after the death of Che and his guerilla struggle in Bolivia also showed this empirical approach. While they no longer upheld guerilla armed struggle as the revolutionary road forward, neither was it rejected, nor a more effective strategy suggested. Cuba simply supported any type of anti-imperialist movement that arose in other countries.
In the 1960s the Cuban leadership even belittled “theory,” belittled presenting a clear revolutionary program for action, and instead supported guerilla struggles. They offered no clear revolutionary strategy for the masses of Latin America.
The pragmatic approach was evident in the Rectification program. The Economic Management and Planning System (EMPS) modeled on the Soviet Union, was found defective, and various new measures were instituted. But the Cubans have still presented no overall analysis of the causes of the problems, nor any clear new economic and political model. While Cuba’s new measures advanced in the right direction, they were not systematized throughout the whole Cuban economic and political system.
If the Cubans were less pragmatic and clearer about where the country was headed, they would have greater leadership weight among revolutionary-minded people in the world today. Many more would turn to Cuba for invaluable political lessons. Today Cuba’s direction still strikes many fighters as lacking strategy, offering only an ambiguous solution to the problems the oppressed of the world face.
If the Cuban leadership had Lenin’s vision, it would be easier for Cuba to lead the call for a new revolutionary international, something the Bolsheviks accomplished after only two years in power, in extremely desperate circumstances.
20. While relying on popular mobilization for its strength, the Cuban revolution still has not produced an adequate institutionalized system for letting the people be heard. There still remains a tendency to wait for guidance from above. A form of governmental paternalism exists, in which the government is widely seen as taking responsibility for doing everything for the people, often at the price of long delays. While the mass organizations and Poder Popular have greatly increased popular participation over the years, Cuba still has not developed the socialist democratic forms Soviet Russia instituted with worker and peasant soviets in the early years of its revolution.
In the soviets that existed in the era of Lenin, workers and peasants at their production sites elected their own representatives to general councils. In Poder Popular, representatives are elected from neighborhoods, places of living, not places of production. Popular representation based on work sites leads naturally to practical participation by the working masses in the management of their enterprises, their economic sectors, and the economy as a whole. Soviet democracy, in contrast to parliaments, even socialist parliaments, combines practical political decision-making with practical economic decision-making.
Even today most Cubans do not see Poder Popular nor the National Assembly as the real government of Cuba. Real decision-making lies with other government organs, such as the Council of State. Nor do organizations at the factory or neighborhood level discuss and decide fundamental policy. In Poder Popular, workers’ participation is limited to periodic meetings and vote at the neighborhood level. Only when Cuba organized the parlamentos obreros in the mid-90s did workers participate in soviet types of democratic workers councils, and became involved in the management of economic enterprises.
21. The U.S. government’s 40-year war against Cuba provides an excellent antidote for those who still think the U.S. government stands for anything progressive in the world. The Cuban people have been subjected to a continuing economic blockade, military invasion, bombings, threatened nuclear war, assassinations of Cubans abroad, attempted assassination of Cuban leaders, biological warfare destroying crops, livestock, even killing children, blowing up civilian airplanes and ships, blocking even food and medicine from going to Cuba, separating Cuban families. The history of U.S. government conduct has been so shameful that the American people would rise up in indignation if the facts were not kept hidden from them. The American government’s conduct paints it not as a champion of human rights, but as a clique of gangsters who see the whole world as their turf, wanting to take back this piece they lost.
II. History: What were the major turning points and phases of the Cuban Revolution?
Sometimes we forget that before the revolution Cuba was like a typical Third World country we see today. U.S. corporations owned 90% of its mineral wealth and cattle ranches, 80% of its public utilities, 50% of its railroads, 40% of its sugar production. One-third of the working age population was unemployed, a quarter of the people were illiterate, and hundreds of thousands suffered from malnutrition and curable diseases. Almost half the children did not attend school. Tens of thousands resorted to prostitution and begging to get by.
In effect, pre-revolutionary Cuba appeared as if it had just been through a devastating war. But it had not: it was simply another neocolonial banana republic. But it had: it was one of many nations militarily crushed and robbed blind by imperialism.
1. The Armed Struggle Against Batista
The actual armed revolutionary struggle against Batista had been one based on the peasantry. Peasants and agricultural workers made up the Rebel Army, and these classes had been the force behind the struggle against Batista. The city workers had been under a Batista-controlled trade union leadership. These leaders blocked the urban working class from being their power to bear in the revolutionary struggle. Only as the victorious guerilla fighters approached Havana did the urban workers rally in their overwhelming majority to the revolutionary leadership. They went out on a general strike that crippled the dictatorship, and prevented a new bourgeois leader taking power.
2. The First Months in Power
The bourgeois anti-Batista forces thought they could buy off the leadership of the July 26 Movement and the Rebel Army. They assumed that after the revolutionary victory they could maneuver the revolutionaries out of power, keeping their program on paper, yet guaranteeing the interests of Washington, the landlords and capitalists. This of course, was the standard procedure for handling revolutionary uprisings throughout Latin America. The powerful 1979 Iranian revolution, though it organized hundreds of thousands and involved the working class, did not move beyond this point, and its leadership found a home with the anti-Shah bourgeois forces.
It was further assumed by this bourgeois coalition that as soon as the revolutionary upsurge had calmed down, the rebels could be discarded altogether. However, the July 26 Movement continued advancing its program, mobilizing the workers and peasants to a greater extent after the revolutionary victory.
Once the July 26 Movement came to power they immediately disbanded the existing standing army and police force, thereby preventing the type of CIA organized coup that so often overthrew radical governments (Arbenz’s Guatemala in 1954, Allende’s Chile in 1973). This placed armed power in the hands of the Rebel Army, representatives of the peasants and workers, and for the first time in Cuban history political power fell into the hands of the popular masses.
3. The May 1959 Agrarian Reform Law
Castro said this law, the working people’s first step in capturing economic power, was the one measure that “defined the Cuban Revolution.” Before this reform took place, 75% of the land was owned by 8% of the population. Almost 85% of Cuba’s population were illiterate small farmers who worked rented lands with horse-drawn plows. The reform law expropriated the large plantations, and guaranteed the use of the land free of charge to those who worked it. It prohibited ownership of Cuban land by foreigners, who had owned more than 50% of the more productive lands.
This strengthened the worker-peasant alliance, the backbone of the Cuban revolution.
This alliance, while suffering serious tensions during certain periods of the revolution, has been the most solid alliance of any revolutionary process.
4. U.S. Economic Warfare and the First Socialist Economic Measures
During the summer and fall of 1959 Washington’s economic and military hostility increased. Bourgeois anti-Batista figures in the Cuban government resigned one after another. Nevertheless, Cuba, relying only on its own workers and peasants, pushed ahead towards implementing reforms in spite of growing imperialist and national bourgeois opposition. By November 1959 no capitalist forces remained in the government, and Washington launched a full-scale political, economic, and military campaign to overthrow the revolutionary Cuban government.
While the armed forces and government were in the hands of the workers and peasants, Cuba still had not yet instituted any overtly socialist measures. It had carried out an extensive bourgeois democratic land reform, abolishing landlordism and turning the land over to the peasants. Yet it had not taken decisive action against capitalism or ended the private ownership of banks and industry. This was more or less the point where the later Sandinista revolution stopped.
The U.S. cut off Cuba’s sugar quota in July 1960. In response to escalating U.S. attacks, between August and October 1960 Cuba’s working people mobilized by the millions to implement government decrees nationalizing the factories, refineries, banks and other holdings of U.S. and Cuban-owned corporations. Now nationalizations of a socialist nature took place, over a year and a half after the revolutionary triumph. This stripped the capitalist class and imperialism of their remaining power, being economic, that they held in Cuba. In October 1960, the U.S. imposed its embargo on Cuban products.
Since over 75% of foreign trade was with the U.S., it was natural to assume the Cuban government would collapse because of the trade embargo and halt to the supply of spare parts to industry. The trade sanctions against Allende’s Chile and Sandinista Nicaragua, while less severe than what Cuba has faced, certainly sufficed to undermine those revolutions. That Cuba was not shows the determination and clear-sightedness of the Cuban leadership.
5. April 1961: America’s First Military Attack
In April 1961 the U.S. invaded Cuba, but was decisively crushed. This historic defeat
of American imperialism in Latin America was no ill-planned fiasco, as it is made out in the United States. The economic and political measures the U.S. took against Cuba prior to April 1961, combined with their military assault at the Bay of Pigs had generally, if not always, succeeded against other countries like Cuba. Even Castro had said, after the Bay of Pigs, that the 1400 Yankee mercenary force that landed was more than enough to achieve its objectives. Economic strangulation and small-scale military intervention had previously proven effective in attaining the desired results in other small Third World countries: the crushing of anti-imperialist revolution.
6. Uniting the Revolutionary Organizations
At the end of 1961 the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) were set up,
bringing together the three pro-revolutionary movements, 26 de Julio, the PSP (the old Communist party) and the March 13 Revolutionary Directorate. In 1965 these then formed the Communist party of Cuba, a single national revolutionary party modeled on Jose Marti’s Cuban Revolutionary Party. This party devoted to defending the revolution has surpassed all other similar formations in its ability to stay united against the enemy and defend the revolutionary cause.
7. 1962, Year of the first Anti-Bureaucratic Struggles
In March 1962 Cuba launched its first of many anti-bureaucratic struggles when the leadership stripped Anibal Escalante of power. This conflict arose after the revolutionary tendencies of the revolution united into one. Escalante, a former leader of the PSP, became organization secretary of the new party and sought to build a political machine under his control. He used his position, as did Stalin, and Bernard Coard in Grenada, to appoint his followers to leading positions in the party and the government. Fortunately, Escalante, unlike them, was denounced and removed from his positions. After that, party candidates had to be nominated by workers assemblies at work sites.
This dark shadow of Stalinism haunting, then undermining the Russian Revolution did not take over the Cuban revolution. No privileged layer of bureaucrats were able to take power and subordinate the needs of the Cuban workers and peasants to their own, nor subordinate revolutionary struggles in other countries to finding their own accommodation with the United States superpower. Cuba, for instance, sent troops to Angola and aided the Nicaraguan revolution, even though this ended rapprochement with the U.S. and increased military threats against their revolution.
While this has given the Cuban revolution a completely different character than China or the Soviet Union, Cuba still has been challenged from the beginning to combat bureaucratic abuse and privilege. This problem arises in victorious socialist revolutions because of their low levels of economic development, lack of developed forms of proletarian democracy, and lack of education of the working classes. Essential administrative tasks fall into the hands of an educated elite until the workers themselves are capable of taking them over. In these conditions, it becomes relatively easy for this elite to reserve a share of scarce goods for themselves, and then use their political power to maintain these privileges. A militant working class political organization is the only means to combat this problem.
Over the years the Cuban Communist Party has led continuing struggles against this threat. The 1962 fight against Escalante, a campaign in the Communist Party paper, Granma, in 1967, the showdown with the right-wing Venezuelan Communist Party leadership at the 1967 OLAS conference, the institutionalization of the 1970s, Raul Castro’s speeches against the ‘faint-hearted’ in 1979, the March of the Fighting People in 1980, the fight against corruption in 1982, Rectification in 1986, the Ochoa and Ministry of Interior trials of 1989, the workers’ parliaments in the mid-1990s are among the most significant.
8. October 1962: America’s Second Military Attack
Cuba staved off a planned second invasion in October 1962 by turning to the Soviet Union for nuclear arms. The Soviet-American agreement reached helped put off future U.S. invasion plans, as it soon became tied up in the Dominican Republic, then Vietnam. Not until 1981, with the election of Ronald Reagan, were serious invasion threats again made. Then, Cuba formed the Territorial Militias, greatly raising the cost American armed forces would pay for an invasion.
However, Cuba paid a political price for accepting nuclear arms from the USSR. By relying on Soviet nuclear weapons instead of the Latin American peoples, U.S. propaganda machine fairly successfully painted the Cuban revolution as a Soviet Communist base in this hemisphere, not the home of the Latin American revolution. This undermined the support and solidarity Cuba received from the rest of Latin America.
In 1963 the U.S. organized a counterrevolutionary force in the Escambray Mountains, which soon suffered an ignominious defeat. By this time Cuba hard suffered assassination attempts on Castro, terrorist bombings by CIA agents, farm animals inoculated with contagious diseases, arson, invasion, embargo, blockade and the threat of nuclear annihilation. All that Sandinista Nicaragua was subjected to was previously attempted in Cuba. But while the Sandinistas eventually did not surmount the constant pressures, attacks and threats, Cuba did. Nor did the Cuban leadership fall victim to the pressures by preying on itself in a self-destructive frenzy, as happened in Grenada and Soviet Russia.
However, for a great number of years Cuba was ruled in a provisional way, on a constant war footing, which set back the flowering of the revolution, of institutionalizing the revolution.
9. Support to Guerilla Struggles and OLAS
In the early 1960s, all Latin American governments, save Mexico, had broken economic and diplomatic relations with Cuba, siding with imperialism against the Latin American revolution. This effort by the OAS to discredit Cuba eventually resulted in the discrediting of the OAS, from which the organization still has not recovered.
In the great wave of enthusiasm that swept Cuba and Latin America following the success of the Cuban revolution, many attempts were made to emulate the July 26th Movement. In the early 1960s Cuba advocated and supported guerilla struggles in Latin America. This period reached its height at the 1967 OLAS conference.
OLAS was the largest meeting of leaders of Latin American guerilla movements to be held. Throughout the proceedings it was understood that the struggle for emancipation from U.S. imperialism and U.S. backed repressive military regimes must be conducted on a continental scale. The aim of the struggles would be to establish socialism in a unified Latin American bloc.
The Cubans sought to extend the revolution by supporting armed struggles. The OLAS conference heightened the dispute between “armed struggle” (which they confused with rural guerilla warfare) and the “peaceful road” to socialism advocated by Latin American Communist Parties. The question of armed struggle was seen as the dividing line separating revolutionaries from reformists on a continental scale. During this period the relations of Cuba with the Communist parties of Latin America reached a low point. Cuba’s relations with Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution also worsened, lasting for over 20 years.
OLAS facilitated a regroupment of revolutionary forces in Latin America around the Cuban armed struggle line, away from the traditional Communist party line of peaceful coexistence and peaceful road to socialism. Castro criticized the Soviet Union and asked it to “cease to support these rightist, reformist, sold-out, submissive leaderships in Latin America that are enemies of the armed revolutionary struggle, that oppose the peoples’ liberation struggle.”
However, these guerilla struggles failed in a number of countries; in 1967 Che Guevara’s guerilla column in Bolivia was destroyed. Cuba began to back away from the armed struggle. All attempts in the 1960s to make revolutions along the Cuban path had faced repeated setbacks. OLAS began to wither. Cuba’s armed struggle strategy had distanced it from the Soviet Union and Latin American CPs, had produced no new victories, and tended to isolate Cuba from the urban working classes of Latin American. At the same time, the Cuban economy was faltering. After ten years the Cuban revolution was still alone in Latin America, while right-wing military dictatorships were gaining strength. The popular upsurge that shook southern Latin America in the early 1970s ended with the bloody 1973 coup against Allende’s peaceful road in Chile, and later in Argentina in 1976.
10. Economic Policies of the late 1960s and the 1970 10 million ton harvest
During the period 1967-1970, Cuba made a series of costly economic mistakes, culminating in the failed 10 million ton 1970 sugar harvest. In 1967 charges and payments between factories and other enterprises of the different sectors of the economy were eliminated as “capitalist.” Whether or not enterprises operated profitably was downplayed. Major new investments in industrial enterprises and infrastructure were made with little attention to cost accounting and budgetary controls. In 1968 all small private retailers, including street vendors, numbering 56,000, had their shops expropriated.
The unions’ role was downplayed, with many of their functions taken over by the Vanguard Workers Movement. This consisted of dedicated revolutionary workers, and its purpose lay in counting on sheer revolutionary will to overcome real objective economic limitations. Material incentives at work, which tied workers’ wages to their work output were limited for moral incentives. Electricity, telephone and water and other services were provided free of charge, in an ultraleft attempt to quickly establish communist norms of distribution: from each according to his work, to each according to his need. Retirement pensions and sick pay for workers were to equal 100% of their previous pay.
As a result of these pay policies, with no material incentives to work harder, labor productivity fell, absenteeism rose, and the amount of money in circulation dramatically expanded without any corresponding increase in consumer goods to buy. This led to a decrease in the importance of money and a disincentive to work.
The government then set the goal of a 10 million ton sugar cane harvest in 1970, substantially more than any previous yield in Cuban history. Sugar was their major export crop, and the campaign aimed to obtain funds to pay for the growing economic problems and debts to the Soviet Union. Millions of Cubans volunteered to participate in the effort to produce a record harvest in order to obtain the resources necessary to accelerate Cuba’s industrial development. The mass organizations and trade unions mobilized their forces to participate in the effort. The unpopular Military Units for Production and the anti-vagrancy law were instituted to draft idlers into production. Other sectors of the economy were neglected, and the massive diversion of material resources and labor to the harvest threw the entire economy into disarray. All this had topped off years of consumer austerity.
As a result of these domestic difficulties and setbacks of guerilla struggles, Cuba temporarily withdrew from advancing an immediate revolutionary agenda in Latin America. Its attempt to build a viable economic model distinct from the Soviet one, and to build a new international revolutionary movement based on guerilla warfare had ended in failure. Now Cuba turned increasingly to the Soviet Union, adopting its general world political positions and economic methods. After the defeats suffered by the Castro-Guevara strategy domestically and internationally by the end of the 1960s, the strongly pro-Soviet tendency in the party became the majority. Criticisms of CPs and the Soviet Union, quite evident in the 1960s, disappeared as the influence of its policies grew. Cuba did not actively advance revolutionary struggles again until 1975.
Cuban cultural policy also entered a dark period in the early 1970s. Beatles music and long hair were prohibited as degenerate Western culture. Anti-gay prejudices were strongest during this period, censorship and Soviet “socialist realism” in the arts increased. The writer Humberto Padilla was arrested in 1971 and made a Stalin era Moscow show trial confession. Intellectuals who supported the revolution and protested, such as Jean Paul Sartre and Gabriel Garcia Marquez were rebuffed. Bureaucratization of the revolution grew.
11. Economic Management and Planning of 1970s to mid-1980s
After the 1970 failure, and the significant dislocation of agriculture and industry, Cuba introduced a number of measures to rationalize what had been a siege or command economy. This led to Cuba joining COMECON, the Soviet bloc trading system, in 1972. In 1975 Cuba implemented the Economic Management and Planning System, based on the Soviet methods of organizing production, distribution, labor, and planning. The EMPS existed for the period from the first to the third congresses of the CCP (1975-86), when Castro led the Rectification Campaign.
Greater overall economic planning, having enterprises pay for themselves, not borrow from the state, individual enterprise profitability and material incentives for workers brought greater economic efficiency and order. Now state enterprises operated in competitive domestic markets to purchase raw materials, machinery, and other inputs from other state enterprises. Enterprises set the prices and found their own markets for the finished goods they produced, in effect functioning on the basis of their own profitability.
In 1973 the CTC Congress pegged income and bonuses to fulfilling production quotas, which significantly increased labor productivity. This was based on the “socialist” principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” (Actually, In The Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx called this not socialist, but bourgeois right). Moral incentives and voluntary labor became de-emphasized and almost disappeared, replaced by individual material gain as a motivator.
This new economic model reinforced capitalist values and norms, but without concern about quality of goods produced. The EMPS produced the same social and political consequences institutionalized in the Soviet bloc for decades.
Nevertheless, the late 1970s and early 1980s were boom years for the Cuban economy. While in 1970 virtually everything was rationed, by 1980 only 30% of what a consumer spent in the market went to rationed products. Decentralization of economic decision-making, heavy reliance on material incentives spurred labor productivity, and the greater availability of certain goods and services were a marked contrast to life in the late 1960s. The educational level of Cubans and health care took giant strides forward during this period. Poder Popular was founded and developed, and during the whole period, years of fighting in Angola stimulated significant advances in internationalist and political awareness.
12. Institutionalization and Decentralization of the Revolution
The 1970 sugar harvest failure forced the leadership to reexamine not only many of the revolution’s economic policies, but also political ones. One obvious problem was that for the first ten years of the revolution, few structures were institutionalized to guarantee input and decision-making by the masses. Many of the economic problems of the late 1960s were evident to workers, but they lacked an institutionalized method of voicing their concerns. A series of measures were adopted to correct these shortcomings.
. Trade unions held elections for local union leaders, a step towards reinvigorating the unions. Previously these leaders had been appointed. The Communist Party sought to clarify its role as a political leadership body, not an administrative apparatus. Measures were taken to revitalize the mass organizations, which had gone into decline.
In 1975 the Communist Party held its first congress, ten years after it was formed. In 1976 six million Cuban voters discussed a new constitution in 168,000 assemblies, and then approved it in a national vote. That year the National Assembly of People’s Power met for the first time.
The national assembly was a major step in decentralizing actual decision-making power in Cuba. In Poder Popular, candidates for local assemblies are nominated from the local constituency, voted for by secret ballot, and elected representatives can be recalled at any time. While this assembly functions better at the community level than the national level, it gives Cubans a strong feeling of political participation. Prior to 1975, for the first 15 years of the revolution, no national assembly existed, nor did the Communist Party ever have a congress. Since very few institutions for political democracy had existed, important political decision-making remained in the hands of a tiny group of people, headed by Fidel Castro.
13. Increasing Support to International Revolutionary Struggles in the 1970s: Angola and Ethiopia
After turning away from supporting guerilla fronts Cuba gave support to the Allende regime in Chile, as well as other anti-imperialist governments such as in Peru and Ethiopia. With the consolidation of counter-revolutionary regimes in Latin America in the early 1970s, Cuba turned to aiding the developing revolutions in Portuguese Africa when openings presented themselves in 1975.
Cuba seized on the changing world balance of forces against imperialism after its defeat in Vietnam to strike new blows for freedom. In the 1960s small groups of Cubans, inspired by the Latin American popular upsurge went to several countries to participate in guerilla struggles. But now in the 1970s this internationalist support shot up immensely. Thousands of Cuban soldiers went to Angola in 1975 to fight the South African apartheid military invasion, and thousands more went to Ethiopia in 1977-78 to defend that revolution against an imperialist inspired attack.
Instead of turning away from other revolutionary struggles after their failures in the 1960s, Cuba acted all the more decisively in the mid-1970s. In doing so, it inflicted serious setbacks to imperialist efforts to regain the initiative after suffering defeats in Southeast Asia, Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia and Portuguese Africa. This time, in sending military aid and troops to aid liberation struggles, Cuba acted in accordance with international law, which increased the revolution’s prestige.
Thus in the 1970s, Cuban revolutionary power was felt more in Africa than Latin American, and it became a world player in the struggle between national liberation and counterrevolution. Cuba knew from its own experience that political and economic independence are preconditions for solving the problems of poverty, illiteracy, desperation. It sought to build a worldwide front of Third World countries to challenge Western economic domination.
14. Leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement and the new Latin American revolutions
In 1979 the Non-Aligned Movement recognized Cuba’s world leadership when it elected Castro its head for a term of four years. That year a major conference, the 6th Summit of Non-Aligned Countries, took place in Havana. In this Third World alliance, Cuba worked hard to build unity among the different nations in their struggle for a more just world order.
The 1979 revolutions in Nicaragua and Grenada, and the seemingly imminent ones in El Salvador and Guatemala had a major impact in Cuba. Now Cuba was not alone; Latin America had a new revolutionary center besides Cuba. Escalating American threats against Cuba led to the large-scale popular mobilizations in 1980. Over a million people turned out in Havana on three separate occasions that spring; the last, the March of the Fighting People, brought out 5 million people around the country, the largest mobilization in the revolution’s history. More than a million joined the new Territorial Troop Militias, formed to combat increasing imperialist military threats against the island.
Cuba’s support for Argentina and Latin America during the Malvinas War greatly increased its weight in Latin America. Traditional Latin American allies of the U.S. government found it aiding England in the war, and found themselves aligned with Cuba on this nationalist and anti-imperialist issue.
In 1983 Cuba launched a campaign to cancel the huge, fatal debt Third World countries were forced to pay to imperialist banks and institutions. The imperialist governments should assume responsibility for the debt they created. Castro suggested they raise the money to pay the banks cutting their military expenditures 10%. Latin America should form a continent-wide organization, similar to OPEC and collectively cancel their debts. While Latin American governments and mass organizations did not take a forceful stand against the debt, Cuba earned greater prestige in leading the struggle.
That year Cuban construction workers stood their ground and fought the American invading force in Grenada, fighting harder than the regular Grenadan army. Their heroism was inspiring, showing to the world how some civilians could fight off U.S. military might.
Cuba’s fighting strength displayed in Angola and Ethiopia, the firmness of its construction workers in Grenada, gave Cuba world credibility as a country that stood up for principles, and fought for them. Raising the demand for canceling the Third World debt gained it even more prestige as a Third World leader. By the early 1980s Latin America’s openness to the Cuban revolution was much greater than any period since the very early years of the revolution, when Washington began scoring successes in isolating Cuba from the rest of the continent.
15. The Renewed Revolutionary Offensive: Angola and Rectification
By the mid-1980s the economic and political consequences of the EMPS model copied and imported from the Soviet bloc had become increasingly evident. Political consciousness faltered, demoralization and corruption spread.
The number of administrators had grown from 90,000 in 1973 to 240,000 in 1984. This privileged layer of administrative personnel in the state and party apparatus, industrial enterprises, and mass organizations increasingly promoted and implemented policies that expressed their own interests. Their own living standards improved, wage disparities increased, and many pressing social needs, such as child care centers and housing, tended to be disregarded.
During this period Che’s ideas were set aside. Castro at the time called this a “disgraceful period of building socialism.” The party started “to go to pot,” and Cuba was creating “a system worse than capitalism.” The lessons learned about how to rectify socialism are “important for the whole of international revolutionary thought.”
Revolutionary consciousness in Cuba, while dampened by domestic political and economic policies, had been kept alive by the revolutionary victories and struggles in Central America and Grenada. Tens of thousands Cubans volunteered to assist reconstruction in Nicaragua and Grenada. Hundreds of thousands volunteered to fight the apartheid forces again invading Angola. In 1988 the Cuban forces helped score a decisive victory over the apartheid army, fortifying the revolutionary struggle in South Africa and leading to apartheid’s collapse some years later.
This victory also had a great impact in Cuba, especially after the demise of the new revolutions in Central America and the Caribbean. Throughout the years of war in Angola, nearly every family in Cuba had some family member who fought. This experience assisting a poor Third World cousin in its wars against imperialist agents deeply affected the moral and internationalist spirit of the Cuban people.
In Rectification, they abandoned the Soviet economic model: economic planning based on a state planning bureaucracy administering to the workers and peasants. Cuba now reversed relying on material incentives with its wage inequalities, commodity relations among state enterprises, and agricultural free markets, where some farmers charged exorbitant prices for scarce goods. Living and working conditions of lower paid workers and agricultural workers were improved. Construction of childcare centers, which had been shunted aside, was renewed at a rapid pace. Housing and the needs of women were given new priority.
Guevara’s stress on voluntary labor and moral incentives regained importance after a 15 year decline. Che’s ideas now became even more central to the Cuban revolution than ever before.
Rectification meant the people themselves taking the initiative to solve their pressing social problems. People in neighborhoods, rather than waiting for the state administrators to get around to solving their local problems, took months off work with pay to work on these themselves. They formed “minibrigades,” the Blas Roca Contingent being the most famous, to address pressing social needs such as housing, childcare centers, clinics, schools, bridges, roads, hospitals, dams. The minibrigades gave them the opportunity to advance the revolution by people cooperating together to meet their own needs without waiting on government bureaucrats.
Rectification grew into a social movement among the more political and active layers of Cubans. Administrative tasks were organized more and more by the workers themselves, instead of remaining the prerogative of a distinct group of state specialists. This gives us a glimpse on a small scale of the state beginning to wither away.
The timeliness and effectiveness of the Rectification Campaign was verified by Cuba’s ability to respond to the challenge of the Special Period, after the Soviet bloc disintegrated. The spirit of the internationalist missions to Angola and Nicaragua and the expanding voluntary work brigades eased the tensions of the Special Period. The successes of the Rectification Campaign had made the working class more confident of its capacity to solve problems on its own, to fight for itself, and to win.
16. Renewed anti-bureaucratic struggles: Ochoa and Ministry of Interior trials, June-July 1989
The Rectification Program gave impetus to those combating bureaucratism and corruption. In 1989 two members of the CP Central Committee were arrested, along with several subordinates in the FAR and Ministry of Interior. General Ochoa was an extreme example of the degeneration of communist values that had taken place. He and three other high ranking officers in the FAR were tried and then executed for drug trafficking and diverting public funds for private use. Later the Minister of the Interior, Jose Abrantes, and other Ministry officials were found guilty of personal use of government funds, including setting up special sports, medical and recreational facilities for the Ministry hierarchy. These were later turned over to the provincial organs of People’s Power for the people’s use.
In its case against Ochoa the government declared, “How can we speak of socialism and revolution when we fail to realize that privilege, arbitrary conduct, abuse, and separation from the masses are one of the main causes of the problems now facing the socialist system [in the Soviet bloc] that was created to eradicate these evils when they existed under capitalism?”
17. The Collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the Special Period
In 1991-92 an extreme economic crisis hit when the Soviet bloc collapsed and Cuba lost 85% of its commercial trade overnight. Economic production dropped 35%, equivalent to America’s Great Depression. Even with the rationing system, Cubans had to survive without enough food and other necessities. After this sudden loss of Cuba’s trading partners, the United States cruelly continued tightening the embargo to bring down the Cuban system. It went on a major campaign to disrupt Cuba’s efforts to find new trading partners and buyers for its products in the capitalist world.
The U.S. rulers anticipated that the abrupt and brutal slashing of the standard of living in Cuba, combined with the sudden isolation of Cuba on the world stage, would demoralize and starve the Cuban people into submission, or at least create fertile conditions for the overthrow of the revolutionary government. This strategy had proven successful in Chile and later, Nicaragua. The early 1990s thus brought the greatest danger to the Cuban revolution in its history. Miami counterrevolutionaries began packing their bags, ready to return to Havana and take control.
However, the revolutionary Cuban leadership, a much higher caliber than Allende or the Sandinistas, surprised them as it had done when the blockade and the Bay of Pigs were launched, by meeting and overcoming the challenge. Now, less than ten years after counterrevolutionaries were preparing to return, it is the Miami crowd who are disoriented and the U.S. government finds itself increasingly pressured to lift the embargo.
In the Special Period the Cuban leadership led the population to take a series of necessary steps to confront the economic crisis. These included incorporating some capitalist measures, making Cuba more vulnerable to the unpredictable world capitalist market. They found that to preserve the gains of the socialist revolution some degree of capitalism had to be reintroduced.
These measures included making the dollar a legal currency in Cuba, giving it more value than Cuba’s own peso; turning the island into a foreign tourist haven, and opening itself up to foreign capitalist investment.
The purpose of these measures was to generate needed hard currency, which was then invested in other sectors in order to maintain the revolution’s social gains such as free health care, education and social security. Hard currency is also used to buy oil and other indispensable products previously provided by the Soviet bloc.
No Soviet bloc meant financial aid had disappeared. Cuba had to grant concessions large enough to attract foreign capitalists as partners in joint ventures. This is the only means of acquiring technology, tapping mineral resources, and bringing in capital for economic development. Yet the Cuban government still defines the conditions of foreign capitalist investment. In contrast to China’s “market socialism,” no foreign or Cuban individuals can own companies in Cuba. They must participate in joint ventures, and only with the Cuban government. At least 50% of a joint venture’s profits must stay in Cuba, and ventures must obey all Cuban labor laws.
Cuba opened a network of stores where imported goods, unavailable to Cubans holding only pesos, could be purchased for dollars. These stores are open to tourists and all Cubans with convertible currency, who may or may not include government officials. It has legalized self-employment, permitted small family shops, and transformed state and collective farms into UBPCs, cooperatives owned by the workers.
It has created agricultural markets where family farmers, cooperatives, and state farms could sell surplus agricultural products directly to the population, after fulfilling their quotas to state distribution agencies. Most Cubans purchase goods at these markets to supplement what is available at lower prices through rationing.
These and other measures were first discussed among the Cuban people before being instituted. Workers meetings, parlamentos obreros, were organized in every workplace to debate the measures proposed in the National Assembly. These workers assemblies involved more than 3 million workers out of a population of 11 million. Some of the measures were subsequently abandoned, such as a tax on wages, while the heavily progressive tax on large incomes was approved. Only after these workers parliaments approved the measures in 1994-95 did the National Assembly adopt them.
These Special Period measures have made Cuba more vulnerable to the world capitalist market. They reinforce consumerist values and erode the social solidarity and social equality built up over years of work by the people throughout their revolution. Those Cuban families with dollars live better than other Cubans. These capitalist measures influence people’s thinking, especially the youth, by fostering inequality and the consumerist values, fads, and money chasing that we are inundated with in the United States.
18. The August 1994 Turning Point to Today
The turning point in combating the sagging morale and the questioning of socialism came in August 1994. From 1989-94 the situation steadily worsened, the economy in a free fall. The confidence of the Cuban people in the future continued to decline with more and more Cubans asking what their socialism had to offer anymore. The economic and food situation of many people was desperate. Years of constant, grinding scarcity of the most basic items had worn down a segment of the population.
In 1994 illegal exodus and boat hijackings increased, with 30,000 Cubans leaving the island. The U.S. government’s plans for social disorders steadily built to a pitch. In early August boat hijackers murdered a policeman. On August 5th dockworkers and police blocked another hijacking. Later that day a crowd of several hundred gathered along Havana’s oceanfront boulevard, throwing rocks and bottles at police, hotels and other targets. Several thousand pro-revolution Cubans poured into the streets responding to the provocations, joined on foot by Fidel Castro. The tide turned on August 7 when 500,000 Cubans turned out for the slain officer’s funeral, supporting the revolution.
By 1996 the sharp decline in industry and agriculture bottomed out, and a year later the corner had been turned on the economic difficulties. Cuba was now able to turn its attention to the world stage once more. The 1997 Youth Festival drew 12,000 youth from around the world, 1000 from the US. The Neoliberalism and Globalization Conference, and the meeting of Marxist political parties, “Socialism on the Threshold of the 21st Century took place.
Today, the Cuban economy has stabilized and has seen four years of uneven growth. Foreign tourism has skyrocketed, reinvigorating the economy and helping to end Cuba’s isolation. In contrast to other countries in the world, no schools or hospitals have closed. Nobody has been left without social protection, yet the continuing scarcities have clearly set back Cuba’s exemplary struggle for egalitarianism.
The revolution has gained more respect than ever in Latin America, standing out as a leader of the Third World. That Cuba has been able to survive and move forward in a post-Soviet era, under a tightened embargo, has greatly undermined support for this blockade among U.S. ruling circles.
In 1998 the rightwing and imperialism suffered a new setback to their anti-Cuba isolation campaign, with the Pope’s visit. Not only did the Pope call for an end to the embargo, but any dwindling dreams of anti-government protests were extinguished.
A growing section of the American capitalist class is reconsidering the embargo of Cuba. They want to take advantage of the Cuban market for their own surplus goods, such as food, and capital. They are trying a new tack to dismantle the Cuban revolution, seeking to descend on Cuba, turn the heads of local officials, and corrupt a large portion of the Cuban people with their money.
No doubt some of this will happen if the embargo is lifted, but to what extent depends on the strength of Cuban revolutionary consciousness and morale. Cuba’s people understand that their current trade and economic policy are only temporary expedients, no long-term solution. As long as Cuba continues its steps back towards capitalism, an ending of the embargo can reinforce corrupting influences and social inequalities from the capitalist world. Yet the essential determinants of Cuba’s future path still consist in the strength of the party and militant workers, and particularly in successful revolutions occurring in other countries, which would break Cuba’s isolation.
We can break the revolution into ten year periods. The first anniversary brought the first genuine revolution to the Americas and inspired a continent-wide struggle for a better life. The 10th anniversary of the Cuban revolution saw the failure of the 10 million ton sugar harvest, economic dislocation, and defeat of the revolutionary guerilla strategy in Latin America. The 20th anniversary saw huge mobilizations against the exodus of 125,000 Cubans to the U.S., formation of the Territorial Militias, leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement, and new Latin American revolutions.
The 30th anniversary saw the Rectification campaign in full swing, the decisive victory against apartheid South Africa, and disintegration of the Soviet bloc. The 40th anniversary found the Cuban revolution back on its feet and resuming its world leadership role. The economic crisis being overcome, Cuba has turned to organizing a worldwide struggle against imperialist globalization.
Cuba has proven that a humane, socialist society provides the answer to the present crisis of humanity. It has proven that a popular revolution can survive in the imperialist world and advance on its own. It has proven that only a firm and principled Marxist perspective can effectively guide the workers and peasants in their struggle against imperialism. It has shown that the simple people can run society themselves in their own interest. It shows that a new selfless and honorable human being takes shape in the battle to build a higher form of society. And now Cuba is providing an organizing center for the new world revolutionary movement against capitalist degradation. Here the real significance of the Cuban revolution will be seen in the role it plays in the coming worldwide revolutionary upsurge.