HAVANA TIMES — Socialist revolution represents society’s forward movement towards the democratization and socialization of politics and the economy in the capitalist age, the replacement of salaried relations of production, which characterize capitalism, with the reign of free labor associations of the cooperative and self-managed kind.
This process is born within capitalism and begins to expand gradually.
Political revolutions in the course of the capitalist era – which have generally involved changes in government – haven’t led to socialist revolutions in the Marxist sense of the word owing to the confusion, introduced by so-called “Marxism-Leninism” (it’s Stalinist variant, to be more precise), regarding the role of workers, the State, democracy, human rights, the Party, the market, economic planning and relations of production. I have dealt with this amply in previous articles, as have many other contemporary socialists.
Cuban workers had been developing forms of free labor associations, such as savings and retirement funds and free, individual labor, since the close of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, small cooperatives and important medical associations were already being formed.
Cooperatives began to appear in sectors such as fishing, shoe manufacturing, agriculture and transportation (Omnibus Aliados). Even workers at Havana’s airport set up a cooperative, the Cooperative Association of Aeronautical Industry Workers (ACTIA), to build homes and markets for airport employees.
In 1959, Cuba’s popular revolution, which relied on the massive support of the Cuban people, triumphed. Though the Moncada Program contained socialist proposals, promoting forms of cooperative labor and calling for the redistribution of 30 percent of company profits to employees, the great, social motive force that impelled the revolution was the aim of restoring the country’s democratic system, eliminated by Fulgencio Batista’s coup in 1952, and Cuba’s democratic constitution of 1940, trampled by the dictator.
The leaders of the Sierra Maestra guerrilla movement headed by Fidel Castro who capitalized on that popular victory did not restore democracy or the 1940 Constitution and prioritized a series of widely-demanded socio-economic reforms.
Disagreements within the provisional government, the 26th of July Movement and the broad anti-Batista front didn’t take long to flourish. This led to the emergence of the first opposition groups, accused of being counterrevolutionaries by the guerilla leadership that, a few months following the revolution, was already in control of all the main levers of government. As of that moment, all dissenting thought was considered treason and a highly skewed notion of civil and political rights began to take root.
The nationalization of estates, companies, mansions, automobiles and goods misappropriated by high officials of the Batista regime, followed by the Agrarian Reform, placed a great many economic resources and lands in the hands of that government (already headed by Fidel Castro) and quickly transformed the State into the country’s chief employer.
The bureaucracy of the old State began to be replaced by the new, “revolutionary” bureaucracy, which now had to manage all of the businesses it had secured (none of which it handed over to the workers).
The centralization and nationalization of Cuba’s economy and political life gained impetus in the mid-1960s, when the first steps to create the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) were taken. These organizations were formed out of the remnants of the 26th of July Movement, the 13th of March Movement and the People’s Socialist Party (PSP).
The leadership of the ORI was left in the hands of the main figures of these organizations, mostly those of the PSP (who had neo-Stalinist leanings) and the “radicals” of the 26th of July Movement.
At the time, the massive nationalization of US capital (its appropriation by the State, to be more precise), intensified conflicts with the United States and the economic and military rapprochement with the Soviet Union and socialist bloc, were creating the conditions needed to steer Cuba’s revolutionary process in the direction of Soviet-styled “socialism.”
After the revolution had been declared “socialist”, on the eve of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and with the defeat of this invasion and President Kennedy’s decision not to offer direct military support for the action, the triumph of “Marxist-Leninist” philosophy over the other forces that made up Cuba’s revolutionary process was sealed.
As of that moment, the United States decided that the best thing Cuba could do for the Western Hemisphere was to collapse under the weight of its own mistakes, and not to help it go out as a martyr in an epic struggle against its great northern neighbor.
This had paved the road towards the establishment of a Soviet-styled “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the strengthening of Cuba’s strategic alliance with the Soviet Union and its “Real Socialism”, the complete nationalization of the economy and complete control by the government/State/Party, led by a small group of people who called themselves the vanguard of the revolution, whose decisions were obeyed unconditionally. This situation has persisted to this day.
The Missile Crisis of 1962, unleashed by the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, was the event which sparked off the criminal (and still effective) US blockade, which the government/State/Party invokes to justify all its economic disasters and anti-democratic policies.
It was in the course of this process that the Cuban revolution began to be confounded with the government, the Party and its leaders, as the “Marxist-Leninist” philosophy embraced by this leadership understood the process as the work of an all-possessing and all-deciding State, led by an elite who, on behalf of the people, the working class and socialism, was called on to administer the country’s economy and politics.
Such a centralization of political and economic power, instead of democratizing politics and socializing the economy, led to the exact opposite: politics and the economy became more monopolistic than ever before and, in practice, the revolution of 1959, which could have become a true socialist revolution, became the opposite (which is what happened everywhere where these misguided policies were implemented).
The bureaucratic elite never handed the country’s companies over to the workers. It appointed administrative sub-bureaucracies in all State companies, which maintained the wage system.
It “nationalized” existing cooperatives. It placed medical associations under State control. It did away with the saving funds unions and nationalized their property, such as the Hilton Hotel, which was not owned by that chain and was operated, under an administrative contract, by Havana’s Food Industry Union.
After setting up sugar-cane cooperatives in nationalized lands formerly owned by foreign companies (in 1960), it dismantled these and re-structured them into State farms less than two years later, turning 100 thousand cooperative workers into wage laborers.
To finish off the socialization of private property and the economy which already existed before 1959, the so-called “revolutionary offensive” of 1968 placed thousands of small private and family businesses under State control.
Today, there is no question about it. After the fall of the socialist bloc and the Soviet Union, after the advent of the so-called “reform process” and its measures (reminiscent of neo-liberal policies), its hopes for an alliance with foreign capital and its inconsistent flirting with forms of cooperativism and self-employment, it is clear the country’s system was never anything other than a form of State monopoly capitalism, where a bureaucratic apparatus administers State property, the economy, laws and the rights of the people and continues to exploit workers through wage labor (paying increasingly measly salaries to its employees).
This elitist political and military bureaucracy, which calls itself the “revolutionary government”, has wielded absolute economic and political power, has done what it has pleased with all of the resources of the Cuban people and has never handed power – real or formal – to the workers or the people, establishing a clever political system that maintains it in power.
Many believe Fidel Castro “used” so-called Marxism-Leninism to consolidate his power, while others believe he honestly sought to construct socialism through its methods. For me, the important thing is to identify the methods and its disastrous consequences, which reveal that what this government has been doing for 55 years has nothing to do with socialism. Only socialist mechanisms and methods can result in such a society.
January 1, 1959 marked the glorious triumph of the Cuban people over a dictatorship. What came afterwards was steered away from the democratization and socialization of political and economic power demanded by a socialist revolution, which has been spoken about but never materialized, not to this day.
It is therefore a historical and sociological error to identify Cuba’s pending socialist revolution with the government, the State, the Party and the leaders of the revolution of 1959. Such a revolution would in fact entail the expropriation of the political and economic power wielded by the bureaucracy and its centralized State, for the benefit of the working people and of all Cubans.