by Larry Seigle
This is an excerpt from a report given to an expanded meeting of the Political Committee of the US Socialist Workers Party on August 14, 1978. The Revolutionary Marxist Committee, a group which viewed the Soviet Union and Cuba as “state capitalist,” had recently joined the SWP.
The comrades in the SWP who hold that Cuba is a state-capitalist country believe the Soviet Union is state-capitalist also. These comrades start from the political conclusion that there is nothing left of the October revolution to defend against imperialism today. From the standpoint of the world working class and its tasks, they see no qualitative difference between the Soviet Union and the United States. They believe the Soviet section of the Fourth International should be for the defeat of the Soviet Union in a war with imperialism. This is the political difference they have with Trotskyism.
It is a fundamental difference, with many political ramifications.
A corollary of this political stance is a basic disagreement with the position of the Trotskyist movement on the characteristics of a workers state. These comrades hold that a workers state exists if, and only if, the working class directly exercises political rule through democratic proletarian forms. If the working class does not exercise direct rule through its own democratic forms, it is not a workers state. They do not agree that the class character of a state is determined by the property relations it defends.
To back up this view they quote extensively from Marx and Lenin’s predictions about what the proletarian dictatorship would look like, and what they urged the workers to fight for. They correctly point out that proletarian democracy is necessary to achieve the transition to socialism. Then they show that the Soviet Union deviates from that norm of a workers state — that the Stalinist bureaucracy has usurped political power, that the proletariat is disenfranchised and oppressed.
They argue that the Soviet Union ceased being a workers state around 1939, not because of any change in the relations of production or in property relations — which remained the same — but because of changes in the party and government. The purges of the old Bolsheviks, they say, severed the last living links to the October revolution. In other words, the class character ôf the state is determined not by the property relations that the state defends but by whether the political forms correspond to the programmatic norms laid out by Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky and defended by our movement.
We think these comrades use incorrect criteria for defining a workers state. Their error flows from the wrong political position of abandoning the fight to defend the economic conquests of the Bolshevik revolution before the decisive battle on that front has been fought.
But the position these comrades hold on the Soviet Union does not directly prove anything about the class character of Cuba. You can hold that the Soviet Union is state capitalist, but it doesn’t automatically follow that Cuba is state capitalist. The Cuban revolution has its own dynamic — its own course of development that is quite different from the course of events in the Soviet Union. So we have to look at Cuba, not at the Soviet Union, to decide the class nature of the Cuban state and our political stance toward it. It’s one thing to say that the Soviet Union, which had a proletarian revolution in 1917, degenerated to the point where the workers state was overturned. That’s wrong. That’s not a small mistake — it’s a very big mistake but it’s not a new one.
It’s quite another thing to say that there was never a workers state in Cuba, that there was never a social revolution in Cuba. Because if you can’t recognize the socialist revolution in Cuba, it’s doubtful that you could recognize one anywhere. And a leadership that can’t recognize a revolution, can’t lead one.
Healy’s Sectarian Line
The original proponent in our movement of the point of view that Cuba remained capitalist was Gerry Healy, then a leader of the British section of the [Fourth] International, who refused to recognize the socialist nature of the revolution. He didn’t think it was state capitalist — just capitalist. In his view, not much had changed in Cuba. He stood outside of and in opposition to the revolutionary process, and therefore avoided the necessity of throwing himself into the struggle to defend it against imperialist threats and attacks and to advance that revolution.
In the case of Healy, this sectarian stance toward the. Cuban revolution went hand in hand with sectarian opposition to the process of reunification of the divided Fourth International. Agreement on Cuba was a key part of the political convergence that was taking place in the early 1960s, and gave a big impetus to the process of reunification. Healy’s main interest was in using the Cuban revolution — which he didn’t give a damn about — as a factional issue to block reunification.
The National Committee of Healy’s Socialist Labour League wrote: “Does the dictatorship of the proletariat exist in Cuba? We reply categorically NO! The absence of a party squarely based on the workers and poor peasants makes it impossible to set up and maintain such a dictatorship. But what is even more significant is the absence of what the SWP euphemistically terms `the institutions of proletarian democracy’ or what we prefer to call soviets or organs of workers’ power.”
According to Healy, and the comrades in the SWP who agreed with him, Cuba remained capitalist. Why? Because the Cuban revolution was not under the leadership of a recognized section or duly chartered sympathizing group of the Fourth International: “Cuba can and will be defined as a workers’ state only when a revolutionary party based on the program of the. Fourth International has successfully overthrown the capitalist state …” That was the Healyite position.
The comrades who today believe that Cuba is state-capitalist don’t share Healy’s political position. But they make a similar error by refusing to recognize the importance of property relations in defining the class character of a state.
Contradictions of ‘State Capitalism’
The political problem with the state-capitalist view of Cuba is elementary. If all the gains and conquests of the Cuban revolution are possible under capitalism, then two things follow. First, we must say that this opens up the perspective of a whole new era of progress for humanity under capitalism, at least in the semi-colonial world; and second, we must defend that kind of capitalism as a better kind of capitalism than that which existed under Batista or the capitalism that exists in the other Latin American countries today.
In other words, all of Marxism goes out the window.
Let’s look at the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in the colonial world, which we know can only be carried out, in the imperialist epoch, under the leadership of the proletariat.
We can start with the land reform. There was a sweeping, radical land reform in Cuba. Unlike Stalin’s bureaucratic and brutal forced collectivization, it had the overwhelming support of-the peasants, rural poor, and agricultural workers. The result of this key advance was the consolidation of the political alliance between the Cuban workers and the Cuban peasants, an alliance that remains solid today.
Do we politically support this land reform? Should we have advocated it at the time? If not, how would our program have differed from the one actually carried out?
What about national independence? Cuba was a colony of the United States in everything but name. American capital owned great parts of Cuba’s wealth. Batista was a Wall Street puppet. Havana was a cesspool of American gamblers, racketeers, drug dealers, and pimps.
That has been totally changed. Not a single piece of imperialist-owned property, machinery, land, or anything exists in Cuba today with the exception of Guantanamo Bay base held by American imperialism through military force. The degradation and exploitation by American imperialism has ended. Cuba is the only country in all of Latin America that is truly independent from US imperialism. Are we for this or against it? Was kicking out the imperialists a good thing? Could it have been done better or more thoroughly by a workers state than a “state-capitalist state”?
The Cubans carried out this task pretty well. And not because the Yankees willingly let go. Wall street fought hard. US imperialism mobilized its economic and political power against Cuba. When that failed, it organized an invasion. And the invasion was beaten back! At the Bay of Pigs.
Then in 1962, the imperialists began preparing for a second, more determined invasion. The Cubans knew it was coming. To head this off, Castro got nuclear arms from the Soviet Union and used them to call Kennedy’s hand. This was a bold move, but the alternative was to allow an invasion to take place and go down fighting against vastly superior military forces. And it worked; the invasion plans were shelved, and the United States has had to keep them on the shelf ever since.
Castro’s decision to obtain nuclear weapons thus prevented the Yankee military occupation of Cuba, a step that would have bathed Cuba in blood and rolled back the first socialist revolution in the Americas. Had the imperialists succeeded, it would have significantly shifted the world relationship of class forces against the workers and peasants. And the negative consequences for the world revolution would have been felt everywhere — in Vietnam, in Africa, and throughout Latin America.
Were we for Cuba and against the Yankee aggression? Obviously we have no differences on this. We were for Cuba. But how could we explain that capitalist Cuba stood off US imperialism?
Moreover, the Cuban revolution has continued to defy Uncle Sam internationally. For 20 years it has refused to bow down to the demands of Yankee imperialism. And it has done more. In Angola — not in Latin America, but in Africa — Cuban troops played a decisive role in the defeat of the invading South African imperialist army. How could you explain capitalist Cuba sending troops to Africa to stand up to imperialism?
In another area of bourgeois-democratic tasks, along with land reform and national independence, we should add that the revolution made gigantic strides in ending the oppression of Blacks in Cuba, a key aspect of the national question. The job is not finished, but the Cubans have made greater progress on this front than any other country in the world.
The Cuban revolution put an end to Batista’s torture chambers, his firing squads, his secret police. It turned his barracks into schools.
The political problems of the state-capitalist position don’t stop with the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, because the Cuban revolution didn’t stop with the bourgeois-democratic tasks. It has gone on to eliminate unemployment — eliminate the industrial reserve army, one of the preconditions for capitalism. It has advanced the standing of women in society; qualitatively raised the standards of education, of health care, of housing, of culture. Every measure of the standard of living and the quality of life of the Cuban masses has been qualitatively improved.
This is absolutely indisputable. Obviously we are in favour of these gains and defend them.
But where does that leave us?
If we say that Cuba is capitalist, then we have to say that something new has appeared in the world. A new kind of progressive capitalist class has developed. A variety of capitalism has emerged that is superior, at least from the standpoint of the Cuban workers and peasants, and African workers and peasants, to any capitalism they have ever known.
Are we for it or against it? The Cuban people are for it, no doubt about that. They know there is something qualitatively better about Cuban society today than pre-1959.
But if Cuban capitalism can carry through a radical land reform, can achieve national independence from American imperialism, can advance the level of human dignity — if Cuban capitalism can do all that, then what happens to the theory of the permanent revolution?
The laws of the class struggle in the imperialist epoch preclude the possibility that the national bourgeoisie can solve the unfinished tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Only a workers and peasants alliance against imperialism, led by the proletariat, going over to measures that are socialist in principle and carried out against the national bourgeoisie, can solve the postponed democratic tasks.
But if Cuba is capitalist shouldn’t we tell the people of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, who are striving to follow the Cuban example, that the Fourth International says: “Struggle for socialism, but if you can’t get that, at least struggle for state capitalism, because it too can solve most of the fundamental problems that you face”? Wouldn’t we have to say that?
We would have to abandon Marxism, abandon a scientific analysis of class society and say that capitalism in our time can promise a better life, that capitalism can enter upon a new era of human development and economic and social progress, including in the super-exploited, dependent countries.