Resist Capitalist Restoration!
The death of Fidel Castro, aged 90, was announced by his younger brother President Raul, on Cuban state television, late on the night of 25th November. Millions of workers in Cuba and globally will mourn the passing of the leader, who along with Che Guevara, is most closely associated with the 1959 Cuban revolution.
At the same time, the forces of capitalist reaction and imperialism will see Fidel Castro’s death as an opportunity to drive for full capitalist restoration on the island. These reactionary forces aim to destroy all the remaining gains of the revolution and planned economy, including the historic achievements in public health and education.
We post here two articles from the archives of the CWI (Committee for a Workers International).
- The first article below is a review of My Life – Fidel Castro by Tony Saunois from 2008.
- The second – “Cuba at a crossroads” is an article from September 2015, written by Tony Saunois in response to the opening up of bilateral agreements and relations between the Cuban regime and the United States.
Click here for all the CWI website articles on Cuba
For more in depth analysis read Peter Taaffe’s book: Cuba – Socialism and Democracy. The book includes the following paragraphs that summarise where Cuba stands today after Castro’s death and under the threat of further capitalist restoration:
“Under the conditions of new international capitalist crisis, moves towards capitalist restoration can be checked. A mixed or hybrid situation could continue for some time. Initially such gains from the revolution such as the health care and the education system may be maintained although even these have suffered greatly from lack of investment in the recent period. Many obstacles remain to be overcome and some resistance is likely as the reality of capitalist restoration becomes apparent. Sections of the population are already fearful of losing the gains of the revolution and of Cuba being turned into another Puerto Rico.
“The need to build resistance to the developing pace of capitalist restoration and struggle for a genuine workers’ democracy and nationalised planned economy in Cuba is more urgent that ever. Such a movement could link together with the working class and youth throughout Latin America which is increasingly moving into struggle to defend its interests and begin to offer a real socialist alternative to capitalism which has fully learnt the lessons of the Cuban revolution.
“These are the urgent steps needed to prevent the tendency towards capitalist restoration, defend the gains of the revolution and begin to build a genuine democratic socialist society based on workers’ democracy and democratic control.”
My Life – Fidel Castro
Book review by Tony Saunois, CWI, 2/4/08
The publication of My Life – Fidel Castro, (in English in 2007) was extremely timely, as Castro was to resign as president only a few months later. Based on over 100 hours of interviews, the answers given by Castro to the French writer and editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, and founder of ATTAC, Ignacio Ramonet, are very revealing and illuminating about the Cuban revolution and world events since 1959. They also reveal much about the political outlook and method of Fidel Castro.
Castro justifiably argues the impressive social gains conquered in medicine, health and education as a result of the revolution in 1959/60. “The life expectancy of Cuban citizens is now almost eighteen years longer than in 1959, when the Revolution came to power. Cuba has an infant mortality rate under 6 per 1,000 live births in their first year of life, behind Canada by a slight margin. It will take us half the time it took Sweden and Japan to raise life expectancy from seventy to eighty years of age – today we are at 77.5.”
At the time of the revolution, Castro points out, life expectancy was 60! This was after 50% of doctors fled abroad following the revolution. For every doctor who remained at the time today there are 15!
Free education is open to all who are not employed in a job and over 90,000 students are currently studying medicine, nursing or other aspects of health related studies. All this, despite an economic embargo imposed by U.S. imperialism since 1960 and a severe economic decline which followed the collapse of the former Soviet Union, in 1992, and consequential loss of economic subsidies.
These and other impressive achievements mentioned by Castro give a small glimpse of what would be possible with a socialist planned economy that was democratically controlled and managed by the working class. Another indication of this was reflected in some aspects of Cuba’s foreign policy. Apart from mobilizing over 30,000 doctors to work in over 40 countries one of the most impressive achievements was the sending of tens of thousands of “internationalist volunteers”, from 1975 onwards, to Angola and Namibia.
In Angola, the 36,000 troops were able to do combat with the South African apartheid army and, for the first time, inflict a military defeat on it. Cuban forces were crucial in freeing Namibia from South African rule. Over 15 years, more than “300,000 internationalist combatants fulfilled their mission in Angola”. These struggles were to play an important role in the eventual collapse of the apartheid regime. Cuba was, as Castro argues, “The only non-African country that fought and spilled its blood for Africa and against the odious apartheid regime”.
Hostility of U.S. Imperialism
From the very beginning, the Cuban revolution aroused the wrath of U.S. imperialism which has sought to overthrow it on numerous occasions. Today, following Castro’s resignation, U.S. imperialism and its representatives are eagerly hoping for the demise of the Cuban regime and collapse of the planned economy, which they will attempt to use to try and discredit “socialism.”
The Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1962 is the most well known intervention by U.S. imperialism against the revolution which followed Castro’s decreeing the “revolution’s socialist” characteristic.
Castro lists a series of other attacks attempted by U.S. backed exiles, the U.S. security services and other reactionary counter revolutionaries. “In 1971, under Nixon, swine fever was introduced into Cuba in a container, according to a CIA source.” In 1981, type II dengue virus was unleashed and resulting in 158 deaths, 101 of them children. According to Castro, “In 1984 a leader of Omega 7 terrorist organization, based in Florida, admitted they had introduced that deadly virus into Cuba with the intention of causing the greatest number of victims possible.” Then there have been more than 600 plans to assassinate Castro.
The social gains of the revolution and brutal hostility by U.S. imperialism revealed in this book, illustrate why Cuba is viewed with such sympathy by many workers and young people internationally, especially in Latin America. The same is true as regards Venezuela, although possibly to a lesser extent because of the failure of the revolution to advance and overthrow capitalism. Both Cuba and Venezuela are perceived as the only regimes prepared to resist the onslaught of neoliberal capitalism during the 1990/2000s. Cuba won widespread sympathy as the only regime on the left that is prepared to stand up to the colossus of what Castro (and Hugo Chavez) justifiably refers to as the “empire” – U.S. imperialism.
The Collapse of the USSR
Castro’s response to a series of questions, especially regarding the 1990s and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, reveal a very well-read individual, who attentively followed the world situation. It shows Castro, following the disastrous experiences of capitalist restoration in the former Soviet Union, is opposed to the same path being followed in Cuba. The fact that Cuba was able to survive without completely breaking up the planned economy and restoring capitalism is a measure of the social roots the revolution had established. It has more recently been assisted in this by the aid it has received from Venezuelan oil. The Cuba regime was also able to maintain more support when faced with the aggressive policy adopted towards it by U.S. imperialism.
Revealingly, Castro exposes the role played by Felipe González, (the former leader of the Spanish Socialist Party – PSOE) in persuading former Soviet leader Gorbachev to support a policy of capitalist restoration. This was carried through when the ruling bureaucracy, as a whole, went over to capitalism. González, along with others, like Manual Fraga (a former Minister in Franco’s fascist regime and President of Galicia) attempted to persuade Castro to adopt the same road in the 1990’s. “Fraga is one of those people, along with González and others …who were part of the group that was so insistent about giving me economic advice when the USSR collapsed. He took me to a very elegant restaurant one night – and he tried to give me formulas too. ‘The formula for Cuba is the formula in Nicaragua’ , he said – that’s verbatim…”
Castro rejected this advice. He said the proposed formula “..has led Nicaragua into a bottomless abyss of corruption, theft, negligence…terrible…..they wanted me to follow the Russian formula, the one that Felipe and his elite advisers urged Gorbachev to follow…and there’s nothing left. All those men whose advice was to follow the tenets of neoliberalism to the death – privatization, strict compliance to the IMF rules – have driven many countries and their inhabitants into the abyss.”
Yet, why did Castro not oppose similar advice to Tomás Borge and other Sandinista leaders in Nicaragua in the 1980s prior to their defeat?
Collapse of “Globalization” and the Role of the Working Class
Isolated, and facing a tidal wave of neo-liberal policies internationally in the 1990s, Castro reveals his approach in that period. In essence, Castro adopted a policy of buying time. This was linked with a perspective of waiting for ‘globalisation to collapse’. This, Castro anticipated, “would lead to a situation more critical than 1929.” Modern capitalism, he argues, has become so monopolized that, “There is no capitalism today, there is no competition. Today, what we have is monopolies in all the great sectors.”
A mere 500 global corporations control 80% of the world’s economy. Looking at the crisis unfolding in recent years, Castro concludes: “It’s no longer just a crisis in south East Asia , as it was in 1977, it’s a worldwide crisis, plus the war in Iraq, plus the consequences of huge debt, plus the growing waste and consequent cost of energy…plus the deficit on the part of the main economic and military power on the planet.” A system which Castro concludes is resulting in, “The world is being driven into a dead-end street.”
Yet, what is the social class that is capable of fighting this system and building a genuine democratic socialist alternative? In this book, Castro also reveals his lack of understanding of how and what class will be able to defeat capitalism and build a democratic socialist alternative. This leads him to adopting contradictory ideas and methods. Throughout the entire book there is no reference at all to the working class and its central role in the socialist revolution. Even when referring to the great general strike of ten million workers in France in 1968, Castro only mentions, in passing, that De Gaulle had gone to Germany to get the support of troops stationed there “to put down any attempt at popular rebellion.”
The absence of any reference to the working class is revealing about Castro’s attitude towards the Cuban revolution and, in general, to the character of the socialist revolution. For Castro, the working class does not play the central role. As Castro states, referring to the Cuban revolution, “But, for us, guerrilla warfare was the detonator of another process whose objective was the revolutionary taking over of power. And with a culminating point: a revolutionary general strike and general uprising of the populace”.
In other words, a guerrilla struggle which was then supported by the mass of the population where the working class played an auxiliary role rather than the leading role. As the CWI explained in other articles and documents, because of a series of historical and subjective factors, the guerrilla struggle successfully unfolded in Cuba and only as the guerrilla army entered the cities did the urban masses come onto the streets.
In Castro’s My Life, there is some discrepancy between how Castro and the July 23 Movement viewed the revolution, as it began. Castro gives the impression that he had a clearly formulated “socialist” objective from the beginning. However, as explained in other articles and documents of the Militant/CWI, at the time, and subsequently, we did not believe this was the case. The leaders of the movement, in reality, had the objective of overthrowing Batista and the establishing a “modern democratic Cuba.” Che Guevara adopted a different attitude to the other leaders of the movement. As a consequence of the embargo of U.S. imperialism and the pressure from the masses, the leaders were rapidly pushed in a more radical direction, which eventually snuffed out capitalism.
While the processes in Cuban revolution did not prevent the smashing of the old Batista regime, it did shape the nature of the state which replaced it. Although the working class supported the revolution, they were not consciously leading it, as the working class did in the Russian Revolution in 1917.
The Cuban Regime
In Cuba, capitalism was overthrown following a series of tit-for-tat reprisals between the new Cuban government and U.S. imperialism. While this represented a big step forward, it did not result in the establishment of a genuine workers’ and peasants’ democracy, such as was seen in Russia, in 1917, but brought about a bureaucratic regime, (with some elements of workers’ control at the beginning which have now largely been eroded), which managed a nationalized planned economy.
The real character of the state is perhaps inadvertently revealed by Ignacio Ramonet in his introduction to My Life, when he notes: “While he [Fidel Castro] is there [he] is but one voice. He makes all the decisions, big and small. Although he consults the political authorities in charge of the Party and the government very respectfully, very “professionally” during the decision making process, it is Fidel who finally decides”.
Castro also reveals how aspects of the state function during critical periods. He reveals that when faced with a decision to execute the army chief, Arnoldo Ochoa, for alleged drug trafficking, it was “a unanimous decision by the Council of State, which has 31 members. Over time, the Council of State has become a judge and the most important thing is that you have to struggle to ensure that every decision is made with a consensus of members.”
The fact that this decision was taken without dissent says a lot about the character of this body and the influence of Castro, given the extremely controversial nature of the Arnoldo Ochoa case.
Castro also defends the idea of a one party state: “How could our country have stood firm if it had been split up into ten pieces?”
He also then proceeds to confuse this question by attacking the corruption and manipulation of the media in the capitalist west as being not real democracy. Yet this is an entirely different question to the right of workers, youth and intellectuals to form their own political parties, including Trotskyists parties, and to contest elections in a workers and peasants’ democracy.
A genuine regime of workers’ democracy would ensure the democratic election of all officials subject to recall, that state and party officials received no more than the average wage of skilled worker, and full freedom of expression of views and criticism. Such a regime, especially after nearly fifty years in power, should have nothing to fear from workers’, youth and intellectuals establishing their own political parties and organizations that defend the planned economy or agree not to take up arms or resort to violence in opposition to it.
This does not mean to say that Castro’s Cuba has taken on the same grotesque features of Stalin’s Russia, with mass purge trials, an unchecked cult of the personality around Stalin etc. There are still no portraits and streets named after Castro. There is no evidence of torture being used by the state. However, this does not mean that bureaucracy and that an element of corruption and privileges do not exist. This has recently been shown in the admission of the Cuban government that 15% of the population own 90% of the pesos held in bank accounts.
Cuba in Isolation
The problem that has faced Castro during the 1990s, following the collapse of the former USSR, has been one of isolation, combined with the limitations imposed by the existence of a bureaucracy and the absence of a real workers’ democracy. Measures, such as a partial opening up of the economy and partial dollarization, were introduced by the regime to try and buy time. These bought their own increased contradictions, especially the partial dollarization, which vastly increased differentials between those with access to the U.S. dollar and those without, and created a growth of the black market and corruption.
The issue of Cuba’s isolation is linked to the defeat of the revolutionary movements which swept Latin America in the 1970/80s. Castro draws no rounded-out conclusions regarding the reasons for these defeats. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua failed to defeat the Contras, he argues, because of compulsory military service. Castro says: “Nicaragua won its victory twelve years after Che’s death in Bolivia. That means the objective conditions in many countries in the rest of Latin America were better than those in Cuba”. But the central question is why then did the Sandinista’s then lose again to the counter revolution? On this issue Castro offers no real explanation. He does not comment upon the failure of the Sandinistas to overthrow capitalism. They held back from taking decisive measure to overthrown the system, especially in 1984, largely because of the pressure of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow, which opposed this being done. Cuba, and Castro, backed up Moscow’s pressure and, at one stage, embargoed Russian MIG fighter planes in Havana which were destined for Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
Commenting on the defeat of Allende, in 1973, the former president of Chile, Castro correctly denounces the role of U.S. imperialism, but he draws no conclusion about the mistakes of the leaders of the Socialist and Communist Parties in Chile, which acted as a break on the revolution. Yet these defeats, and others, were crucial in Latin America during this period, and re-enforced Cuba’s isolation and dependency on the Soviet bureaucracy, at the time. Moreover, in a sense, Castro went on to repeat many of the mistakes made by the leaders of these movements in the advice he has recently given to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Castro recounts that at the time of the thwarted right wing coup in Venezuela, in 2002, he urged Chávez not to resign. He urged Chávez to “get in touch with some officer with some real authority among the ranks of the coup members, assure them of his willingness to leave the country but not resign.”
Former president Allende, Castro argues, had no choice but to lay down his life during the right-wing coup in 1973 in Chile, claiming that Allende did not have the “support of a single soldier.” This was not true. Large sections of the army and navy in Chile supported the revolutionary process. It is estimated that Allende had the support of up to 30% of the military, at the time of the coup. The tragedy was that Allende failed to arm and mobilize the working class.
In My Life, Castro states that he advised Chavez, during the 2002 right wing coup attempt in Venezuela, that “trying to meet with the people in order to trigger national resistance…had virtually no possibility of success under those circumstances.”! Yet ‘national resistance’ erupted spontaneously from below and Chávez was returned to power by the masses. This advice is yet another example of Castro not seeing the masses and the working class as the leading force of a revolution but as an auxiliary to either guerrilla organizations or sections of the military.
While coming into collision with the Stalinist Soviet bureaucracy, which Castro criticizes, on occasions sharply, he did not provide an alternative to it. This again flows from Castro’s lack of understanding of and confidence in the working class. As a result, Castro’s criticisms ultimately led to acquiescence to the Stalinists. Castro also remained silent, on occasions, during major struggles between the state and workers and youth of several countries.
Concerning Czechoslovakia’s ‘Prague Spring’, in 1968, while initially supporting some of the demands for greater democracy, freedom of expression, Castro concluded: “But from fair slogans there had been a move towards an openly reactionary policy. And we – bitterly, sadly – had to approve that military intervention”. Yet, in 1968, support for capitalist restoration was not the dominant idea in the former Czechoslovakia. The consciousness of the masses, in the main, at that time, was for “democratization of socialism” not capitalism.
Undoubtedly motivated by diplomatic and trading interests, the Cuban regime was silent when hundreds of students were massacred by the Mexican government in 1968. Castro says nothing of these events in his book.
By raising the specter of capitalist restoration in Czechoslovakia, at that time, Castro is confusing processes which emerged during the 1990’s and not the 1960’s and echoes the justification for the intervention given by the Russian Stalinists in 1968. Castro is clearly against a capitalist restoration in Cuba, especially having seen the consequences of it in the former USSR and Eastern Europe. He probably correctly concludes that former Soviet leader Gorbachev, whom Castro describes, at one point, as a “true revolutionary socialist”, ended up as a central figure in the process of capitalist restoration, although this was not Gorbahev’s original intention. As Castro puts it: “But he [Gorbahev] couldn’t manage to find solutions to the big problems his country had.”
Boris Yeltsin, who was also central to the process of capitalist restoration, is described by Castro as an “outstanding Party Secretary in Moscow, with lots of good ideas”.
Castro identifies some of the crucial problems facing the former Soviet Union; waste, corruption, mismanagement and its failure to develop and to apply the use of modern computers. Yet, he also fails to offer a clear solution to the bureaucratic rule and waste, which lay in the need to remove the Stalinist bureaucracy and to establish a genuine system of workers’ democracy. Without this, none of the huge problems he indentifies could be resolved.
However, many of these features exist in Cuba, as well. In My Life, Castro also reveals some of the conflicts that took place between the Soviet bureaucracy and the Cuban regime. When asked if the Cubans were consulted about the final withdrawal of Soviet troops, from Cuba, in September 1991, Castro responds: “Consult. They never consult. By that time they were falling apart. Everything they took without consultation.”
Castro also reveals, in letters published in English, for the first time, the erratic attitude that his regime sometimes adopted. This is especially shown in the book’s chapter dealing with the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. As the crisis intensified, Castro shows that he urged the USSR not to leave itself open to a “first strike” nuclear attack and should launch a nuclear attack first in the event of direct offensive action against Cuba by the USA.
“It is my position that once the aggression has occurred, the aggressors must not be given the privilege to decide when nuclear arms will be used…from the moment imperialism unleashed an attack against Cuba, and in Cuba, and therefore against the forces of the USSR stationed here…a response be given the aggressors against Cuba and the USSR in the form of an annihilating attack.”
Krushchev and the Soviet bureaucracy did not accept this proposal.
Today, Castro contradicts his earlier stance and comments, when he is asked if Cuba wants to manufacture a nuclear bomb: “You’ll ruin yourself – a nuclear weapon is a good way to commit suicide at a certain point.”
Stalin and Trotsky
Significantly, Castro is openly critical of Stalin and concludes, “The more intellectual of the two was, without a doubt, Trotsky.” However, this is not to say that Castro supported the ideas and methods explained in Trotsky’s writings. Castro quite wrongly dismisses any suggestion that Che Guevara was beginning to look for an alternative and had begun to read Trotsky’s works or was in any way affected by his ideas. In doing so, Castro brushes aside the evidence to the contrary, as featured by Celia Hart, Jon Lee Anderson and the Mexican writer, Paco Ignacio Taibo.
A striking feature of My Life is Castro’s attitude to world leaders and the pro-capitalist leaders of the former mass workers’ parties. For Marxists, opposing the system these leaders defend is not a personal question. Yet Castro goes out of his way to heap praise on some of these leaders, despite peppering it with critical references to what these leaders did. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is described as a “man of integrity”. Charles De Gaulle is accredited with saving France “its traditions, its national pride, the French defiance.” A Minister in Franco’s fascist government in Spain, is, in Castro’s opinion, “an intelligent, shrewd Galician”. President Lula, in Brazil, is praised as “a tenacious and fraternal fighter for the rights of labour and the Left, and a friend of our people.” And Castro views “the reforms that Lula is implementing very positively”. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of Lula’s “reforms” have been neo-liberal attacks on the rights of the working class.
Concerning the future of Cuba, Castro is adamant that the revolution will be maintained, with no threat of capitalist restoration. However, despite the strong legacy that remains and support for the gains of the revolution, the threat of restoration is growing. Since the publication of My Life, Castro has resigned as leader. Raul, his brother, and other powerful sections of the Cuban bureaucracy, are intent on moving towards opening up the market economy in Cuba. If Castro sees this threat, he evidently was not prepared to play the role of Gorbachev or Yeltsin in assisting this process.
The publication of My Life provides an illuminating insight into Fidel Castro; his role and methods. Above all, it is necessary to learn from the experiences Castro recounts. It shows the vital necessity to develop genuine workers’ democracy and socialism.
Cuba at a Crossroads
Gains of the Revolution of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro Under Threat
Tony Saunois, CWI
The Financial Times boasted: “There is a new entry among Cuba’s roll of important dates. Alongside Fidel Castro’s 26th July movement and the January 1st, 1959 “triumph of the revolution,” there is now December 17th, 2014,” (Financial Times, June 15 2015).
The Financial Times is confusing revolution with counter revolution. December 17th 2014 was when U.S. President Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro announced a series of historic agreements to normalize bilateral relations. These restored diplomatic relations between the two countries, a relaxation easing on travel restrictions and the first tentative steps signalling the easing of the trade embargo which had been imposed since the revolution in 1959/60. Since then the U.S. has re-opened its embassy in Havana.
These developments represent a decisive shift in the policy of U.S. imperialism towards Cuba. It also, in this context, signifies a further qualitative step by the Cuban regime towards capitalist restoration. The latter has been unfolding for a number of years.
Obama made these announcements as he put it recognizing that “You cannot keep doing the same thing (for more than 50 years) and expect a different result.” The European ruling classes, the Canadian and much of Latin American capitalism adopted a different approach – one which Obama has now embraced.
Raul Castro made the announcement and urged that Obama be awarded the Nobel peace prize! A “peace prize” for a U.S. president that has carried out more drone attacks than George Bush!
Since the Cuban revolution in 1959/60 U.S. imperialism has enacted a strict embargo and undertaken various attempts – including armed intervention in 1961 – to overthrow the Cuban regime and restore capitalism. Despite the crippling consequences of the embargo – estimated to have cost the Cuban economy U.S. $1 trillion since it’s enforcement – this policy has failed. This was mainly due to the deep social roots of the revolution and support for it which has lasted for decades. The trade embargo was a policy which was also geared to winning the political support of the Miami Cuban exiles who had fled from the revolution.
U.S. imperialism is now adopting a new policy of beginning to move towards lifting the embargo. The threat of capitalist restoration to an isolated workers’ state can come not only from the threat of military intervention. As Trotsky warned in relation to the former USSR, it can come in the form of “cheap goods in the baggage train of imperialism.” The objective of U.S. imperialism is the same but now they hope to reach it by a different route. Now they hope to flood the Cuban economy with goods and investment with the aim of fully restoring capitalism and exploiting Cuba’s resources for themselves. If this is achieved it will end Cuba being identified in Latin America and internationally as being a reference point of an alternative to capitalism.
This change of policy by U.S. imperialism has been facilitated by a generational change and outlook within the exiled Cuban community. While previously wedded to support for the embargo and a struggle to overthrow the regime now, according some opinion polls, 52% of Cubans living in the USA now support ending the embargo. Sections of the capitalist class like the sugar magnate Alfy Fanjul, have pronounced in favor of the lifting of the embargo no doubt with an eye to the prospects of new markets and commodities to exploit within a new capitalist Cuba.
Cuba faces a devastating economic situation. Many Cubans are dependent on remittances they receive from families in the USA. An estimated 62% of Cuban households now receive support from abroad. According to some economic estimates they sustain an incredible 90% of the retail market.
The dire economic situation in Cuba has meant a disastrous situation for the masses. The massive social gains conquered as a result of the revolution and overthrow of capitalism are being eroded. The collapse of the former USSR and loss of subsidies devastated the Cuban economy. Yet support for the revolution and hostility to capitalism and U.S. imperialism meant that the Cuban regime incredibly was able to maintain the planned economy and bureaucratic regime throughout the 1990s (the “Special Period”) and into the early part of the 21st century. This was despite the fact that the value of wages in Cuba today is estimated to be worth only 28% of what is was prior to the collapse of the former USSR!
The regime and planned economy hung on through this period despite the tidal wave of free market capitalism which dominated the world economy in this period. The regime regime was also able to sustain itself politically using the U.S. embargo which fueled hostility to U.S. imperialism. The arrival of Hugo Chavez to power in Venezuela also brought it a breathing space through its supply of cheap petrol and oil. Subsidies from Venezuela are estimated to stand at U.S. 1.5 billion per annum in an economy estimated at U.S. $80 billion.
The lack of genuine workers control and democracy and consequential bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption further dogged and aggravated the economic and social crisis caused by the embargo and isolation.
The revolutionary convulsions which swept Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador at the beginning of the century offered the prospect for Cuba to break out of its isolation. A genuine workers’ democracy would have seized this opportunity and taken the steps necessary to try and form a socialist federation of these countries. This could have allowed economic co-operation and planning between these countries and could have begun to appeal to the working class of the whole of Latin America to offer an alternative to capitalism.
Unfortunately neither the Cuban bureaucratic regime nor the reformist leaderships of Morales, Chavez or Carrera were prepared to take this step. The latter have remained trapped within capitalism despite initially introducing reforms and taking some measures to encroach on the interests of the ruling class and imperialism. The Cuban regime on the other hand has introduced a series of incremental steps beginning the process of capitalist restoration. These latest developments threaten a further advance in the threat of counter revolution.
Although the easing on travel restrictions will be welcomed other steps represent a threat to the remaining gains conquered by the revolution which. These were already being eroded and dismantled. Any that remain are now under serious threat. The new labor code represents a serious attack on workers’ rights. The age of retirement was raised by 5 years in 2008. The introduction of the “dual currency” exchange whereby some workers are now paid in dollars vastly exacerbated inequality between those paid in dollars and those in pesos. The regime created the ‘convertible peso’ or CUC which is pegged 1:1 with the dollar which is used in the tourist sector and imported products. Local products use the local peso CUP which is equal to about 1:25 of the CUC. The government announced its intention to scrap this dual currency but this has not so far been implemented.
This has inevitably boosted the black market. The government established a target of removing over 1 million workers from the state sector and allowing the establishment of thousands of small and medium sized businesses – 500,000 licenses have already been issued – “cuentapropistas.” However, these have centered on small businesses like restaurants – mainly operating from peoples houses.
The number of workers employed in the private sector has increased from approximately 140,000 to 400,000 since 2007. While this is significant it still represents a minority of the total work force of over 5 million.
A bridgehead for capitalist restoration has been developed in the tourist sector which has been the center thus far of foreign investment from Europe, Canada, Brazil and more recently Chinese enterprises. Prostitution, banished from society following the revolution is now back on the streets of Havana, especially in the tourist areas.
Special Development Zones have been opened like the building of a new port facility in Mariel Bay – financed by investment from Brazilian and Singapore capitalism. This is viewed with a future eye for the ending of the U.S. trade embargo and to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama canal and the new canal being planned in Nicaragua. Here investors will be given 50 years contracts compared with the current 25 year one. Investors can have 100% ownership. They will be charged no labor or local taxes and granted a 10 year reprieve from paying a 12% tax on profits.
However, despite these developments foreign investors are compelled to negotiate with the government or state run companies. While the Cuban regime still uses some socialist rhetoric, in part reflecting the support which still exists for the revolution, especially among the older generation, it increasingly reverts to Jose Marti, the leader of the independence movement against the Spanish colonizers.
The younger generation, desperate to enjoy new freedoms – use of the internet and travel among others – have experienced not the gains but the regression of the revolution and economic and social crisis and the stifling dead hand of the bureaucracy
Initially the attraction of the arrival of “cheap goods in the baggage train of imperialism” may hold an initial attraction until the reality of life in capitalist society becomes apparent.
These developments clearly represent an important retrogressive steps in the re-introduction of capitalism. This process is clearly under way in some sectors. However, it is far from completed. Steps towards the “free market” are allowed under continued state supervision, agreement and control. The state still maintains a powerful control and could choke off these steps at any time. Foreign investors still need to negotiate directly with the government or state controlled companies. The decisive sectors of the economy have still not been privatized or sold to foreign capitalists.
As Rafael Hernandez, the Cuban editor of “Temas” (a cultural state published magazine) pointed out: “All of Raul’s economic reforms involved decentralization, which is good, as Cuba needs that. The problem is this …it has not happened” (Financial Times, June 15, 2015).
Even U.S. capitalists, eager to take back what they lost in the revolution, are treading cautiously. As one investor was quoted as saying, “It makes sense. Start small, learn how the system works and then see how it goes.”
For socialists and the working class the steps towards capitalist restoration represent a backward step. They will signify the erosion of the gains of the Cuban revolution for the masses. They will also be utilized by the ruling class, especially in Latin America, to try and again discredit the idea of socialism as an alternative to capitalism.
However, this will not have the same effects as the ideological offensive against the idea of socialism which the ruling class unleashed following the collapse of the former Stalinist regimes in the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe. A new phase of capitalist crisis and workers’ struggles has opened up internationally. The working class and the masses has passed through twenty five years of the “supremacy of the free market” and is beginning to struggle against it. In Brazil, Argentina, Chile and other countries a new cycle of workers’ struggle has begun.
The lifting of the embargo would represent a defeat for the past policy of U.S. imperialism and its’ attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime. It will give Cuba more opportunity to trade on the world market. However, without the existence of a genuine workers’ democracy this includes the danger that can threaten the acceleration of capitalist restoration. A state monopoly of foreign trade, controlled democratically by a genuine regime of workers’ democracy is essential to help prevent this increasing threat. Socialists welcome the increased freedom to travel.
The transition to a full capitalist restoration in Cuba however will not be a straightforward uninterrupted process. Sections of the regime do not seem to want to go in this direction. Significantly Maiela Castro, daughter of Raul firmly stated as this deal was announced that: The people of Cuba don’t want to return to capitalism.”
There are many obstacles still to be overcome for the lifting of the trade embargo. Not least opposition to such steps by the far right wing of the Republicans in the U.S. congress. The question of U.S.$7 billion claims for compensation from former owners of companies nationalized at the time of the revolution. On the other hand Fidel Castro on his 89th birthday raised the question of “numerous millions of dollars” being paid in damages to Cuba by the USA to cover the costs of the embargo.
Under the conditions of new international capitalist crisis moves towards capitalist restoration can be checked. A mixed or hybrid situation could continue for some time. Initially such gains from the revolution such as the health care and the education system may be maintained although even these have suffered greatly from lack of investment in the recent period. Many obstacles remain to be overcome and some resistance is likely as the reality of capitalist restoration becomes apparent. Sections of the population are already fearful of loosing the gains of the revolution and of Cuba being turned into another Puerto Rico.
The need to build resistance to the developing pace of capitalist restoration and struggle for a genuine workers’ democracy and nationalized planned economy in Cuba is more urgent that ever. Such a movement could link together with the working class and youth throughout Latin America which is increasingly moving into struggle to defend its interests and begin to offer a real socialist alternative to capitalism which has fully learnt the lessons of the Cuban revolution.