Guerrillas in Power
A Bureaucratic, Anti-Working-Class Regime
Guerrillas in Power
[First printed in Workers Vanguard # 102, March 25, 1976]
As part of a broader effort to “institutionalize” its rule, the recent congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) approved a new “socialist” constitution for the country to replace the bourgeois “Fundamental Law” of 1940 (see “Castro Holds First her CP Congress,” WV No. 100, 12 March 1976). Prime Minister Fidel Castro also made use of the occasion to present the “revised standard version” of the history of the Cuban revolution.
The extensive overview was doubly significant in the context of the new constitution, since one of Castro’s key original demands- from the attack on the Moncada on 26 July 1953 until taking power from the dictator Batista on 1 January 1959 –was precisely for a return to the 1940 constitution. This raises the crucial questions of the class character of the guerrilla movement, the nature of the revolution it carried out, and the causes and significance of the shift from a “democratic” bourgeois program to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.
These issues are of tremendous significance for communists as they concern the most fundamental questions of revolutionary strategy in the backward capitalist countries. Can the petty bourgeoisie-traditionally considered by Marxists as a vacillating group, incapable of giving independent class leadership–carry out a socialist revolution, as the revisionist “United Secretariat” claims? Or has Cuba remained throughout a capitalist state, as the Maoists and Gerry Healy’s fakeTrotskyist “International Committee” contend? On the other hand, if. as uniquely put forward by the international Spartacist tendency, the Castro regime has since late 1960 been a deformed workers state, how was it formed, and what implications does this have for the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution?
A Closet Communist?
In his opening speech to the PCC congress, “Comandante” Castro repeatedly praised the policies of the Stalinist leaders of the Soviet Union. Having long ago become locked into the Soviet orbit, Castro now seeks to project his current policies back onto the militant youth who stormed the army barracks in Santiago in 1953 and the nucleus of the Rebel Army that initiated guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra mountains three years later.
Castro includes among the “solid pillars” on which the leaders of the 26th of July Movement based themselves “the principles of Marxism-Leninism.” He goes on, “Even though this was not the way of thinking of all those who had embarked upon the road of revolutionary armed struggle in our country, it was that of its main leaders” (Granma, 28 December 1975). Castro also claimed that among the young combatants there was “a deep respect and admiration for the old Communists” of the pro-Moscow People’s Socialist Party(PSP), who “had held aloft with unyielding firmness the noble banners of MarxismLeninism.”
The reality was considerably different. Castro’s speech was silent on the program of the anti-Batista movement, but in an oblique aside for the benefit of those who know something of the struggle during the 1950’s, he added: ” … not only the most resolute action was necessary, but also astuteness and flexibility on the part of revolutionaries …. The proclamation of socialism during the period of insurrectional struggle would not have been understood by the people, and imperialism would have directly intervened in our country with its troops.”
A similar theme can be found in many right-wing attacks on Castro, which charge that he “betrayed the revolution” against Batista and hoodwinked the people. Certain left-wing apologists for the Havana regime also put forward the myth of Castro the “closet Marxist-Leninist” who “pulled a fast one” on the imperialists. “The leaders of the Revolution had to know the people and talk to them in terms they were ready to understand,” wrote Edward Boorstein in The Economic Transformation of Cuba (1968). Others, such as the ex-Maoist Progressive Labor Party (PL), who attempt to criticize Castro from the left claim they were initially captivated by ”Che [Guevara’s slick way of moving Cuba to socialism behind everybody’s backs” (Jake Rosen, “Is Cuba Socialist?” PL, November 1969). Professing that they “no longer believe[d] in nifty gimmicks,” PL concluded that Cuba was still capitalist. The truth is more complex-more dialectical-than such simple-minded talk of Castro and Guevara as con artists.
A Radical Jacobin Democrat
All these “explanations” come down to a conspiracy theory of history and ignore the real social character of Castro’s movement. To begin with, Castro himself did not even pretend to be part of the workers movement during the struggle against the U.S. backed dictatorship. Instead, he was a radical Jacobin petty-bourgeois democrat, following in the footsteps of “the Apostle” of Cuban independence, Jose Marti. H is political background was as a liberal student leader and constitutionalist lawyer. He was for a time head of the student government at the University of Havana, and in 1948 voted for Eduardo Chibas, candidate of the Ortodoxo Party, who was running for president of the country on an anti-corruption program. In 1952, Castro was a candidate for the Cuban Congress on the Ortodoxo slate, but a coup d’etat by former military strongman Fulgencio Batista forestalled the elections.
After the March 10 coup, the young lawyer’s first action against the dictator was not to undertake agitation among the workers and peasants, but instead to appeal to an emergency court in the capital to arrest Batista for violating the Code of Social Defense! Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy’s simplistic apology for Castro (Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution,1960) commented: “When his petition for the imprisonment of Batsita was rejected by the court. Fidel decided there was only one way in which the usurper could be overthrown — revolution.” His goals were listed as “honest government” and a “truly sovereign Cuba.”
The methods which the young lawyer then resorted to were well within the framework of traditional Latin American bourgeois politics. Various pseudo Marxists – from Castro himself to the followers of fake-Trotskyist Ernest Mandel -pretend today that the Cuban guerrilla “strategy” was somehow to the left of traditional Stalinist reformism because it engaged in “armed struggle.” They “forget” that in the unstable conditions of Latin America, just about every political tendency has at one time or another “picked up the gun.” Castro’s first attempt at revolutionary action, for instance, was nothing but an old-style pronunciamiento.
The plan for the assault on the Moncada was to. surprise the 1,000 soldiers quartered there, seize their arms, then take over the radio station and broadcast the last speech of Eduardo Chibas (who had committed suicide in 1951), followed by a call to arms inviting the Cuban people to rise up against the dictator. Similar actions have been carried out scores of times in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru or Argentina. However, in this case it failed, partly due to bad planning, and most of the 200 attackers were killed during the attack or brutally murdered by Batista’s torturers in the mopping-up operation which followed.
Program of the 26th of July Movement
At his trial the following September, Castro (who had been caught hiding in the hills around the eastern provincial capital) was able to turn the tables on the government with a dramatic speech indicting the regime for its oppression of “the people.” In this speech, later edited into a pamphlet entitled “History Will Absolve Me,” Castro laid out five “revolutionary laws” that would have been immediately proclaimed after the capture of the Moncada barracks.
These projected decrees show quite clearly the social content of the revolution which the July 26 rebels were planning. The first was to return to the constitution of 1940; second was to grant land titles to tenants and squatters (with the state indemnifying former owners on the basis of rental values they would have received over the next ten years); the third provided for profit sharing, the fourth that cane growers would get 55 percent of sugar production (instead of the lion’s share going to the mills), and the last was to confiscate “ill-gotten gains of all who had committed frauds during previous regimes.”
As the cold-warrior journalist academic Theodore Draper wrote: “There is virtually nothing in the social and economic program of History Will Absolve Me that cannot be traced at least as far back as … the 1935 program of Dr. Grau San Martins’s Autentico party, let alone the later propaganda of Chibas” (Castroism: Theory and Practice, 1965).
Castro’s anti-Batista struggle following the catastrophic landing of the yacht Granma in Oriente province in December 1956 is usually thought of exclusively in terms of a tiny guerrilla band gradually winning support from the jibaros (peasants). But the leader of the tiny 26th of July Movement was simultaneously negotiating with a number of prominent bourgeois politicians. Thus the “Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra,” dated July 1957 and the most widely circulated of the rebel documents, was signed by Castro, Raul Chibas (brother of Eduardo) and Felipe Pazos, ex-president of the National Bank of Cuba.
The Castro-Chibas-Pazos manifesto called for “democratic, impartial elections” organized by a “provisional neutral government”: “dissociat[ion] [of] the army from politics: freedom of the press: “sound financial policy” and “industrialization”: and an agrarian reform based on granting ownnership to squatters and tenants (with prior indemnification of owners). The ten point program was to be carried out by a Civilian Revolutionary Front, made up of representatives of all opposition groups.
The final programmatic statement from the Sierra Maestra, issued in October 1958, as the Batista regime was crumbling, was “Law No. 3” on agrarian reform. Based on the principle of land to the tiller, it did not mention cooperatives or state farms.
When Fidel and Raul Castro swept out of the Sierra Maestra to link up with Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos in the plains of Camaguey province and then march on to Havana, the Rebel Army was far from being a mass organization, counting only 1,100 soldiers. most of them peasants.
The provisional government, installed with Castro’s approval was hardly dominated by 26th of July ministers. The president was Manuel Urrutia, a former judge: the prime minister was Jose Miro Cardona, former head of the Havana Bar Association; the foreign minister was Roberto Agramonte, the Ortodoxo presidential candidate in 1952: and Felipe Pazos was again head of the National Bank. In the new armed forces, the head of the Revolutionary Air Force was Pedro Diaz Lanz. By the end of the year, all of these men had defected to the U.S., joining the ex-batistianos in Miami. Miro was later to be the puppet head of a “Revolutionary Council” set up by the CIA to serve as the front for its Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.
The policies adopted by the new regime during its early months were certainly a radical departure from the laissez-faire debauchery and wholesale corruption of the Batista “government,” which was something akin to having Al Capone in the White House. However, the actions of the revolutionary government did not exceed the limits of the capitalist regime.
Among the first steps were the slashing of electric rates by half in rural areas, up to 50 percent cuts in rents for the poor. and the implementation of the agrarian reform law of the Sierra Maestra together with seizure of the estates of Batista henchmen. In the United States, the bourgeois press, led off by Time magazine, whipped up a reactionary publicity campaign against the war crimes trials of the bloodstained butchers of the Batista regime (of whose bestialities the imperialist media had reported nothing). In all only 550 of the most notorious criminals were executed. with the broad approval of virtually all classes of the Cuban population.
But while this first post-Batista government was headed by authentic liberal bourgeois politicians, real power was in the hands of the Rebel Army, which is why the openly counterrevolutionary leaders left without waging any kind of fight. The guerrilla struggles in the hills had been militarily marginal, but they succeeded in crystallizing the massive popular hatred for the Batista regime. By the time the leaders of the 26th of July Movement entered the capital, the official army and police apparatus -the core of the state power- had collapsed. The Castroites proceeded to sweep it away, and organize a new repressive apparatus recruited and organized along quite different lines.
The guerrilla army was a petty-bourgeois formation, politically heterogeneous, with its leadership recruited from among ex-students and proffessionals and the ranks from the peasants of the sierra. While Castro and the rest of the leadership had signed various programs, manifestos, etc., with oppositional liberals. their previous direct connections with the bourgeoisie had been broken. Most importantly, the Rebel Army was not faced with a combative and class conscious proletariat, which would have polarized the petty-bourgeois militants, drawing some to the workers’ side and sending others straight into the arms of Urrutia, Miro & Co. Consequently, what existed in Havana following the overthrow of Batista was an inherently transitory and fundamentally unstable phenomenon a petty-bourgeois government which was not committed to the defense of either bourgeois private property or the collectivist property forms of proletarian class rule (see “Cuba and Marxist Theory,” Marxist Bulletin No. 8).
The Consolidation of a Deformed Workers State
While such a regime was temporarily autonomous from the bourgeois order -that is, a capitalist state, namely armed bodies of men dedicated to defending a particular property form, did not exist in the Marxist sense- Castro could not escape from the class struggle. After I January 1959 a new bourgeois state power could have been erected in Cuba. as occurred following the departure of the French colonial rulers in Algeria in 1962. In the Algerian case, this process was aided by the conclusion of the neo-colonial Evian Accords, explicitly protecting the property of French colons, and the fact that power was handed over to a regular army which played little role in the guerrila fighting.
However, in Cuba U.S. imperialism was far from accommodating and soon began a sharp economic struggle against the new rulers in Havana which rapidly grew into military actions. This imperialist pressure, in turn, pushed the core of the Cuban leadership to the left, while leading other segments of the 26th of July Movement to join the bourgeois liberals and batistianosin exile.
The first sharp clash with the domestic bourgeoisie came over the proclamation of a moderate agrarian reform law in May. The new law expropriated all land over 999 acres, to be paid in bonds of the revolutionary government which could be redeemed in 20 years. The reaction was predictable: landowners declared this was “worse than Communism” and the U.S. State Department sent a pious note deploring that American investors had not been consulted beforehand.
The next move by Castro which stirred the ire of the capitalists was the removal of Felipe Pazos from the National Bank where he was replaced by Guevara. In February 1960, Russian deputy prime minister Mikoyan visited Cuba and signed an agreement to purchase 1 million tons of Cuban sugar yearly. This relieved Cuba of its hitherto almost exclusive reliance on the U.S. for foreign trade, and when on 29 June 1960 US owned oil refineries refused to accept crude petrolium imported from the USSR, they were nationalized. On July 3, the American Congress approved a cutting off Cuba’s sugar quota, and two days later Castro seized U.S.-held property (primarily sugar mills) on the island.
Meanwhile the the polarization within the diverse Castroite movement had proceeded apace. Already in July 1959, President Urrutia had provoked a government crisis by denouncing the PSP and Communism; almost simultaneously, air force head Diaz Lanz called on defense minister Raul Castro to purge Communists from the armed forces. Diaz soon fled to the U.S., and Urrutia resigned and was replaced by Osvaldo Dorticos. In October, the military commander of Camaguey province, Hubert Matos, tried to launch a regional rebellion together with two dozen of his officers, but was quickly overpowered and arrested.
Not only in the new armed forces was the differentiation taking place. The Havana organization of the 26th of July Movement and its newspaper Revolucion throughout early 1959 were a source of aggressive anti-Communism.
The crisis between the right and left wing came to a head in the battle over the trade unions, where David Salvador had been installed as head of the Cuban Labor Federation (CTC) to replace Batista’s gangster crony Eusebio Mujal. Salvador immediately dissolved the working unity between the PSP and the 26th of July in the labor movement which had been established in late 1958, and assigned all seats on the CTC executive committee to non-Communists. In the November 1959 CTC congress there was a showdown, and after a personal intervention by Fidel Castro the back of the anti-PSP wing (which reportedly included a number of ex-mujalistas) was broken. Salvador resigned a few months later, and control of the unions passed to longtime Stalinist Lazaro Pena (see J. P. Morray, The Second Revolution in Cuba, 1962).
The culminating step in the nationalizations came in the fall of 1960, with a series of rapid-fire seizures (tobacco factories. American banks, and then, on October 13. all banks and 382 business enterprises). By mid-October all agricultural processing plants: all chemical metallurgical. paper. textile and drug factories: all railroads. ports. printing presses, construction companies and department stores were nationalized. Together this made the state the owner of 90 percent of the industrial capacity of Cuba.
The Permanent Revolution
With the takeover of capitalist property in Cuba, for the first time in the Western Hemisphere -and only “90 miles from Florida”- the world witnessed the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class. This naturally made the Cuban revolution an object of hatred for the imperialists. It also made Castro and Cuba into objects of adoration by would-be revolutionaries of all sorts and a large spectrum of petty-bourgeois radical opinion. The New Left. with its hard anti-Leninism, grabbed instinctively for a revolution “by the people” but without a Leninist party or the participation of the working class.
For ostensible Trotskyists, however, the Cuban revolution posed important programmatic questions. The theory of permanent revolution held that in the backward capitalist regions the bourgeoisie was too weak and bound by its ties to the imperialists and feudalists to achieve an agrarian revolution, democracy and national emancipation, objects of the classical bourgeois revolutions. Trotsky’s analysis of the Russian revolution of 1905 led him to his insistence that the proletariat must estahlish its own class rule, with the support of the peasantry, in order to accomplish even the democratic tasks of the bourgeois revolution: and it would from the beginning be forced to undertake socialist measures as well, making the revolution permanent in character.
The Cuban revolution demonstrated that even with a leadership that began its insurgency with no perspective of transcending petty-bourgeois radicalism, real agrarian reform and national emancipation from the yoke of Yankee imperialism proved to be impossible without destroying the bourgeoisie as a class. It vindicated the Marxist understanding that the petty bourgeoisie composed of highly volatile and contradictory elements lacking the social force to independently vie for power- is unable to establish any new, characteristic mode of property relations, but is forced to fall back upon the property forms of one of the two fundamentally counterposed classes in capitalist society, the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.
Thus the Castro leadership, under exceptional circumstances due to the collapse of the Batista regime in the absence of a powerful working class able to struggle for state power in its own right, was pushed hy the pressure of U.S. imperialism’s frenzied hostility into creating a deformed workers state which in power increasingly duplicated the mode of rule of the degenerated USSR as the Castroists consolidated a bureaucratic state apparatus. The evolution of the Cuban leadership from petty-bourgeois radicals to the administrators of a deformed workers state (and the incorporation of the Cuban Communists) confirmed Trotsky’s characterization of the Russian Stalinists as a petty bourgeois caste resting upon the property forms established by the October Revolution. Moreover, the Cuban revolution provides a negative confirmation that only the class-conscious proletariat, led by a Marxist vanguard party, can establish a democratically governed, revlutionary workers state, and thus lay the basis for the international extension of the revolution and open the road to socialism.
Unlike the Russian Revolution which required a political counterrevolution under Stalin to become a bureaucratically deformed workers state, the Cuban revolution was deformed from its inception. The Cuban working class, having played essentially no part in the revolutionary process, never held political power, and the Cuban state was governed by the whims of the Castroist clique rather than being administered by democratically elected workers councils (soviets).
The revisionist current which had emerged from within the Trotskyist movement in the late 1950’s saw in Cuba the perfect justification for its abandonment of the construction of Trotskyist vanguard parties. By ignoring the crucial index of workers democracy and thus sliding over the qualititative difference between a deformed workers state such as Stalinist Russia or Castroist Cuba and the healthy Russian workers state of Lenin and Trotsky, the European supporters of the “International Secretariat” (I.S.) embraced the Cuban revolution as proof that revolutionary transformations could take place without the leadership of a proletarian vanguard. Cuba became the model of the “revolutionary process” under “new conditions” -and the schema to which the revisionists have clung despite the failure of countless guerrifla struggles in Latin American to duplicate the “Cuban road.”
For the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP), however, Cuba was a watershed in the degeneration of that party as a repository of revolutionary Trotskyism. During the 1950’s it had fought Pablo’s notion of “deep entrism” in the mass reformist parties. But with its revolutionary fibre weakened under the impact of McCarthyism, the SWP leaders were desperately searching for a popular cause which could enable them to break out of isolation.
SWP leader Joseph Hansen crowed enthusiastically:
“What provision are there in Marxism for a relolution. obviously socialist in tendency but powered by the peasantry and led by revolutionist;. who have never professed socialist aims …. It’s not in the books! …. If Marxism has no provisions for such phenomena, perhaps it is time provisions were made. It would seem a fair enough exchange for a revolution as good as this one.”
“The Theory of the Cuhan Revolution:” 1962 [our emphasis]
Having declared the revolution “socialist in tendency” and equated it with Russia under Lenin, Hansen could not simply ignore the crucial question of workers democracy. “It is true that this workers state lacks. as yet, the forms of proletarian democracy,” he wrote. But he immediately added. “This does not mean that democracy is lacking in Cuba.”
The SWP tops took the convergence on the Cuba question as the opportunity to propose a reunification with the I.S. In a 1963 document. “For Early Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement.” the SWP wrote of “the appearance of a workers state in Cuba—the exact form of which is yet to be settled”; the “evolution toward revolutionary Marxism [of] the July 26 Movement” and concluded:
“Along the road of a revolution beginning with simple democratic demands and ending in the rupture of capitalist property relations. guerrilla warfare conducted by landless peasant and semi-proletarian forces, under a leadership that becomes committed to carrying the revolution through to a conclusion, can play a decisive role in undermining and precipitating the downfall of a colonial and semi-colonial power …. It must he consciously incorporated into the strategy of building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.”
In response to this open revisionism, Healy and his International Committee followers simply thrust their head in the sand like an ostrich and declared that Cuba, even after the 1960 nationalizations, is “a bonapartist regime resting on capitalist state foundations,” one not qualitatively different from Batista’s regime. But within the SWP the Revolutionary Tendency (RT,. forerunner of the Spartacist League U.S.) was able to analyze the post-1960 Cuban regime as a deformed workers state and point out the significance of that characterization for Marxist theory.
In a resolution that was submitted as a counter document to the “For Early Reunification … ” document of the SWP leadership, the RT made clear that “Trotskyists are at once the most militant and unconditional defenders against imperialism of both the Cuban Revolution and the deformed workers’ state which has issued therefrom.” But it added: “Trotskysists cannot give confidence and political support, however critical. to a governing regime hostile to the most elementary principles and practices of workers’ democracy … ” (“Toward the Rebirth of the Fourth International.” June 1963).
Directly rejecting the SWP’s embracing of guerrillaism and Castroism in place of the Trotskyist perspective of proletarian revolution, the RT resolution summarized:
“Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant based guerrilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demorallization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the prolelarian leadership in the revolution is profound negation of Marxism-Leninism….”