Chapter 03 : The Character of the Cuban Revolution

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Chapter 03

The Cuban Revolution

A Critical Perspective

by Sam Dolgoff

The Character of the Cuban Revolution

A Non-Social Revolution

The myth, induced by the revolutionary euphoria of the pro-Castro left, that a genuine social-revolution took place in Cuba, is based on a number of major fallacies. Among them is the idea that a social revolution can take place in a small semi-developed island, a country with a population of about eight million, totally dependent for the uninterrupted flow of vital supplies upon either of the great super-powers, Russia or the U.S. They assume falsely that these voracious powers will not take advantage of Cuba's situation to promote their own selfish interests. There can be no more convincing evidence of this tragic impossibility than Castro's sycophantic attitude toward his benefactor, the Soviet Union, going so far as to applaud Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, a crime certainly on a par with the military coup in Chili, which Castro rightfully condemned. To assume, furthermore, that the Cuban social revolution can be miraculously achieved without simultaneous uprisings in Latin America and elsewhere, is both naive and irresponsible.

Nationalization Versus Socialism

To equate nationalization of the economy and social services instituted from above by the decree "revolutionary government" or a caudillo, with true socialism is a dangerous illusion. Nationalization and similar measures, under the name of "welfareism," are common. They are widespread, and in many cases deep-going programs, instituted by democratic "welfare" states or "benevolent" dictators as an antidote to revolution, and are by no means equtvalent to socialism.

Russia and Cuba: Two Revolutions Compared

Another fallacy about the nature of the Cuban Revolution can perhaps be best illustrated by contrasting the early stages of the Russian Revolution of 1917 with the Cuban events. Analogies between the Russian and Cuban Revolutions--like analogies in general--fail to take into account certain important differences:

Czarism was OVERTHROWN by the spontaneous revolts of the peasant and proletarian masses only after a prolonged and bloody civil war.

In Cuba, the Batista regime COLLAPSED WITHOUT A STRUGGLE for lack of popular support. There were no peasant revolts. No general strikes. Theodor Draper (and many other observers) argues persuasively that since there were at least "500,000 agricultural workers in Cuba" there could not have been many peasants in a

. . . guerrilla force that never amounted to more than a thousand. . . there was nothing comparable in Cuba to the classic peasant revolution led by Zapata in Mexico in 1910. . . there was no national peasant uprising. Outside the immediate vicinity of the guerrilla forces, revolutionary activity, in the country as a whole, was largely a middle class phenomenon, with some working class support, but without working class organizations...(Castroism: Theory and Practice; New York, 1965, p. 74-75) [This takes on added significance when we consider that the unions comprised ONE MILLION out of a total population of about six million when the Revolution began, Jan. 1, 1959.]
In Russia, the masses made the social revolution BEFORE the establishment of the Bolshevik government. Lenin climbed to power by voicing the demands of, and legalizing the social revolutionary DEEDS of the workers and peasants: "All Power to the Soviets," "The Land to the Peasants," "The Factories to the Workers," etc. In Cuba, Castro, for fear of losing popular support, carefully avoided a social-revolutionary platform--assuming that he had one. Unlike Lenin, he came to power because he promised to put into effect the bourgeois-democratic program.

History is full of unexpected twists and turns. Ironically enough, these two different revolutions had similar results: Both Lenin and Castro betrayed their respective revolutions, instituted totalitarian regimes and ruled by decree from above.

The well-known anarcho-syndicalist writer and activist, Augustin Souchy, makes a cogent comparison between the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939) and the Cuban Revolution (both of which he personally witnessed):

. . . while in Spain, the confiscation of the land and the organization of thc collectives was initiated and carried through, by the peasants themselves; in Cuba, social-economic transformation was initiated, not by the people, but by Castro and his comrades-in-arms. It is this distinction that accounts for the different development of the two revolutions; Spain, mass revolution from the bottom up; Cuba, revolution from the top down by decree . . . (see Cuba. An Eyewitness Report, below)
Which brings to mind the celebrated phrase of the "Apostle" of Cuban independence Jose Marti: "To Change the Master Is Not To Be Free."

Revolution the Latin American Way

The Cuban Revolution draws its specific character from a variety of sources. While not a Latin American "palace revolution" which produced no deep seated social changes, it nevertheless relates to the tradition of miltarism and bogus paternalism of Latin American "Caudillismo," the "Man on Horseback." "Caudillismo"--"right" or "left," "revolutionary" or "reactionary"--is a chronic affliction in Latin America since the wars for independence initiated by Simon Bolivar in 1810. The "revolutionary caudillo" Juan Peron of Argentina, catapulted to power by "leftist" army officers, was deposed by "rightist" military officers. Maurice Halperin calls attention to the ". . . expropriation of vast properties in Peru in 1968 and in Bolivia in 1969 by the very generals who had destroyed Cuban supported guerrilla uprisings in their respective countries. . . " (The Rise and Fall of Fidel Castro; University of California, 1972, p. 118)

The militarization of Cuban society by a revolutionary dictatorship headed by the "Caudillo" of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro follows, in general, the Latin American pattern. Like other revolutionary Latin American "Caudillos, " Castro would come to power only on the basis of programs designed to win the indispensable support of the masses. Edwin Lieuwen marshalls impressive evidence:

. . . In Chili in 1924, Major Carlos Ibanez established a military dictatorship [that] was notably successful in combining authoritarian rule with policies aimed at meeting popular demands for greater social justice. Successful but short lived revolutions took place during 1936 under the leadership of radical young officers inspired by ideas of social reform and authoritarian nationalism. . In Bolivia a clique of radical young officers came to power. Major David Toro and Colonel German Busch successfully headed regimes that had social revolution as their goals. . . they catered to
the downtrodden and pledged to build a new nation. Toro and Busch based their dictatorial regimes on attempts to win mass support ... (Arms and Politics in Latin America; New York, 1961, pgs. 60, 62, 78, 79)

When in 1968, a "revolutionary" military Junta seized power in Peru, the new military government proclaimed the fundamental principle underlying all "radical" military regimes":

. . . the final aim of the State, being the welfare of the nation; and the armed forces being the instrument which the State uses to impose its policies, therefore, . . . in order to arrive at collective prosperity, the armed forces have the mission to watch over the social welfare, the final aim of the State... (quoted, Modes of Political Change in Latin America, ed. Paul Sigmund, New York, 1970, p. 201)
Dr. Carlos Delgado, Director of the Information Bureau of the Revolutionary Government of Peru, after stressing that the revolution was " . . . initiated from above" by decree, boasted that the dictatorship in "...the last four and a half years" accomplished more for the betterment of the people than in the "whole epoch of Republican rule." The revolution was hailed, boasted Delgado, even by the French Marxist thinker, Henri Lefebvre, as one of the most important historical events of the contemporary world..." (see Reconstruir, anarchist bi-monthly, Buenos Aires, Nov.-Dec. 1974)

There is an umbilical connection between militarism and the State, fully compatible with, and indispensable to, all varieties of State "socialism"--or more accurately State Capitalism. George Pendle (and other observers) with respect to Peron's social and welfare programs initiated to woo mass support concludes that:

...Peron's National Institute of Social Security...converted Argentina to one of the most advanced countries in South America. . . it was not surprising that the majority of workers preferred Peron to their traditional leaders...they felt that Peron accomplished more for them in a few years than the Socialist Party achieved in decades...(Argentina; Oxford University Press, London, 1965, pas. 97, 99)
. . . In Havana Premier Fidel Castro proclaimed three days of mourning and Cuban officials termed Peron's death a blow to all Latin America. . .(New York Times, July 2, 1974) This cynical proclamation was not made solely for tactical reasons, but in recognition of the affinity between the Casro and Peron regimes. As early as 1961, there were already informal contacts between Che Guevara and Angel Borlenghi "... a number two man in Peron's government and his Minister of the Interior for eight years ... Che told Borlenghi that there's no question about it that Peron was the most advanced embodiment of political and economic reform in Argentina ... and under Che's guidance a rapport was established between the Cuban Revolution and the Peronist movement ... Che has in his possession a letter from Peron expressing admiration for Castro and the Cuban Revolution and Che had raised the question of inviting Peron to settle in Havana . . . " (quoted by Halperin, from Ricardo Rojo's work, My Friend Che; ibid. p. 329-330)
Herbert Matthews supplements Rojo's revelations:...the Argentine journalist Jorge Massetti who went into the Sierra Maestra in 1958, became friends with Guevara. He was trained for guerrilla warfare in the Sierra Maestra and in 1964 was killed in a guerrilla raid in Argentina . . . Massetti was credited with convincing Guevara that Peronism approximated his own ideas. Hilda Gadea--Guevara's first wife--wrote that for Ernesto Guevara, the fall of Peron Sept. 1955 was a heavy blow. Che and Massetti blamed it,...'on North American Imperialists'...(ibid. p. 258)
[Carmelo Mesa-Lago notes the connection between State Socialism and militarism. Castro enthusiastically hailed] " . . . the Peruvian Social Revolution as a progressive military group playing a revolutionary role. . ." (Cuba in the 1970s: University of New Mexico Press, 1975, p. 11]) In an interview, Castro emphatically maintained that social revolution is compatible with military dictatorship, not only in Peru, but also in Portugal and Panama.
[When the military junta in Peru] took power...the first thing they did was to implement agrarian reform which was MUCH MORE RADICAL than the agrarian reform we initiated in Cuba. It put a much lower limit on the size of properties; organized cooperatives, agricultural communities; . . . they also pushed in other fields--in the field of education, social development, industrialization. . . We must also see the example of Portugal where the military played a decisive role in political change. . .and are on their way to finding solutions. . . we have Peru and Panama--where the military are acting as catalysts in favor of the revolution. . . (Castro quoted by Frank and Kirby Jones, With Fidel; New York, 1975, p. 195-196)
[The evidence sustains Donald Druze's conclusion that] . . . the programs of modern 'caudillos' embodies so many features of centralism and National Socialism, that it almost inevitably blends into communism...(Latin America: An interpretive History; New York, 1972, p. 570)

Militarism flourishes in Cuba as in latin America. Castro projected militarism to a degree unequaled by his predecessor, Batista: total domination of social, econonmic and political life. In the Spring of 1959, a few months after the Revolution of January 1st, Castro, who appointed himself the "Lider Maximo" ("Caudillo") of the Revolution and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, promised to cut the size of the army in half and ultimately to disband and replace it by civilian militias and police. "The last thing I am," said Castro, "is a military man . . . ours is a country without generals and colonels. . . "

Within a year after the disintegration of the Batista Army, Castro turned Cuba into a thoroughly militarized state, with the most formidable armed force of any in Latin America. For the first time in Cuban history, compulsory military service was instituted. Now, Cuba has adopted the traditional hierarchical ranking system of conventional armies. The Cuban army differs in no essential respect from the armies of both "capitalist" and "socialist" imperialist powers.

"Communism" a la Castro

Insofar as relations with the communists are concerned, Theodore Draper notes the striking resemblance between the policies of Batista and Castro:

. . . Batista paid off the communists for their support, by among other things, permitting them to set up an official trade union federation, the Confederacidn de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) with Lazaro Pena as its Secretary-General. In 1961, Castro paid off the communists for their support, by, among other things, permitting Lazaro Pena to come back officially as Secretary General of the CTC...(ibid. p. 204)
If we accept at face value Castro's conversion to "communism," his "communism" embodies the Latin American version of Stalinism, absolute personal dictatorship. But "Caudillos" are not primarily ideologues. They are, above all, political adventurers. In their lust for power, they are not guided by ethical considerations, as they claim. In this respect, there is no essential difference between capitalist states and "revolutionary socialist states." All dictators conceal their true visage behind the facade of a political party, paying lip service to goals supposedly popular with the masses. Castro became a "communist" because he considered that his survival in power depended on cementing cordial relations with his saviors, the "socialist" countries (former enemies) and by extension with Batista's former allies, the domestic "communists." To promote his ends, Castro established relations with Franco Spain and the Vatican. Nor did he hesitate to side with the Arab oil magnates--lords over their impoverished subjects--in the mid-east disputes, or to endorse the Russian invasion of Czecho-Slovakia.

The Real Revolution Is Yet To Come

Albert Camus observed:

. . . the major event of the twentieth century has been the abandonment of the values of liberty on the part of the revolutionary movement, the weakening of Libertarian Socialism, vis-a-vis Caesarist and militaristic socialism. Since then, a great hope has disappeared from the world, to be replaced by a deep sense of emptiness in the hearts of all who yearn for freedom... (Neither victims Nor Executioners)
Whether Castro is working out his own unique brand of "Cuban Socialism" is a relatively minor question. Even if Castro had no connection with the communist movement, his mania for personal power would lead inevitably to the establishment of an "independent" totalitarian regime. What is decisive is that the Cuban Revolution follows the pattern established in this century by the aborted Russian Revolution of 1917. This pattern is the counter-revolution of the State.

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