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April 22, 2024

Cuba: political revolution or social revolution?

The recent announcement of a 500,000 workers layoff to be held by the Cuban government is a major topic of discussion among left-wing organizations. One of them, the PTS of Argentina, has been publishing a series of articles where they question the IWL-FI definitions, program and policies for Cuba.

The differences with the PTS (Workers’ Party for Socialism) do not occur at all levels. Apparently, their interpretation of the Cuban revolution is similar to that interpretation made by the IWL late founder, Nahuel Moreno. Nahuel Moreno asserted that the combination of the rising of the masses and the imperialism pressure, as part of an acute crisis in the country, forced a petty bourgeois movement (the “July 26th,” directed by Fidel Castro) to go beyond its own program and expropriate the bourgeoisie creating a deformed Workers State, confirming the theoretical possibility raised by Trotsky in the Transitional Program in 1938 [1]. PTS also agrees with us in the critique of the non-Marxist definitions of the New MAS of Argentina on Cuba being a “Bureaucratic State, neither proletarian nor bourgeois” and on the “non-classist” character of the “July 26th” movement [2].

Despite these coincidences, which are important as they enable us to analyze as from common criteria, the difference we have with the PTS is central: the discussion about the current class character of the Cuban State. It is a theoretical discussion of vital importance once from different answers to that question arise antagonistic proposals in relation to the program and politics for Cuba.

How to define the class character of a State?

In the late 1930s, after the Stalinist counter-revolution had snatched the political power from workers it had developed a passionate debate on the class character of the Soviet State. How to define a state in which neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat had the political domain? Trotsky’s position was that the class nature of a state is, ultimately, “determined … by the character of the forms of property and productive relations which the given state guards and defends.” [3]

Trotsky also claimed that the USSR was still a “degenerate workers’ state”: “The nationalization of the land, the means of industrial production, transport and exchange, together with the monopoly of foreign trade, constitute the basis of the Soviet social structure. Through these relations, established by the proletarian revolution, the nature of the Soviet Union as a proletarian state is for us basically defined”. [4]

Just as now, whenever facing theoretical positions, it emerged opposite policies. Those who defended that USSR were no longer a proletarian State refused to defend it against the imperialism. Likewise Trotsky proposed to defend the USSR because “the system of planned economy, on the foundation of state ownership of the means of production, has been preserved and continues to remain a colossal conquest of mankind. The defeat of the USSR in a war with imperialism would signify not solely the liquidation of the bureaucratic dictatorship, but of the planned state economy (…)”. [5]

How are Trotsky criteria applied to the Cuban State?

After conducting an objective study on reality we, at IWL-FI realized, as it was expected, that capitalist restoration and subsequent dissolution of the former USSR had direct consequences on the Cuban State. In 1992 the Central Planning Board was dissolved and the companies were allowed to negotiate freely with foreign companies, and in 1995 it was approved the Foreign Investment Law which allowed foreign companies to repatriate up to 100% of their profits.

Evidently, there was no longer the planned economy or the monopoly of foreign trade and foreign private investment was encouraged through a tax and investment laws which were more permissive than those in force in many Latin American countries. The Cuban government stopped defending the planned economy and began to defend the market economy and the profit. Therefore, according to Trotsky criteria, it had ceased to be a degenerate workers’ state to become a capitalist state in a process of re-colonization, particularly by European and Canadian imperialisms.

What does PTS say?

According to the article Cuba: Political Revolution or “democratic revolution”?, by Diego Dalai (Sep.16,2010), IWL-FI arguments are “ridiculous” because the “gusano” bourgeoisie of Miami did not recover their properties, there are not U.S. investments, important social gains are maintained, nor can be seen the terrible social consequences caused by capitalist restoration in the former USSR.

For all this, according to PTS, Cuba remains a workers’ state and most left-wing organizations share this same opinion. This opinion has nothing to do with the criteria used by Trotsky to define the class character of a State. However, let’s take a look at each of these objections.

· The “gusano” bourgeoisie of Miami did not recover their properties. This argument ignores two aspects. The first is that imperialist capitalism is international and the European, Canadian, Israeli and Mexican bourgeoisie are currently the owners of a large part of the Cuban means of production. Second, in the former USSR, the current bourgeoisie does not come from the descendants of so-called “White Russians”, but from the former Communist Party and the former Soviet state bureaucracy. Likewise, in Cuba, administrators are becoming the new owners, minor partners or managers of the international capital. This is the fundamental reason for which Castro leadership refuses to hand back the properties to the “gusano” bourgeoisie of Miami.

· The American bourgeoisie is not investing in Cuba. This is false. The U.S. imperialism, under the pressure of the powerful Cuban bourgeoisie in Miami, who want to recover their former properties, maintains a trade embargo. This causes great discontent in important sectors of the American bourgeoisie itself, which can only see its competitors appropriating the major big business. But despite this impediment, the U.S. trade with Cuba grows as from the modifications made to allow some kind of economic activity [6]. On the other hand, there are American investors participating in European, Canadian, Mexican and Israeli companies.

PTS refers to these European investments, but evidently do not consider them as “sufficient proof” of capitalist restoration or a semi-colonizing process which is underway. Being so a question comes to us. A part of the European leftists, especially those organizations of the so-called United Secretariat (USFI), permanently denounces U.S. imperialism, but never refers to nor denounces their own countries and bourgeoisie as imperialist. Is PTS falling into a similar position?

·  Significant social gains are maintained. It is right. Social achievements still remain and this has to do with the depth of the revolution. In Russia it was likewise, however most of the social achievements were lost, starting with the most important, the planned economy.

· The terrible social consequences in Soviet Union after the capitalist restoration do not exist in Cuba:  Let’s see if this statement has anything to do with reality. When Cuban revolution expropriated the bourgeoisie and broke with imperialism it put an end to unemployment, established a public and free medical system of high quality for the entire population and achieved deep development in the medical and medicines fields. Furthermore, Cuban Revolution vanished with illiteracy and prostitution.

What about today? Prostitution returned, the “jineteras” (prostitutes) are one of the tourist attractions that are spawning European flights only to men. And this is not an imperialist “anti-Cuban propaganda”, but was recognized by Fidel Castro himself, “This criminal phenomenon (prostitution), which affects mainly the tourist hubs of the country, maintains a growing trend. There are some levels of organization and linkages with other serious crimes such as drugs, smuggling, corruption of minors and crime against foreigners”.[7]

According to local government economists, wages lost over 75% of purchasing power in the last 20 years.[8] Full employment does not exist anymore; according to government information there are already about 400 000 unemployed or underemployed and Cuban administration has just announced a layoff of half a million workers (10% of the country workforce). And this is part of a plan through which health and education will no longer be universally free, since Cuban people will have to pay for these services. As stated by those who have traveled to the island in recent years, because of the tourism industry profits, the Cuban people face not only restriction to their entry in hotels but also restriction in their access to the best beaches in the country. So, we are facing the dire social consequences, similar to those produced after the capitalist restoration in the former USSR, aren’t we?

There is no doubt for us; this is due to the disappearance of the planned state economy, i.e., this is due to the change in the class nature of Cuban state. And this change was not due to an imperialist invasion, but a conscious policy led by the bureaucratic leadership of Fidel Castro.

Cuban bureaucracy moved to restore capitalism … and regretted it?

PTS acknowledges that the existence of the foreign trade monopoly and of planned economy are crucial to define the passage of a capitalist State to a workers’ State (see footnote 1). But it does not take into account when the opposite has occurred, the passage of a workers’ State to a bourgeois State.

As these structural changes are very evident, they cannot ignore them. However they found a way to keep defending the existence of the Cuban “workers’ state”. What would have happened is that “these pro-capitalist reforms almost eliminated the state monopoly of foreign trade, allowed the existence of  joint venture companies (51% state and 49% foreign capital) and eliminated the economic planning, dissolving the Planning Board and freeing the economy in important fields like tourism and mining”.

However, for them, what the IWL-FI does not see is that “since 2003 several measures were taken to partially reverse the reforms of the special period“, even though “the essential points have been kept […].”  And adds: “As for the planning, there has been a partial recovering in planned economy for state owned enterprises, where the Economy and Planning Ministry as well as the Central Bank are involved […].”

We do not know what theoretical criteria or historical background support PTS explanation that a bureaucracy which consciously set forward for the capitalist restoration, and took decisive steps in this direction; turns back with its project without the revolutionary intervention of the mass movement.

Moreover, the data they give do not have any consistency. They say that since 2003 there has been “changes”, but they have kept “the essential”. They add that in relation to economic planning, there has been a “partial return to the planned economy” that applies only to business 100% Cuban. That’s like saying that a woman is “half pregnant”. Just as there is no ‘mixed economy’, but working class economy or bourgeois economy, there is not a “bit” of planning. State planning of an economy in transition to socialism can be proletarian or bureaucratic, but it exists or does not exist. If there is a state planning of the economy, we are in the presence of a workers state (degenerate or deformed, if planning is bureaucratic). If not, we are in the presence of a capitalist state. Then, the PTS must answer: Are there state planning of the economy and foreign trade monopoly in Cuba, or not? So far we have not got a categorical answer to that question.

The beautification of Fidel’s role

It took all of us a time to understand the capitalist restoration process. There are still different interpretations of how it came about and on its consequences. But in general, it is accepted that this process has already occurred in the USSR and in Eastern Europe.

It took us more time to accept that the capitalist restoration process had occurred in countries that were still run by Communist Parties like China and Cuba. Today, it has become so evident the role of the capitalist “world factory” played by China that no one else is excited to set it as a worker State. However, when Cuba is under question,  many still set it as a worker state, and the charismatic figure of Fidel Castro has much to do with it.

However, it is impossible to hide some facts, as the case of the adjustment plan, with its half-million layoffs. Therefore, even the most faithful admirers of Cuban regime start talking about the “danger of capitalist restoration”. But they say this capitalist restoration would come from Raul Castro, an admirer of the “Chinese model”, in contrast to Fidel who would continue “defending socialism”.

The PTS uses the same reasoning: “Since Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel, he has reaffirmed Cuban regime direction in gradually applying capitalist measures […] a combination of different factors […] may precipitate this process. Among these factors it could be included: Fidel Castro disappearance from the scene, the emergence of a one more dialogue policy on the part of U.S. imperialism and the “gusano” bourgeoisie in Miami […], a clearer role of the European Union, particularly the Spanish State, to facilitate this negotiation policy, and last but not least, a greater impact of the international economic crisis that could lead to a situation of economic chaos”. [9]

As we can see, despite Fidel himself undertakes to publicly support his brother, the PTS puts his removal as one of the central factors to the advancement of capitalism.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Fidel was the undisputed leader of the Cuban bureaucracy. And, as Trotsky said, the ruling bureaucracy gradually destroys their social foundations and, if not expelled by the working class political revolution, it ends up by restoring capitalism. This kind of revolution has not occurred in Cuba. As the former USSR and Eastern European countries restored capitalism, Castro followed the path marked by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Just as them, using a discourse that claims to defend socialism, he has taken steps to change the class character of the Cuban State. Only after this task was accomplished – that the Cuban government stopped sustaining the planned economy and began to defend the market economy – Fidel stepped down from his ruling role and went about to take care of his health. The PTS “beautifies” the role of Fidel in this process and, indeed, it capitulates politically.

Shouldn’t we expropriate the capitalists from the hotel industry, the sugar industry, the oil industry…?

The PTS asks us if what is formulated in Cuba is a “political revolution” that they advocate or the “democratic revolution” that we would defend. It must be noted that the PTS misconstrued the positions of the IWL-FI: our program to Cuba is not for a democratic revolution, but for a permanent revolution.

The permanent revolution will have to combine the democratic tasks (which have much weight in Cuba, because there is a dictatorship there) to the socialist tasks. That is, the task placed for Cuba is not limited to a regime change; it is not just about to end the bureaucracy dictatorship, as PTS proposes. The new Cuban revolution should also expropriate the new owners of the means of production, mostly imperialists, to impose the planned economy again. And we expect that, this time, we can count on a revolutionary leadership that allows the working class democratic organizations to rule.

However it will not be possible to build this revolutionary leadership if the problems posed for the Cuban working class are not solved: the need to face the adjustment plan of Castro dictatorship and the struggle for broader democratic freedoms for the whole population.

It is not casual the PTS question about the democratic revolution made to us. It is because for years PTS has been educating its supporters in the “anti-morenismo”, slanted the thought of Nahuel Moreno, accusing him of standing up for “stageism” (related to the stalinist doctrine of revolution by stages) because of his defense of a “democratic revolution”.

Moreno never had the “democratic revolution” policy, but he used it as a category of analysis. He said that capitalism, when producing dictatorships and reactionary Bonapartist regimes, led to a new kind of political revolution or anti-capitalist democratic revolution, and not against feudalism, as in the past. This anti-capitalist democratic revolution combines with the socialist one in the permanent revolution. And as part of the analysis of reality, he added that due to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership, the revolutionary processes are frozen at that stage of democracy. [10] 

There is no “stageism” either in Moreno or in IWL-FI. We see it, although,  in the PTS programme for Cuba. To defend the “political revolution” in a capitalist state (and they did not demonstrate scientifically that Cuba is anything different) is to defend a revolution that only changes the political regime, namely the revolution by stages.

These fellows, by failing to apply a scientific and Marxist method to define the class character of the Cuban state, end up by embellishing the figure of Fidel and raising a political position that capitulates twice to imperialism: by leaving the democratic flags in their hands and by not raising the socialist revolutionary programme for Cuba. It confirms Lenin’s definition, without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary politics.


1 “Effectively, the radical, nationalist,  petty-bourgeois programme of the  Movement July 26th proved to be completely unrealistic and, very soon, under the imperialism pressure and the pressure of a mass movement fueled by the triumph achieved, was forced to expropriate the US capital, the large landowners and the local bourgeoisie and establish the foreign trade monopoly, i.e. to establish an economy in transition, although bureaucratically planned “(The bureaucratic collectivism, the state capitalism and the state theory ‘neither worker nor bourgeois’. Supplement on Cuba –  PTS).

2 See the polemic of Martín Hernández with Roberto Ramírez, in this site: Cuba …no es una isla.

3 Leon Trotsky, Not a Workers’ and not a Bourgeois State?, November 1937.

4 Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed.

5 Leon Trotsky, From a scratch – To the danger of gangrene, in: In defense of Marxism.

6  Consider the following news: “The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of Treasury today unveiled (April 13th/2009) the final rule that changes the Cuban Assets Control Rules (CACR). The CACR is changed in relation to three main aspects: (1) family visits, (2) remittances by family members, (3) telecommunications. New general license for transactions: this new general license authorizes, under certain conditions, the travel-related transactions that result from marketing, sales, deliveries or services in Cuba of agricultural products, medicines or medical equipment […]” ( from

7   Fidel Castro Ruiz, Speech at the celebration of the 40th anniversary of establishment of the National Revolutionary Police, January 5, 1999.

8 Studies of the Cuban economist Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva.

9 Idem.

10 One example was the Sandinista Revolution of 1979. To Moreno it was the triumph of a democratic or political revolution, part of the permanent revolution, which was frozen in the democratic stage, and that inevitably would kick back if it did not move forward until the triumph of the proletarian revolution. For the PTS there was no revolutionary victory, but the defeat of the workers’ revolution. 

Come back to the special “Cuba in Debate


First published in International Courier nº 3, 2010

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