Edith and Milton Zaslow, veteran Trotskyists, recently visited Cuba. This is the second and concluding section of their report. The first installment (published in our Summer issue, Volume 4, Number 2) included an examination of economic inequality, the status of women and gays, education and housing in the new Cuba.
The Cuban legal system has made important advances over elitist bourgeois court procedures.
Local courts are popular tribunals; a panel of neighbors of the accused combines the functions of interrogator, judge and jury. Only minor offenses are tried in these courts, and sentences, correspondingly limited, are often some form of corrective, useful labor rather than jail.
All courts are open to the public, and we attended a provincial court trial in Havana. The accused was charged with embezzling funds from a state enterprise — a serious crime in Cuba. A panel of five judges presided; two were professionals and three elected laypersons. Two of the judges, including the president and the prosecuting attorney, were women.
The proceedings, based on the advocacy system, were informal compared to bourgeois courts. The attorney for the accused presented a vigorous defense and the judges were attentive and unbiased.
The defendant faced up to twenty years in prison if convicted and could have been sentenced to death. But capital punishment has only been meted out to armed counterrevolutionaries (no such cases in recent years).
We were told that most prisoners do not remain in jail long, and can transfer to a work project and be released when they are deemed to be rehabilitated.
When we asked people about political “crimes” involving revolutionary dissenters, they were genuinely perplexed. No one had ever heard of such a thing. Yet Posadistas (a group of so-called Trotskyists) were imprisoned many years ago.
A dismaying note on Cuban crime and punishment was Castro’s pronouncement to the second session of the National People’s Power Assembly, held during our visit:
Yes, measures have been taken — and we’re going to wage an all-out battle against crime! The Council of State is already studying a decree-law and stiffening certain types of punishment to help our Ministry of the Interior agencies in their battle against crime.
This tough, law-and-order line sounded all too familiar. We had hoped that a “socialist” government would have more humanistic methods for dealing with antisocial behavior.
Cuba’s foreign policy is shaped by (1) the socialist character of the revolution, (2) the desperate need for trade and aid, and (3) the pragmatic, opportunist tendencies of the leadership.
The anti-capitalist nature of the revolution led Cuba to a rupture with the U.S. And the revolutionary internationalist orientation of the first decade brought the country into conflict with the Kremlin and the reformist Communist Parties of Latin America. The Castro regime avoided dependence on either U.S. imperialism or the Soviet bureaucracy, opting instead for spreading the revolution in Latin America.
In 1967, Fidel declared open political war against the Latin American CPs, and in 1968 purged Anabel Escalante and the hard-core Stalinist bureaucrats from the Cuban CP.
Unfortunately, the attempt to duplicate throughout Latin America Cuba’s guerrilla road to power resulted in devastating defeats culminating in the martyrdom of Che Guevara.
Che’s Bolivian adventure collapsed, Moscow tightened the economic screws, and Cuba faced isolation and strangulation. The regime concluded that its only hope lay in a turn to the Soviet Union, even though· the price was uncritical support of Kremlin policies.
Castro’s endorsement of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia signaled the turn. Cuba soon became integrated into COMCON (a Soviet-led economic association of Stalinist countries) and into Moscow’s international operations. The reconstructed Cuban CP aligned with the conservative Latin American CPs to support bourgeois reformist governments.
Cuban doors were opened wide to Russian influence. Cubans are bombarded today with Russian posters, books, movies, and television programs.
In the early revolutionary years, bookstores carried the works of Trotsky and other independent writers. Today, a depressing uniformity prevails everywhere. Most books, pamphlets and texts on sociological matters are translations from the Russian. The Soviet regime, its ideology, and its foreign policy are promoted as the model for Cuba. No criticism of Soviet policies is seen or heard, and it appears that none would be tolerated.
The reason for this blatant Russophilism is easy to locate. By 1974, 60% of Cuba’s trade was with COMCON countries, 46% with the Soviet Union itself. The USSR supplies Cuba with wheat, oil, transportation equipment, semi-finished goods, consumer durables and much more, under extraordinary trade terms.
In ·1972 Cuba and the USSR concluded a major trade agreement, The key provisions were:
1) Payment of Cuban debts deferred until 1986, with a 25-year payoff at no interest.
2) A new large-scale trade agreement transacted on the same terms.
3) A credit of 300 million rubles granted to Cuba for purchase of Russian capital goods and technology, with a 25-year payoff at very low interest.
To further sweeten the deal, the Soviets concluded a long-term arrangement to buy Cuba’s entire sugar crop at double the world market price (1¢ per pound vs. 5¢). The price was also pegged to Cuba’s import prices on a sliding scale; by 1976, Russia was paying Cuba 30¢ per pound while-the world price was 13¢-14¢. A similar deal covered Cuba’s nickel production.
Cuba was thereby protected from wildly fluctuating world market prices and provided with the stability so indispensable to planning.
These terms were established “entirely at the initiative of the Soviet Union,” said Castro. “Such generous relations have no precedent in the history of mankind.” This is no doubt true. A reliable, friendly government in Cuba is very important to the Kremlin in its global conflict with U.S. imperialism. And since Cuba is too distant to be kept in line by military might, like Eastern Europe, once Cuba fell into line, the “generous relations” followed.
Still, Cuba’s foreign policy, like everything else about it, is contradictory. We have noted some of the negative aspects. On the other hand, a spirit of internationalism pervades the population, a sentiment consciously generated by the regime. Gigantic signs and posters are displayed everywhere.
Elementary school children who were learning to assemble rifles declared in their rehearsed greetings to us that they were ready to go anywhere in the world to help their oppressed brothers and sisters fight for liberation. More than 100,000 Cubans volunteered to fight in Angola. And we spoke to young returnees from Africa, who were motivated by genuine communist and internationalist sentiments.
Cuba’s intervention in Africa was obviously undertaken independently of Moscow and with the enthusiastic support of the Cuban people. One hears no reports of a similar international consciousness in the Soviet Union!
After 17 years of arbitrary rule, the Castro leadership institutionalized the new order and consolidated its regime. Cuba is now governed at all levels by elected representatives and officials.
At the base of Cuban society are CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), even though they lack legal status in the state structure. These grass roots, neighborhood assemblies were established in 1960 to ferret out saboteurs and counterrevolutionaries. Their functions have since been expanded to include mobilization of the masses for campaigns and emergencies (cane cutting, mass inoculations, paper recycling, political education, street cleaning, etc.), election of judges for the popular tribunals, and discussion of major legislation.
CDRs are the basic units of the political structure, even though they include only supporters of the revolution; technically, the local constituency includes every Cuban citizen in the area. Each local electoral constituency nominates a candidate to the municipal assembly; six or seven of these units combine to elect one delegate, which assures a choice of candidates. The constitution explicitly provides for multiple candidates at all levels.
The municipal assemblies are organs of power in their jurisdictions, and also nominate and elect delegates to both the provisional and national assemblies.
The National Assembly elects the Council of Ministers and Council of State. According to the constitution, the assemblies exercise strict control over the executive committees and administrators through working commissions which oversee and direct the work of these officials.
Two main principles are emphasized: accountability and recall. Instead of the electorate casting votes and then abdicating all power to professional politicians, the constituents at each level meet frequently. Elected delegates and officials must report to these meetings and receive directives. Constituents have the right to recall these office holders at any time, a right that we were told is exercised.
Popular discussion precedes decisions of the National Assembly on major . legislation (Family Code, Constitution, etc.). These discussions take place in thousands of meetings throughout the country in the CDRs, unions, women’s organizations, work places, and schools. (As we previously reported, animated debates raged over the New Family Code.) Amendments are proposed and votes taken; all amendments submitted to the National Assembly are considered and many adopted in the final drafting.
The economy is directed by a central planning board elected by the National Assembly. The newly established provincial and municipal assemblies assume responsibility for production and services within their jurisdiction, and implement the central plan.
Factory managers are appointed by government agencies, but are obliged to consult with advisory committees composed of representatives of the workers, the party and the government. We were informed that workers exercise considerable control through these committees and workers assemblies, and have even forced the removal of managers.
How does Cuba’s political system measure up to the norms of a workers state as theorized by Marxists? How does it compare with the Paris Commune or the pre-Stalin USSR?
Many features of the Cuban state correspond to these norms: popular committees at the base, a pyramided system, accountability and control of all elected officials, the option of instant recall, multiple candidates, and mass discussions on national policy. And yet the workers do not rule Cuba.
One obvious defect is the absence of factory councils; the basic units are solely geographical. Much more serious is the lack of a provision limiting the salaries of officials to that of skilled workers. But the fatal flaw is the institutionalized political monolithism.
The Communist Party is the only legal party, and no tendencies are permitted within it. By constitutional provision, all electoral and nominating commissions must be headed by a CP representative. The entire electoral process is thus reduced to a facade with no real democratic content; without the opportunity to choose among alternate policies, the masses are unable to make meaningful decisions.
When we asked whether competing candidates sought votes on the basis of respective ideas or policies, the response was, “Candidates are chosen according to their records and abilities. The party decides questions of policy.” But no tendencies are permitted within the party, thus the ranks are presented with a single line from above and deprived of the right to decide.
Consequently, the top party leadership makes all the important decisions, and the monolithic single party, single tendency system results in an all-powerful ruler. Castro is President of the Council of Ministers and Council of State, First Secretary of the Party, and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, with veto power in all matters.
Nature of the Cuban State
We are convinced that the sociological or class character of the state is that of a transitional society based on a socialized economy, a bureaucratized workers state.
Anyone observing life in Cuba today with an open mind must realize that a profound social revolution has occurred which transformed Cuba into a society that benefits the mass of producers. Production is regulated by conscious planning, not the blind laws of the market. The aim of production is to expand use values, not exchange value. No contradiction between social production and private appropriation exists, no cyclical crises, no built-in reserve army of labor, no overproduction, no extremes of wealth and poverty.
Cuba is a collective society, clearly revolutionary and progressive as compared to capitalism. It should be defended unconditionally against any attempt to turn back the clock of history.
But the bureaucratic, repressive nature of the Castro regime is undeniable. Cuba wears an ideological straitjacket, and the workers are politically powerless. All experience teaches that the interests of the masses and their socialist future can only be advanced through the exercise of power by the workers themselves, and even the most benevolent “Jefe” is no substitute.
What is the extent of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Cuban workers state? Has it reached the point of no return short of the revolutionary overthrow of the regime — short of a political revolution, as in the case of the USSR? We do not think so.
The only response to a perspective of any kind of revolution in Cuba today would come from the counterrevolutionaries. There appears to be no social base among the workers, peasants, or general supporters of the revolution for such a policy, and this is not due primarily to any political backwardness on their part. The fact is the bureaucracy has not yet crystallized into an aristocratic caste with interests that fundamentally conflict with the working class, as in the USSR. The bureaucracy has not yet converted the state into an instrument for the perpetuation of its own power and privileges. The regime’s power does not rest primarily on the army and secret police, but on the firm support of the masses.
Thus, the possibility of the assumption of power by the workers, through struggle but within the framework of the existing state apparatus, cannot be ruled out.
The progressive forms of the political structure of Cuba (non-existent in other non-capitalist states) are highly significant. Under conditions of mass upsurge, it is possible that life could be breathed into the structural forms. Competing candidates could become instruments for conflicting ideas and tendencies, and the popular committees could be converted into organs of struggle and potential organs of genuine popular power.
We conclude that socialists must combine unconditional support of Cuba against the counterrevolution with vigorous criticism of the bureaucratic regime and its adaptation to Stalinist politics.
Socialists must also expose and condemn the brutal oppression of homosexuals, and criticize the official glorification of the nuclear family and lack of affirmative action for women.
We left Cuba deeply impressed by the overwhelming superiority of its collectivized, planned economy and the dramatic transformation in the lives of the masses. There are serious defects in Cuban life; still, we are reminded of the famous comment of Lincoln Steffens after he returned from the young Soviet Union: ”I have seen the future, and it works.”