Taaffe on Cuba - Online
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at netzero.net
Mon Sep 3 23:47:02 MDT 2001
I'm afraid comrades looking for a serious analysis of any aspect of the
Cuban revolution would waste their time reading Taaffe. A quick examination
of his screed reveals it for the usual "Trotskyist" sectarian windbaggery:
Fidel was just sort of a mildly social democratic bourgeois reformer, events
made him go much further than he intended, but --thank God!-- the revolution
was born bureaucratically deformed, and Fidel is a Stalinist dictator,
although personally not nearly as despicable as Uncle Joe.
All of this, of course, proving that Trotsky was right.
The book proceeds by the well-known method of amalgamation of quotations
and "facts" from the usual bourgeois journalists, professors and authors,
coupled with an ahistorical simplemindedness that makes me wonder whether
the author isn't an American. All the usual suspects have been rounded up:
Carlos Franqui, KS Karol, Herbert Matthews, Hugh Thomas, John Lee Anderson,
Maurice Zeitlin, Tad Szulc...
Thus we get the usual propaganda common among those circles, everything
from presenting Fidel and Che as the two central leaders of the revolution
(when in FACT Raúl Castro has been the second-in-command of the revolution
since the Sierra Maestra days), to echoing the idea that Che disagreed with
Fidel and that's why he left Cuba. (A more nuanced version of these same
themes is given in another pamphlet about Che by another person from Taafe's
current, also available at the web site).
Given the sources, mistakes abound. One that really sticks out --it must
be some sort of sectarian mantra for this outfit-- is that the Cuban
revolution was based in the countryside and thus peasant based. "The
guerrilla struggle from late 1956 to the fleeing of Batista in early 1959
was based upon the population in the rural areas. The urban working class
was looked towards for material, moral and sometimes industrial support, but
the main focus of the struggle, as explicitly described by Castro and
Guevara, was in the countryside and based on the rural population."
I'll leave aside how accurate his description of the situation in Cuba
from late 1956 to 1959, pointing out only that July 26 movement guerrilla
activity was confined for most of that period to a couple of small
mountainous zones, remote from the bulk of Cuba's rural population. So what
is said about the urban workers is also applicable to the big majority of
the peasantry and rural proletariat. What is most notable, however, is
viewing the Granma landing as the beginning of the revolution and Batista's
pre-dawn flight on Jan. 1, 1959 as its conclusion.
The author claims to be an adherent of Trotsky's theory of Permanent
Revolution (which was really Marx and Engels's theory, as is clear from the
Manifesto, but let that pass) without stopping to think about the
implication of placing the adjective "permanent" in such close proximity to
the noun "revolution." If nothing else, it should suggest that the
revolution is a *process* which undergoes a *development.* It does not
As far as Taafe is concerned, the role of the social classes in the
Cuban revolution is defined by the period of the guerrilla struggle and is
then fossilized, frozen in amber on January 1, 1959. This allows him to
"Of course, the conscious role of the working class as the leader of the
revolution was a vital ingredient of Trotsky's theory. This was absent in
China and in Cuba. Therefore, in a certain sense, there is here a partial
negation of Trotsky's theory of the Permanent Revolution. A social
revolution, the elimination of landlordism and capitalism, takes place but
without the working class playing a directly leading role. Nevertheless,
because of the peculiar balance of forces nationally and internationally,
above all because of the complete blind alley for these societies on the
basis of capitalism, a Bonapartist elite resting on a peasant army balances
between the classes and presides over a social revolution. However, what
emerges is a deformed workers' state rather than a state in which the
working class and
poor peasantry exercise direct control and management of industry and
society through democratically elected soviets or councils."
This is, of course, total bunk. The working class, organized as such,
and conscious of its historic interests, DID play the leading role in the
Cuban Revolution. All that is necessary is to DROP the arbitrary 25-month
1956-1959 framework, and look at what actually HAPPENED, in the real world.
For example, it may sound quite profound to talk about a "Bonapartist
elite" that is "resting on a peasant army." It is the kind of pronouncement
that gives real heft to political resolutions for party congresses.
But this army in Cuba's case consisted, in mid-1958, of at most 500
combatants. By the time Batista fled, it was no more than 3,000, and of
those, 1000 were raw recruits, mostly without weapons, and with NO combat
experience. How does an "elite" resting on such a narrow base manage to
expropriate the fairly well-developed Cuban capitalist class, not to mention
its American and British masters?
For comparison, the outgoing Batista dictatorship had, between the army
and police, some 70,000 men in arms. They killed some 20,000 people during
the revolutionary struggle (which should give you an idea that much more was
going on than just raids by guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra). Some 600 of
the most notorious henchmen of the dictatorship were executed for war crimes
after trials in the weeks following the victory of the revolution, and a
couple of thousand more were imprisoned.
So, if we take the 500 experienced guerrilla fighters, how do they
manage to be a social base for a privileged caste? You're talking about less
than .01% of the population -- not NEARLY enough for a caste worthy of the
name, never mind a commodious "base" on which it is to rest.
(And couple that with another interesting fact: the "Movement" that
carried out the attack on the Moncada barracks in 1953, entirely
urban-based, had some 2,000 members. Fidel *began* the open revolutionary
struggle with FOUR TIMES as many organized URBAN followers as he had RURAL
guerrilla fighters on the fifth anniversary of Moncada.)
The truth is, of course, that, just as the July 26 Movement was much
MORE than the guerrillas, the revolution did not END on January 1, 1959.
Indeed, what Fidel told people then wasn't that the revolution had ended,
but that it was *beginning.* Whoever bothers to examine what really
happened AFTER January 1 will have no difficulty in discovering that it
involved the massive mobilization and radicalization of the working class;
its becoming conscious of its own class interests; and then reshaping Cuban
society on the basis of those interests through the forcible expropriation
of the capitalists, urban and rural, foreign and domestic.
How does Taafe imagine that the expropriation of the bourgeoisie takes
place? Does he think they read a notice in the newspaper and just board the
next plane to Miami? No, that property has to be taken BY FORCE: by groups
of armed men. In the Cuban case, those "groups of armed men" were the
militia, i.e., the Cuban working class organized as a ruling class, under
the leadership of a proletarian vanguard, the rebel army.
I've written about on this list before about the specifics of the early
days of the Cuban revolution, and in particular, when comparing it to the
history of the Russian revolution, that Cuba's "Kerensky" period did not
come BEFORE the seizure of power, but AFTERWARDS. The first government
formed after Batista fled was composed entirely of bourgeois figures except
for Fidel, who was minister of the armed forces. There was a prolonged
period of political development, basically from January until October or
November, the essence of which was getting the masses to abandon their
"revolutionary" illusions in a whole series of bourgeois figures and
Imagine what would have happened if, through some peculiar combination
of circumstances, some Bolshevik led committee had wound up with control of
St. Petersburg in February of 1917. Would this have ipso facto turned
February into October? Would it have obviated the need for a period of
intense political experience and development among the broadest masses of
working people, in which and through which the proletariat achieved full
political class consciousness and found an organized expression of that
consciousness in the Bolsheviks?
The meaning of the events of 1959, 1960, and 1961 remains a mystery to
Taaffe. The author is obviously totally unfamiliar with much of the academic
work and reminiscences that have been published in Cuba and elsewhere on the
early years of the revolution. And much the same can be said of recent
events. For example, he is blissfully unaware of Cuba's representative
democratic institutions, the Assemblies of People's Power, even as he rails
against the supposed lack of democracy on the island. He quotes material
criticizing the way Fidel governed in the late 1960s (I'll leave aside how
accurate the criticism) as if things were unchanged. Since the main
conclusion of his magnum opus is that workers democracy is the answer, one
would have thought a critique of the way Cuba actually functions today, and
not a critique of how a half-dozen bourgeois scribes imagined it functioned
decades ago, would have been called for. He insists, for example, that "All
representatives and officials must be elected, subject to recall by those
they represent and receive only the average wage of a skilled worker,"
little suspecting that this is in FACT the case in Cuba today. Taaffe says
Cuba needs this, not because he's made any attempt to investigate Cuban
conditions, but simply because Marx said so (in relation to the Commune).
One gets the impression that the author a) Has never been to Cuba and b)
Has never read first-hand any of the Cubans own materials on their own
history and c) does not follow and has not bothered to review the Cuban
periodical press. Which raises the obvious question: what makes him think he
is qualified to write a book about Cuba at all?
Whatever the answer to THAT question, Taaffe was in fact moved to write
the book --if his own account is to be believed-- by what I would classify
as purely sectarian concerns: a criticism by Doug Lorimer, of the Australian
Democratic Socialist Party, of a 1978 pamphlet by Taaffe. If Taaffe's
account is accurate, Lorimer's critique was written as a contribution to a
discussion between the DSP and another party, which involves people who left
Taaffe's international current. This critique was not issued publicly, but
rather in one of the DSP's internal bulletins and came into the possession
of a Taaffe supporter in Australia, who promptly dispatched a copy to
Taaffe nevertheless feels compelled to answer it publicly, because, he
says, the DSP has been courting his followers in Australia. "The DSP likes
to present itself, through its weekly journal Green Left Weekly, as a
friendly, approachable 'facilitator' of organizations and left leaders
throughout the world, who are genuinely fighting for socialism. Occasionally
the mask slips and scathing attacks are unleashed against their opponents in
the Australian and world labor movement. The Australian supporters of the
CWI, the Socialist Party formerly the Militant Socialist Organisation, have
been the recipients of such treatment. Dismissed by the DSP as
'insignificant', the DSP has nevertheless sought to court our Australian
organisation, strives to attract them into their ranks and has offered them
positions on their national committee while, behind the scenes, secretly and
venomously attacking the leadership and the members of the CWI."
Frankly, nothing related by Taaffe about what Lorimer said seemed
particularly venomous to me, nor even excessively polemical. As for the
"secret" part, while this particular article by Lorimer may have been
private, the DSP hasn't really been that shy about explaining its position
on Cuba. I don't think Taaffe found anything in Lorimer's piece that hasn't
been also said publicly by the DSP. And indeed, Taaffe doesn't restrict
himself to polemicizing against Lorimer's private piece, but goes after a
number of other Lorimer and DSP articles to "prove" that these comrades are
apostates from Trotskyism.
I think the rest of us with no direct stake in what seems to be mostly a
fit of pique by Taaffe that Lorimer dared to disagree with him, and that the
DSP had the temerity to engage in unity discussions with other groups on the
Australian left without his permission, can safely ignore this book.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Xxxx Xxxxxx" <xxxxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxx.xx>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Monday, September 03, 2001 5:08 PM
Subject: Taaffe on Cube - Online
Socialist Party (England and Wales) General Secretary Peter Taaffe's latest
book, Cuba: Socialism & Democracy is now available in an online format.
More information about the Marxism