Three months after the 11J demonstrations, 505 demonstrators are still detained by the Cuban regime. Some are serving house arrest and several minors continue to be imprisoned, some sentenced to years in prison for daring to fight for their future.

Statement of the International Secretariat of the LIT,

But the situation in Cuba is not just one of arbitrary convictions and expulsions. The repression of 11J had as its “legal” basis the lack of official “authorization” from the regime; in response, invoking the Cuban constitutional right to organize peaceful demonstrations, the network of activists known as Archipelago announced they will hold an “authorized” demonstration on November 20 (20N), whose central demand is the freedom of the prisoners.

The first response of the regime was not long in coming: the government scheduled a military parade for “National Security” day, November 20. In other words, it put the army on the streets! Then, the activists around Archipelago moved the march to November 15 (15N).

Those of us who are on the front lines of the legitimate demands of November 15 and continue in the struggle for the freedom of political prisoners, consider the call not only legitimate but necessary.

Another element is thrown into the mix of this polarizing situation: the appearance of the Council for a Democratic Transition in Cuba (CTDC), linked to US imperialism and the Cuban-American bourgeoisie. The aforementioned organization demands “a shock plan” to transition to a “market economy”. Lest there be any doubt about its links, its program could not be other than: “… a stable legal framework for the free exercise and respect for the private property rights of all Cubans. A special plan to compensate for the expropriations of the revolutionary period under international assistance and collaboration.” (emphasis added).

Political polarization is not limited to the regime’s repressive escalation and the creation of the CTDC. The self-styled “Council” has joined the 15N call. The regime will have to answer Archipelago’s request, but at this point, both because of the intensity of the repression and a possible refusal by the regime, both its realization and the number of people who will attend are in question. Regardless of what happens on 15N, an important discussion is open: to what extent does the presence of the CTDC on 15N delegitimize this demonstration?

From 11J to 20N

The issue is given an exhaustive treatment on the site “Comunistas.org”[1], which presents it as a dilemma. According to our interpretation, jt is a question of tactics. The aforementioned article states that “The unofficial Cuban left should support the just and initial claim of Archipelago, as well as its right to demonstrate”. In addition to that, the text recognizes that “although… it [the Archipelago group] does not assume the economic program of the CTDC”, going to the demonstration would mean marching “with those who wish for unemployment and privatization”, referring to the CTDC program.

On the surface we would be facing a discussion of a tactical nature, legitimate and necessary, to define the best way to intervene in the new Cuban reality. However, the author of the text dedicates an important part of it to criticize the fact that the call “is limited to opposing the political violence [of the regime], demanding exclusively ‘freedom of expression’”.

In justifying his criticism, the author states that the workers who expressed themselves in the spontaneous demonstration of July 11 made it evident that: “Not a few Cuban families are faced with the dilemma of having lunch or dinner; many times this single meal lacks meat and not because of a voluntary vegetarianism… The masses who came out to protest last July 11 were basically driven by the serious lack of food, medicines and against the disproportionate number of stores in freely convertible currency…“.

We fully agree with the description of what drove 11J and its spontaneous character. But what cannot be understood are the reasons that lead the aforementioned article to ignore the reaction of the regime after the mobilization for the legitimate “economic” demands: more than a thousand prisoners! And to demand the freedom of all of them seems to us a task that cannot be delayed, but which is not mentioned in the article.

Although recognizing the legitimate struggle against censorship of the Archipelago group, the author does so in a formal and purely pro forma manner, almost as a rhetorical exercise, ignoring that this struggle is only one of the expressions of the struggle for the right of demonstration and free organization of the working class.

There can be no end to the “lunch or dinner” dilemma without the elementary right to fight and organize. The censorship that impedes the right of expression of intellectuals and artists is the same that prohibits and represses the right of workers to fight.

Therefore, even making an effort to abstract what happened on 11J, in no way does the freeing of prisoners, which Archipelago demands, represent an “abstract demand” in which “the majority do not see their immediate needs represented either”. Moreover, even if the prisoners did not exist, no Cuban worker could be indifferent to the oppression of the other strata of the working class, or would not recognize his own oppression.

The equivocation of raising a “Chinese wall” between the struggle for democratic freedoms involving all the people and the immediate needs of the working class, is also expressed in the rhetorical question of the quoted text: What measures should the unofficial Cuban left, as part and representative of the working class, then take if it also decides to go out and demonstrate?

Before presenting the measures, the text states the harsh reality of the Cuban working class, and affirms:

Workers in the private sector, specifically in services, do not enjoy any legal principle that grants them a minimum wage. And concludes: The bourgeoisie thus enjoys workers whom it can exploit without even having the obligation to pay them a minimum wage.

The ten demands presented are just and correct. We highlight number 9, for the right to a minimum wage for workers in the private sector. It is assumed that this demand presupposes the right of “private sector” workers to fight for a minimum wage. But how can this be done if the Cuban regime denies the inalienable right of union organization and the struggle for basic rights to these workers?[2]

This debate brings us back to the recent experience of the elementary rights of 200 million Chinese peasants who emigrated to work in factories in urban centers: until 2003 they were not allowed to join trade unions. This super-exploitation of the working class was responsible for the huge profits of multinational and Chinese companies.

From 20N to 15N: capitalist restoration and democratic freedoms

When we began this text, we suspected that we were facing a legitimate tactical question. Assessing the extent to which the CTDC could eclipse the struggle for the freedom of the prisoners in favor of its own program when evaluating whether or not to participate is valid. But we are struck by the peremptory conclusion of the text:

The unofficial Cuban left should not participate in the November 20 demonstration, marching with those who intend to implant neoliberal capitalism in Cuba (emphasis ours).

The doubt we are left with regarding the above statement is, can we march with those who want to implant in Cuba an anti-neoliberal capitalism? Perhaps the meaning of the word “neoliberal capitalism” in the Cuban style has a more specific meaning that polarizes the entire political scene: who should lead the restoration? Should it be the army leadership -which controls the GAESA[3] business group- preserving property for the regime’s hierarchs, while Spanish, Canadian and French companies monopolize different branches of the economy, among them the production of the famous Habanos cigars? At the other extreme, the program presented by the CTDC is closer to Yeltsin’s “shock therapy” in 1992, carried out by Prime Minister Gaidar, who in two years handed over 70% of the state-owned companies, including the “crown jewels”, the oil and gas sector.

To the extent that this is the real Cuban dilemma, it is worth remembering that the “Chinese way” option was only possible after the “Tiananmen massacre”. For the brutal repression against the mass uprising rebelling against the consequences of the restoration and for more democratic freedoms, whose vanguard was the youth, the dictatorship was then indispensable for keeping the working class and the millions of immigrants under control, as well as the different fractions of the bureaucracy. At the same time, that control and super-exploitation of the working class maintained the imperialist investments.

But independently of the hypotheses, which depend on the development of the class struggle, what exists today is the control of the army leadership over the capitalist restoration. It is this dictatorship which forces the proletariat to sell its labor power in the hotels of the Spanish multinational Meliá, without the right to a minimum wage. That is a fact.

Last but not least, a ten-point list of urgent and necessary demands to guarantee the conditions of existence of the Cuban proletariat may be part of a program, but in themselves such demands are not the program.

Every proletarian knows very well the conditions in which they work, eat and live; Marxism does not need to explain this to them. A program must explain and reveal the enemies that the proletariat will face, so that it can change its way of life. Without that, it will fight in a disoriented manner and fall into the clutches of the Cuban-American bourgeoisie by denying its present reality and not offering it any alternative. For that reason, we support and encourage participation in 15N. If the regime prohibits the demonstration, as is to be expected from a dictatorship, the question of whether to follow through with the plan or not will be determined by the balance of forces.

[1] Frank García Hernández. The unofficial Cuban left before November 20: options and dilemmas. Available at: https://www.comunistascuba.org/2021/10/

[2] And if that were not enough: … in the private sector the employer and the workers hired by him are integrated in equal conditions as members of the same union. Fernando Luis Rojas López. “Critical route of current Cuban trade unionism: towards a new CTC. In: Cuba: the revolutionary legacy and the dilemmas of the left and progressive forces in Latin America. CLACSO, 2018.

[3] Grupo de Administración Empresarial S. A. (GAESA). Since Raúl assumed power, GAESA absorbed almost the totality of companies and financial managements and became the largest business oligopoly on the island: CIMEX alone comprises 73 subsidiary companies and 21 associated companies; of these, 61 are based outside the island, mostly in import/export, tourism and real estate activities.