[Marxism] On Cuba

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Sat Jun 14 13:26:19 MDT 2008

Yossi wrote: "The fact that the capitalist economy is mostly
nationalized does not show that Cuba is a workers state. Israel I
economy for example until  some 20 -30 years ago was  mostly
nationalized and many people believed  for this reason at least in the
first years of the existence of  Israeli state  and in particular
because of the Kibutzim that it was a socialist state. Needless to say
it was nonsense. Israel is and was all the time a capitalist state of
a very particular kind similar to the Rhodesian and South Africa under
the Apartheid-a  settler colonialist society."

I have a couple of problems with your line of argument. The first
might seem personal, but I know for a fact the Revolutionary
government did not ACT as a capitalist government, defending the
interests of the capitalist class, when it came to power in 1959. How
do I know that?

Because it EXPROPRIATED the capitalists. In 1959, I was a member of
the capitalist class (well, at least of a capitalist class family -- I
was very young) and by 1961 I was a member of a struggling working
class family in Miami eating peanut butter sandwiches and boliche made
from spam from the U.S. agricultural commodities surplus program, and
helping my mother hang up the laundry on clothes lines in the backyard
after she washed them in the bathtub because we didn't have the money
to afford the coin laundry on the corner.

And my family wasn't exceptional, except perhaps that quite a few
other capitalists had been more intelligent in squirreling away money
abroad. The Bacardi family, for example, moved their most important
assets -- trademarks and so on -- to I think it was the Bahamas even
well before the victory of the revolution, as they could see the
handwriting on the wall.

But the capitalists were expropriated *as a class,* and HOW this was
done tells us something of the nature of the revolution.

Yossi repeats the standard state-capitalist narrative that this was a
peasant based revolution. Not so. This was a popular revolution that
drew support from all working people. The July 26 Movement was much
MORE than a rural guerrilla force. Even before the 1953 attack on the
Moncada barracks that gave the movement its eventual name, the
Movement had organized about 2000 young Cubans, overwhelmingly from
the working class, lower middle class and the intelligentsia, in a
nation of 5 million people.

The guerrilla force numbered barely 500 combatants at the time of what
were probably the decisive battles, the ones where the guerrillas beat
back an offensive by 10,000 Batista troops in the summer of 1958. By
the time of the Jan. 1, 1959, the rebel army numbered perhaps 3,000
people, 1,000 of those completely raw, unarmed recruits, another 1,000
or so newcomers who had been in the ranks three or four months at

That force was just the tip of the iceberg of the overwhelmingly URBAN
July 26 Movement, which was much, much larger and drew support even
from layers of the bourgeoisie.

But the Revolution did not END with Batista fleeing the firts day of
January of 1959. That's when it really BEGAN. By that moment, it had
become essentially a movement of the entire nation in a largely
undifferentiated way. But almost immediately, an increasingly OPEN
class struggle began WITHIN this national movement, in reality a
continuation of a previous struggle between those who favored the
overthrow of Batista through revolutionary means (the July 26 Movement
and the Revolutionary Student Directorate) and petty-bourgeois and
bourgeois sectors who were looking for some sort of negotiated or
relatively peaceful transition to a post-Batista neocolonial regime.

The first initiative of the revolutionary wing was disbanding the
repressive forces of the neocolonial state which had been the base of
the Batista dictatorship. Some 600 of the worst butchers and torturers
of the dictatorship were executed after being court martialed by Rebel
Army revolutionary tribunals, and thousands more imprisoned.

Then there was a struggle over control of the government, in the form
of a struggle over whether the government would adopt revolutionary
measures, essentially equivalent to the Kerensky period in the Russian
Revolution of 1917. Because it was necessary for the masses to
overcome their illusions in the heroes of petty-bourgeois democracy,
and the revolutionary leadership around Fidel understood this and
therefore put the "power" in the hands of traditional politicians, and
then mounted a campaign of mass public pressure to demand these
worthies carry out revolutionary measures, and most importantly the
agrarian reform.

Two key moments in this evolution were when Fidel became Prime
Minister in February or March of 1959, and then when Fidel resigned as
Prime Minister in early July to free his hands in leading a campaign
against the bourgeois president who was blocking carrying out of the
agrarian reform law that had been formally enacted in May, with the
subsequent resignation of the president and Fidel resuming the prime
minister position --now with a president loyal to the revolution- on
July 26, 1959.

The agrarian reform is key in understanding the nature of the
Revolution. Although formally it is a measure that does not go beyond
bourgeois property relations, the reality in Cuba was that a
thorough-going agrarian reform was a direct assault on the capitalist
class. There was no separate class of landed gentry, and the agrarian
reform was waged explicitly as a class war to (in Fidel's words, not
revealed at that time but subsequently reproduced in the book, "En
Marcha con Fidel") "shatter the foundations" and "break the neck" of
capitalism in Cuba.

As part of this class war, the first revolutionary militias were
organized in the countryside and later extended to urban areas. Given
the role  of imperialist capital on the island, the agrarian reform
led directly to a clash with the United States, and led to a series of
"interventions" (placing under government receivership) and then
expropriation of imperialist enterprises in the spring and summer of
1960. Th major round of expropriations was announced by Fidel at the
closing rally of a Congress of Latin American students and youth held
under the banner of "Turn the Andes into the Sierra Maestra of Latin
America," a decidedly peculiar policy stance for a capitalist
government to take.

As the class war sharpened, more enterprises that were being
decapitalized by their owners came under government intervention until
finally, in mid-October, a decree providing for the nationalization of
ALL significant capitalist enterprises (more than 1000 if I remember
right), everything from sugar mills to movie theater chains was

Of course, as we say in Spanish "paper will hold anything." Making it
the reality on the ground, that is something else. Who actually
carried out the expropriation of the expropriators? The rebel army?
But that was a tiny force in numbers, and most of its leading cadre
were doing double duty as officers and as government ministers or
officials. Che Guevara, for example, was both a Comandante (the
highest rank in the army at the time) AND head of the national bank,
and later in charge of most industries.

Who actually took over --nationalized by force of arms, and not just a
paper decree-- the factories and other workplaces were the workers
themselves organized as a ruling class in the form of the National
Revolutionary Militias. It was done in a single day. And if some of
them are still alive, you can go to Miami and hear former capitalists
complain about the unfairness of it all, that the uppity worker you'd
disciplined or fired came back at the head of an armed detachment and
threw you out of your own factory.

*   *   *

Then you have to look at the policies and results of the Cuban
Revolution. The literacy campaign. The massive expansion of education,
health care, access to culture, sports. The fact that you don't find
in Cuba the kind of grinding poverty you find among the lowest levels
of the population in the rest of Latin America.

And then there's the foreign policy. The promotion of revolutionary
struggles in Latin America. The campaigns in Africa which were
decisive in kicking the apartheid regime into the dustbin of history.
The solidarity with the emerging revolutions in Venezuela and Bolivia,
which have allowed the promises made by Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales to
be translated into concrete gains, social benefits, for working people
especially in the fields of education and health care, thanks to the
cooperation of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals.

And as for the putative Cuban capitalist class -- where are they?
Every time I read about how wealthy Fidel must be In am reminded of an
article I read a few years ago by the ex-wife of one of his sons, who
made quite a splash with intimate details of Fidel's family life. And
she complained that her husband's underwear had holes in it. She said,
imagine that, the son of the president and he has underwear with holes
in it. She was shocked, horrified at the indignity of it.

She also brought out a couple of home videos showing Fidel at home.
There were no luxuries, gold bathroom fixtures, Picassos on the walls,
ultra expensive imported furniture, family members dressed in the
latest designs from Paris, all the indicia that say, "I'm a member of
the ruling class" in other third world countries, never mind the
imperialist heart lands.

These and many other FACTS mean that there really is no advantage to
the insistence of state capitalist groups and theorists on calling
Cuba capitalist, only complications. Because it means capitalism
suffers from multiple personality disorder, including one quite stable
personality that imagines it is building socialism, and acts
accordingly, opposing imperialism, making sure all people have at
least a minimally decorous standard of living, promoting ecologically
sound, sustainable development, and so on.

Politically, you've got so say state capitalism is SUPERIOR to the
regular kind.

I think it is better to recognize reality and recognize that Cuba is a
country where the capitalists have been expropriated and capitalism no
longer rules, is no longer the social system. Economic decisions are
not guided by a search for profit --not even an "enlightened self
interest" that avoids pissing off the workers too much-- but by other
criteria focused on fulfilling human needs. This is not "socialism" as
conceived of in the classics of Marxism -- not yet, and not by a long
shot. Because Cuba is a tiny island subsisting in a hostile world,
having to take part in the international capitalist economy, a
besieged fortress, and besieged not just by the imperialists that
blockade but also by those who don't.

But the MAIN problem with Cuba is that there aren't two, three .. many
Cubas. Even a significant minority of the world in a "socialist camp"
(without the bureaucratic deformation of the old socialist camp) would
be a tremendous, qualitative advance over the current status quo.
Cuba's 11 million people are less than two tenths of one percent of
the world's population. It's economic weight is even smaller. And
consider how much Cuba is talked about, written about, the impact it
has had in the Latin American region and world affairs.

So if for the state capitalist comrades this is a new kind of
capitalism, then I suggest that as Marxists, they are obligated to
promote and defend this new kind of capitalism, rather than the ideal
"socialism" they counterpose to it. As Marx said, every step of real
movement is worth ten paper programs, and there simply is no question
but that, when compared to the capitalism of other third world
countries, the Cuban social and economic system is qualitatively


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