The popular mobilizations in Cuba are the product of enormous social hardships that have been aggravated by the pandemic. The criminal imperialist embargo makes the situation so much worse, blocking Cuban access to basic supplies for food and medicine production as well as to oil, leading to shortages.
These demonstrations counterpose the social forces on which Castroism is based and the hostile tendencies that have been spawned by the restorationist policies carried out over the past 25 years. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president, had no choice but to recognize the reality of the social movement in his statement about the demonstrators: “Not all are counterrevolutionaries. There is a minority of counterrevolutionaries who have tried to take the leadership of these actions, but what we have here are dissatisfied people, revolutionary or not, with confusions, misunderstandings, a lack of information, and also with a desire to make clear these special circumstances.”
The pro-imperialist opposition in Cuba and the U.S. Right are counting on this popular discontent to provoke a weakening of the regime.
The imperialist blockade, now more than 60 years old, is fundamental to any explanation of the many hardships the Cuban people face. Joe Biden has continued the policies of Donald Trump, who tightened the embargo, increased sanctions on the island, and ended the bilateral negotiations that led to Obama’s March 2016 visit to Cuba. At that time, the Cuban government did not establish lifting the blockade as a pre-condition for starting any negotiations, instead presenting the change in Washington’s foreign policy as a victory despite the fact that the criminal blockade was maintained. They forgot the principle put forward by Ernesto “Che” Guevara: “Imperialism can never be trusted, not even a tiny bit, never.”
The Hypocrisy of the Right Wing and Imperialism
It is an expression of the rottenest sort of cynicism and hypocrisy to hear the word “democracy” coming out of the mouths of imperialism’s representatives and the right wing in its service. After all, it was imperialism — precisely to stem the impact of the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s — that fostered military coups and genocidal dictatorships under the guise of the National Security Doctrine.
The same is true of the Latin American Right today. One example: Mauricio Macri — who in the 2019 presidential debate in Argentina was so perfectly called a “bootlicker” by our comrade Nicolás Del Caño — has now called for “solidarity” with Cuba: “I wish to support the Cuban people who have taken to the streets to demand an end to the dictatorship and the immediate improvement of their living conditions.” What hypocrisy coming from Macri, who racked up even more debt in Argentina, handing the country over to the International Monetary Fund and imperialism while condemning the great mass of Argentinians to misery. This same man who speaks of “democracy” has sent arms and supplies to Bolivia to help the coup government of Añez and the military repress the people and carry out crimes against humanity in El Alto and Senkata.
The objective of imperialism and the right wing is none other than to provoke a counterrevolution and return Cuba to its status as a semi-colony of the United States — and to allow the oligarchy that the 1959 revolution expelled to retake the property that was expropriated.
Bureaucracy and Repression
It is not only the hardships brought about by the embargo that explain the hardships Cubans face, but also the pro-capitalist policies of the Cuban bureaucracy. The brutal devaluation of the currency and opening of huge swaths of the economy to private business are only the latest steps in this direction, spurring greater social inequality and growing unrest.
For a little more than two decades, the Castroist bureaucracy has been promoting a policy of economic opening with the characteristics of restoring capitalist relations. This has led to the development of internal forces that are hostile to the revolution, particularly in the ranks of the bureaucracy itself, which controls the most profitable sectors of the economy. It is this social force of small proprietors that the pro-imperialist gusanos aim to influence as they look for a way to hitch a ride on this social movement. At the same time, imperialism hopes to influence the wealthy bureaucrats as a way to break the unity of the regime.
The repressive response of the Castroist bureaucracy to the demonstrations is not aimed at combating threats against the revolution. Rather, it uses the pro-imperialist right wing, which Díaz-Canel himself defines as a minority, as an excuse to defend its caste privileges and the monopoly of power by a single party: the Cuban Communist Party, which stifles the freedoms of the Cuban people.
Defense of the Revolution or Defense of the Bureaucracy?
The international defenders of the Castroist bureaucracy, such as Kirchnerism in Argentina or the remnants of Stalinism, limit themselves to demanding an end to the embargo and denouncing the demonstrators as gusanos. For these defenders of the regime, any criticism of the bureaucracy that comes from the Left should be considered as serving imperialism.
Fighting the pro-imperialist forces by supporting the repression of the people and the pro-capitalist policies of the Cuban Communist Party, however, is a mistake that does nothing to defend the revolution. Nor does dismissing any criticism from the Left — even if it is an echo of what Stalinism has always used to silence any opposition. That sort of silence about the Stalinist dictatorships of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union did nothing to prevent their collapse in 1989. What it did do was prevent the working class from gaining a political foothold against bureaucracies that far from defending the material bases of the expropriation of the bourgeoisies and the landlords, instead went over to the camp of capitalist restoration.
These defenders of Castroism also silence the fact that in Cuba the restorationist forces have allies in the Catholic Church and other religions that have won the legal right to exist in Cuba since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1997. Meanwhile, socialist and anti-imperialist forces and parties that stand on the ground of the revolution are forbidden. These same supporters of the regime, as they launch invectives against criticism from the Left, say absolutely nothing about their “progressive” diplomacy that limits itself to criticizing the embargo while refusing to send a single ship loaded with medicines, food, or oil to help the Cuban people at this dramatic moment.
The Revolution’s “Original Sin”
The bureaucratic regime has its origin in the exceptional character of the Cuban Revolution, in which the July 26 Movement — with its petty bourgeois and guerrilla leadership — came to power. It was pushed by the armed masses and by imperialism itself, which attempted a counterrevolutionary coup, to expropriate the bourgeoisie and the landowners, as Che Guevara defined it. This gave rise to a deformed workers’ state in which power — rather than being exercised by the self-organized masses — was captured by a bureaucracy that defends the revolution’s material bases only insofar as doing so defends that bureaucratic caste’s interests and privileges.
The stifling of all forms of self-organization and democracy for the masses is one of the characteristics of the regime that ended up being imposed during the Cuban Revolution, under the influence of Stalinism and the Soviet Union. The infamous economic debate on industrialization, in which Che Guevara confronted the Cuban Stalinists, is a good illustration. This debate on something absolutely fundamental — economic policy — took place without any participation whatsoever on the part of the masses because no revolutionary institutions had been created through which the workers themselves could decide the road to follow. Guevara was defeated because he did not demand democracy for the workers and campesinos, instead defending the single party.
The victory of the Stalinist line meant that Cuba was transformed into a country dependent on its sugar production alone. It provided sugar to Soviet Union in exchange for oil and industrial products. Thus, the revolution never managed to lift Cuba out of its structural backwardness, which explains in part the fragility of the Cuban economy today.
“Socialism in One Country”
The alliance with the Kremlin meant the Castro bureaucracy supported the Red Army’s bloody crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, calling it a counterrevolutionary uprising. In fact, it was a political revolution by Czechoslovak workers and youth, who self-organized themselves democratically to revitalize the workers’ state. But it also meant that the Cuban Revolution had to isolate itself within the limits of the island and abandon any perspective of promoting social revolutions in Latin America, following the (impossible) logic of socialism in a single country. As a result, Fidel Castro aligned himself with the “peaceful road to socialism” and class conciliation of Popular Unity in Chile. During the early years of the Sandinista revolution he argued against expropriating the bourgeoisie and landowners so that Nicaragua would not become a new Cuba.
After the so-called “special period” of the early 1990s, with restorationist policies already underway, Castroism aligned itself with Chavism in Venezuela and the various progressive governments of the early 21st century, calling for the workers and peasants to reconcile with their own bourgeoisies and renounce any attempt at transformation by revolutionary means. It was a far cry from Che Guevara who, drawing from the experience of the Cuban Revolution, had stated that the national bourgeoisies were the caboose of the imperialist train and that the alternative was either socialist revolution or a caricature of revolution.
Defending the Conquests of the 1959 Revolution
In Cuba today, workers and peasants need to propose their own path to defeating imperialism and putting an end to the bureaucratic regime and its restorationist policies that have plunged them into misery. To support the repression of mobilizations is to hand over the leadership of the people to the pro-imperialist restorationist forces, which demagogically raise the banner of democracy to return Cuba to capitalism and its old semi-colonial status.
We must not hand over the banner of democracy to imperialism and its agents. Instead, we must fight those forces, demanding an end to repression; freedom for those detained, who are mainly militants of the Left; and insisting on political freedom and freedom of organization for the Cuban masses.
It is necessary to fight for the legalization of the anti-imperialist Left parties and forces that defend the conquests of the revolution. What is required is to raise up the great mass of the Cuban people against the criminal embargo, against the restorationist policies, and against the privileges of the bureaucracy. The struggle must be oriented to defend the conquests of the 1959 revolution that remain, such as the right to housing, to free and quality healthcare, and to education; to defend the monopoly of foreign trade; and to put forward a comprehensive economic plan that is decided on by the self-organized workers and campesinos.
What is required is to oppose the forces of pro-imperialist democracy and bureaucratic dictatorship with an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-bureaucratic Left perspective of political and social revolution that establishes a government of soviets of workers, campesinos, and soldiers. The regeneration of the Cuban revolution will be a liberating breath for the oppressed masses of Latin America.
First published in Spanish on July 15 in La Izquierda Diario.
Translation by Scott Cooper