1960s >> 1961 >> no-683-july-1961
The Cuban Cockpit and Castro
(1) The Background
In April, the American backed invasion of Cuba by a force of U.S. trained exiles became yet another issue that could have triggered off world war. As the invasion was under way, the American President warned Russia that “in the event of any military intervention by outside force the U.S. is ready to protect this hemisphere against external (our emphasis) aggression ” (Time, 28/4/61.)
America’s “egg-heads” had hardly recovered from their exertions in campaigning for the election of President Kennedy, the bright young “progressive”, before they were to be distressed and dismayed by the dishonesty and hypocrisy of his policy towards Cuba. Much more important still has been the harmful effect upon the American alliance and the less committed countries within its sphere of influence. The Guardian editorial of the 22nd April summed up these feelings and did not mince its words in the process. “American policy towards Cuba” it said, “has lead to resounding and deserved humiliation. . . . the Kennedy administration appears to be guilty of deliberate intervention in the internal affairs of another country”. The editorial went on to say as a result the United States had made Dr. Castro stronger than before; she had made his régime still more oppressive and dictatorial; and thrown him still farther into the arms of the Soviet Union. . . . Neutral governments have universally condemned him (Kennedy). Even in the Western Alliance he has wantonly thrown away much of the good will he previously enjoyed”. What the Guardian regretted most of all was that American policy has facilitated Russia’s aim of posing as the “protector of small nations” struggling to free themselves from foreign tutelage. “He has made the watchwords of democracy sound like a camouflage for imperialism ”.
The Guardian summed up the feelings common to most of the junior partners of American Capitalism but we must point out that evoking democracy as a camouflage for attaining normal capitalist objectives pre-dates the Kennedy administration by many, many years. Two hideous world wars were allegedly fought to safeguard “freedom” against dictatorship and militarism but we know otherwise. Now that Russian economic development has reached such a high pitch, who need be surprised that her ruling class attempts to disguise its sordid objectives by hypocritically evoking the ideals of Socialism?
Like Germany and Japan before her, Russian capitalism is a latecomer in the world arena. Necessarily she is on the offensive. The American bloc, of which West Germany and Japan at present form part, is on the defensive. But it is not democratic rights nor the aims of Socialism that motivate their policies. It is the maintenance or enhancement of power, trade and class privilege that each government has as its function.
In January, the Socialist Standard carried an article which pointed out that for a small power to attempt playing off the great powers as a means of fostering its own economic development involves very considerable risks. The chief risk is that in freeing itself from subservience to one overlord it may well be forced to succumb to another. How is Castro faring in this respect? And, much more important so far as the Socialist is concerned, has the working-class in Cuba strengthened its bargaining position and extended its civil rights in the period in which the new ruling élite has been consolidating its position? Certainly, experience elsewhere in the held of bourgeois national revolutions of recent times has not been encouraging.
Throughout the former colonial or semi-colonial world, embryo capitalist classes or would-be capitalist intellectual-military élites are asserting themselves. Their aim is to supplant the foreign interests who, in the process of exploiting the natural resources of those parts, brought into being this rival social class. But just as the old powers find it necessary to disguise their rapacious motives under the cloak of the “struggle for democracy ”, so the new local exploiting class must obscure its cruel rôle in terms of the self-determination of small nations, their national liberation and the establishment of human dignity. As regards the claim of human dignity, it is true that with the ousting of the former colonial power, many an African, an Asian or a Latin American need no longer feel humiliated just because he was born where he was born and was what he was. That is an advance. But is he aware that in becoming a member of the working-class he is to face the greatest humiliation of all? That is that in the eyes of his employers he will not even be an inferior man. He, that is to say his ability to work, will become a mere commodity, to be bought and sold on the market. A cog in the productive process. Such is human dignity in the society into which he is entering.
The Socialist measures working-class progress in terms of its heightening awareness of its needs and aspirations. Consciousness in short, of its liberating rôle in history. Do workers realise the necessity of their building trade-union organisation that is independent of the employing class? Do they know the value of the strike weapon—and its limitations? Do they value and exercise hard won electoral rights and the right to dissent? Do they become more and more convinced of the need for a change in the very basis of present society if humanity is to survive and to reach its proper stature? These are our criteria.
The Nationalist teaches the worker to identify himself with his ruling-class. The Socialist says that the worker has no country and should recognise his common bonds with workers everywhere. Each new state that is set up has as its number one task the inculcation of a sense of differentness into its school-children and of their loyalty to a piece of territory quite arbitrarily arrived at.
For the past year or so fierce argument has raged amongst Castro’s admirers as well as among his critics in the outside world. Those who have viewed the scene through Bolshevik eyes have felt the necessity of “explaining” the social forces behind the Cuban revolution in the set terms of Leninism. Hence efforts have been made to show that, like China, it was the peasants’ support that made victory possible as the workers played no great part. Then realising, perhaps, that the peasant’s classic demand is for the land he worked and that state-farms (called cooperatives) would replace estate farms more efficiently, a new angle was developed. Truly speaking, they said, those working on the sugar plantations were not peasants at all but sharecroppers hired and fired by the three month season. Concerning the other end of the social scale, it is being debated whether it was a middle-class revolution betrayed because so many of its staunchest professional and managerial supporters have been alienated by now.
These knotty problems can be unravelled, however. According to Geografia de Cuba, a book quoted by Theodore Draper in his well documented article in Encounter last March, the population was more urban than rural and increasingly so. Of the 40 per cent who were dependent upon agriculture for a living over a quarter were classified as farmers and ranchers. The urban population was mostly literate but nearly half the rural population was not. But whatever their category, the mass of the people have readily given their support to a régime that promises to put an end to seasonal unemployment by diversifying agriculture and which is making strenuous efforts to raise the educational level of the people.
India and Brazil stand out as exceptions of great significance but since 1917 virtually every country entering upon the threshold of capitalist production has been failed by such middle-class elements as existed when the change came. Rarely has nature related the perfect juxtaposition of coal and iron that so favoured the pioneers of British capitalism. Coming so much later onto the scene there is the problem of important sections of the working-class being already organised to resist encroachments. Vast sums of money are needed to establish communications. Tariff walls are all around. In these circumstances and bearing in mind the extent to which the middle-class is compromised to the metropolitan power, it falls to a determined and far-sighted section of that class to actually throw off the fetters, often at the expense of some of the comforts and privileges of the class as a whole. Cuba’s capitalist system is being ushered in by a revolutionary élite of this kind who had grasped power on the strength of popular discontent.
(2) Political Democracy
How do the trade-unions fit into all this? Except for a pioneering few that were built up under anarcho-syndicalist influences at the turn of the century, most unions date from a much later period and were set up under Stalinist influence. Nevertheless, within their limits they became quite valuable working-class instruments. Under very great pressure they carried on through the Batista dictatorship and came out more or less intact. This was partly due to the fact that in the early days of the guerrilla war the trade-union movement remained neutral. Support for Castro came from professional and managerial circles who still lacked the constitutional rights promised as long ago as 1940 and from an increasing number of the rural population who saw him as the man who would at last enact the land reforms that had been promised in the same constitutional proposals.
The Communist Party (PSP) at that stage was deeply compromised by its history of collaboration with the Batista dictatorship. As late as April 1958 it broke, in effect, the general strike called by Castro since the key transport workers under CP leadership did not join in.
A few months after Castro’s triumphal march into Havana, the union elections that were held put most of the country’s union branches firmly in the hands of his 26th July Movement National conferences of various union federations during June, July and August secured him control over most of these groups. It should be noted that the new government had debarred from the elections trade-union figures belonging to several groupings other than the 26th July Movement who had managed to retain office in their unions even though they had fought against Batista and this was because of the solid rank and file support they enjoyed.
At the congress of the local TUC (CTC) early in 1959 there was a struggle between the pro- and anti-communist elements within Castro’s movement, the anti-communists having held power since his victory. According to Robert J. Alexander in his new book, The Struggle for Democracy in Latin America, both Fidel and his brother Raul intervened on behalf of the pro-communist elements. As a result all but one of the leading anti-communist figures were purged from the Executive. Since then the government has taken stringent measures to regiment the organised workers. By decrees promulgated early in 1960 all collective bargaining was abolished and all matters previously dealt with through joint negotiations were to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour for arbitration. Already troops have been used to bring recalcitrant workers into line. When a Conference of the Building Workers Federation in April 1960 refused to obey the orders of the CTC purge committee to dismiss its leaders, soldiers were moved into the meeting hall and the conference was brought to a summary conclusion.
Political democracy has been part of the price of the Cuban revolution notwithstanding that its reintroduction was the rallying cry of the “bearded ones” in their fighting days. On 1st May. Cuba declared itself on a level with Czechoslovakia by becoming a “Socialist Republic”. In the Soviet hierarchy it presumably ranks higher now than mere “Popular Democracies” which is what most of the satellites remain. Freedom of dissent whilst not entirely gone has been drastically curtailed. No opposition parties or newspapers have survived. Adlai Stevenson was reported by Time (28/4/61) as saying at the United Nations that nearly two-thirds of Castro’s first cabinet now form the leadership of Cubans in exile. It can be seen that those who fought with Castro in the belief that it was a struggle between democracy and dictatorship are silenced, in prison or in exile. Political freedom is something of such overwhelming importance to the working-class that it loses it at its peril. It does not exist in Cuba.