[Marxism] The two souls of socialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 20 07:33:39 MDT 2005

>I can only assume that this statement is based on ignorance of the 
>theoretical work of political tradition to which Alex Callinicos belongs. 
>Starting with Tony Cliff's "The Nature of Stalinist Russia", first 
>published in 1948, theoreticians of the IS tradition have produced 
>detailed studies of state capitalism in general and of particular 
>countries, e.g. Chris Harman's various studies of Poland during the 1970s 
>and 1980s. Other studies include Nigel Harris's "Mandate of Heaven" (on 
>China, written in the immediate post-Mao period), Mike Haynes on market 
>socialism and class relations in the Soviet union, Andy Zebrowski and 
>Colin Barker on Solidarity in Poland and the post-solidarity development 
>or Alex Callinicos own "Revenge of History" on the events of 1989 - I 
>could go on. Unfortunately, most of these aren't available on-line but I 
>think I can safely say that it is a total misconception to allege that the 
>IS tradition is based on ignoring the "need ... to study in detail and on 
>its own terms the Soviet state and its evolution".
>Einde O'Callaghan

Unfortunately, the same thing can not be said about the British SWP's Cuba 
"expert" Mike Gonzalez. His study that you posted to MIA in Germany was 
co-written with Peter Binns and relies heavily on sources hostile to the 
Cuban government like Theodore Draper, Rene Dumont, Carmela Mesa-Lago and 
the ineffable Sam Farber. I'll never quite understand why it is okay to 
cite Faber as some kind of expert on Cuba (the ISO's failing as well) but 
to reject his writings on the USSR as a pastiche of Ulam, Conquest and 
other Sovietologists as John Rees does.

This article, which can be read at 
http://www.marxists.de/statecap/cuba/80-cucas.htm, refers continuously to 
the Cuban "ruling class" but does not bother to support this allegation 
with any concrete examination of its alleged privileges. By contrast, 
Trotsky's "Revolution Betrayed" is filled with material about bureaucratic 
privilege--without, of course, drawing erroneous conclusions.

The bourgeois press is peppered with references to how difficult it is to 
get rich in Cuba. Even with the introduction of foreign-owned hotels, you 
don't see the growth of a class of millionaires of the kind that developed 
early on in post-Maoist China. That is why jazz musicians and athletes are 
constantly being lured to the USA. You'd think that Marxists would want to 
find out more about the structure of a Cuban society that they are so 
anxious to indict. However, Binns and Gonzalez prefer to make empty 
observations based on secondary literature.

The one thing that is missing from this article and just about everything 
else that is written about Cuba in the state-capitalist press is FIRST HAND 
EXPERIENCE such as this:

Edward Boorstein's "The Economic Transformation of Cuba":

By October 1960 most of this administrative and technical personnel had 
left Cuba. The Americans and some of the Cubans were withdrawn by the home 
companies of the plants for which they worked, or left of their own accord: 
they found themselves unable to understand the struggle with the United 
States, unwilling to accept the new way of life that was opening up before 

The Revolutionary Government had to keep the factories and mines going only 
with a minute proportion of the usual trained and experienced personnel. A 
few examples can perhaps best give an idea of what happened.

Five of us from the Ministry of Foreign Commerce, on a business visit, were 
being taken through the Moa nickel plant. In the electric power 
station--itself a large plant--which served the rest of the complex, our 
guide was an enthusiastic youngster of about 22. He did an excellent job as 
guide, but his modesty as well as his age deceived us and only toward the 
end of our tour did we realize that he was not some sort of apprentice 
engineer or assistant--he was in charge of the plant. I noticed that he 
spoke English well and asked him if he had lived in the States. "Sure," he 
answered, "I studied engineering at Tulane." As soon as he finished, he had 
come back to work for the Revolution and had been placed in charge of the 
power plant.

In another part of the complex, the head of one of the key departments was 
a black Cuban who had about four years of elementary school education. He 
had been an observant worker and when engineer of his department left he 
knew what to do--although he didn't really know why, or how his department 
related to the others in the plant. Now to learn why, he was plugging away 
at his minimo tecnico manual--one of the little mimeographed booklets which 
had been distributed throughout industry to improve people's knowledge of 
their jobs.

And so on throughout the Moa plant. The engineer in charge of the whole 
enterprise, who had a long cigar in his hand and his feet on the desk as he 
gave us his criticisms of the way our Ministry was handling his import 
requirements, was about 28 years old. His chief assistants were about the 
same age and some of them were obviously not engineers.

Yet Moa was made to function. Even laymen are struck with its delicate 
beauty--a testament to American engineering skill. 'Es una joya'--it's a 
jewel, say the Cubans. It is much more impressive than the larger but older 
nickel plant at Nicaro. Shortly after the nickel ore is clawed out of the 
earth by giant Bucyrus power shovels, it a pulverized and mixed with water 
to form a mixture 55 percent and 45 percent water. From then on all 
materials movement is liquids, in pipes, automatically controlled. The 
liquids move through the several miles of the complex, in and out of the 
separate plants, with the reducers, mixing vats, etc. Everything depends on 
innumerable delicate instruments, and on unusual materials, resistant to 
exceptions high temperatures and various kinds of chemical reaction. The 
margin for improvising in repairing or replacing parts is small-much 
smaller than in the mechanized rather than the automated Nicaro plant. Yet 
the Moa plant was in operation when we were there: two of the main 
production lines were going-and all four would have been going jf it had 
not been necessary to cannibalize two lines to get replacement parts for 
the other two.

Except that Moa was an especially complex and difficult operation, jt was 
typical of what happened throughout the mines and factories, and far that 
matter in the railroads, banks, department stores, and movie houses that 
had been taken over. The large oil companies had expected that the Cubans 
would not be able to run the oil refineries. But they were wrong. When a 
co-worker and I talked to the young administrator of the now combined 
Esso-Shell refineries across the bay from Havana, he said, only 
half-jokingly, that he was about two lessons ahead of us in his 
understanding of how the refinery worked--and I wondered how it was kept 
going. But we had been around the ten minutes earlier and there it was--going.

A textile plant was placed in the charge of a bearded young man of about 23 
who had impressed Major Guevara with his courage and resourcefulness in the 
Rebel Army. The former Procter and Gamble plant, which each year turns out 
several million dollars worth of soaps, and tooth paste, was run by a 
former physician who, besides being generally able, knew some chemistry. 
For many months, the Matahambre copper mine was in the charge of an 
American geologist, a friend of mine. After coming to Cuba to work for the 
Revolution, he had been pressed into service, though he was not a mining 
engineer and had never run a mine, because he was still the most qualified 
person available. He had to educate himself rapidly in mine ventilation; 
this was one of Matahambre's biggest problems at the time. I went through 
the mine with him once end it was obvious from the way the men treated him 
that he had gained their respect for the way he was handling his job.

Once an economist from the Ministry of Industry and I visited a large plant 
near Matanzas that produced rayon for tires, textiles, and export. We 
sensed at the plant that the harassed, outspoken administrator, almost the 
only engineer left, was all but sustaining the whole operation by himself. 
We got into a conversation about him with one one of his assistants. It 
turned out he had a bad leg of some sort which was giving him trouble; his 
father, who had owned valuable property in the nearby swanky bathing resort 
at Varadero was out of sympathy with the Revolution; and his brother, also 
an engineer, had left for Venezuela or some such place. But there he was, 
holding a meeting with his staff at 11 P.M., using all his energy to help 
keep the rayonera going.

When you walked through a Cuban factory, you didn't need to be told that it 
was under new management--you could see and feel it everywhere. In the 
Pheldrake plant for producing wire and cable, formerly owned by Dutch and 
American interests, the whole office of administration was filled by men in 
shirt-sleeves who were unmistakably workers; the engineers had gone and the 
workers had taken over. On the main floor, a group of them were 
struggling--using baling wire techniques--to repair one of the extrusion 
machines so that the wire required by the Cuban telephone industry could be 
kept coming. In a large tobacco factory, the administrator was black; in 
the metal-working plant formerly owned by the American Car and Foundry 
Company, the head of a department turning out chicken incubators was black. 
Black people had not held such positions before the Revolution.

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/state_and_revolution/cuba.htm 

More information about the Marxism mailing list