FW: [Marxism] It's those damn petty-bourgeois at it again!

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Wed Nov 30 18:04:29 MST 2005

[I am having difficulty posting to the list, with posts repeatedly not
going through. That's why my posts keep appearing a couple at a time --
what actually happens is that they're being reposted, and finally
getting through. This post preceded the other one in this thread, about
the politics, and I'm sending it again as the arguments in the
"politics" post partly rest on the factual predicate here. It is
unfortunate Callum didn't get to see this before his most recent reply
to me.]

Callum McCormick says: "The leading figures in the movement were all
from middle class backgrounds, but that's not the main issue. Che and
Castro repeatedly restated the essentially Maoist position that as long
as you have a dedicated group of trained guerilla fighters, you can make
the revolution in a country. That is a petty-bourgeois position because
it arises from the view that you don't need the workers to make

Seriously, it is necessary to do better than this. It says the class
character of the state is determined by the class nature of the ideas of
the central leaders of the movement. I know what you're really trying to
say is that this is exactly what happened in Cuba. But that would have
to be demonstrated at some level of detail.

As for the voluntaristic idea that you call "Maoist," I would say that,
on the contrary, that is a distinctly Cuban-inspired position, outlined
most of all by Che in his "Guerrilla Warfare: A Method," Regis Debray's
"Revolution in the Revolution" and Che's "Message to the

That approach has long since been abandoned by the Cuban leadership,
which did so following the defeat of Che's guerrilla campaign in

Others have posted, and will continue to post, I assume, detailed
refutations of the idea that the Cuban Revolution was "just" the
guerrilla struggle in the countryside. 

I'll add only this datum. Some 20,000 people died in the struggle
against Batista. The guerrillas at the time of the most intense combat
--the Batistiano general offensive in May-July 1958-- were 500 men and
women, one batallion, to speak in conventional military terms. There's
no way such a force could have taken even 200 dead and continued to
operate, never mind 20,000. 

But if you go to any little town in Cuba, you'll find monuments or
museums or memorials to fighters from those localities muredered by the

Yes, Cuba did have a combative union movement in those days. But it
isn't right to say those were all anti-Batista struggles. That movement
was partly under the corrupt leadership of pro-Batista leaders, partly
under the influence of the pro-Moscow People's Socialist Party, possibly
one of the most hopelessly "Browderite" parties anywhere, which actively
opposed and sought to counter the growing influence of the July 26

The PSP did not make a turn towards a less hostile stance towards the
barbudos until the summer of 1958, when the defeat of Batista's
10,000-strong offensive against the Sierra Maestra made clear for anyone
with eyes to see that the dictatorship was doomed. 

But if these factors made the intervention of the working class
organized as a class much less than it should have been in the struggle
against the dictatorship, the urban working class and the rural
proletariat and semi-proletarian masses played the decisive role in the
social transformation of the country over the next two years. 

This is something that I've found systematically missing from accounts
of the State Capitalist comrades and it is an especially inexcusable
omission in the case of Cuba because precisely what was involved here
was a process of *permanent revolution*. This is how Engels explained
that process in relation to German conditions in the mid-1800s: "We
openly proclaimed that the people of the tendency we represented could
enter the struggle for the attainment of our real party aims only when
the most extreme of the official parties existing in Germany came to the
helm; then we would form the opposition to it."

The Cuban Revolution began as a revolution for national redemption
against the degradation that the country had been submerge to under
colonial and neocolonial tutelage from Washington. True, the July 26
Movement's program was not limited merely to the acquisition of formal
independence and related demands, but then again, this was 1959, not
1776. It contained a series of immediate, democratic and transitional
demands (transitional in the sense that the Communist Manifesto defines
them, "measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and
untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip
themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and
are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of

This was especially true of the proposed abolition of what in Spanish
are called "latifundios" or large landed estates. 

As the revolutionary process advanced and deepened, the working class
cohered around the July 26 Movement. This was facilitated by the
alliance of the PSP with the July 26 Movement. It was *the rural
proletarians semi-proletarians and small peasants* organized by Rebel
Army cadre through the INRA into militias and the association of small
farmers who *expropriated* the capitalist and imperialist landowners. It
was the workers through their militias and unions that expropriated the
capitalist class. The essential mistake that the comrades are making is
viewing the moment of the overthrow of the tyranny as the *culmination*
of the revolutionary process rather than its beginning. 

While it is dangerous to extend analogies too far, one can say that
January 1, 1959, was not the October Revolution, it was FEBRUARY. It
marked the *entry* of the masses onto the stage of history as its
protagonists, but as yet not a self-conscious, coherent political force.
It would take TIME for the masses to work out, *on the basis of their
own experience,* what political groups represented *their own* interests
and to cohere around them. It was necessary for the working people to
become "a party" a coherent, structured, conscious political force. If
by some accident some committee of Bolsheviks had wound up in control of
the Russian capital after the February revolution, it would not have
transformed February into October *precisely because* the liberation of
the working class can only be the conscious act of the working class
itself and the working class in Russia was not READY to free itself, it
was not ready for October, in February.

The Kerensky period, either in the form it took or in some other form,
was an absolute necessity in Russia, and the same was true in Cuba. It
took very different forms in Cuba because the most conscious,
revolutionary current DID wind up "with the power" so to speak, at the
outset. And look at what they felt they had to do with it. They placed
Miro Cardona and other Cuban Kerenskys in the top governmental posts.
That was the most direct, immediate way to break the illusions of the
masses in the honorable gentlemen of petty-bourgeois democracy. Put them
to the acid test. But the Cuban revolutionaries around Fidel did not
place political confidence in the Kerenskys to do things in a
revolutionary way. Instead, they organized mobilization after
mobilization explaining the need for agrarian reform, for cutting rents,
for nationalizing things like the telephone and electric companies, for
handing out exemplary punishment to the thugs, torturers and assassins
of the Batista dictatorship. The Cuban government from January to July
of that year underwent one cabinet crisis after another, as the masses
increasingly cohered around the July 26 Movement, the rebel army, and
the revolutionary program and drove one bourgeois politician after
another from their posts.

I would say at THAT point --July-- the course of the revolution was set,
but it still needed to be carried out ON THE GROUND, a process that took
15 more tumultous months. 

The comrades in their analysis completely *ignore*  this period, the two
years following the overthrow of the dictatorship, as if it was of
little consequence just how the landlords, capitalists and imperialists
were expropriated. Yet precisely this period is the one that is richest
in lessons as well as clearest in revealing in a completely
*transparent* way the social forces involved in a revolution.


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