Cuba’s fate: balanced on a razor’s edge

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For five decades, the Cuban people have valiantly defended their goal of socialism against economic, political and military pressure. Today, however, their revolution is in danger as never before.


With an economy that’s been on life support since the 1990s, Cuba is trying to survive the current global crisis while it copes with $10 billion in damage caused by last year’s hurricanes. In these circumstances, how much longer can the island stave off capitalism’s return?


There are steps that could be taken within Cuba to protect the gains of the 1959 revolution until workers’ victories in other countries make mutual aid possible.
But the bureaucracy headed by Raúl Castro is accelerating in the wrong direction, sharpening the threat of capitalist restoration and the need for a 180-degree change of course.

At risk: all the revolution has gained. The stakes are great – for Cuba, and for the rest of the world. Generations have been inspired by seeing what’s possible when the profiteers are sent packing.


Cuba launched campaigns that made healthcare, education and housing universal. Serious inroads were made against the poverty, racism and sexual exploitation created by centuries of colonization and dictatorship.


Pushed by U.S. aggression into nationalizing foreign holdings, banking and other key industries, Cuban leaders were able to plan centrally and control trade, improving life vastly.


But the new workers state suffered from the outset from a major deformity. The people were never the makers of crucial decisions: which goods would be produced and how; what social benefits would be provided; whether to aid sister and brother rebels in other lands. Instead these decisions were made by a bureaucracy politically similar to Stalin’s regime in the USSR, although it never installed the bloody police state that Stalin did.


The Cuban Communist Party (CCP) adopted the treacherous and deceitful Stalinist policy of building “socialism in one country.” Using this as justification, the CCP repeatedly betrayed proletarian struggles throughout Latin America, abandoning them to Cuba’s perceived self-interest in negotiating ddétente with world imperialism.


Socialism, however, can only exist as an international system, with sharing and coordination of global goods and resources. As long as capitalism controls most of the world market, the fate of any workers state remains precarious. Capitalism’s recapture of the Soviet bloc and China is a harsh proof of this.

Peril from without and within.

When the USSR collapsed, Cuba lost its key trade partner, one that bought sugar and other exports and sold industrial technology and other vital imports on favorable terms. Cuba’s economy fell into desperate straits. Ever the humanitarian, the U.S. escalated its embargo, trying to starve out the revolution.

In response, the CCP initiated measures to attract the desperately needed hard currency it could use on the capitalist world market. The reforms brought foreign capital to Cuba. With it came the danger of reversion to the dominance of the profit system, with its inevitable exploitation and oppression.


As foreign business expanded in Cuba, so did inequality, as some groups of people gained access to more income, benefits and outright bribes. Black Cubans experienced greater racism, particularly in the fast-growing tourism industry. Prostitution reappeared.


No one could live on the average state salary of $20 a month, so the black market flourished, as did corruption. Everyone is frustrated by the lack of consumer goods. Many young people are becoming alienated from the revolution their grandparents made.


Events of the past year are alarming. President Raúl Castro has opened the door to even more intense inequality by removing salary caps and instituting production incentives, saying that workers in favored positions should “make as much as they can.” Untilled state land is being turned over to private agriculture.

On the world scene, Cuba has thrown its lot in with popular-front governments in Latin America. These are governments like Venezuela’s, whose leaders talk a good pro-worker line, and come to power with the support of workers and the poor, but offer no real challenge to capitalism. These countries are trying to improve their position in the world economy through a trade bloc called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).


For an isolated workers state, trade alliances with capitalist countries are unavoidable. The harm done by Cuban officials is in painting these deals as part of the road to socialism rather than a hazardous but necessary detour.

Keep the revolution alive!

Cuba’s great potential saving grace is that the voice of the people, while muffled, was never silenced. Vibrant discussions are taking place in the streets and on the Internet.

An array of militant voices in Cuba are calling for the very steps that would breathe new life into the revolution: decision-making power in the hands of workers’ and peasants’ councils; tightened state control of foreign trade and the reversal of privatizations; freedom of speech, association, travel and Internet access for workers; autonomy for unions and mass organizations; and foreign policy guided by revolutionary internationalism.


One example is a program circulated by former diplomat Pedro Campos and co-thinkers that calls for workers’ democracy and demands that the CCP allow internal factions. The program was circulated on the Spanish-language and widely discussed during the past year. Proponents hoped to present it at the CCP’s upcoming sixth congress, making it “the trigger for a national democratization.”


But Raúl Castro seems determined to tighten bureaucratic control rather than let the people be heard. Some revolutionary critics, like kaosenlared contributor Miguel Arencibia Daupés, have been harassed and lost their state jobs. And, on July 31, Raúl announced the postponement of the party congress. Days later came the news that more state companies would be put under the management of the army, which Raúl has headed for decades and which plays a major role in the joint enterprises that brought foreign capitalists into Cuba.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama announced in August an end to limits on travel and money sent to families in Cuba by U.S. relatives. But his real interest is in opening a door to Cuba for U.S. corporations.


Sympathetic working people across the world should look for ways to support the advocates of socialist workers’ democracy within Cuba. At the same time, the fight to keep the U.S. boot off Cuba’s neck must grow stronger. This means demanding an end to the embargo and to all U.S. interference – military threats, undercover CIA-type action, and economic coercion.


Just as only workers’ democracy can force the necessary course change on the island, Cuba cannot survive alone forever. The final chapter of this epic struggle must be the building of a revolutionary U.S. movement powerful enough to stop U.S. aggression around the globe and win an egalitarian society in the heartland of imperialism. Start it up!

Susan Williams, a cofounder of Doctors Council Local 10MD, SEIU, can be contacted at

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