[Marxism] Chris Harman on the Cuban Revolution

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 15 09:33:12 MDT 2006

Thanks to Louis for drawing this to out attention. I admit that the
British SWP is not one of my regular sources for information on Cuba,
so I would not have seen this so quickly had Louis not posted this
material. It's an all-too-familiar example of the typical method of
seld-described "revolutionary Marxists" who oppose the Revolution in
Cuba. As such, this material is always useful to read and study. I've
not yet had the chance to carefully read Sam Farber's new book, which
is based on considerable research as well as on regular visits to this
country. My intial impression of the Farber book is subatantially more
positive than one might think based on Harmon's article, which is more
of an attack on Cuba than a review specifically of Farber's new book.

The idea of pitting Cuba against Bolivia and Venezuela has become very
fashionable in certain leftoid circles in recent times. This is done
despite the close companionship, economic and political cooperation,
and so on which have developed between the three members of the new
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA - Spanish for "dawn")

Whatever one might disagree with Richard Gott about, at least he's
got the virtue and the courage to come to Cuba to present his ideas
and books when published. I first met him here in Havana and since
then he's kindly shared chapters of his books which I've shared
with the CubaNews list and others using the internet. People like
Harmon and their ilk just attack Cuba from the remote sidelines,
but never really discuss or debate Cuba in a serious manner nor
do they take into account the specific conditions under which the
Cuban Revolution took place, and has since managed to survive.

I'll have more to say about this later on, but one of the reason we
see the enthusiastic counterposition of Venezuela and Bolivia on the
one hand against Cuba on the other is that Venezuela and Bolivia are
places where the revolutionary leadership made the unfortunate choice
of campaining for, and then had the bad luck to have actually WON a
capitalist election. This makes them suspect among some elements now.
Beyond that, of course, the fact that multi-party systems continue to
prevail in Bolivia and Venezuela, as they do in the United Kingdom
from which vantage point Chris Harmon writes, gives us an idea why
such radicals themselves prefer Venezuela and Bolivia, where their
friends and allies can conveniently and relentlessly attack the
leaders for their alleged betrayals. That cannot effectively be done
in Cuba, of course. 

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews


The balance sheet of isolation

Castro's regime over the last 47 years has amounted to a dictatorship
by a group who think they understand what the mass of Cuban people
really need-a variety of modern 'enlightened despots'. They sincerely
believed at the beginning that they could motivate the people to
bring about a completely new society. But the isolation of the
revolution meant in practice that Cuba was locked once more in the
position of being a commodity producer to other parts of the world
system. Maintaining their own control came to mean building up
managerial structures that pressured the mass of people to labour to
produce the necessary commodities-and the surplus to go into
accumulation to keep the cost of producing the commodities
competitive. It is an endless struggle to keep ahead of other
elements in the world system. Having survived the 'special period' of
the late 1990s, Cuba was once again affected by the worldwide
economic downturn of 2001-02, with a slowing growth rate and
accumulating debts. It has to rely heavily on short-term loans to
finance imports, chiefly food and fuel. Because of its poor credit
rating, an $11 billion hard currency debt, and the risks associated
with Cuban investment, interest rates have reportedly been as high as
22 percent.

Under such conditions there will continue to be recurrent discontent
among the mass of people, and there will be efforts by managerial
sectors, particularly those working with the multinationals, to
impose their will and their increasingly corrupt practices on the
rest of society, regardless of what those who idealistically made the
revolution of 1958 think.


Another model is possible The point is very important today.
Virtually the whole of Latin America has been through two decades of
economic difficulties for its bourgeoisies as well as for its workers
and peasants-the 'lost decade' of the 1980s and then the impact of
neo-liberalism in the 1990s. Hence the difficulties its ruling
classes have in recovering from the political shocks produced by
sudden upsurges of popular discontent-the Caracazo riots in Venezuela
in 1989, the Ecuadorian uprising of 2000, the overthrow of the
Argentinian government at the end of 2001, the mass upsurges that
kept Chavez in power in 2002-03, the uprisings in Bolivia in 2003 and

The revolutionary processes in Venezuela and Bolivia do not need to
be isolated as Cuba was. And they already involve much greater levels
of mass participation, of the struggle for power from below, than was
the case in Cuba. It has been the massive upward thrust of mass
movements, not the heroism of top down guerrilla groups, that has
propelled Morales to the presidency and kept Chavez there.

The revolutionary processes do, however, face dangers-and not only
from outside, from the US and from strongly rooted local capitalist
classes intent on re-establishing their untrammelled rule. They also
face dangers from within, from those who, looking to the Cuban model,
try to hold back the movements from below and lead the process back
into established bureaucratic channels. And if these channels in Cuba
were those of a state machine newly created by the victorious Rebel
Army, in Bolivia and Venezuela they are those of an old state
machine, created by the local bourgeoisie and tied to its rule. The
paradox is that those who look to Cuba are looking towards limiting
the revolutionary process in such a way that it will not, if they get
their way, even lead to a full-blooded attack on private capitalist
property such as occurred in Cuba.

The Cuban government itself has long seen mass movements in other
countries as little more than a means of putting pressure on
established capitalist governments to establish friendlier relations
with Cuba. It endorsed the parliamentary as opposed to revolutionary
road in Chile in the early 1970s, when Castro toured Chile alongside
Allende, and it tried to restrain the revolutionary Sandinista
government of the 1980s in Nicaragua. As Gott says, 'Castro was at
pains to caution the Sandinistas not to antagonise the United States
unnecessarily. He recommended them to concentrate on establishing a
mixed economy and a pluralistic political system.'87

There are attempts today to use Cuban prestige to hold the mass
movement in Venezuela back from moves against local capitalism and
any serious break with the multinationals. This means pushing the
country towards what in effect would be acceptance of a social
democratic mixed economy domestically, despite the talk of 'socialism
of the 21st century'. In international terms it involves trying to
build a bloc with the wholeheartedly capitalist governments of
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay as well as Cuba and Bolivia. Part of
this push is to try to use Cuban top down methods to isolate those
within the Venezuelan process who are encouraging workers, peasants,
the urban poor and the indigenous peoples to fight for their own
demands in a thoroughgoing revolutionary manner. Dressing up the
commercial exchange of Cuban doctors for Venezuelan oil as an act of
'socialist solidarity' is then used to attempt to derail
revolutionary possibilities today just as the exchange of Cuban sugar
for Russian oil was 46 years ago.

Yet options are open for Venezuela and Bolivia very different to
those that materialised in Cuba with the isolation of the revolution
and the institutionalisation of top down rule. There are vast numbers
in the unions and social movements of both countries who have learnt
through great struggles of the last six years what it means to make
decisions democratically from below. That is why there is so much
talk about the need for democracy and participation among even the
most fervent supporters of Chavez and Morales. Their struggles have
the potential to go forward to create living examples of
revolutionary democracy which can spread beyond national boundaries
to the rest of Latin America as the revolution of 1958 never could.
In the process, they can provide a real focus for those, toiling and
complaining amid the shortages and corruption of present day Cuba,
who do not want 47 years of isolation to end in a return of US

But revolutionary breakthroughs are never just the result of
spontaneous upsurges of struggle. They also depend on arguments which
take place within those struggles about possibilities and directions.
And an important argument in Venezuela and Bolivia is against those
who would use the Cuban example to put a brake on the revolutionary
process. Support for Cuba against US imperialism, its threats and its
embargo must not turn into support for a Cuban model that offers
nothing to the new revolutionary movements.

In the latest issue of International Socialism, 
the journal of the British SWP, there's a review 
of new books on Cuba by Sam Farber and Richard Gott: 

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