Proletarian democracy in Cuba--fact or fiction?

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at
Sun Aug 27 21:07:30 MDT 2000

> 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.


    The question isn't, I don't think, the "independence" of the workers
organizations, but the "dependence," the practical subordination of the
bureaucratic-administrative-military state apparatus to the working class
ORGANIZED as a ruling class.

    I think this is what they're TRYING to do in Cuba through the People's
Power and mass organizations, militias, etc., under the extremely adverse
conditions of underdevelopment, political and economic isolation, and
unrelenting imperialist pressure in every sphere. It would be utopian to
think that under THESE conditions there can be the fullest imaginable
flowering of the proletarian freedom of our dreams, which is no more than
the actual withering away of democracy, the elimination of the state.

    What we seek ultimately is not the independence of the workers
organizations from the workers state, which is what I assume you mean by
"independence of the workers organizations" but the "independence" of
society as a whole from any kind of state, i.e., the withering away of the
state. To get there from here, the number one pre-requisite is the
maintenance, defense and strengthening of the workers states. And that can
only be achieved through the empowerment of working people, to moving more
and more in the direction of they being collectively the masters of the
state, directly and transparently, so that they can wield that power against
the imperialist enemy.

    Stalinism, or if you prefer, the bureaucratic degeneration (or even, if
you like this term, "revisionist degeneration") of a workers state so that
working people more and more are atomized, depoliticized, denied effective
participation in running society, leads to capitalist restoration. THAT is
what has now been verified by the Eastern European and Soviet experience,
whatever our differences may be on the different stages this process went
through, terminology, and the role of individual personalities in it. And in
this regard, China's experiments with stock markets under socialism and so
on are extremely worrisome.

    So what we want in the transition period from capitalism to socialism,
where inevitably you're going to have in a workers state a bourgeois-type
bureaucratic apparatus and with it the attendant tendency or danger of the
bureaucracy consolidating itself as a social layer and politically
expropriating the working class, is for the workers through their
organizations to have the maximum amount of "clout" over the apparatus.

    How interpenetrated the workers organizations are with the apparatus is
not the issue. The issue is really, who is leading whom? Where does
effective power reside? Ultimately, you have to make a judgment about whose
interests the leading figures and political organizations in the government
are serving, what classes and social layers they represent.

    My objection to your speculations about the "shape" of workers democracy
in the U.S. is that it seems to me you have many useful insights and ideas,
but then you take this and make them into some sort of norm and standard by
which to measure Cuban reality, and of course reality is found wanting.

    But what is involved is not simply figuring out Cuba's "score" versus
some ideal checklist, but judging, concretely and politically, its role in
the world struggle against imperialism and for socialism.

    This is MORE than saying that, in the conflict between imperialism and
Cuba, we "defend" Cuba. I had no problem even "defending" a Pinochet against
the monstrous pretensions of the imperialists to set themselves up as judges
of what happened in Chile. Certainly the English and the Spanish, with their
dirty wars against the Irish and the Basques, have no shortage of THEIR OWN
torturers and hangmen to place in the dock. THAT would have been an example
100 times MORE powerful than placing someone else's butcher on trial,
because it would have been untainted by the centuries-old "white man's
burden" of lording it over the third world.

    And, going back some years, I defended Argentina's right to the Malvinas
Islands even while butchers like Gral. Videla and his ilk were at the head
of that nation.

    But I certainly do not consider Pinochet or Videla to be playing or have
ever played a vanguard role in the world proletarian struggle, whereas I DO
BELIEVE the Cuban revolution, the Cuban Communist Party, the revolutionary
people of Cuba, symbolized and led by Fidel Castro and his comrades, have
and continue to play such a role.

    You ask, on this question of "independent" organizations, where were the
Cuban comrades who were opposing the imperialist attempts to derail the
Nicaraguan revolution.

    That's a fair question and it deserves a fair answer. The answer is
that, clearly, beyond a shadow of a doubt,  they were in the Cuban Communist
Party, in the Cuban mass organizations, in the Cuban internationalist
volunteers who died in Nicaragua in much greater numbers than those of other
countries, although their martyrdom has gone largely unheralded to this day.

    Did they "oppose" Oscar Arias's "Contadora" peace process?  The question
posed this way makes no sense. Diplomatic maneuvering around Contadora
wasn't THAT important, what was MOST important was the actual relationship
of forces in Nicaraguan society, on the battlefield, and on a world scale.

    It was that latter factor, the world relationship of forces, that proved
decisive in the defeat in Nicaragua. The Soviet Union and other East
European socialist countries increasingly subordinated EVERYTHING to getting
a deal with the imperialists that would end the cold war. Former Soviet
foreign policy apparatchiks have said quite openly and clearly that they
TURNED DOWN, repeatedly, Nicaragua's pleas for more effective weapons with
which to defeat the contra in order not to "provoke" Reagan.

    And it wasn't just a question of the bad policies, bad thoughts inside
the heads of Gorby & Co.; at bottom, the social regime embodied in the
property relations that issued from the Russian revolution of October 1917
was on the verge of collapse, because the proletariat and the working people
generally had been cut off from playing their necessary role as the
conscious protagonists of building the new society.

    In the last analysis, after decades of bureaucratic misrule, there
wasn't enough left of the Russian revolution to save Nicaragua, and, as
history would show only a few years later, there wasn't even enough left to
save the Soviet Union itself.

    The Cubans did everything they could to strengthen the revolutionary
process in Nicaragua, sending thousands of volunteer teachers to the most
remote, uncomfortable places to help the Sandinistas follow the order of
Carlos Fonseca: "and also teach them how to read." There were many Cuban
military trainers and advisors to the Nicaraguan army, and if Nicaragua had
asked, there would have been tens of thousands of experienced Cuban
combatants who would have volunteered for front line duty against the
contra. Cuba gave hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid to
Nicaragua, and Fidel quite publicly and pointedly canceled all of
Nicaragua's debts to Cuba during his visit in January of 1985. It must be
said that if the leaders of the other socialist countries noticed the
underlying idea that the more developed countries had an internationalist
OBLIGATION to help the less developed ones FREELY, they did not, at any
rate, follow Cuba's example. THAT, of course, was part and parcel of the
whole bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian revolution.

    Did the Cuban government suppress some movement within Cuba to denounce
the FSLN leaders for --essentially-- being forced to maneuver within the
Contadora diplomatic framework? I do not know. I am aware of no such
movement, and I am extremely doubtful that there would have been any genuine
revolutionary in Cuba who would have thought the creation of such a movement
was a useful thing to do.

    That's because to make "opposition" to Contadora rather than to the
imperialist assault on the revolution the axis of solidarity work with
Nicaragua was, frankly, demented. The Sandinistas did not negotiate a truce
with the contra because all of a sudden they became enamored of Oscar
Arias's vapid peace mongering, but because the relationship of forces left
them very little choice. The revolution was being bled to death by the
contra war, and the Sandinistas were unable to bring the war to a decisive
military conclusion despite the heroism and sacrifices of tens of thousands
of young Nicaraguans.

    The situation in Managua in the closing months of 1987 was extremely
delicate. Food was ever scarcer and dearer for the mass of the population.
The economic storm which had broken out over the country as a result of the
war showed no signs of abating. There was a maddening and ruinous
hyper-inflation, which constantly accelerated. Large layers of the
population were desperate, the crisis had been growing more acute for three
years or more, and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. The mass
organizations had ceased to function. There were constant blackouts, no
water for days on end, a disastrous collapse of production, the
transportation networks, the works. Speculation spread like a cancer as did
bureaucratism and privilege-taking, despite the exemplary conduct of most
sandinista militants. The city, and quite likely most other major urban
areas, too, were on the verge of a social explosion of unfathomable

    A retreat was necessary, the country was heading straight over a cliff.

    Under THOSE circumstances, to focus one's fire on the tactical
diplomatic maneuvers chosen by the genuine, legitimate leadership of the
revolutionary process, instead of the imperialist enemy, was extremely
unhelpful, to say the least.

    At any rate, I remain convinced that if the FSLN leadership had opted
for trying to continue the all-out military effort against the contra into
1988, they ran a very great risk of detonating a social explosion which,
under the circumstances, could only have had a politically reactionary
character and could only have ended in the revolutionary government being
overthrown or hanging on to power as a military dictatorship.

    As things turned out, it is clear that the wounds suffered in the war by
the revolution were too deep, the damage too great, for the process to
survive. In this sense, it seems to me that, if anything, we might question
whether a retreat wasn't called for earlier (although I believe the FSLN
would not have been able to reach a truce with the contra
much earlier, while it was still dominated by Bermúdez and the ex-National
Guardsmen and not the peasant-based commanders who had just consolidated
their control at the time of the Sapoá truce).

    So, in terms of what could and should have been done to help Nicaragua,
I think the Cuban working people found in their party, in their armed
forces, in their mass organizations, and in their state the ideal vehicles
through which to carry out this activity.

    And this has to do with the CONCRETE question I keep asking you to focus
on: precisely which "independent workers organizations" supportive of the
revolution is the Cuban government  supposed to have suppressed? THEN, given
that Cuba is an embattled and besieged citadel, we would have to analyze, IF
SUCH A CASE COULD BE FOUND, whether the Cuban comrades went overboard or

    You seem to have the attitude that the unity among revolutionary Cubans
MUST be the result of repression rather than conviction and the political
culture and traditions of the island. I believe it is a FACT that there has
been no significant, large-scale attempt to go outside and around the
existing institutions (I say FACT because if anything like this had happened
on a significant scale, it would have come out).

    You cite the examples of China and the USSR to "prove" that the same
thing MUST have happened in Cuba. But Cuba is NOT the old vast Soviet Union,
stretching across 12 time zones, or even China. Cuba is a very small country
with a population of 11 million. About 20,000 people emigrate to the U.S.
every year from every corner of the island. At least tens of thousands of
Miami Cubans return to visit their relatives every year. Hundreds of
thousands stay in touch by phone, and, increasingly, email. There are
hundreds of thousands of visitors to Cuba from Canada and the EU every year.
The supposition that there MUST have been some significant, independent,
pro-revolution workers movement that was broken up and we just never heard
about it is simply not credible.

    In fact, on various email lists and such you can pick up accounts of
some quite insignificant incidents, and there is and has been for at least
close to a decade that I'm aware of the pseudo "independent" journalists.

    That there have been no such attempts on a significant scale is due not
to repression, but to the obvious logic of Fidel's maxim, that division in
the face of the enemy is not an intelligent and revolutionary strategy. And
it is simply a fact that those who become disenchanted with the revolution
tend to move ideologically to pro-imperialist positions and physically to

    [A good example of this is to be found on the web site of the Cuban
Democratic Social Revolutionary Party, which you refer to. It is the case of
Alvaro Prendes, who played a significant role in the Bay of Pigs battle as
one of revolutionary Cuba's few pilots. Prendes was a Batista military
officer who was court martialed under the dictatorship of inciting rebellion
in the armed forces. He then became part of the revolutionary armed forces
after the victory of the revolution, and wrote a famous book about his
experiences during the Bay of Pigs battle. According to the interview with
him, in 1964 he was court-martialed again, though he doesn't reveal details
of the incident, just that Raúl Castro presided and that among those present
was Ché. Somehow --he doesn't say how-- he was rehabilitated, became a
General, then was sanctioned --again he doesn't explain-- and his rank
reduced to the still-very-high rank of colonel, and finally court martialed
one last time in 1992. What he did then, as a high ranking officer of the
armed forces, was to assemble foreign journalists and release an open letter
to Fidel Castro demanding a "national dialogue" and all sorts of changes in
Cuba. He was not imprisoned but he was stripped of his military rank and
expelled from the armed forces. Two years later he was in Miami, giving
interviews about supposed chemical-biological warfare plants in Cuba. His
story was so "convincing" that it was picked up only by the gusano press and
right-wing outifts like National Review and the Washington Times.]

    I HOPE everyone here will agree that, under the conditions that have
prevailed over the past 40 years, and especially over the past decade, it is
unjustified to criticize the Cuban government for placing extreme limits on
the actions of people opposed to the revolution, just as criticizing Lincoln
for having suspended habeas corpus so that he could imprison northern
sympathizers of the slaveowners rebellion is not right.

    Inevitably, when such restrictions are put in place they also have
negative consequences, you pay a price for not being strong enough to
survive without them. Part of that price in Cuba has been, for example, that
the press doesn't really reflect the very rich political life of the
country, that it is not nearly as vigorous as one hopes it will become in
uncovering problems, putting them out before the working people as a whole
so they can be dealt with and so on.

    But it is not just the siege conditions that account for these
limitations. Underdevelopment ALSO has a great deal to do with this. It
takes a great deal of political maturity and what we in Spanish call
"culture" to deal with such matters and contradictions openly in such a way
as to minimize the ability of the enemy to take advantage of them. And it is
not just a question of the leading cadres, but of the masses of working

    That's why I think the "round table" program on Cuban TV born out of the
struggle to save Elián González is such a significant development. Leading
Cuban commentators discuss spontaneously to a whole series of issues, people
abroad reflecting a range of viewpoints of those sympathetic to the
revolution are interviewed. There are often contrasting or complimentary
viewpoints, one-sided things get said, nobody gets hot under the collar or
disappears from the show as a result. They read and deal quite openly with
the barrage of anti-Cuba propaganda especially in the U.S., they play
American TV reports which often incorporate or reflect openly
counterrevolutionary sentiments.

    This is, as yet, just a beginning, but it nevertheless represents a
breakthrough. What you have to ask and judge is, what is the direction of
motion of Cuban society as a whole over time, is it moving towards greater
workers control in the factories, greater popular control over the
institutions and actions of government at the local level, and over the
national government and its policies as a whole? Are the working people
increasingly conscious, organized, mobilized in defense of their own

    Clearly, contrasting between say, 1985 and 1995, one could not but see
everywhere that there had been a retreat. The great achievement then was NOT
that the revolution had ADVANCED but that it had SURVIVED the great global
counterrevolutionary wave of 1989-1991. But contrasting between the early
90s and today, one has to say not just that the revolution has survived but
that it is once again advancing, advancing economically and most importantly
advancing politically. And Fidel has said one great new battle that the
revolution has begun to wage is to make the Cuban people as a whole much
more "cultured" (or perhaps "educated" would be a better translation), but
not just restricted to formal education or the arts, as the words in English
imply. What he's talking about is that the Cuban people as a whole will have
the broad general knowledge about everything from opera to biotechnology to
everything having to do with political and social questions. And he's said,
much as we have advanced in the past 40 years, that was only the foundation
for the kind of advance we envision for the next 10 years.

    That of necessity will imply a tremendous broadening and deepening of
popular democracy, not necessarily in the sense of more formal guarantees,
but in the sense of the actual participation by the masses collectively in
running the affairs of society.

    We should also be conscious that there is a tremendous amount of Cuba's
political life that we are simply unaware of. What is it like to work in a
Cuban factory? What are the discussions they have at union meetings? What
are the discussions inside the party like? What is the practical,
week-to-week political activity of party militants?  What were the
discussions prior to the last party Congress like? What was in the hundreds
of amendments proposed to the draft main resolution which were printed in
internal bulletins?

    We simply do not know the answer to many of these questions. We know
SOMETHING is going on there, because you see hints and signs of it from time
to time. But its exact shape and full import we can't tell.

    It may seem that what's going on in Cuba is small potatoes compared to
your dreams of what American workers democracy may be like, and that may
well be true. But although they loom large in world affairs, the combined
populations of the imperialist "advanced" countries account for about a
tenth or so of the world's population. History shows that imperialist
control tends to break at its weakest links, and therefore, that the NEXT
socialist revolutions are much more likely in the semicolonial world than in
the United States, the European Union or Japan. If one wanted to be
extremely schematic, one could speculate that it would be only after a whole
series of these countries have shattered direct imperialist control,
undermining the superprofits that make it possible for the imperialist
bourgeoisie to maintain relative social peace in their own countries, that
revolutions would become likely in the traditional OECD countries. I am not
a believer in such vulgar economic determinism, because, as Lenin said,
theory is gray but life is green. But unquestionably, those sorts of factors
are an extremely important influence, even if they are not the only ones and
even if we know that sometimes new phenomena arise that break all our

    So while it may seem unimportant compared to the vistas opened by
universal broadband access in the imperialist countries 10 or 20 years down
the road, I think what Cuba is doing today may prove to be quite
significant, for undoubtedly, any new socialist revolution will try to
assimilate and apply the lessons to be drawn from previous experiences. That
Cuba, the most exposed, the smallest, the least developed, the "weakest" of
the old CAME association survived while the others did not is a fact that
will not be missed by leaders of new revolutions.

    Finally, on our "friends" of the Cuban Social Revolutionary Democratic
Party. Programmatically, what they propose, is, clearly, in Marxist terms, a
bourgeois restoration. They advocate dismantling the state monopoly of
foreign trade and privatization of the means of production (some to
individual capitalists, some to cooperatives, some to mixed enterprises),
the reintroduction of the market as the fundamental organizing force of the
economy (which, of course, they claim they will regulate so that it
functions for the public good).

    The sorts of things they propose undoubtedly, in a country like the
United States, would make them part of the Left, but they aren't proposing
that for the U.S., they are proposing it for Cuba where their program is
clearly reactionary, counterrevolutionary in fact.

    As for their actual class politics, try this exercise:  Go to their
documents, and put in the word "Bloqueo" (blockade) in the search field of
your browser's Find function. Then put "embargo." You won't get a single
hit. I searched for "yanqui" (not there)  for "imperialismo" (only mentioned
in a historical account about the 1930s) and many other terms. Nowhere on
their site was I able to find the plain, simple statement that they are
opposed to the U.S. blockade against Cuba. On the contrary, in some
extremely convoluted sentences in the middle of their "Social Revolutionary
Economic Theses," they argue that, basically, your point of view on the cold
war, U.S. policy towards Cuba, etc., are irrelevant to figuring out what the
future of Cuban society should be!

    That is I must say a classically petty-bourgeois position, being "above"
the actual existing class struggle that is going on before your very eyes.
In the case of Cuba, it is astonishing that some group that claims to be
"revolutionary" and heir to the traditions of José Martí and the revolution
of 1933 and 1959 could simply assert that, really, your stance towards what
is basically the annexation of Cuba (Helms-Burton, Cuban Democracy Act,
etc.) is not relevant.

    The whole tenor of the group is captured by this appeal for support:

    "Do you think a greater effort must be made in order to spread social
revolutionary thought in Cuba?

    "And should we offer solidarity to those, whether in the government's
field or in the non-governmental field who want a whole renewal of the
country's organization?

    "Should unionists, peasants, artists and intellectuals who are trying to
change the course of the revolutionary process be granted collaboration and
solidarity in their efforts?

    "Do you feel that solidarity among our people[s] must be increased in
order to create an international society based on liberty, justice and
peace, excluding the use of violence?

    "If you believe in this, contact us, we need your political and
economical support."

    These guys have the magic key to creating an international society of
"liberty, justice and peace" without violence ... and such bothersome
details as opposing the imperialist blockade against their homeland.

    That your cothinkers are attracted to such a group, and imagine it is
"way to the left" of the Cuban Communist Party should be, I think, a clear
warning to you and them that your formalistic insistence on an abstract
"right to organize" without asking yourself, who you are organizing and for
what purpose, will, in the specific case of Cuba, lead you to wind up in bed
with people you wouldn't want to be with.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ben Seattle" <Left-Transparency at>
To: <marxism at>
Cc: <jg_perez at>; <gunnar.kreku at>; "Macdonald
Stainsby" <mstainsby at>; <soreb123 at>; <theorist at>
Sent: Sunday, August 27, 2000 4:48 AM
Subject: Proletarian democracy in Cuba--fact or fiction?

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