Samuel Farber Responds

Samuel Farber

IN RESPONSE TO the most important of the large number of issues raised by Marc Viglielmo regarding Cuba, North Korea and many other countries, I want to make the following points.

(1) I did not in any way address the question of popular support for the Cuban regime in my review of Janette Habel’s book, because this was not relevant to a structural analysis of the Cuban socioeconomic and political system. The degree of popularity of rulers such as Stalin, Hitler, Khomeini, Peron by itself tells us nothing about the socioeconomic and political characteristics of the societies over which these people ruled.

Did the Soviet Union become less Stalinist during World War II (“The Great Patriotic War”) because Stalin’s popularity undoubtedly rose during this period of national resistance against the Nazi invaders? Were there many popular, mass protests during Stalin’s rule? If there weren’t, did that mean that Stalin’s rule was popular and thus less Stalinist,

If we are serious about our political principles and strategic conceptions, we cannot base our support or opposition to a regime on the basis of its popularity. At the same time, we cannot ignore the degree of popularity of a regime—-not to determine whether we support or oppose it, but in discussing how that support or opposition should be carried out.

In the case of Cuba, the United States has actively opposed the Cuban regime for its own imperialist reasons. This, much more than the merits of the regime, explains a good part of the significant popular support for the Cuban government. However, I think that Fidel Castro would, at this point, for a combination of legitimate and illegitimate reasons, lose a truly free election against a unified opposition candidate.

In the face of a situation such as this, where violent opposition has become closely identified with the right wing and imperialism, a consensus supporting non-violent protest and a home-grown peaceful transition has developed among the democratic and leftist political opposition inside Cuba. This is in contrast to the violent and pro-U.S.-interventionist line of right-wing circles in Miami.

(2) If the term “Stalinism” is a historically unique term to be applied solely to the rule of Joseph Stalin from the late twenties until his death in 1953, then there is not much to argue about hem But many Marxists, and practically all Trotskyists, also apply the term to Stalin’s Soviet successors, to Mao’s China and to the pre-1989 East European states. They must then, if their analysis is to have any coherence, use the term in a “generic” sense, to describe a socioeconomic and political system of bureaucratic rule, one which is naturally bound to include certain variations just as the generic term “capitalism” includes the Japanese, U.S. and Swedish varieties.

Given the present socioeconomic and political characteristics of Cuba (bureaucratic nationalized economy, one-party state ruling over every aspect of society, stratified unions, no right to strike or any other civil and political liberties, secret police unrestricted by legal or constitutional limitations), I argue that Cuba is demonstrably more Stalinist than every single pre-1989 East European state with the exceptions of Romania and Albania.

I don’t see why stating this closes off discussion, as Janette Habel claimed in her reply to my review (“On Che, Cuban and Revolution,” ATC 46), particularly when this statement is very concrete and subject to empirical evaluation (a task which both Habel and VIglielmo refused to undertake). I also argue that Che Guevara played a major and direct role, during the first five years of the revolution, in establishing such a system in the island. By the time Guevara left Cuba in the mid-sixties, practically all the key elements of the new system had been firmly set in place.

(3) The primary task of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution is not to organize immunization programs for children, but to be a system of vigilance and control over the population. They do so by helping to compile extensive records on each and every individual, popularly known as “cuentame tu vida” (“tell me your life story’), which are then used to determine political merits for such things as admission to special technical schools and the universities and for job promotions.

In any case, the CDRs are not the equivalents of the Soviet KGB or the Polish ZOMOS. The Cuban equivalent of the KGB is State Security (Segurz4zd del Estado) headquartered at the infamous Villa Marina, and the Cuban equivalent of the Polish Zomos are the government-organized gangs of thugs who surround the homes of non-violent dissidents in so-called “actos de repudio” (repudiation acts) which often include physical beatings and the destruction of the dissident’s furniture and home appliances.

These “actos de repudio” typically take place after the dissident has been fired from her or his job and still persists in remaining politically active More recently (1991), the government established the Rapid Response Brigades (Brigadas de Respuesta Rapids) with the purpose of systematizing and “perfecting” these sorts of street actions. The next step after the “actos de repudio” is imprisonment fora term typically ranging from six months to ten years (reduced from what used to be penalties of twenty years in prison for non-violent acts of opposition, at a time when there were tens of thousands of political prisoners).

(4) Stalinist economies have in the past tended to oscillate between stratification offensives and pragmatic adaptations to political reality which have resulted in the relaxation of state controls.

Thus, the Chinese Revolution oscillated between the land distribution of the period immediately after 1949 to the collectivization offensive of “The Great Leap Forward” of the mid-fifties and back again to a relaxation of state economic controls. That does not mean that the general characterization of China as a Stalinist society became inoperable as a result of the twists and turns in economic policy that took place during the initial decades of the Revolution.

The same goes for Cuba: from the mild relaxation of state controls in the seventies, to the reassertion of Guevaraist statism in the mid-eighties, and now to the dollarization of the economy in July 1993 and to the reintroduction of the peasant markets in September 1993.

Yet as of this writing, these quite real changes in economic emphasis have not altered the fundamental nature of the system. Similarly, the real differences between Keynesianism and neoliberalism have not placed into question the fundamental features of capitalism.

(5) Moreover, Fidel Castro has presided over all of the reorientations of the Cuban economy. In this context, I was amazed by Marc Viglielmo’s claim that “Castro opposed the introduction of Soviet-style economic reforms … [and that) Castro was overruled by others in the Central Committee.” No serious historian of Cuba, of any political persuasion, has ever claimed that Castro has lost this or any vote in the Central Committee.

This claim of Viglielmo’s (as well as his equally false claims that the Cuban bureaucracy has no special access to shops and other privileges, that The Revolution Betrayed is a best-selling book in the island and that Carlos Tablada’s views differ from the Cuban government’s line) is typical of a tendency I have now observed for more than three decades: non-Stalinist defenders of Cuban Stalinism frequently engage in more serious factual distortions than the Stalinist defenders of Cuban Stalinism. If one believes that democracy is just bourgeois ideological garbage, one has less need to invent non-existing democratic traits in the Cuban regime.

A final note: it is true that the old Cuban Communists (the PSP) did not support the armed struggle against Batista at the time of the attack on the Moncada Barracks (July 26, 1953) and for some years after that But they changed their position in mid-1958, a few months before the overthrow of Batista, and actually sent a number of their top leaders and activists to the Sierra Maestra.

It is also true that after Batista’s overthrow the old Communists tended to be somewhat more cautious than Castro, but not to the extent of failing to support his move towards Stalinism. I have discussed this question at length in “The Cuban Communists in the Early Stages of the Cuban Revolution: Revolutionaries or Reformists?” (Latin American Research Review, March 1983).

November-December 1993, ATC 47