Protests in Cuba and the Risks of Capitalist Restoration
This is an English translation of our article made by our Australian comrades of the Bolshevik-Leninist group. It is available in its original Portuguese and has also been translated into Spanish. Note: rallies in the United States, particularly Miami and other strongholds of the emigre former Cuban bourgeoisie, have popped up since protests began on the island. Given their composition, it is not surprising that these rallies have an unambiguously counterrevolutionary character, explicitly call for US intervention, and notably align themselves with the most reactionary, pro-Trump wing of US imperialism. These rallies developed separately from protests on the island, with the goal of pulling protests further towards a counterrevolutionary direction (as in Hong Kong). These rallies must be opposed, but they should not be confused or directly correlated with those analysed in this article.
Marcio T., July 2021
Beginning July 11, demonstrations, critical of the government, took place in several Cuban cities. They drew attention not so much for the volume of people mobilised, but because of their quick spread to some 20 cities, including Havana. International bourgeois media celebrated with visible enthusiasm, and politicians from the US and other countries are already calling for foreign military intervention to overthrow the Cuban government, demagogically speaking of “helping” the Cuban people. The socialist left, in turn, was divided between uncritical support for the Cuban regime, denouncing the demonstrations as a counterrevolutionary operation by the CIA and calling for government repression; and an equally uncritical support for the protests, believing that because they had some fair demands and popular character they would be necessarily progressive and lead to positive results. As demonstrations are likely to be repeated soon, an understanding of the Cuban situation is essential, as is a rejection of shallow and superficial knee jerk positions.
Helping the Cuban people begins by ending the blockade
It is obvious to anyone willing to look that the US-imposed international blockade of Cuba is at the root of most of its problems. This is also obvious to most Cubans, facing scarcity of food, medicine, electricity and many other basic items, which the country is prevented from buying, even though it has the (albeit limited) resources to do so.
The impact of the blockade became a thousand times worse after the dissolution of the USSR, on which Cuba depended enormously for raw materials, machinery and industrial products. The 1990s were marked by a widespread dismantling of Cuban industry, prevented from operating due to the lack of energy and raw materials, creating major shortages for the population. It was only in the 2000s that the island’s situation improved a little, with a partial recovery through tourism, the opening to some foreign companies in the hotel and retail sector, and Venezuelan support through the sale of oil at low prices.
During the Obama years, the US bet on diplomatic rapprochement and loosened some aspects of the blockade to allow for US investment in the island. This was a long term project for the restoration of capitalism, slowly gaining ground and ideologically fostering pro-capitalist illusions in the population, building the forces of counterrevolution. This changed under the Trump administration, which resumed and intensified Cuba’s economic strangulation, aligning itself more closely with the former Cuban bourgeoisie, refugees in Miami, eager to recover their lost property and investment. Under the pandemic, the Cuban economy was even more damaged, losing much of the tourism which served as its main source of foreign currency. Thus, in recent years, the island has once again faced major shortages of basic items, power blackouts and company shutdowns, which have seriously impacted the population’s standard of living.
Therefore, any minimally progressive position in relation to Cuba must necessarily begin by condemning the blockade and opposing any attempt at US intervention or interference on the island. The violation of Cuban sovereignty by imperialist powers, interested in turning the island back into a semi-colony in order to drain its natural resources and exploit its workers, is unacceptable!
But the blockade is not the only problem: there is no socialism on one island and without proletarian democracy
But whoever stops there leaves aside another problem, the existence of a parasitic bureaucracy which controls the country’s politics and economy, censoring and repressing dissident voices to maintain their privileges. The Cuban Revolution expropriated the bourgeoisie and threw imperialism off the island. But a regime of proletarian democracy – based on worker and peasant assemblies and councils – was not erected in place of the destroyed bourgeois state, as in the early years of the October Revolution in Russia. Instead, the commanders of the Castroist Rebel Army and the Stalinist trade union bureaucracy seized political power, purging their own ranks of sectors more aligned with the radicalism of the masses. They also repressed those who defended a regime of proletarian democracy, such as Trotskyists and anarchists, despite their engagement in the revolutionary process. With this, a bureaucratised workers’ state emerged, combining the maintenance of the social achievements of the revolution with the dictatorial management of social property by the bureaucracy.
For more details on the process of the Cuban Revolution, we recommend this text
This bureaucratic management involves the prohibition (or at least such bureaucratic hell to obtaining it that amounts to prohibition) of the formation of political organisations independent of the Communist Party, even those defending socialism and the revolution. It also involves the repression, including through police violence, of independent mobilisations, even if they have no agenda against the revolution and socialism. This has often been faced by demonstrations for LGBT rights. It also involves the verticalized and bureaucratic management of social property. This prevents its proper management, which must necessarily be democratic (by the workers themselves) – otherwise waste, bottlenecks and corruption predominate as bureaucratic planning is incapable of efficiently recognising social needs and social demands of the population, and orienting production accordingly.
Fearful of losing its power and the material privileges obtained through it, the bureaucracy contributed to the maintenance of Cuban isolation by not committing to the path of revolutionary proletarian internationalism. Even in the brief “OLAS” period, when the regime sought to expand and support guerrilla movements, its political program was limited to national sovereignty, not breaking with the Latin American bourgeoisies. In the 1970s, faced with the very real possibility of new social revolutions in Latin America, such as in Chile and Nicaragua, the Cuban bureaucracy advised against a break with capitalism. Its strategy, therefore, was for a sovereign but capitalist Latin America, with “progressive” governments allied with Cuba – a futile task destined to failure.
The Cuban regime undoubtedly has a strong tradition of international solidarity, including in processes of acute class struggle such as the national liberation movement in Angola. But international solidarity is not the same as revolutionary proletarian internationalism, which every left-wing apologist for the Cuban bureaucracy (as with the bureaucracy of the former USSR) insists on ignoring. Nationally isolated, or just counting on the favours of some friendly bourgeois governments (which like all bourgeois governments only “help” in exchange for something), the Cuban Revolution simply cannot survive.
The futility of “socialism in one country” has led the Cuban bureaucracy to increasingly open the country’s economy to foreign investment, market relations and an expansion of private property. This what Raúl Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel’s “Tarea Ordenamiento” is all about. Through this program, the bureaucracy manages to raise some resources and maintain, for some time, a survival of the Cuban experience. But its price is growing social inequality and the dismantling of many of the social achievements of the revolution, by ending or drastically reducing subsidies to state-owned companies and working families. It has also led to the strengthening of proprietary sectors interested in the full restoration of capitalist relations and the reconstruction of a state controlled by the bourgeoisie. The regime itself has used its official media, such as newspapers and television channels, to openly attack the egalitarian ideals of the Cuban Revolution and advocate for greater openness to market relations and private property.
This project of “reforms” is a time bomb, the result of which we saw in Eastern Europe and the USSR at the end of the last century. Sectors of the bureaucracy, desirous of becoming a bourgeoisie and thereby ensuring greater material stability and even raising their standards of living, engaged in a counterrevolution in coalition with pro-imperialist forces and the new class of capitalists which arose under their own economic “reforms”. They also had the support of large segments of the population that rejected socialism after decades of being taught that the Stalinist dictatorship, with its economic problems and lack of freedoms, was synonymous with Marxism. Many were deluded into thinking that capitalist restoration would bring democracy and improve their living conditions – deteriorated by prolonged international isolation, bureaucratic management of social property, and austerity reforms.
In Cuba, growing social inequality and poverty, arising not only from the blockade but also from economic “reforms”, is already generating popular discontent. This discontent grows even greater in view of the maintenance of the privileges of the bureaucracy, who ask for sacrifices from the population but do not make any themselves. It also grows due to the lack of popular participation in decisions on the depth and extent of the sacrifices required and the changes enacted – presented by the regime as the only possible path.
Therefore, the end of the blockade alone is not enough to solve Cuba’s problems. Even without it, Cuba could not move towards socialism if it remained internationally isolated. Instead we would see a repeat of the events in Eastern Europe and other bureaucratised workers’ states throughout the 1970s and onwards: growing integration into the capitalist world market, with all the negative consequences this brings, and the strengthening of restorationist trends and political forces within the country.
There is no long term solution to this other than the international expansion of the revolution, expropriating the bourgeoisie and smashing imperialism in neighbouring countries, so that Cuba can count on genuine socialist solidarity. There is, therefore, no coherence to socialists who provide solidarity with Cuba, but in their respective countries leave the struggle for revolution to “festive days” and politically subordinate themselves to “progressive” sectors of the bourgeoisie and “progressive” capitalist forces. This happens today in Brazil through support of the socialist left for Lula and the PT (Workers’ Party), fostering illusions in the possibility of a capitalism that works “for everyone”.
Despite Cuba’s future being dependant, above all, on the international arena, it is also fundamental for the Cuban proletariat to overcome the bureaucratic regime, which sabotages the maintenance of the revolution’s social achievements by betting on concessions to capitalist relations, conciliation with bourgeois governments and in rejecting the egalitarian ideas of socialism. In the end, this bureaucracy adds fuel to the fire of counter-revolution, even though it is not, at the moment, directly engaged in a restoration of capitalism. But even that will not take long to happen, as sectors of the bureaucracy realize that they are no longer able to maintain their privileges under increasing economic disintegration, and that they will have better luck if they manage to convert themselves into bourgeois proprietors – as in Eastern Europe and in USSR.
Therefore, unconditionally defending Cuba against imperialist intervention or foreign interference, and unconditionally defending the achievements of the Cuban Revolution against capitalist restoration, must not be confused with political alignment with the Cuban bureaucracy. Because this bureaucracy is part of the problem, contributing to its prolongation and aggravation. Cuban workers need to take power in their own hands, removing the bureaucracy and its political apparatus, the poorly named Communist Party, from state power.
In its place, they must build a regime of proletarian democracy, based on State control through self-management bodies organised from the workplaces up. This regime, unlike the current one, must engage the entire working class in the management of social property and in the search for solutions to economic problems. It must encourage revolutionary processes in other countries (instead of alliances with “left-wing” bourgeoisie), give freedom of organisation and protest to those committed to defending the social achievements of the revolution, removing the material privileges of the bureaucracy and re-establishing the ideals and mechanisms of social egalitarianism. This is what we Trotskyists call a “political revolution”.
The July 11 Protests: Neither CIA counterrevolution nor something essentially progressive
Faced with explicit attacks by the bureaucracy on the egalitarian ideals of the revolution (denounced as retrograde in the regime’s official newspapers), worsening living conditions for the majority of the population (not only due to the blockade and pandemic, but also to reforms and austerity imposed by the regime), and a lack of democracy, it was inevitable that demonstrations against the government would take place. This does not mean, however, that any demonstration against the bureaucratic regime is progressive and will lead to political revolution.
Smaller protests had occurred in isolation in preceding months. Some were dealing with more draconian austerity measures established by the “Ordenamiento”, such as the increase in the prices of popular restaurants, which had rendered their use by retired workers practically unfeasible. After popular pressure this, and some other measures, were reversed. These types of protests are undeniably progressive, as they are focused on defending the social achievements of the revolution and the living conditions of working people.
But there were also protests with more diffuse agendas, in favour of an abstract “democracy” and freedom of expression. These were mainly carried out by intellectuals and artists, and did not maintain an explicit defence of either socialism or the achievements of the revolution. What caught the most attention recently was a protest staged by the “San Isidro Movement” in November 2020. This group, made up of artists, had been using social media networks to protest for freedom of expression and to denounce acts of censorship that, in fact, were unjustified, as they involved suppressing views which were not at all pro-capitalist or counterrevolutionary – just independent of the state apparatus and its official propaganda.
In November, one member of this movement was illegally detained and the others occupied a building in response. This was soon vacated by the police, leading to further arrests. There are reports of openly pro-Trump participation in this occupation, which shows the danger of protests with diffuse agendas, without clear demarcation of their relation to the defence of the social achievements of the revolution. On the 27th, around 300 people protested in front of the Ministry of Culture against the censorship and repression of the San Insidro Movement, smaller protests took place in other cities such as Santa Clara. These protests on the 27th brought together very heterogeneous sectors, including defenders of the revolution who disagree with censorship, as well as reactionary, pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist groups using the banner of “democracy” to legitimise a restorationist, counterrevolutionary project.
In a situation of imperialist encirclement and constant counterrevolutionary threat, demonstrations for “freedom of expression” and “democracy” in the abstract, without making clear a defence of the revolution and its social conquests, can be easily exploited by reactionary forces seeking capitalist restoration. Again, this is what took place in the bureaucratized workers’ states of Eastern Europe and the USSR in 1989-91, with counterrevolution taking the form of a democratic reaction to state policy, supported by a mobilisation for “democracy”. Therefore, the defence of democracy against the bureaucratic dictatorship must always be linked with the unconditional defence of socialised property and the achievements of the revolution. Opposition to any imperialist intervention must be firm and contrasted with a clear position on the kind of democracy we want: not the false representative democracy of the bourgeoisie, used to obscure their class dictatorship, but the proletarian democracy of the workers’ and peasants’ councils and committees.
In the protests on the 11th, all the mentioned elements were mixed: workers’ indignation with the worsening of their living conditions, repudiation of indiscriminate censorship and repression, and also the demagogic use of the defence of “democracy” by counterrevolutionary and pro-imperialist sectors. These were largely spontaneous protests, convened over social media networks (which are a very recent factor in Cuba, the result of a partial opening promoted during Raúl Castro’s administration), with heterogeneous composition and agendas and without an established political leadership.
The government quickly denounced the protests as pro-imperialist and used police repression in several cities, including arresting known socialist militants in Havana (some even members of the Communist Party). However, reports circulated by Cuban socialists online show that the demonstrations were guided by demands for food, medicine and better living conditions, and had a popular character. In Havana, for example, most of those detained by the police are residents of Centro Habana, a poor neighbourhood which many migrated to from the interior provinces, fleeing hunger in the crisis of the 1990s. Sectors committed to defending the revolution were present and were repressed and imprisoned (see attached note of solidarity to Frank Garcia Hernandez and other socialist activists arrested in Havana during the protest).
In a way, the regime itself recognised the legitimacy of these protests. President Diaz-Canel personally went to San Antonio de los Baños, where the demonstrations began, for dialogue with the population in the streets and to try to appease tempers. Was the President going to a demonstration by “CIA mercenaries”, as the regime’s media later accused (when it became clear that the appeasement attempt did not succeed)?
At the same time, it is essential to recognise that the protests also had as their axis an abstract defence of “democracy” against the regime. The slogan “SOS Cuba” quickly spread online, calling for foreign interference on the island. As did “Homeland and life”, a reference to the rap “Patria y vida”, which denounces recent economic reforms and calls for “freedom, no more doctrines” and “homeland and life”, instead of the nationalist slogan of the revolution, “homeland or death”. Right-wing, pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist groups were certainly present and attempted to use the population’s indignation for their own counterrevolutionary ends, but the demonstrations were not captured by these forces immediately and automatically.
That said, the conclusion is that such spontaneity and heterogeneity does not allow for the characterization of the protests of the 11th as a pure counterrevolutionary operation of the CIA, as the Cuban regime and its uncritical supporters in other countries argue. At the same time, the uncritical support of sections of the socialist left for these demonstrations, simply because they have a popular character and some progressive demands is opportunist, totally reprehensible, and ignores the risks posed by the presence of the right. Given their heterogeneity, there is dispute over the character and significance of these protests or, in more general terms, the character and significance of the growing popular dissatisfaction with the regime and worsening of living conditions. The character of these manifestations is not yet settled and will depend on their development.
Marxists defend a movement of struggle against the bureaucracy that has a clear composition, agenda and upholds proletarian interests in the face of recent reforms and the leadership of the country, which is clearly oppositional to imperialism and the restoration of capitalism. We will not support “democratic” movements that assist the counterrevolution in Cuba, a Trojan Horse that would destroy many social achievements.
The die is cast: restorationist counterrevolution versus political revolution and the maintenance of social achievements
For the time being, the regime has reacted with strength, holding much larger demonstrations of support on the 12th. However, there is a very well-prepared right wing on the island prepared to dispute this dissatisfaction and, in doing so, call for new protests, with a more clearly defined character than those of the 11th. The bureaucracy, which on the 11th arrested socialist and LGBT activists, has allowed for the growth of pro-capitalist “NGOs”, evangelical churches and right-wing groups on the island in recent years. With great media support from the international bourgeois press, and certainly also operational and material support from imperialist agencies such as the CIA, these groups are in a favourable position to maneuver the legitimate grievances of the Cuban population and use them for a counterrevolutionary process dressed in “democratic” demands.
The only way to avoid this is to form a column of socialist cadres, organised in a party independent of the bureaucracy, who utilise this legitimate dissatisfaction for another purpose. Socialists must demonstrate, from the workplaces to the poor neighbourhoods, that the bureaucratic regime is not the legitimate representative of socialism, and above all that foreign interference and the restoration of capitalism are not a solution to the problems faced by the Cuban people – on the contrary, they will only aggravate them enormously. Steadfast opposition to the blockade and any foreign interference, and a relentless struggle against right-wing, pro-capitalist forces is essential. But this struggle must be waged without providing any political support to the bureaucracy which, by increasingly discrediting socialism, adds fuel to the fire of counterrevolution.
Unfortunately, however, the most likely scenario is that right-wing forces will manage to hegemonize popular dissatisfaction in the coming period, convening and directing their own demonstrations, with pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist character, even if obscured by an abstract defence of “democracy”. In this scenario, even while maintaining firm opposition to the bureaucratic regime, it is the duty of genuine socialists to close ranks against any attempt at counterrevolution, supporting even any bureaucratic actions to suppress counterrevolution, and organising their own initiatives with the same purpose, which can serve as a basis for future struggle against the bureaucracy itself, in defence of the revolution and socialism.
Down with the criminal imperialist blockade of Cuba! Down with any foreign interference! Unconditional defence of the social achievements of the Cuban revolution! Expulsion of counterrevolutionary agencies and forces active in the demonstrations! No to the repression of voices in favour of the revolution and its conquests! For a socialist workers’ party that fights for the defence of the social achievements of the Cuban Revolution and for proletarian democracy! Down with bureaucracy, long live socialism! For the international expansion of the revolution, so that Cuba can truly break its isolation!
ANNEX – Freedom and amnesty for Frank Hernandez and other Socialists arrested on the 11th
Note from the Mario Pedrosa Committee on recent events in Cuba
São Paulo, July 12, 2021
The members of the Mário Pedrosa Committee, organiser of the Online Trotsky Event in Permanence 2021 and the II International Leon Trotsky Meeting 2022, publicly express their solidarity with the communist and revolutionary militants who were arrested by the Cuban government during the political demonstrations of 11 July 2021 in Cuba.
Among the detainees is our comrade Frank García Hernández, organizer of the 1st Leon Trótski International Encuentro in May 2019 in Havana, member of this Committee Mario Pedrosa, notorious defender of Communism on the island, Marxist scholar and member of the Communist Party of Cuba.
The flag of critical leftist militants, defenders of Communism in Cuba engaged in defence of the Socialist construction against the risk of capitalist restoration on the island, is in no way to be confused with reactionary, opportunist and counterrevolutionary slogans, such as the calls for “homeland and life”.
These Cuban comrades are internationalist militants and aim to contribute to the construction of Socialism in Cuba. Their voices must be heard by the Cuban government, not censored!
The Mário Pedrosa Committee calls on the Cuban government for immediate freedom to the communist militants detained in these demonstrations and for the opening of dialogue with the critical revolutionary voices of the Cuban left.
In addition, the Mário Pedrosa Committee vehemently condemns the economic embargo of Cuba by the US, recognising the gravity of current health concerns and the disastrous consequences for the Cuban economy as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. The US economic and political embargo only aggravates the dramatic situation that the Cuban people are going through due to the pandemic.
The Mário Pedrosa Committee stands in unconditional solidarity with the Cuban people, in the fight against Imperialism and in defence of Cuban Communism!
For freedom of thought and criticism!
For the Unconditional Defence of Cuba!