Trotskyism and the Cuban revolution

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Fri Jul 4 23:31:58 MDT 2003

My good friend Jose G. Perez refers us to the
debate between himself an some ultraleftists
regarding Cuba. I remember those articles at
the time. They seemed great and as one who
was a member of the US Socialist Workers
Party at the time, I was duly impressed with
what appeard to be the solid record of Cuba
support by the SWP.

However, imagine my surprise some years
later on when I looked into these things only
to find out that the US SWP had maintained
a completely typically Trotskyist attitude which
guided them toward a deep suspicion of and
hostility toward Cuba's revolutionary leaders.

Trotsky's Permanent Revolution always was
a good description of past processes, but a
poor prescription for what should be done to
advance a revolutionary cause, I now believe.

If you read Lionel Martin's THE EARLY FIDEL:
you can get a good explanation of this, though
without any discussion of Trotskyism. The few
followers of Trotskyism were either drawn into
the process or swept aside by the process.

Guided by the Trotskyist theory of Permanent
Revolution, the SWP was deeply suspicious
of and hostile to the Cuban Revolution under
the leadership of Fidel Castro. In an editorial
Cuban Revolution, the SWP denounced the
leadership of that revolution in the loudest
possible terms.

Of course, I didn't know about that since later
on, when I came around the SWP since they
had changed their views and quietly wrote in
a completely different spirit. It was that new
line which attracted me to the SWP in 1961.

Here's that old "Militant" editorial from 1960.

The Militant (editorial)

Monday, January 18, 1960, Vol. XXIV - No. 3

The Cuban revolution has reached the crossroads. In one
direction lies nationalization of industry and still more
sweeping measures of progressive character. In the other,

This is our estimate. It is also the estimate of other
forces. Here is a report that appeared in the Wall Street
Journal: "Businessmen, many of them already convinced that
almost complete nationalization of Cuba's basic industry is
in the offing, have a new worry: The possibility of

According to the same source, "opposition groups are busy
collecting funds to buy arms and.the wealthy and
middle-class Cubans, who have suffered the most under
Castro, are ripe for revolt."

An American businessman in Havana told the Wall Street
Journal, "Now I have reason to hope Castro will be

It is the hope for a successful counter-revolution that has
inspired the screaming in our native American capitalist
press against the Castro regime.  America's capitalist
rulers recall how they succeeded in 1954 in overthrowing the
Arbenz government of Guatemala to which the Castro
government bears some resemblance.

A crew of adventurers was put together under a Lt. Col.
Armas. They were a miserable lot, but they enjoyed powerful
support; behind them stood the banana kins of United Fruit
and - the State Department.  The American embassy was
directly involved in the conspiracy that succeeded in
overthrowing the Guatemalan government by force and

Can an overturn like the one in Guatemala now be engineered
in Cuba?  Our imperialist masters seem to hope so.  While
the Cuban counter-revolutionaries collect funds in the
skyscrapers of Manhattan to buy arms, the State Department
is utilizing its worldwide influence to cut off sources of
modern arms to the Cuban government.  In one scandalous
instance that came to light, British spokesmen acknowledged
that their government had bowed to Washington's wishes.

True enough, the Wall Street plotters may decide to keep
their Cuban Armas under wraps for a time.  Tad Szulc, in an
informative series of articles in the New York Times,
explained that those who determine State Department policy
are afraid that any "drastic United States action" today
would arouse all of Latin America. So they are taking it on
the slow bell.  "They feel it is necessary to let the wind
of extremism blow themselves out."

To take such diplomatic delay as signifying an indefinite
extension of time would be about the worst mistake the
Castro forces could make.  Evil as it is, the baleful gaze
which the press has turned on Cuba gives little indication
of the true fury and malevolent intent which the world
center of imperialist capital is measuring the revolution
that broke out on its Latin-American doorstep.

Yankee investments in Cuba are estimated by banking circles
as worth somewhere between $800 million and $1 billion.
That's not a philanthropic fund set up for the benefit of
the Cuban people. It represents an intricate network of
economic control threatening the rich Caribbean island like
the gray mycelium of a monstrous parasite.

How powerful the forces are to which the
counter-revolutionaries look for support can be judged from
the following partial list of companies holding property in
Cuba:  Abbott Laboratories, American & Foreign Power,
Atlantic Refining, Bethlehem Steel, Chase Manhattan Bank,
Chrysler, Esso, First National Bank of Boston, First
National City Bank of New York, Freeport Sulphur, Gulf Oil,
International Harvester, International Telephone &
Telegraph, Lykes Bros. Steamship, Pan American World
Airways, Shell Oil, Standard Oil of California, Texaco,
united Fruit.

Besides that the Catholic Church has begun to organize
"action groups" in each of Cuba's 66 parishes.


The Cuban revolution, however, cannot easily be "contained,"
no matter how intense the wish in the countinghouses of New

The power of the Cuban landlords and capitalists, who acted
under Batista as venal agents for the foreign masters, lies

The class forces pressing the Cuban revolution forward are
of great scope and depth.  The peasantry wants a clean sweep
of the feudal-like estates. The workers, elated by the
victory over Batista, have already begun to reorganize,
foreshadowing their entrance in the arena as the socialist
force needed to assure the final success of the revolution.

Despite a rightward swing in many countries, the
international setting favors the Cuban revolution. It is
part of the world-wide upheaval which began at the close of
World War II and which is now shaking the Mideast and
Africa.  From China to Cuba the revolutions tend to
strengthen each other as they weaken capitalism.

The main danger to the Cuban revolution is in its own
leadership.  The class background of the Castro forces is
petty bourgeois.  From university circles these
revolutionaries moved into rural areas where they gathered
strength as guerrilla fighters dedicated to agrarian reform.
Their aims were nationalist and equalitarian - independence
from foreign domination, and end to government corruption,
reduction of special privileges, improvements for the poor.

These aims coincided with those of small business and
therefore attracted support from sections of the Cuban
bourgeoisie smarting under the Batista dictatorship.

When Castro's peasant forces swept into the cities, he
bourgeois wing of the leadership sought strategic government
posts where they could best influence economic and financial
policies.  Wall Street viewed these figures favorably.

The more revolutionary-minded elements projected
far-reaching reforms, especially against the big
landholders.  But they procrastinated. And they failed to
consider such fundamental measures as nationalization of
industry, government monopoly of foreign trade, and the
expropriation of the capitalists.

The result was a relative decline in Castro's strength and
popularity.  Emboldened by this, the bourgeois wing of the
leadership began to differentiate a right-ward position. The
Counter-revolutionaries plotted bombing expeditions.  The
weakening of the revolution culminated in the October

In this Castro turned leftward.  He ousted the most
suspicious figures from their strategic posts, staged great
mass rallies and opened a campaign against the
counter-revolutionaries and their American backers.

The agrarian reforms were speeded up.  Along with division
of the land, the formation of co-operatives received fresh
impetus.  The National Institute of Agrarian Reform was
given greater weight among the government institutions.

Steps were also taken against the capitalist owners of
industry.  One of these is a transitional measure called
"intervention."  Ownership, with its tapping of profits,
still remains as before, but the owners' control is
"intervened."  Control is shifted to representatives of the

A transitional step that cuts still deeper is a "request" to
businessmen to begin training army men in the operation of
their business; in other words, to prepare a substitute

In addition, the government was authorized to take over
temporarily any business which as a serious labor dispute or
which discharges workers.  The squeeze was increased from
another direction by levying higher taxes on mineral
concessions and imposing stiff regulations on exploitation
of petroleum resources.

These transitional measures are in the right direction.  But
they were taken in response to immediate pressures.  They
were not foreseen, still less included in the program of the
Castro leadership which spoke only vaguely of nationalizing
the electric and telephone companies.  This gives the
revolution the appearance of headlessness.  How long can
this petty-bourgeois government get by in such fashion? At
what point will it prove incapable of transcending its
petty-bourgeois character?

To consolidate the revolution, no choice is open but to take
the road of nationalizing the key industries, instituting
socialist property forms, constructing a planned economy and
undertaking an active policy for a similar course throughout
Latin America.  The aim of Cuba's foreign policy should be
the formation of a United States of Latin America that could
unite all countries below the Rio Grande in an interlocking
socialist economy of enormous productive capacity.

The alternative to that grandiose perspective is stagnation,
demoralization and decline of the Cuban revolution, an
eventual counter-revolutionary victory and the restoration
of a dictatorial regime even worse than that of Batista.

Which will it be?

Editor: Joseph Hansen
Managing Editor: Daniel Roberts
Business Manager: Karolyn Kerry

Signed articles by contributors do not necessarily represent
the Militant's policies. These are expressed in editorials.

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