[Marxism] Cuba and "actual organs of the working class in power" (was RE: Deutscher Prize: Who Moderates the Moderator?)

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Tue Nov 29 15:02:45 MST 2005

Cde. Aaron writes, "Second, I have not yet seen a coherent argument   -
certainly not from Hansen 
- that there are actual organs of the working class in power in Cuba."

I'm going to start with this point of comrade Aaron's argument as I
think it is the heart of the case, that the revolution in Cuba was
marked from its birth by a non-proletarian character.

A lot of this is in response to what I've seen of presentations of the
views of Cliff and others on the character of the rebel army as a
peasant army. And of the force that eventually takes power as based
essentially in rural areas.

This is historically inaccurate, though it did coincide with much of
that was written in the 1960's and even with the oversimplifications of
Cuba's experiences that were presented in those years as arguments for
the Cuban guerilla warfare line.

The origins of the July 26 Movement lie in the left wing of the orthodox
party in Cuba of the late 1940's and early 1950's. Fidel was a candidate
for the legislature in the 1952 elections that were prevented by
Batista's March 10 coup. In response, he filed a lawsuit and organized a
grouping known as "youth of the centennial," an underground
conspiratorial organization that grew to include 2000 people, mostly
workers, students and young people from the lower middle class. It was
overwhelmingly urban, with zero peasant base that I know of. The
centennial referred to is that of José Martí's birth, who was the
central political leader of the movement to wrest independence from
Spain in the late 1800's.

This is the group that organized the attack on the Moncada Barracks on
July 26, 1953. The seizure of the barracks was meant to spark a popular
uprising to bring down the Batista dictatorship installed a year
earlier, but the rebels were defeated, many were killed during the
battle or afterwards and others imprisoned. 

The movement reorganized as the July 26 Movement, and waged a political
offensive demanding amnesty for the July 26 prisoners. As a result, the
July 26 Movement grew. I have never seen any membership figures, and
indeed "membership" as we think of it may not have been the most
meaningful concept. It did have the active support of tens of thousands
of Cubans, perhaps hundreds of thousands, even including some members of
capitalist families. 

The program of the July 26 Movement was a series of economic, democratic
and transitional demands contained in the pamphlet "History Will Absolve
Me," which was Fidel Castro's defiant closing argument at his trial for
the Moncada events.

The December, 1956 landing carried out by Fidel and his friends was
another military misadventure, and of the 80-some expeditionaries,
perhaps 15-20 eventually regrouped in the Sierra Maestra, with most of
the rest returning to urban areas.

Thus the July 26 movement that came to power in 1959 was far, far
broader than the 3,000 or so members of the rebel army, only 500 or so
of which had been in the guerrilla movement for even six months and of
whom only about 1,000 had been in long enough to have any significant
combat experience. Those who viewed themselves as part of the July 26
Movement and actively collaborated with it were many times those
numbers, primarily urban and working class in composition, not
exclusively so.

The presentation on the origins of the Cuban government that I've seen
from the state capitalist comrades typically atop at the beginning of
1959, viewing the revolution as something that "happened" at that point.

The point of view of the Cubans is that the victory marked the
*beginning* of the revolutionary process, which, viewed as a series of
profound structural changes in the state apparatus and the economy, went
on for AT LEAST a couple of years, culminating with the expropriation of
the Cuban capitalists as a class in October of 1960, and viewed in a
broader was as a process of transforming society, continues to this day.

There are several stages of the process in that time that need to be
clearly understood. 

The first is the stage of the revolutionaries using a tactic similar to
Lenin's "critical support" to consolidate their current among the masses
and isolate the bourgeois parties and petty-bourgeois democracy,
especially the politicians.

They did so by *placing the government* in the hands of these forces
while at the same time, carrying out an intense series of mobilizations
"from below" pressing for radical measures, the most important of which
was the agrarian reform. 

There were various steps in this. One turning point was Fidel assuming
the post of prime minister in February or March of 1959. Another was the
proclamation of the agrarian reform, in  May of 1959, which then set the
stage for the "final conflict" at the level of the government/cabinet
which continued from then until July 26, 1959, and centered on the
president's refusal to carry out a thorough-going agrarian reform.
Eventually the president resigned and Fidel resumed the position of
Primer Minister by acclamation at a mass rally of up to a million

Fidel said at that rally, "The Cuban Revolutionary Government is like
that of ancient Athens, only better, because the Cuban Revolutionary
Government isn't for the privileged classes or the oligarchy. This is
the real democracy."

The next several months mark a different stage of the revolution. The
implementation of the agrarian reform was organized, not as a legalistic
process, but as a massive struggle of the poor and semi-proletarian
peasantry against the landowners. Fidel --privately-- would tell the
"agrarian reform delegates" at the outset that its strategic purpose was
"to break the neck" of the capitalists and "shatter the foundation" of
the capitalist system in Cuba. Even though historically an "agrarian
reform" can be considered a bourgeois-democratic measure, in Cuba those
who owned the land were to a large degree capitalists or imperialist

It was in the course of this struggle to carry out the agrarian reform
that the first units of the National Revolutionary Militias were
organized, but by the summer of 1960, these had become consolidated and
spread to urban areas as well. 

The next stage of the Revolution's evolution was provoked by
Washington's hostility to the new government, which, whatever
ambivalence there may have been in the first few months, had become
monolithic and intense 
in response to imperialist properties being affected by the agrarian

Cuba re-established relations with the USSR, and reached a sugar-for-oil
trade deal. The imperialist oil refineries in Cuba refused to process
the Soviet petroleum in violation of Cuban law, and wound up being
"intervened" (placed under the control of a government administrator)
and eventually nationalized.

Washington responded by cutting off Cuba's quota to export sugar to the
United States, which was answered by Cuba --at the closing rally of a
festival of Latin American youth and students-- with the nationalization
of *all* U.S. imperialist properties on the island.

This was followed two months later by the expropriation of all
capitalist enterprises on the island, i.e., the expropriation of the
capitalists *as a class.* 

Now we can take up the question of what were "the actual organs of
working class power in Cuba." The answer to that question in the second
half of 1960 is a whole series of mass organizations (unions, the
block-by-block Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, founded as
a national organization in September although they had existed in
various areas for some time), but most of all the National Revolutionary
Militias and the Revolutionary Government. 

To me the most revealing actions of the Revolution --most revealing as
to its character as a *class dictatorship*-- were the agrarian reform
and the expropriations of Oct. 1960. Both of those were carried out,
openly, explicitly, transparently, as acts of a revolutionary
dictatorship of the working people. 

Who actually *took over* the land and drove out the landlord or his
caretakers? The peasants themselves, organized and led by the agrarian
reform delegates. 

Who actually took over the more than 1,000 enterprises that were
expropriated on one day in October of 1960? The National Revolutionary
Militias. Years later in Miami (former) Cuban capitalists were still
complaining about how fundamentally *unfair* it was to have your OWN
workers show up with guns and a nationalization order from the state.

Without the active, conscious and direct participation of the workers
and peasants themselves in the transformation, what happened in Cuba is
not possible. Who was to run the factory, warehouse or other business
the morning AFTER the expropriation? Who could organize and reactivate

The idea that this was done by the cadre of a peasant-based rebel army
of at most 1,000 is preposterous. Tens of thousands of armed,
disciplined workers took part in the takeover of factories, plants and
warehouses simultaneously in October of 1960 through THEIR militia units
and hundreds of thousands of workers took part in reactivating the
workplaces over the next several days through their unions. There was,
physically, in Cuba, in October of 1960, no one else who could have done

This for me (and the Cuban leader who wrote the most about this from a
theoretical angle, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, now deceased) stamped the
revolution with its class character.

The objection will be raised that there were no Soviet or Council-type
bodies in Cuba at that time, and that is perfectly correct. There were
no such bodies. But so what? 

First, it is unrealistic to think that the Cuban Revolution which, after
all, emerged, began, as a *national-democratic* revolution would
necessarily have thrown up "council" forms from the outset. No, the
"forms" of the struggle were directly copied from, by and large, Cuba's
wars for independence. The forms are typical of a national resistance to
occupation and dictatorship -- an underground movement with an armed

Second, what makes soviet or council forms what they were in the Paris
Commune or the October Revolution is not the specific form but that they
served as vehicles for mass popular participation. Cuba had other
vehicles that played this role, the unions, the CDR's, the militia, the
small farmer's association and so on.

Third, we should not fetishize or idealize what the Soviets did in
Russia. The Congress of Soviets, for example, did not seize the power,
the insurrection was organized by one party -- the Bolsheviks -- by
decision of its central committee. Nor did the Soviets actually decide
or carry out directly the social, economic, political and military
decisions in those early years. The most important practical decisions
were made by the government, i.e., the cabinet, and dissimilar in
structure and forms from bourgeois cabinets only on the letterhead: this
was a "council" (Soviet) of "People's Commissars" not a "cabinet" or
"Honorable Ministers."

I don't think one can posit as massively a participatory revolutionary
process as Cuba went through and then say this was unimportant or
irrelevant to discussing the class character of the political power that
emerged from it. And whatever arguments may be made about Soviet forms
being inherently "better" than the forms that arose in Cuba, it must be
admitted that the Cuban forms, at any rate, were *good enough* to get
through the immediate tasks of carrying out the agrarian reform and the
expropriation of the imperialists and native capitalists *in a
revolutionary way,* in other words, as the conquest of the toilers
themselves, something taken "from below" and not merely bestowed "from

Thus far the discussion on the *origins* of the current Cuban state.

Having said all that, I would agree that Cuba as it stood in the early
1960's was deficient in not having more systematic, structured forms for
the direct, popular participation of working people in governing.
However, in saying that I would be saying no more than what Fidel and
other leaders said many times in those years, and especially in the
summing up of the campaign for the 10 million ton sugar harvest in 1970.
It was especially from that experience that the Cuban leadership saw the
need for structured forms of proletarian democracy, and set about to
create them, first with an experiment in the early 1970's in one of
Cuba's provinces, and then with the extension of the People's Power
system to the whole island a couple of years later.

The foundation of the system is the delegate to the municipal assembly
of People's Power. This person is directly nominated and elected from an
area of a few blocks: there must be at least two candidates for any
position, but often there are more, as many as eight.

The CP is impaired by law, tradition and its own rules from sponsoring
or endorsing candidates. (Similarly, Cuban CP "fractions" do not
intervene directly in this sort of way in mass organizations like
unions, the women's federation etc.) It is not unusual for two or more
CP members to be nominated "against" each other, or for a candidate who
is a party member to be defeated by one who is not. Bourgeois-style
"campaigning" is prohibited, the main piece of "campaign literature" is
a biography of the candidates. Originally and for many years the members
of municipal assemblies were required to hold periodic "assemblies for
rendering accounts" every few months. I read something a couple of years
ago that suggested this was falling into disuse or had been changed, but
Walter can probably tell us.

Municipal Assembly delegates are not full-time functionaries of the
State but remain in their normal jobs and are subject to recall at any
time. All citizens 16 and over are eligible to run and vote. Voting is
by paper ballot, which are counted at a public session that anyone can
attend at the place where they were cast as soon as the polls close.
During the voting, the ballot boxes are protected by an honor guard of
older grammar school and middle-school age students. 

To make sure that municipal assemblies stay a reasonable size and that
delegates really are rooted in a local neighborhood, the City of Havana
has been broken up into around ten municipalities and the city as a
whole is a province. So the delegates to assemblies are in reality
chosen by their neighborhoods, and there is much more of a neighborhood
life in Cuba than in many other countries. In other areas a
"municipality" might be roughly equivalent to a small rural county in
the U.S. 

This level of the institutionalization of the Revolution has been
tremendously successful by all accounts. It gives local governments a
directness, responsiveness, transparency and immediacy you won't find
anywhere else that I know of. If you look at it and study the
discussions that went on at the time, you'll discover that it was
consciously and systematically based on the Paris Commune, with elements
drawn in from the Soviet model and the early New England township
governments of 250 years or so ago.

I believe in the first instance there was an attempt to constitute the
provincial and national assemblies as Marx and Lenin suggest in their
theoretical writings about the commune and as I believe was done in the
early years of the Soviet Union, with the local bodies electing
delegates to the "higher" ones. This proved not to be very workable, and
in Cuba they are *still* looking for mechanisms to make the "higher"
bodies as transparent and accountable as the lower ones. I believe the
current modalities include nominating commissions drawn not just from
the local assemblies, but also mass organizations, and some sort of
ratificatory vote by the population, but I'm not too clear on it. Walter
is the person who can provide the details.

Whatever those details may be, what I suggest has been involved here has
been *precisely* a decades-long effort to build and renew "actual organs
of the working class in power in Cuba," except that I would not pose
this narrowly in terms of "the working class" but broadly in terms of
the working people or even just the people, because, of course, no one
is suggesting that retirees or students who haven't yet joined the labor
force be stripped of political rights (I hope!). 

As for any supposedly necessary disenfranchisement of ruling class types
and their hangers-on that is a part of something like the Commune or
Soviets, that issue has been made moot by emigration: capitalists and
counterrevolutionaries don't vote because overwhelmingly they don't live
in Cuba. 

Far from being insensitive to the need for mass, popular participatory
democracy, the Cuban Revolution has been focused on this issue and have
grappled with it a great deal. What the Cubans do reject is "Western"
parliamentary democracy. "representative" democracy, as a fake and a

The Cubans also reject a multi-party system at this stage of the
revolution. They argue that the idea of an all-inclusive party of all
Cuban patriots and revolutionaries is directlt descended from the
teachings and practice of Martí; and that U.S. hostility precludes
granting counterrevolutionaries an equal right to organize. That today
the Cuban CP views itself consciously as a multicurrent party open to
all Cuban revolutionaries is clear; witness the case of the outspokenly
Trotskyist Celia Hart. That wasn't so before the 1990's, however. 

That said, AFAIK no one is put in jail nowadays solely for organizing an
opposition group, but it is a criminal offense to take money from
foreign sources to do it, and as a practical matter many or most of the
socalled "dissident" groups are U.S.-inspired and U.S.-financed.

I don't think given the unbroken record of U.S. administrations hostile
to Cuba and its revolution, and especially the current Washington gang,
that it can reasonably be argued that Cuban restrictions on the right to
organize aren't at least arguably justified by what they claim to be
doing, which is defending Cuba's sovereignty and its right to exist. One
might think that under Cuba's conditions one might do things
differently, but I don't think you can make a case that in principle and
categorically, Cuba is wrong to have the kinds of restrictions it has.

In another post I hope to take up the politics that comrade Aaron raises
in his post, which are fascinating and worth exploring.


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