[Marxism] OUTSTANDING: Originality and Relevance of the Cuban Revolution

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Feb 21 17:39:36 MST 2007

Here are two small excerpts from a magnificent new book on Cuba.
Links are provided so you can either download and print out the 
entire chapter on Cuba from this book, or read it on the web.

Raby's analysis dovetails with the discussion by Alarcon which
CubaNews posted just yesterday. I can't just say "read it and 
enjoy it", but more, read it, study it and learn from it. I've 
no idea what the political background is of the author, but it's 
obviously she's done her homework on Cuba. I'm grateful to both 
the author, and her publisher, Pluto Press, for making this 
chapter of her longer study available through CubaNews.

Walter Lippmann
Havana, Cuba

Originality and Relevance of the Cuban Revolution
by D. L. Raby

The predominant tendency in European intellectual and political
circles is to regard the Cuban regime as a kind of fossil, a
Stalinist hangover, and even in more traditional leftist circles
which see Cuba as an example of social justice and resistance to
globalisation, virtually no-one suggests that other countries could
learn from the Cuban experience in political terms. The Cuban
experience is identifi ed with armed struggle, and since the
neutralisation of the Central American guerrilla movements armed
revolution has been discredited. Although strong insurgent movements
still exist in Colombia – the FARC, ELN and others – their strategy
is to combine armed struggle with other methods and to seek a
negotiated political solution; their great achievement (which should
not be overlooked despite government and media demonisation of them
as ‘narco-terrorists’) has been to maintain popular armed resistance
to neo-liberalism. Within the last decade other movements which
defend the resort to arms have appeared, notably the Zapatistas in
Mexico, but given their limited military capacity and their strategy
of ‘dissolution’ rather than seizure of power, it would be more
accurate to describe them as representing ‘armed contestation’ as
opposed to revolutionary armed struggle in the classic sense. Small
organisations which advocate armed struggle in theory exist in many
countries, and it would be rash to suggest that the question of armed
revolution will never again be on the agenda in Latin America; but at
present it is clear that political confl icts are resolved through a
combination of elections and mass mobilisations which are
predominantly peaceful.

For many on the Left, Cuba is to be admired for its achievements in
health, education and sport, and to be supported against the
injustice and irrationality of the US blockade; but at the same time
there is a consensus that it should become more ‘democratic’. There
is a vague sense that Cuban Socialism is not quite the same as the
Soviet variety, that it is more popular and more authentic, but
little understanding as to how or why this is the case; and there is
widespread scepticism as to the prospects for its long-term survival.
Yet if Cuba did not fall in the early 1990s along with the rest of
the Soviet bloc, if it survived the extraordinary rigours of the
‘Special Period’ resulting from Soviet collapse and the
intensification of the US blockade, if moreover it has recovered
economically with less concessions to capitalism than China or
Vietnam, then its prospects for survival cannot be lightly dismissed.
‘Democratisation’ along liberal lines would undoubtedly undermine
Socialism and would open the door to domination by the US and the
Miami exile mafia; Cuba has its own system of Socialist democracy,
which may have limitations but merits serious examination. This
chapter will attempt to explain how and why the Cuban revolution has
achieved so much and why, despite its deficiencies, it is still very
significant for Latin America and for the entire world.


The triumph on 1 January 1959 of the guerrillas of the Rebel Army led
by Fidel Castro, and especially the dramatic process of
radicalisation of the Cuban political scene and the transition to
Socialism during the following three to four years, signalled the
beginning of a new era in Latin America. Until then a Socialist
revolution in that region, and above all in Central America and the
Caribbean – the classic ‘backyard’ of the United States – was
unthinkable. In these ‘banana republics’ comic-opera tyrants
alternated with weak and corrupt civilian regimes, and the rare
exceptions like the progressive nationalist government of Jacobo
Arbenz in Guatemala from 1951 to1954 were swiftly crushed by the
Colossus of the North. In 1959–61 the memory of Guatemala was fresh
in everyone’s mind, and most observers anticipated a similar fate for
the revolutionary regime in Havana. The political establishment in
Washington has never forgiven Fidel Castro and the Cuban
revolutionaries for their successful defiance of US hegemony, and
nearly five decades later Cuba continues to be a thorn in the side of
the imperial super-power. The Cuban–US confrontation became a central
component of the Cold War, and there is no doubt that from 1962 to
1989 Soviet support was a critical element in Cuban survival; but it
is necessary to recognise also that the Soviet Union only committed
itself fully after the Cubans had demonstrated their own capacity for
political and military resistance with the defeat of the Bay of Pigs
invasion in April 1961. This independent Cuban will to resist has
reappeared since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, surprising the
prophets of the New World Order who confidently predicted ‘the demise
of Castro’ within months of the fall of the Berlin Wall; both Fidel
Castro and the Cuban revolution have confounded the sceptics and
demonstrated an unsuspected vitality. But those who really understand
Cuban history should not be so surprised.

To understand the success of the Cuban revolution and its continued
vigour we have to review the island’s history from the nineteenth
century, when it was Spain’s most important remaining colony (after
most of Latin America achieved its independence between 1810 and
1826). This delayed independence, together with the crucial issue of
slavery and its abolition, gave the Cuban nationalist movement a more
radical and democratic character when it finally emerged with full
force from 1868 onwards. Also, the expansionist and annexationist
ambitions of the USA, manifested from a very early date, contributed
to the formation of a precociously anti-imperialist consciousness in
Cuba. Already in 1805 Thomas Jefferson had proclaimed his country’s
interest in the annexation of the largest of the Antilles, and in
1823 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams declared that with the
passage of time Cuba would fall ‘like a ripe apple’ into the lap of
the United States; and in the course of the nineteenth century the US
tried to purchase the island from Spain on four occasions (Cantón
Navarro 1998, 40). It should not therefore come as a surprise that
the literary prophet of the independence movement and founder of the
Cuban Revolutionary Party, José Martí, declared in his last letter,
shortly before his death in combat in 1895: ‘Everything I have done
unto now and all that I shall do hereafter has as its objective to
prevent, through the independence of Cuba, the United States of
America from falling with added weight on Our America’ – Nuestra
América, in other words Latin America as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon
world (Martí 1975, 3). It was also Martí who insisted, at a time when
racial prejudice was solidly entrenched in all Western countries, on
racial equality within the independence movement and on its
democratic and popular character. Furthermore, another hero of the
independence struggle, General of the Liberating Army Antonio Maceo
(a free mulatto known as ‘the Titan of Bronze’), declared in reply to
a young Cuban who asked him what attitude he would take in the event
of a US intervention against Spain: ‘In that case, young man, I think
I would be on the side of the Spaniards’ (Thomas 1971, 300) – an
extraordinary declaration, and a clear indication that he agreed with
Martí, even at the height of the struggle against Spanish
colonialism, in regarding nascent US imperialism as the greater


The question of Communist Party intervention or infl uence in Cuban
elections is a complex one. The legal prohibition of party
intervention was designed to ensure separation of party and state,
unlike the situation in the Soviet Union. At local level there is
much evidence to suggest that delegate nomination is indeed free and
independent, but at national level this is much less clear.
Approximately 15 per cent of the Cuban adult population belong to the
party, and 70 per cent of both municipal and national delegates are
party members. The fact that 30 per cent are not does suggest a
degree of independence in delegate selection; national delegates have
included members of Catholic and Protestant churches, for example, an
indication that the process is partially open to non-party interests.
Since recruitment to the party is by popular nomination, in which
workers in each enterprise propose for party membership those
individuals they consider to be most outstanding, it seems only
natural that there should be considerable overlap with the choice of
OPP delegates; it should also be borne in mind that outstanding
non-party delegates are often invited to join the party, another
factor boosting the percentage who belong to the party without
implying that it controls the electoral process (Roman 2003, 93). At
local level it seems clear that there is a large degree of popular
autonomy in both elections and municipal assembly discussions, but at
national level there is little doubt that basic policy is decided by
the Communist Party leadership and ratified by a National Assembly
which it in fact controls. It is possible to justify this as
necessary to preserve the basic components of popular power and
Socialism in the face of US sabotage, but it cannot convincingly be
described as fully democratic.

The role of the Communist Party cannot be separated from the issue of
multi-party liberalism versus direct, participatory democracy. The
concept of a single party expressing national unity and consensus did
not begin in Cuba after 1959, and neither was it borrowed from or
imposed by the Soviet Union. Rather, it originated in the late
nineteenth century with José Martí and the Partido Revolucionario
Cubano, the Cuban Revolutionary Party which united many different
political clubs in Cuba and among Cuban émigrés in the US and the
Caribbean. Party politics – multi-party politics, that is – was seen
as factional and divisive. The single-party system, therefore, is not
only a defensive reaction to the US blockade, and once again a very
interesting perspective is provided by Juan Antonio Blanco:

 rather than advocating an evolution toward a multi-party system,
which is a system that emerged in the world some 200 years ago as a
response to a specifi c historical reality, I would prefer to see us
create a new kind of democracy using different tools. I think it is
entirely possible to achieve a pluralist one-party system if in that
system there were strong sectoral organizations – women’s
organizations, farmers’ groups, neighborhood committees, etc. These
sectoral organizations exist in Cuba today, but would have to be
stronger at the grassroots level to play the role, when necessary, of
challenging government policies. (Blanco 1994, 68–9)

One of the key issues here, as argued in my discussion of democracy,
is the role and ideology of the single party. If it is to be truly
democratic and an instrument of genuine unity and consensus (unity
achieved from the grass roots and not imposed), it cannot be a
vehicle of a very specific ideology such as Marxism-Leninism; in
other words, it cannot be a Communist party as conventionally
understood. Undoubtedly it should express a general commitment to
popular power, participatory democracy and socialism, but within
those broad parameters it should be open to all currents of thought
and ideologies. The Cuban Communist Party has become more open in
recent years; this can be seen in its practice of recruiting the best
workers as recommended by their colleagues, and by the decision to
accept religious believers as members. But it is still the case that
members are then indoctrinated with Marxism-Leninism, by all accounts
on the basis of very traditional, even dogmatic manuals; and this
cannot be the basis for a free and open Socialist democracy. Of
course the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and all the revolutionary
classics should be studied, but on a critical basis and along with
creative and progressive thought of all kinds – as already occurs in
Cuba, but not with the blessing of the party.

The Cuban system of popular participation has been the subject of two
interesting recent studies, one by the Canadian author Arnold August
and the second by Peter Roman of the City University of New York
(August 1999; Roman 2003). August’s work suffers from a poor writing
style and a number of historical errors, but it does have the virtue
of being the first attempt to study the Cuban system seriously on the
basis of direct observation; while Roman’s study is a thorough and
closely argued piece of academic research which sets the Cuban system
in the context of the philosophy and practice of direct and/or
Socialist democracy from Rousseau and Marx onwards, and constitutes
an excellent antidote to the superficiality of most liberal accounts
of Cuban ‘dictatorship’. These two studies demonstrate that
grass-roots participatory democracy is a reality in Cuba, and
although the system has limitations in terms of freedom of expression
and participation in decision-making at national level (to which US
policy has powerfully contributed), it can in no way be dismissed as
merely authoritarian. The crucial error of liberals has always been
to judge Cuba in terms of formal political institutions, without
understanding that Socialist democracy is about popular participation
and decision-making in all spheres of the economy and society:
municipal delegates of Popular Power appointing the managers and
supervising the operations of local facilities from schools to
factories or health clinics, trade unionists intervening in the
management and planning of their enterprises, mini-brigades building
houses for themselves and their communities, or people in local
neighbourhoods organising their own organopónico allotments. It is
this, coupled with the reality of social justice, which gives the
Cuban system legitimacy with or without Fidel, and which makes it
relevant today in the quest for an alternative to capitalist
globalisation. The Cuban revolution is not over and it too will
continue to change, but contrary to the prevailing opinion, that
change does not have to be in the direction of liberal pluralism and
a ‘market economy’; rather it may well be towards a deepening of
participatory democracy and socialism.

Reproduced by permission of Pluto Press. Democracy and Revolution. 
Latin America and Socialism Today by D.L. Raby is available for £18.99 
from Pluto Press. Thanks kindly to Helen Griffiths, Publicist at Pluto

Please also include the direct link to the book on our website:


Helen Griffiths
Pluto Books Ltd.
345 Archway Road
London, N6 5AA
Tel: 020 8374 6424 Fax: 020 8348 9133
heleng at plutobooks.com
Company No  2139565


NOTE: This document is 23,000 words long, and worth every word of your time!

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