Cuba, the United States and the Left

Against the Current, No. 89, November/ December 2000

Guillermo Almeyra

THE NATIONALIST ANTI-IMPERIALIST revolution of the long beards has lasted forty-one years. It was never a socialist revolution. The Moncada combatants were not socialists, neither were those in the Sierra Maestra (with few exceptions), nor the Cuban people who one morning woke up to hear the news through the radio and from the mouth of Fidel Castro, that in response to the imperialist attacks, the island had become “socialist.”

From then on, “socialism” became an expression of the will of a majority — but not all — of the Cuban people to maintain their national independence and sovereignty. It did not express, however, their consensus with all of the regime’s theoretic or economic positions and much less with the model of the eastern European countries.

In fact, Cuban “socialism” derived its strength not from being a soviet style socialism, but from being, essentially, a movement for national liberation. Its Achilles heel is the survival of various important traits of the anti-socialist bureaucratic regimes that used to be known as “real socialism.”

One of those traits is verticalism, which is based on the theory that in a regime whose objective is to abolish classes, only one party can exist to represent the proletariat by divine will, and that the State’s function is to reinforce the party’s intervention in society to avoid its being replaced by a self-managed society.

Another trait involves, of course, the permanent absence of any public self-criticism by the leadership — which seldom renews itself and does so only through cooptation and purges. Their voluntarism, pragmatism, and their theoretical and political deficiencies have led to terrible and costly mistakes, the worst of which has been the idealization of “unsocialist” leaders such as [former Soviet leaders] Khrushchev, Brezhnev and their followers; Siad Barre in Somalia, Haile Mariam Mengistu in Ethiopia and their likes; or the support of “anti-imperialists” such as the Argentinian military dictators during the Falkland Island’s war, or the priista presidents in Mexico.

In spite of this Cuba continues to resist, thanks to the brutal and constant attacks and the blockade by the USA that has led the Cuban people to close ranks to defend their independence, as in the case of Elian.

Their support of the regime does not stem as much from its real and desperate efforts to better the economy with the least possible damage to the rights and conquests of the majority of the people, as from the prevailing anti-imperialist nationalism and a diffuse consciousness that the fall of the regime would convert Cuba into a Panama, a Puerto Rico or a Russia.

This consciousness leads to the conclusion that it is indispensable to defend the democratic economic conquests that remain in spite of the lack of political democracy (because there is no freedom of expression, association, organization, or movement of people) and of social democracy (due to the growth of the bureaucracy and social inequality).

How to Defend Cuba

Given this, the left must undoubtedly stand by the Cuban people’s resolve to defend their self-determination and sovereignty, to demand the end of the blockade and to defend whatever remains of the social conquests of the revolution of 1959-62.

But the left must also differentiate itself from the concrete policies of the Cuban government and from its pragmatism. A left that wants to help Cuba to resist must discuss what socialism is about, and how and why “really existing socialism” was nefarious and its followers lied to themselves or became accomplices of its crimes.

The left must also criticize whatever weakens the country’s fight against imperialism or hinders its finding allies among other countries. The left must also remind itself of the terrible results of its paternalism and tailism, as in the case of the Nicaraguan sandinistas, “so as not to weaken the revolutionary camp” and of its silence concerning the leaders of other liberation movements in Africa and Latin America.

Today’s Cuba is going through an extremely difficult moment because it depends, in fact, on the U.S.-imposed barrier to free commerce and capitalist ideology, and on a team disciplined around the Castro brothers. Both factors are highly unstable.

Building a credible and efficient political and cultural defense against the effects of neoliberalism when the United States lifts the blockade will have to go hand in hand with massive political participation to construct, from the bottom up, a solid non-bureaucratic, democratic socialist leadership by the time Fidel has passed on.

Between Scylla and Charybdis

Cuba faces two great dangers. One is external and stems from the continuous aggression by the United States and the power of the world market, its impositions, its values and its way of thinking. The other, equally important, danger is internal and stems from the government’s stubbornness to keep making changes only to prolong the status quo to hold on to power instead of building power from below to develop citizenship.

By that we mean developing a solid social base that ensures a political transition from castroism to a socially based democracy and, in the economic realm, from a semicolonial insert in the capitalist world market to a mixed economy to prevent disasters similar to those in Russia and other Latin American countries.

This is an enormous but unavoidable challenge. Given the relation of forces between Cuba and imperialism, the transition can only lead to two outcomes: the puertoricanization of the island or a deep change — political, economic and social — that maximizes the obstacles to “homogenizing” Cuba and builds the forces of resistance and sources of support for a future socialist politics.

The Cuban people have been resisting the pull in either direction for some time. Although demoralized and depoliticized by the outcome of their economic and political wager on the side of the anti-socialist regimes that caved in 1989, there still are vital, critical sectors of the population that refuse to follow either the survival-for-its-own-sake alternative or the colonizing-minded proposals of the Miami mafia (although many desperate sectors, particularly among the youth, are willing to endure them if that improves their standard of living).

Intellectuals, workers and former militants take refuge in individual solutions in order to eat and do something. But they can become the basis of the country’s regeneration of a new democratic, socialist orientation.

Today, the blockade helps the Cuban government to stay in power. The U.S. Neanderthals are likely to maintain it, be it with Bush or with Gore, because the business they lose is very small (mainly tourism, food and technology for a few million Cuban inhabitants with little purchasing power), and because the weight of the Florida mafia is equal to those sectors that would benefit from the end of the blockade.

Also, the political cost of U.S. aggression against Cuba with the other Latin American governments is minimal. But when the United States lifts the blockade, Cuba will be invaded by worse tourists than today’s, by goods that very few can afford; inequality will grow along with the already existing plague of delinquency and prostitution; and the internal political tensions will become enormous.

Is Time Running Out?

Neither Fidel nor Raul Castro are in their prime years. The bureaucracy, inefficient, incapable of planning, conservative and corrupt, is devoid of any capacity to create, much less to work in a democracy. A crisis of the one-party regime is looming in the short- or middle-range term even if the economy improves somewhat (a very unlikely event given the fall of the price of sugar, nickel and citrics, and the increase in the relative cost of oil).

This leaves a very short time to distribute the land to the peasants and to provide them with the support necessary to improve their standard of living, improve the rural agricultural industry and urban food supply so as to reaffirm the rural sector’s support of the conquests of the revolution and build the resistance against the eventual attempts to bring back the big landlords.

There is very little time left to plan from below, involving every and each locality, on the basis of the needs and priorities defined by the people, discussing with them what can be done today and how to proceed tomorrow so as to really utilize the creative spirit and the intelligence of the Cubans, to get them into the habit of deciding on the basis of relative costs and to pass over to them the responsibility of governing their locality in a democratic fashion.

Little time remains to organize thousands of voluntary groups, free to discuss their goals and tasks, independent of the state bureaucracy’s paternalism so they can develop into a rank-and-file cadre. Little time is left to open up communication and information — without which citizenship cannot develop — so as to provide to all social groups a voice and the means to express themselves.

There is little time left to start a public discussion, inside and outside the party, on how to reorganize the society, on why the “real socialism” countries were not socialist, on what socialism and self management is, on what the real Marx is about as counterposed to the marxists, discussions which could also serve the purposes of self-education and self-critique. Autism and arrogance cannot last and will only lead to disaster.

ATC 89, November-December 2000