Cuba: crossroads for a revolution

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For many Cubans, news of the thaw in relations with the U.S. was joyous. The announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro in December 2014 raised hopes of ending separations between loved ones, enjoying more freedom of communication, or gaining a job in the tourist industry with its access to valuable U.S. dollars. And it produced a prisoner exchange that freed the last three “Cuban Five” heroes, political prisoners in the U.S.

However, danger from el Norte has stalked the Cuban revolution since its beginning, and this rapprochement actually increases the peril.

How can the island be saved from capitalist restoration? This matters to longtime supporters around the world, including the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), who have risked arrest and fines to challenge the U.S. embargo by sending aid and defying the travel ban; sponsored Cuban speakers and hosted diplomats; and learned of the challenges facing the revolution through frequent visits. But above all, of course, the question of how best to defend the revolution is a life-and-death matter for Cubans themselves. And it is one that, in the end, only they can answer.

Seeking a way out of hard times. The Cuban revolution brought enormous improvements in people’s lives — in literacy, healthcare, education, and much more. But most Cubans have had few material goods. And, in recent years, times have been tough, especially for Black Cubans and people who don’t get money from relatives abroad.

The U.S. trade embargo has caused terrible deprivation. Bad decisions by the Cuban leadership, including a continued reliance on a sugar monoculture in agriculture, have made matters worse. But severe trouble started with the fall of the USSR, Cuba’s main trading partner. It intensified again in recent years due to global financial crises and recession, compounded by devastating hurricanes.

Since the 1990s, Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leaders have responded to the economic difficulties with some “free market” measures at home and expanded trade with capitalist countries.

During the emergency after the fall of the USSR, Fidel Castro explained that the capitalist-style measures the PCC was imposing were necessary evils that would be lifted as soon as possible, and some of them were. Today, however, the PCC is unwaveringly integrating Cuba into the world neoliberal system, at the people’s expense. There are no apologies for the changes, and no promises that they will be temporary.

For Cubans deprived of both consumer goods and direct control of their destiny, greater engagement with capitalism is alluring, offering the hope of both material satisfaction and democracy.

Unfortunately, this is not what Cubans will get from the “free market.” Like the 99 percent of the world, they will get exploitation, insecurity, environmental carnage, and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Overturning gains, redefining socialism. PCC leaders are setting an overall course that means abandoning basic goals of the revolution.

The reforms include courting foreign corporations as never before. For example, the Foreign Investment Law of 2014 halves the tax on profits, removes labor taxes that have helped to fund social security, and provides for faster approval of proposed business ventures. It will oil the way for projects like the $1 billion modernization of the deepwater port of Mariel, which will be financed mainly by Brazil and be the center of a new “free trade” zone.

The investment law represents a deep, structural change in Cuban economic relations, one that is long-term and not easily reversible.

Another example of a fundamental betrayal is the layoff of hundreds of thousands of workers, revoking a long-standing guarantee of full employment. Elimination of the ration book, which helps supply people’s basic needs, is also planned. These are just two of a host of social take-backs that will affect almost everyone, but will hurt Black and female Cubans first and worst.

As a necessary partner to these economic changes, the PCC bureaucracy is redefining socialism.

PCC leaders cannot admit they are abandoning the goal of socialism, because too many Cubans still believe in this path. Instead, Raúl Castro is selling the “reforms” by asserting that socialism is not actual equality (as of income), but “equality of rights and opportunity.” In other words, if your small business fails because you have no money to launch it properly, and your neighbors have no money to buy your products, then it’s your fault, because you had your chance.

As Communist Party leaders in China dismantled the workers’ state there, they claimed all the while that they were building “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Cuban leaders say clearly that they are following the “Chinese model.”

As it moves the country toward capitalism, the PCC is blocking every avenue for changing its course.

PCC members who have tried to push the party left from within have been expelled or marginalized. The main weapon used against dissenters who become too vocal is economic: they are fired from their jobs. Critics find themselves isolated on the Internet, which few Cubans can use; the Law of Security of Information bans Internet access in homes.

An organized socialist opposition is needed. The PCC’s refusal from the beginning to allow for workers’ control in Cuba is a mortal failure. And it is a main reason that FSP considers Cuba what is termed a “deformed” workers’ state.

Deprived of control, workers can’t fix the problems they face in production and society. They can’t correct bad policy set by the leadership. Alienation sets in, as it has for a broad swath of Cuban youth.

For Cuba to go forward, workers must have real power — control over their lives and the direction of the nation. To gain it will require making a political revolution, which means changing a country’s form of government without changing its basic economic structure. This is still possible in Cuba because, despite dangerous inroads, the country’s economy remains mainly nationalized and not in the hands of private profiteers.

In a political revolution, Cuban workers would re-make their state into one where they are the decision-makers, rather than the bureaucratic regime that is in charge now. The revolutionary movement would create new forms of government such as democratic workers’ councils to determine policy and oversee its implementation. This would be in sharp contrast to the current situation in which the PCC occasionally invites the people to comment on a new policy, without giving them the ability to stop its implementation if the majority disagree.

History teaches that striving for revolutionary change carries with it the risk of ferocious resistance. In the case of Cuba, it is certain that the U.S. would try to turn a movement to save the revolution into a counterrevolution to end it. This is a key reason the FSP has not called for political revolution before this point.

Now, though, in spite of the dangers, FSP believes there is no other option if Cuban workers are to hold on to the gains of the ’59 revolution. At this point, the Cuban leadership is determined to block any proposal for workers power. This underscores the need for a disciplined, working class party to lead the struggle.

It’s clear that a pro-socialist opposition movement must be the birthplace of this new party. The first step would be for revolutionaries to get together to develop a united counter-program to the PCC’s disastrous policies. This would offer people an alternative vision for the revolution’s survival and put forward specific issues to fight for.

Such an opposition also would have to discuss how to defend itself against state repression. This defense would need the support of workers, radicals, and progressives internationally.

Cubans cannot save their revolution by themselves. Stalinist ideas, which have had a deeply damaging influence on Cuban leaders, include the notion that socialism can exist in one country, side by side peacefully with capitalism. But this is false. Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky predicted it, and history has proved it: workers’ states cannot exist indefinitely in a capitalist-dominated world. They need the assistance of revolutions in highly developed countries if they are to survive in the long term.

This does not mean that all is lost in the meantime. If the people prevail in Cuba, if they create a new government with workers’ democracy and a policy of revolutionary internationalism, they will attract fresh support to continue the fight. And the light of the Cuban revolution will continue to blaze as inspiration to the people of the island and the world.

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“Cuba: crossroads for a revolution” originally appeared in the April-May issue of the Freedom Socialist and was edited for clarification May 5 and May 11, 2015.

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