Left-wing organisations have been very reluctant to admit that capitalism had been restores in the former USSR and in the remaining countries of Eastern Europe. In a way this is reasonable, because the triumph of the Russian Revolution has been the greatest victory of the world proletariat and it is not easy to admit that it has been lost. At present, however, this issue, twenty years after the beginning of the restoration, is losing its debatable character. Hardly anybody dares to deny reality. It is not the same where it comes to Cuba.  

Cuban reality should not leave room for doubts in the area of both, restoration and of the role in it played by Fidel Castro. But very few admit these facts. Most of the Trotskyist movement, for example, sustain that Cuba is still a workers’ state and that the Cuban leadership, with Fidel Castro in the lead, is still – to say the least – anti-imperialist. But neither the former nor the latter statement is true.   How can we speak of a workers’ state where the state does not hold the monopoly of foreign trade, where economy does not respond to central planning and where laws of capitalist market rule unchallenged? And as to the Cuban leadership, how can we say that it is still anti-imperialist while it is giving the country away to European imperialism and Fidel declares overt praise of their governments, especially of the king of Spain?  

We may say that Fidel Castro is not anti-imperialist but merely anti-American, only that this would not be true either. He is against the American administration, but he is not actually against American imperialism. For example, he is not against the Democratic Party of the USA. Quite to the contrary, he is trying to reach an agreement with them. That is why in his latest book written as if it were an interview, “Fidel Castro. Biografía a dos voces” he expresses great praise of their leaders. Among other things he says that the former president John Kennedy (the one who started the Viet Nam war, had Cuba invaded and ordered dozens of raids against Fidel himself): “… president Kennedy, a really talented person, had this misfortune of that expedition against us on Playa Girón and he had to live it down. He was courageous in the face of the defeat”[i]. And regarding his family he asserts, “After the murder of John Kennedy, they kept in touch with us an developed friendly relations and exchange.” This goes to prove that we were not led astray by hatred.”[ii]About Jimmy Carter[iii] the former president of the USA for the Democratic Party, he says: “… Carter is a man of ethics. His policy was constructive as far as Cuba is concerned and he was one of the most honest presidents. He has ethos, morals… Carter was unable to tell a lie… he was a good, dent man… we could have discussed the Law of Adjustments, but we did not do so because we did not wish to waste time and harm Carter… We resolved up to the kidnapping hijacking of the aeroplanes… they were coming in aeroplane hijacked in the USA.”[iv]We sent them back to Carter… I am under the impression that they were sentenced to forty years in prison… we took the decision to hand them over to the American authorities”.[v]  

Facts, and even many statements made by Fidel are categorical. Why is it then so difficult to admit that capitalism has been restored in Cuba and that, at present, its leadership is not in the least anti-capitalist and not exceedingly anti-imperialist? Because, on the one hand, Cuba has been on the American continent what Russia was once on the world level: the greatest victory in the history of the proletariat, and on the other hand, because leading Cuba there is Fidel Castro, the man who led the battle against Batista, the dictator, the split from imperialism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and precisely because he had done all these things, he became the leader of millions of workers, peasants and young fighters not only in Cuba but also for the rest of the continent. It is precisely because of this that millions of his followers find it inadmissible to think that the man who led the revolution that expropriated the capitalist could now be the boss of the restoration.  

The arguments to justify what is not justifiable are miscellaneous. Most people believe that there is no restoration because Fidel and the Cuban people are against it. Many, possibly most, believe that due to the isolation, Fidel was forced to make concessions to capitalism, but they regard these concessions as something necessary to maintain the socialist character of the revolution. There are also the most critical ones who see that the restoring measures accrue but they do not blame Fidel for that but those who surround him. Finally, there is an important minority who believe that capitalism is being really restored and that Fidel is mainly to blame for that but then they arrive at the nostalgic conclusion that everything would be different if only Che Guevara were alive.

Individuals and history

Common sense finds it hard to believe that the same person who has led a revolution that expropriated the bourgeoisie. It is true that it is a contradiction but it is also true that it is not an unusual contradiction.  

Nobody can deny that Stalin was a dedicated revolutionary militant, constructor of the Bolshevik party and as such, in more that one opportunity, he jeopardised his own life. It should be enough to remember that of all the Bolshevik leaders he was the one who had spent most time in Tsarist prisons. And yet, it was the very same Stalin who became the henchman of the revolution and of the Bolshevik Party.  

Neither is it possibly to deny that in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and his comrades-in-arms from the Sandinist Front of Liberation, were heroic fighters in the struggle against the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship. And yet, the same Daniel Ortega is competing in elections for the presidential of his country as a candidate of an alliance between the FSLN and PLN (Liberal Nationalist Party) founded by Anastasio Somoza (father) the murderer of general Augusto Cesar Sandino.  

History is full of situations like these. That is why it is impossible to understand what is happening in Cuba if we look at it from the standpoint of the revolutionary past of Fidel Castro.  

From the standpoint of common sense, history is the result of the struggle between good men and bad men. For Marxists, ever since the day that society divided into classes emerged, is the result of the confrontation of social classes (“History of society is the history of class struggle”[vi]) Marxism does not deny the importance of individuals in history, such as Hitler, Lenin, Peron, Lula, Fidel Castro, Francisco Franco or Che Guevara. But according to Marxism, these individuals, regardless of how talented or brave, never had any existence outside of class struggle. That is why, in order to understand the behaviour of these characters, as in the case of Fidel Castro, it is necessary to make not only a political analysis of the individuals and of these leaders, but also a class analysis. What is their social origin? What class do they or did they represent? What class do they or did they rely on?  

Class character of the Castroist leadership and of the Cuban State  

If we analyse the Castro leadership from the point of view of political proposals we shall find there is deep contradiction between their past and their present. But if we analyse the same leadership from the social point of view, the contradiction vanishes.  

The 26 July Movement, that undertook the struggle against the dictator Batista, was a movement originated in the petty bourgeoisie and of petty bourgeois nature, leaning mainly on poor peasants, students and middle layers of the cities. As such, it was an extremely progressive movement and played a revolutionary role so much so that they mover much further than their original intentions and even went as far as expropriating imperialism and bourgeoisie and spawning a state of a different character, a workers’ state, for it was erected on state and planned economy.  

And yet, this workers’ state had a serious contradiction right from its birth: leading it there was not the working class with its own organisations, let alone, with even the slightest hint of workers’ democracy. That is why, from the viewpoint of scientific rigour, it was wrong to define the Cuban state simply as “workers’”. The correct thing was to define it, right from its birth, as a bureaucratised workers’ state. The character of the new Cuban State was the continuation of the character of the 26th July Movement, an “army-party”, full of brave fighters, but with no democracy at all, neither of the workers’ type or of any other.  

Many a deep controversy inside the Trotskyist movement has been woven round the class character of the Castroist leadership. Many sectors maintain that the truth is that 26th July movement and its leadership did have a petty bourgeois character, but since they carried out a revolutionary action (expropriated the bourgeoisie and imperialism and built a workers’ state), they changed their class character and became a workers’ revolutionary leadership. This way of reasoning stands against Marxism, because an individual may even change classes, but this not something a social movement can do, and such is the case of Castroism, because, as Moreno used to say: “No privileged sector will ever accept the loss of their privileges and accept to become another, lower sector. To the contrary, every privileged sector tends to increase them.”[vii] The leadership of a privileged sector, bourgeois or petty bourgeois may “…forced by objective forces, move further than what was pretended within the political scope in the defence of their privileges and increase them when in danger of losing them, but will never challenge their own privileges by joining the most exploited sectors that fight against them.”[viii]  

It is precisely this analysis of Moreno’s what explains why the 26th July movement, contradicting its original plans, went as far as expropriating bourgeoisie and imperialism. But it also explains why this leadership has been unable to lead the revolutionary process to the end, and at that point started recoiling and finally restored capitalism.  

Castroism went further than what was originally intended.  

The Castroist leadership has been much more consistent in their struggle against the dictatorship than the Sandinist leadership in Nicaragua. That is why they were not contented with pulling down the dictatorship and he did try to recover the economy devastated by the corrupt Batista administration. It was not his intention to expropriate imperialism and bourgeoisie, but he was driven to do so when both declared the boycott.  

In this way, for example, the new Cuban government signed up a very profitable agreement to import oil from the USSR. The government of the USA was against such an agreement so the distilleries in Cuba – all of them were American – refused to distil the produce of the USSR. This attitude left the Cuban government no alternative but to expropriate the distilleries. The same thing was happening in a short succession of events with the rest of the economy.

The unswerving struggle to build up the new government emerged in the struggle against Batista, led the leadership of the 26th July not only to expropriate capitalism and bourgeoisie but also to stand off clearly from USSR and world-wide Stalinism. The Castroist leadership was perfectly aware of the fact that Cuba was isolated and had to attack in order to defend herself. That is why, at the very moment when the USSR and the remaining world-wide Stalinism defended “peaceful coexistence with imperialism”, Fidel Castro spoke of “turning the Andes into Sierra Maestra of the American Continent”[ix] and Che Guevara claimed for “two, three, many more Vietnams”. These were not merely theatrical phrases like the ones Hugo Chavez utters so often nowadays. In order to make his project crystallise, Fidel Castro appointed “Red Beard” Piñeiro, who was the Home Vice-minister, to be in charge of organising political and military training for hundreds of guerrillas from several Latin American countries and of coordinating measures of support for several movements of national liberation, such as the one led by Ben Bella in Algeria.  

Limitations of Castroism  

When the Bolsheviks led the seizure of power in the URSS, they sought at all times and by all means – by means of the Soviets and of the Trade Unions – that it should be the working class who took up the building of the new State. Further more, the Bolshevik leadership, taking advantage of the prestige earned in the revolution to call to build the headquarters of the world revolution, the III International, in the leadership of which, the Bolsheviks became a minority.

After the triumph of the Russian Revolution, revolutionaries of many parts of the world tried to build soviets and seize power, without taking into consideration the reality of the class struggle. The Bolshevik leadership in general and Lenin in particular fought hard against these false Bolsheviks and called them to respect the real movement of the toiling masses.  

It was all upside down with the Castroist leadership, and that is why all the progressive things they did became their opposite. They expropriated the bourgeoisie and imperialism, but at no time at all did they seek that it should be the working class and the toiling masses that, by means of their organisations, would stand in the lead of the new state.  

The Cuban leadership did try to develop the revolution in other countries but, unlike the Bolshevik leaders, they never regarded the Cuban revolution as something tactical in relation to the continental and world revolution. What they did was to regard the revolution in other countries as a tactics to defend the Cuban revolution. That is to say: the Cuban leadership has always regarded the world revolution from the national point of view.  

The clearest expression of the nationalist character of this leadership was that, in spite of all their international prestige, they never called to build an international leadership of Castroism, of which they would become a part. So this nationalist and petty bourgeois character was what affected their international policy as a whole, and that in turn led the Cuban Revolution to become increasingly isolated.  

All through Latin America there were young people cropping up, more often than not coming from the petty bourgeoisie, eager to repeat the Cuban experience in their own countries. The Cuban leadership, far from orientating these young people towards the working class, workers’ struggles and organisations, told them to organise guerrilla focuses, with no regard for the situation of class struggle, in order to “create” the right conditions for a revolution.  

These positions of the Castroist leaders penetrated deeply among many fighters, especially among Latin American students and, as it could not be otherwise, the whole experience ended in tragedy. Revolutionary processes were aborted. Gory coups were provoked. Thousands of hones militants died in the adventure. Among them was Che Guevara himself, who died murdered in Bolivia. Faced with disasters, because of a class problem, the Cuban leadership was unable to draw a balance sheet and reorientate their policy towards the working class and its struggles. Quite to the contrary, these leaders finally wound up by integrating definitely the URSS-led block with their policy of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.  

This new policy of Cuba’s went through its toughest test in 1979. It was the year when the Sandinist Front of National Liberation, having destroyed Somoza’s National Guard, seized power in Nicaragua. There was a great del of sympathy for the Cuban Revolution in Nicaragua. On the other hand, the Sandinist leaders regarded themselves as disciples of Fidel Castro. After seizing power, the FSLN travelled to Cuba for an interview with Castro. He congratulated them and gave them a piece of advice: do not make a new Cuba out of Nicaragua”. The piece of advice was clear. To put it in another way, what he was telling the Sandinistas was not to advance further than the defeat of the dictatorship, not to expropriate the bourgeoisie, not to construct a workers’ state. This piece of advice sealed the fate of Nicaragua as well as that of Cuba.  

From the “peaceful coexistence” to the capitalist restoration  

The utopian and reactionary theory of Stalin’s, that of “socialism in one country alone” led the counterrevolutionary policy of “peaceful coexistence with imperialism” and, inevitably, to the restoration of capitalism in all the former workers’ states.  

Peaceful coexistence meant in practice that the greatest economic powers were allowed not only to keep up their economic superiority and – by this means – their dominion over the world economy, but could also extend their dominion in detriment of the Workers’ states. This led those states to an increasing economic and social crisis so deep that in the end there were only two options. They could either resume the struggle for the world revolution, or they would have to run into the arms of imperialism, restoration and all. History is quite well known here. Due to class reasons, bureaucracy was not willing to jeopardise their privileges and that is why they, as a whole, marched towards the second option.  

Cuba was, just like the remaining workers’ states, stood in the face of the same alternatives and it is obvious that the choice was not to expand the revolution. It is enough to bear in mind the above-mentioned Nicaraguan experience. Thus, in the face of the isolation created that the Cuban leaders themselves contributed to create, there was only the option of restoration for Cuba. In this way, today we are witnessing the sad end of a leadership that, due to their political and essentially class limitations, was unable to lead their own experience to the last.  

If Che had not been killed  

We have already mentioned the many people, including those in Cuba, who say that everything would be different if Che were alive. In a way, it is also logical that such thoughts should be expressed, for Che died when the idea of exporting the Cuban revolution by means of the guerrilla was overwhelming. Apart from that, the image of Guevara is associated to his bravery, his selflessness and his struggle against all kinds of personal privileges.  

Obviously, trying to make political fiction is not the point, but it is quite difficult to image that, if Che were alive in Cuba capitalism would not have been restored, or that Che would challenge Fidel in struggle against restoration. Why do we say so? Because the course followed by the Cuban leadership was what it was due their deep limitations that were not, essentially, political or theoretic but of class, and here Che was not different from the rest. The contrary is nearer to the truth: he was the one who best expressed these limitations. Che was part of the most reactionary layer that ever existed in this country, the generation of Argentine young people of the 50s, the “left wing” university youth who – because of their spontaneism hated – the workers’ movement. University youth, under the leadership of radicalism* and CP used to march along the streets chanting “Books, not espadrilles**”  

As to Che and his lack of links with the working class there is a very significant fact: he was an extremely sensitive young man and he was deeply shaken by the struggle to pull down the dictator Batista. He did not, however, receive the same impact when he witnessed the Bolivian revolution in 1952 when he travelled through that country just a few months after the beginning of that process. Che was not impressed by the greatest workers’ revolution on the continent or at seeing how the army was defeated by the workers, how the COB was formed, how the workers’ and peasants’ militia imposed the dual power in Bolivia. He never studied this process, let alone draw any conclusions from it. So much so, that when in 1966 he returns to Bolivia to organise a guerrilla focus, at no time did he try to get in touch with the miners, undisputed advance guard for decades of the Bolivian and Latin American revolution.  

Just like the entire Castroist leadership, Guevara never endeavoured that the working class should play the protagonist role in the revolution and in the transition to socialism let alone struggling to build a revolutionary party of the working class both national and international. Or, to be more precise, the entire Castroist leadership with Che in the lead, with their theory of “guerrilla focus” had a position that clashed with the traditional standpoint of Marxism on that point- On the other hand, Che is often regarded as a fighter against bureaucratisation of the Cuban State. This is wrong. Che was a living example of struggle against material privileges for the leaders of the revolution and of the State, but Che never fought against the bureaucratisation of the State. He never spoke up for proletarian democracy, which is the only way to fight with any chance for success against bureaucratisation.  

The Cuban state did not degenerate a few years after the seizure of power. Cuban workers’ State was born bureaucratised and Ernesto Guevara was, right from the beginning, one of the principal leaders of that State.  

The Russian and the Cuban leadership in the face of restoration  

We have highlighted in this text the qualitative difference that there was between the Bolshevik leadership, with Lenin and Trotsky, and the Cuban leadership with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. A scan through fact, however, may lead us to the conclusion that the behaviour of both of them was the same where restoration is concerned.  

In both cases there was la leadership that led the expropriation of imperialism and the bourgeoisie and both processes ended by restoring capitalism.  

The difference, however, is qualitative for in the former USSR restoration could only be reached if the Bolshevik Party was previously destroyed by Stalinism. In Cuba, however, it was not necessary to destroy the old leadership of the revolution to restore capitalism. It was that very same leadership that had originally led the expropriation of the bourgeoisie that was now leading towards restoration of capitalism.  

This fact proves that there has always been a deep class unity between the Russian and the Cuban leaders, but not the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky compared to the leadership of Fidel, but between the Stalinist leadership and that of Fidel, a unity that existed even at the time when the Castroist leadership sustained a position different from that of the URSS.  

The balance sheet of the Castroist leadership and the building of the revolutionary leadership  

In the midst of a revolutionary situation like the one we can witness today in Latin America, the battle for building a revolutionary leadership is the “mother of all the battles”, but his construction does not stem out of nothing.   When drawing the balance sheet of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky said, “We are positively sure that any people, any class, and even any party is instructed mainly from own experience. Without having studied the great French Revolution, the 1848 revolution and the Paris Communes, we would have never been able to carry out the October Revolution.”x

As for the American continent, it is impossible to attain victory if we are not able to study and draw all the necessary conclusions from the only triumphant socialist revolution on the continent, the Cuban revolution. This is the importance of this historic balance sheet of the Castroist leadership, not only for today but also for the future.  

There are fundamental conclusions to draw from the great Cuban Revolution that illuminate our battle on the continent, both in the objective and in the subjective scope. Firstly, the Cuban Revolution proved that bourgeoisie and imperialism could be challenged and beaten. If this was possible in a small country a few kilometres away from the USA, why should it not be possible to repeat it in much more important countries on the continent, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile or Mexico? Secondly, if the achievements of the Cuban Revolution in the scope of eliminating poverty, of health and education prove that problems that seemed endemic on the continent may be solved as from the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Thirdly, reality bears evidence to the fact that unless the revolution is extended to the rest of the continent and the world, the path to be followed by any victorious revolution that expropriates bourgeoisie is inevitably that of restoration of capitalism. Fourthly, reality has also proved that the Cuban leadership, which was at its time regarded by millions as a possible alternative of revolutionary leadership standing against the rotten Stalinist bureaucracy, succumbed victim of its own class contradictions. Fifthly, as a final conclusion: it is undeniable that the Cuban Revolution strengthened the world-wide revolutionary potential of the working class and the toiling masses, but contradictorily, as far as the overcoming of the crisis of revolutionary leadership is concerned, Castroism played a deadly role.  

The prestige earned by the Castroist leadership when they led the revolution was so great that it pushed back for decades the great task of overcoming that crisis of the revolutionary leadership. Objectively, Castroism played the role of driving the advance guard away from the two strategic tasks of all revolutionaries: the relation with the working class and the building the party for the national and world revolution.  

Castroism influenced and bewildered not only several generations of fighters but also major Marxist organisations and revolutionary leaders. Nahuel Moreno, doubtlessly the greatest Latin American Trotskyist leader, could not evade the pressure of Castroism in the first years of the revolution. Thus, for example, in a text discussing with Che Guevara, he developed concepts like the one that follows: “Fidel and Che have proved through facts and have popularised several political and theoretic of enormous importance, and that makes it possible to say of them, paraphrasing what Sartre said about Marx’s philosophy, that nowadays there is no other revolutionary trend on the American continent except for Catroism”.xi

Nahuel Moreno, unlike most of the other leaders of Trotskyism, remained faithful to the working class and Marxism and, in this way, he started splitting all links with Castroism. We can see the proof of this that the reflections we have quoted in this article were inspired in the Moreno’s works in the 70s and 80s. In his book, Conversaciones con Nahuel Moreno, he registers very deep reflection on this process of his relation with and his split from Castroism that ought to be taken into account by all those who fight for the power of the working class. Moreno says, “Throughout all my political life, for example, after regarding with sympathy the regime that emerged from the Cuban Revolution, I have arrived at the conclusion that it is necessary to carry on with the class revolutionary policy, even if it means postponing our reaching power for twenty or thirty years or whatever that may be. We expect it to be the working class who will really reach power, and that is why we wish to lead it”.

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[i] “Fidel Casto. Biografía dos voces”. Interview by Ignacio Rammonet. Editorial Boitempo, Sao Paulo, Brazil, page 272. 

[ii] The same strong attack against the Cuban revolution. Later on, Fidel had a homage held in honour of Jimmy carter on a baseball stadium with several thousand people present.

[iii] Invited by Fidel Castro, Jimmy Carter visited Cuba between 12th and the 17th of May 2002. He held a conference at the Havana University, which was transmitted live for the entire Island where he deferred a strong attack against the Cuban revolution. Later on, Fidel had a homage held in honour of Jimmy carter on a baseball stadium with several thousand people present.

[iv] After the triumph of the revolution, there were many cases in which anti-imperialist activists hijacked aeroplanes in the USA, took them to Cuba requested political asylum.

[v] “Fidel Casto. Biografía a dos voces” page 370/371

[vi] Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx

[vii] Tesis para la Actualización del Programa de Transición, Nahuel Moreno, CS Editora, Sao Paulo, Brazil, page 61

[viii] The same, pages 61/62.

[ix] An address delivered by Fidel Castro of July 21st 1961 in Santiago de Cuba.

* Words such as “radical” and “radicalism” have a different connotation in most of the countries of the southern cone of Latin America. It refers to UCR (Unión Cívica Radical) – a bourgeois political party responsible, among other things, for such historic crimes as the repression of the Patagonian rebellion of farm hands and other workers of the region. (Translator’s note)

** Espadrilles, footgear made of cloth with soles made of twisted cord, was at the time the symbol of the working class. Possessing leather shoes was a status symbol. (T.N.) x October Lessons, Leon Trotsky, El Yunque Editora, Buenos Aires, page 15

xi “Dos Métodos Frente a la Revolución Latinoamericana” Nahuel Moreno.

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Published in Marxism Alive nº 14, 2006