Proletarian democracy in Cuba--fact or fiction?

Ben Seattle Left-Transparency at
Sun Aug 27 02:44:58 MDT 2000

Hi everyone,

In a very sporadic way, over the last ten weeks, I have been
engaged with José Perez on the question of proletarian democracy.
The right of workers to create independent organizations is
_c_e_n_t_r_a_l_  to any practical or realistic conception of
workers' rule under modern conditions.  Until we understand this
question we do not have the ability to think about workers' rule
(ie: the supposed goal of any marxist movement).  For this reason
I have placed this issue at the center of my polemical agenda.
This is a question of theory that will ultimately be
decisive--because the concept of workers' rule is destined to be
the center (the theoretical foundation) of the mass movement
against bourgeois rule that must eventually emerge in the
imperialist countries.

My focus on a practical and realistic conception of workers' rule
has been relentless.  Because of this I have on many occasions
been accused of being a utopian, a liberal or an imperialist
pawn.  Usually however my efforts are simply ignored.  Many or
most marxist activists do not want to think about workers' rule
in the imperialist countries because our movement is saturated
with denial.  The prevailing conceptions of workers' rule are
completely inadequate, incomplete, obsolete, and impractical in
relation to the conditions of modern societies with modern
economies and infrastructure.  Rather than think about the "happy
problem" [1] of how workers' rule would manifest itself in a
society where everyone has access to the internet (ie: as will be
the case for 90% of the population of the US, Japan or Western
Europe within the next ten years) most marxist activists confine
their attention to various anti-imperialist struggles or a range
of other perfectly worthwhile or interesting matters.

But the fact remains that imperialism will remain until it is
overthrown.  And it will not be overthrown until a mass
revolutionary movement exists that is centered around an
alternative to imperialism.  And no alternative will exist that
is suitable for anyone who has not had a lobotomy until we deal
in a realistic way with the question of democratic rights under
workers' rule.  That is why I think we should talk about this and
not simple ignore this issue.

I brought this issue up [2] in response to a post by Gunnar [3].
I said that the issue of the right of workers' to create
independent organizations was central to understanding the nature
of workers' rule under modern conditions.  José responded [4]
that I was "hopelessly lost in space" and was "drawing up utopian
plans and schemas".  More recently José has elaborated his views
by introducing the example of Cuba.  I don't think that José
wants to talk much about workers' rule in the present-day
imperialist countries.  For him (and for many here) this is so
much pie in the sky.

José Perez - July 14:
> Quite unlike your workers democracy, Cuban
> workers democracy is imperfect, human, with
> all sorts of different weaknesses and problems.
> For all that, it has one strength yours does not.
> It lives, and breathes and fights.

And what José says above is certainly true.  The Cuban
revolution, such as it is, does exist and does oppose US
imperialism.  At the same time I consider there to be just a
touch of demagogy in José's statement.  I think that pretty much
everyone on this forum supports the fight of the Cuban people
against US imperialism.  But must we on that account refuse to
think about the the nature of workers' rule as it will exist in
the present-day imperialist countries?

Must we think only in terms of heroic Cuba fighting against US
imperialism--or can it be useful to recognize that eventually
even mighty US imperialism will be overthrown by workers in the

But if we are to think about workers in the US overthrowing US
imperialism--then we will also have to give thought to smashing
the ideological obstacles that stand in the way of the overthrow
of bourgeois rule in the US.  And the main ideological obstacle
is that no conception exists of an _alternative_ to bourgeois
rule that is suitable for people who have not had a lobotomy.

The Cuban revolution, as I understand it, was partially inspired
by other revolutions--including the revolution in Russia in 1917.
And the Cuban revolution also received important support from the
regime that evolved out of the 1917 revolution.  And the 1917
revolution, in turn, was largely inspired by conceptions of
workers' rule that had been developed by Karl Marx.  And at the
time that Karl Marx was defending the idea of workers' rule--I am
sure that critics of his day opposed him on the grounds that he
was talking about something that did not yet exist.  And this is
the point.  If we are to create something (ie: workers' rule) on
a conscious basis then we need to be able to talk about and think
about what it is that we want to create.  And this,
unfortunately, is what José opposes.  José presents matters as if
we must _choose_ between (a) talking about and understanding a
revolution that, whatever its serious flaws, "lives, breathes and
fights" and (b) talking about and understanding how workers would
run things in a modern country (with a developed industrial
economy) like the US.  But José is mistaken.  We do not have to
choose between (a) and (b).  We can do both.

Can workers create independent organizations in Cuba?

José Perez - July 14:
> Nowhere did I argue that the suppression of
> workers organizations is ... necessary or desirable
> ... I believe precisely the opposite ...

José has argued that the Cuban government does not suppress
independent organizations of workers.  On the contrary the
impression I have gotten from José is that workers _can_ and do
create organizations in Cuba but it just so happens that all
these organizations support the Cuban Communist Party.  Can we
blame the CCP if it happens to enjoy a lot of support?  José has
indicated that there is only suppression of attempts to organize
by (a) counter-revolutionary groups, (b) a group which called for
nuclear missles to be launched toward the US and that later held
that the source of socialism would be people from other planets
and (c) a group that tried to organize the Soviet government to
cut off Cuba's oil shipments.

José then adds that the above list is complete--as far as he is

But that's just the point--isn't it?  If a group tried to
organize itself and was suppressed--then how would José be
_aware_ of it?  In the former Soviet Union the leaders of an
underground communist group that had organized strikes by workers
were arrested on December 15, 1981--and eventually sentenced to
prison camps.  We only know of this group today because it went
on to organize a very militant and powerful strike in 1997 that
paralyzed the center of the city of Samara.  (The group is the
Party of the Proletarian Dictatorship, led by Grigory Isayev.
Their website can be seen at: )

I am highly sceptical that workers can create independent
organizations in Cuba.  Where was the group of Cuban workers who
opposed, for example, the imperialist-sponsored "Contadora Peace
Process" that was used to undermine the Nicaraguan revolution?
The organization that I supported at the time, The
Marxist-Leninist Party, USA opposed the Contadora manuevers.  Our
comrades in Nicaragua (the Popular Action Movement
[Marxist-Leninist], known as MAP-ML) also opposed the Contadora
"peace process" (and also suffered various forms of harassment
from the Sandinistas--including a period in jail and the
confiscation of their printing machinery).  Unfortunately most of
the left in the US and elsewhere (including Castro) supported the
Contadora offensive.  But if groups in the US and Nicaragua could
see thru this imperialist sham--why were there no such groups in

Also I received an email (I have excerpted most of it in the
appendix below) from a reader who had some contact with some
leftist Cuban exiles (many or most of whom said they had at one
time been in the Cuban Communist Party) who had told him that
independent organizing in Cuba was not permitted.  My Spanish is
too poor to make much sense of the website of the "Cuban
Revolutionary Social Democratic Party" but it would appear that
José's belief that workers' independent organizing is not
suppressed--is based more on wishful thinking than on facts.

There is also a serious problem with José's description of how
workers' rule would deal with organizing by bourgeois or
counter-revolutionary forces.  The problem is that
counter-revolutionary forces generally do not hold up flags
emblazoned with the word "counter-revolutionary".  This would be
particularly true in any society in which counter-revolutionary
forces were not allowed to openly organize.  On the contrary such
forces would seek to disguise themselves as workers' political

And the problem is--how do you separate, so to speak, the wheat
from the chaff?

Extreme potential for abuse

Grigory Isayev's group that was arrested in 1981 was probably
called "counter-revolutionary agents of imperialism" (or similar
nonsense) by the Soviet authorities.  So this example
demonstrates that there is a lot of potential for misuse (and
abuse) of the authority to suppress counter-revolutionaries.

Similarly the authorities in China have arrested many activists
and called them "counter-revolutionaries" and so forth.  I have
created a web page [5] where I discuss one such activist, Zhang
Shanguang, who was organizing unemployed workers and arrested
when he gave an interview to the CIA-controlled "Radio Liberty".
(Is this really any different in principle than giving an
interview to the New York Times--which also operates in the
service of US imperialism?)  Similarly another activist in China,
Huang Qi, was arrested for "subverting state power'' and faces a
prison sentence of 10 years on the basis of a web site he created
that opposes government corruption and defends the 1989 protests
centered on Tiananmen Square.  (I will add that my right to post
on two well-known lists, Leninism-International and the
Marxist-Leninist List, was cut off because I made a series of
posts (several per week) at the time of the 10th annivery of the
June 1989 massacres.)

If we are to seriously challenge the bourgeois propoganda that
there is no alternative to bourgeois rule--then we have to deal
with the legitimate concerns of activists (and ordinary workers
for that matter) that the authority to suppress political
organizing carries with it a grave potential for abuse (and in
fact often _invites_ abuse by corrupt authorities).

The masses will decide

The conclusion that I have come to is that under workers' rule in
a modern country--the determination of what groups represent the
interests of workers (and what groups do not) will be left to the
_masses_.  And this means that the masses will have full access
to the views and activity of all the groups.  And
conversely--that all these groups will have the political right
to create their own leaflets and web pages, etc.

So how then will bourgeois or counter-revolutionary organizations
be prevented from saturating the mass media with their garbage?
The conclusion that I have come to (I have been studying this
question for a while) is that the line will be drawn (more or
less) with the use of _paid labor_ (and/or similar commercial
resources).  The workers' government would have complete
jurisdiction over forms of media that involve paid labor--but not
over forms of media that rely on volunteer labor.  In that way
the _worst_ abuses of reactionary forces who would seek to buy
public opinion could be eliminated--while the potential for abuse
could be drastically reduced.

There would be other measures also and I have written about this
in various places.  The principle at stake is that the
fundamental solution to bourgeois or counter-revolutionary
ideology is _not_ the complete suppression of various wrong or
unhealthy ideas (such would be impractical in the extreme in a
modern society with the internet) but the mobilization of the
masses to participate in spirited debate in a very large number
of forums, organizations and similar platforms.

I am sceptical that this is the way it works in Cuba.  If I were
mistaken in this--then why would José oppose with so much energy
my assertion that workers' rule in a modern society would require
a very large number of independent organizations?

Information wants to be free
to serve the working class !

Ben Seattle
----//-// 26.Aug.2000

( Please see appendix below (following the Notes)
  concerning what appears to be a suppressed
  political trend in Cuba that may have some
  orientation towards the working class. )

     Read "Notes of an Information Theorist"
     Watch Ben apply the tactics of "information war"
     (characterized by intelligent listening and calm,
     scientific argument) to help transform the marxism space
     into a powerful weapon against bourgeois rule.
     To subscribe: theorist-subscribe at


re: "happy problem"
From: José G. Perez
Subject: Re: Vision of a better world ? We don't have one.
Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2000 22:32:02 -0700

From: Ben Seattle
Subject: Vision of a better world ?  We don't have one.
Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 10:33 AM

From: Gunnar Kreku
Subject: The socialism we want
Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2000 13:25:08 -0700

From: Jose G. Perez
Subject: Re: Workers' rule unthinkable
                    w/o democratic rights (reply to José)
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000 17:38:14 -0700

See "Zhang Shanguang and the Proletarian Revolution "

Appendix -- The Cuban Revolutionary Social Democratic Party

I received the following email from someone who saw my discussion
with José on the web-based archives for Louis' list.  I believe
that it tends to refute the assertion by José that the Cuban
government does not suppress independent groups of workers. My
Spanish is too poor to understand hardly anything on the web site
refered to.  But I didn't see any pictures of UFO's.  Nor is it
likely that this web site is focused on persuading the Soviet
Union to cut off oil shipments to Cuba.  Also it seems a little
bit unlikely that these people are simply gusanos or part of the
Cuban Mafia that resides in Miami.  Since many members of this
list understand Spanish--maybe they could check out the site and
let me know if I am mistaken.

Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000
Subject: I'm on your side on the Cuba debate


[...] I'm not a subscriber, yet, to Louis's excellent and CALM
marxmail forum. If I can figure out an account I can afford let
fill up my e-mail box, I'll subscribe.

I've been wanting, too, to counter Jose's (and Louis's too)
apologia of for Fidelismo's suppression of workers democracy.
Partly the reason is that Jose and Louis, by and large, are both
excellent writers and politically sharp. [...]

What struck me about your response is your correct focusing of
the "right to organize". This is my main counter argument to all
those that believe that "democracy" somehow exists in any
particular form in Cuba.

First, a little cyncism, not aimed at Jose or Louis necessarily
but aimed at US "defenders" of the Cuban Revolution, the ultimate
appoligists for everything Fidel does. Every few years, the Cuban
CP issues a "recitification" "anti-bureaucratic campaign"
"democratization". I actually think to a large degree they
express real concerns, deal with large truths previously in
denial by the government there and attempts to actually deal with
existing problems. If ANYONE ever uttered these same criticism in
the US-Cuban solidarity movement BEFORE the Cubans came up with
them, they'd be run out of the movment, lock, stock and barrel.
AFTER the Cuban's admit to their problems (Cubans have always
been much more honest with their problems than their American
epigones), THEN our erstwhile solidarity activists chime in with
the expected "Of course they've had problems, they've admitted to
at and it's being dealth with...". A huh...yeah...but the
epinones never admitted to or even wanted to discuss it a priori. the point at hand. IMO, all the talk about "discussion"
in Cuba is a half-truth. Yes, criticism of policy initiated by
the Cuban gov't/Communist Party can, in limited areas of topics,
be discussed with some fortrightness. This is especially true of
the last few years where even semi-Trotskyoid groups like the
Freedom Socialist Party can sponsor conferences on gay liberation
in downtown Havana and have far reaching dicussions with selected
Cubans over the topic of the conference. The FSP isn't the only
group internationally that has done this and it's certainly a
small, yet positive example what could be going on there on a
large scale, even though I've not heard it happening much beyond
a few examples.

But "criticism" is only so good if it can be organized
around...that is...workers democracy is MEANINGLESS if workers
can't organize around their opinions, discuss them in an
organized format with like minded individuals, be free to form
tendencies, issue leaflets, etc. This is the way it seems to be
despite all the aspects of "Cuban Democracy" that Jose seeks to
document and which he fails 100% in proving: The built in
bureaucratic limitations on actually implementing workers
democracy is institutionalized through suppression of such
workers self-organizition.

I recently spoke with exile Cuban Marxists (they live in
Miami--underground of course, Mexico and Europe). They are a
small group of course, a few dozen I think, but they are left
wing opponents of the monopoly of politics by the Cuban Communist
Party. Most had been members of the CCP at one time, most had
also been arrested for challenging things in various forums,
like the Cuban Constitution that guarantees the right of the CCP
to "lead" in Cuban society, the right to oppose in the CTC
candiates that oppose the CTC's hand-in-glove role in production
quotas with the CCP and gov't insitutions. Of course the CTC
plays a similiar role as the official Chinese Trade Union
Federation, but, the Cuban revolution, never-the-less, makes the
CTC a much more independent 'mass organizition" than anything in
China. Yet the CCP dominance of the CTC assures that criticisms
of gov't policy don't stray to far.

I asked this Cuban: "Can you organize a grouping of workers in
the factory you worked at and organize at a union meeting for
your demands?". The answer was a resounding "No." Yes,
individuals, as such, can raise a multitude of questions, but
actually organize to "meet at someones house, to issue a leaflet
for distribution at the workshop" would end you up in
he did and many others (he was a bus driver).

I asked, for example, if you were IN the CCP, could one challenge
the CCP's complete historical political capitulation to the
Mexian PRI in terms of relating the Mexican masses? He raised his
eyebrows and said "Surely you are a 'payaso'?[clown]." Oh. Lesson

These Cubans said that nothing short of a socialist Constituant
Assembly [this is their solution] will ever provide a true
mobilization of the masses in defense of their interests, that
the mobilizations the CCP calls for, all well and good, will
never provide the leadership necessary when the developing 'civil
society' types start maturing in the free-trade sector of the
Cuban economy. He feels that the expressions of this sector will
start rearing it's ugly head within the CCP itself. Corruption is
wide spread and growing among all sectors of society as 'cash' ,
meaning US dollars, becomes the motive force for work at Cuban
work places. His group doesn't support political revolution, per
se, but they are dead set for destroying the CCP political
monopoly in Cuba in order to defend the historic gains of the

Jose argued not too long ago in a response to some CNN pundit or
other in a letter that there is democracy there and gave the
usual litany of gains of the Cuban Revolution. All Jose laid out
was the achievments of the Revolution...that is the necessary
PRECONDITIONS for workers democracy, all of which exist in Cuba,
but that is simply NOT socialist democracy...and it's a terrible
lesson to try to teach US workers that this is a model for what
democracy means, as Jose was implying. He said, and I'm
paraphrasing, that "should Fidel ever attack the underlying gains
of the revolution that he'd be overthrown". Perhaps. My question
to Jose would be "How?". Through what insititution? Where are the
MASS self-defense organizations of the working class that are run
by the workers themselves? Not the CCP, not the CTC, not the
National Assembly who's limitations in their automomy from the
CCP are more of a wholy-owned CCP subsidary than the "free
organization of the working class itself".

I will defend, and have, every gain of the Cuban revolution
against US imperialism and the Cuban Mafia (as Jose correctly
labels them). But I will not fool the US working class into
believing that democracy exists in Cuba when even the publication
of a leaflet by a worker not in line with the CCP can end you up
in jail. THAT would be a disservice the Cuban revolution, not an
act of solidarity. [...]

PS...feel free to forward this to anyone
you think would be interested.

july 20:
Some of them are part of the Cuban Revolutionary Social
Democratic Party and were former or current Trotskyists. They
have a major "social-democratic" bent but approach most of the
issues way to the left of the Cuban Communist Party.

july 23:
here is the web site for the Cuban Revolutionary Social
Democrats. If you don't speak or read spanish this site won't
help you much.


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