Wed Jul 17, 2024
July 17, 2024

The Cuban Revolution, class and leadership


By Jeronimo Castro.


The theory of revolution: the subjects

The victory of the Russian Revolution not only opened the epoch of socialist revolutions victoriously; it also established a paradigm for Marxist theory.

This revolution was lead by a worker’s revolutionary party built during the previous 14 years, amidst a series of struggles, policies and theories that clearly defined its principles and objectives.

It was a party built for revolutionary action, whose objective was the taking of Power by the working class in Russia, in order to function as a lever for the world revolution. It was, in a few words, a worker’s, revolutionary, internationalist party. The most important stronghold of this party was the neighborhood of Viborg, the huge worker neighborhood of Petrograd.

The other protagonist of the Russian Revolution was the industrial working class. In a fundamentally agrarian country, which was immersed in a world war in which it had no real chance to be a part, due to its atavistic backwardness, the relatively small but powerfully concentrated Russian working class was the engine of the revolution, its unquestionable vanguard, dragging behind it a mass of hungry, land-mad peasants, and soldiers, many of them peasants dragged into war without weapons or boots, which no longer bore to die for a cause which was not theirs.

For the revolutionary Marxists, this was the confirmation that the socialist revolution would be a conscious revolution; so, it would be led by political organization of the working class, firm and disciplined, with a clear program that is expression of its tasks. This “political subject”, the Bolshevik-type party, would lead an industrial working class, which would organize in councils, soviets or another democratic organism of the working class (such as factory committees), which would be the “social subject” of the revolution, vanguard of all the exploited and oppressed.

Contrary to what official and Stalinist historiography says, the revolutions that came afterwards repeated on a greater or lesser degree the Russian experience.

The Hungarian, German, Italian and Spanish revolutions before World War II, and the Bolivian after, to mention a few examples, repeated the existence of these two subjects (political and social), and failed mainly because one of the missed the appointment [with reality] or was not part of it in the necessary proportions.

The theory of revolution: the tasks

However, the revolution also develops from another element: the tasks it undertakes. So, beyond the subjects of the revolution, there are the tasks of the revolution. These tasks change from country to country. In a country of backward capitalist development, the task can be, for example, land reform or independence. It is necessary to do a revolution on these two aspects; it means the bourgeoisie of this country was unable to accomplish such tasks. The revolution will then be against the ruling bourgeoisie.

To take this task all the way, the revolution, while it may begin within the framework of [the not accomplished] bourgeois tasks, will reach its victory that bourgeoisie. The same goes for imperialism. For a long time now, in no part of the world it is possible to implement a land reform that does not confront imperialistic sectors; much less to conquer national independence, which is only possible by facing, precisely, imperialism itself.

In such case, even under a petit-bourgeois leadership and with a different [social] subject than the proletariat, the revolution could reach the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and split with the imperialism.

Trotsky, in the Transitional Program, says exactly that: “It is however impossible to deny clearly and before handedly the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of a combination of exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial break, revolutionary offensive of the masses, etc.), the petit-bourgeois parties, including the Stalinist ones, can go further than they wanted in the path of breaking with the bourgeoisie”.

The Cuban case

What happened in Cuba, as in other agrarian and anticolonial revolutions, was precisely this. The highly unlikely hypothesis that Trotsky mentions came to pass. The political organization leading the Cuban Revolution, the M26, was a typical petit-bourgeois organization, initially students and youth-based, which after the beginning of the guerrilla and with an important internal struggle that lasted until 1962, slowly shifted its center of power from the plains to the hills.

As the guerrilla gained primacy over the urban apparatus of the M26, its structure was even more militarized, putting an end to internal democracy. Also due to the degree of confusion, deliberated in many cases, the problem of the political program lost importance in relation to the guerilla abilities. Che Guevara, in a criticism of the Communist Party during the guerrilla, said the PSP was capable of creating cadres that bravely resisted torture, but never to create a cadre capable of assaulting a machine gun nest, as if this was the problem of Stalinism.

Besides, the social subject of the Cuban Revolution was not the industrial proletariat, but the poor peasantry and, according to some studies, the rural proletariat and semi proletariat.

More than a well-defined political project, starting with the leadership, towards expropriating the bourgeoisie and breaking with imperialism, it was the situation, the task that the revolution demanded, that led to a revolutionary outcome.

As we have pointed out in the two previous articles, it was the unleashing of the tasks of the revolution; the agrarian question and the question of national liberation; the intransigence of the United States of America, the existence of bureaucratized Worker States, what allowed the Cuban leadership to accommodate in an intermediate situation, which explains why in the end, and against its will, such leadership ended up expropriating the bourgeoisie.

However, the contradictions presented here had their effects. We want to begin the discussion on two of them: the balance of the guerrilla, and the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. Both are connected to the subject we are discussing in this article.

The effect of the Cuban victory in the Latin American and world left-wing

The victory of the Cuban Revolution, with its young, bearded, tattered leaders, made a deep impact in the world and Latin American left. Plus, it had a contradictory effect on Stalinism.

Although it is true that the Soviet-aligned CPs, which defended the line of pacific coexistence and a pacific way to socialism, and which were already amidst a crisis, had this crisis deepened by the appearance of Castrism (and its left-wing variant, Guevarism), the same cannot be said of Stalinism as a whole.

Let us explain. The CPs, especially their youths but not only, lost hundreds and hundreds of militants and cadres and ceased influencing the following generations, thanks to the existence of this new tendency [Castrism] Thousands across all Latin American would adhere to this new call, which proposed, in words of Régis Debray [2], “to revolutionize the revolution”. No longer was it necessary to have a party, nor a program, nor a well-defined political line, nor a consistent work among the mass movement. A handful of people with a strong will, some military training and a few guns in a wild location were enough to begin the revolution.

It was a veritable cataclysm for the left. An entire generation made itself guerrillist and joined the adventure of the guerrilla focus. Many, abnegated and heroic, left their lives in this project.

However, this fever did not afflict only the CPs, but it also struck revolutionary organizations. Two cases are worthy of recalling. The JCR, which later became the LCR, the section of the Unified Secretariat (US) in France, was literally taken over by a sector of the youth which participated in the May 68 struggles, and which, splitting and/or repulsing the PCF, took the Castro-Guevarist theories as its reference, leading the Unified Secretariat to its first great ‘adaptation to the vanguard’. It adapted to the guerilla fashion of the extreme left.

In Latin America, Nahuel Moreno, after an erratic beginning, became aware of the problems and gaps of the Cuban Revolution as well as the theories its leaders developed. He then started fighting against these notions, especially the guerrillist deviation. This, however, does not render his party immune to it. In the end of 60’s, the party lost more than 40% of its militants and cadres to a guerrillist split, the PRT-El Combatiente [Revolutionary Party of the Workers – The Fighter], of Santucho. Besides, its space among the vanguard became reduced and it suffered constant pressure from those who, hurrying for the revolution that did not come, looked for a shortcut that made their life easier.

The great merit of Nahuel Moreno, in this case, was being capable of resisting the pressure of a mass’ vanguard, and despite the isolation that this vanguard imposed on him, elaborated about and answered to the guerrillist pressure.

There was, as we mentioned earlier, a contradictory effect of Castro-Guevarism on Stalinism. On one hand, this new tendency deepened and, in some cases, like the Brazilian PCB, finished the destruction of the parties more tightly knit to the Soviet line. Thus, it could have had a progressive effect. But this was not what happened.

In what mattered most, Castro-Guevarism kept the essence of Stalinism: the theory that it was possible to build socialism in a single country. So, if the United States left Cuba alone, it would reach socialism on its own. Having arisen as an unlinked tendency of the world Stalinist apparatus, and actually without its support, Castrism joined this tendency and closed its left flank in Latin American, largely replacing the decadent CPs.

Also, Cuba was from its beginning a bureaucratized state, without worker’s democracy, based on a single-party dictatorship, with the features already described, of a militarized hierarchy without any internal democracy.

After playing an ultra-left role with the guerrillist policy of Che Guevara, who was killed in 1967 in Bolivia, the Cuban Revolution slowly began to integrate itself to the Stalinism and its international role. On the African revolutions, to which Cuba sent men, weaponry and provisions, the Cubans abstained of influencing these guerrillas, once they were victorious, to follow the same path as Cuba. Finally, in the late 70’s and during the 80’s, Castro was one of the drivers of the ‘peace treaties’, which led to the defeat and demoralization of the Salvadorian guerrilla, and told the Sandinistas not to transform Nicaragua into a ‘new Cuba’.

And thus was closed, in barely more than 20 years, the contradictory yet always same-direction heading cycle of the Cuban Revolution.

The capitalist restoration

The epilogue missing from this process was the capitalist restoration in Cuba. And the way in which it happened is also partially explained by the class character of the leadership of the Cuban Revolution.

Unlike the restoration of the other so-called Socialist countries, in Cuba the same leadership that expropriated capitalism has now restored it. Why? Although it is true that with the restoration of the European East, the Cuban situation became much direr, it is also true that this hardship is due largely to the politics of the Cuban leadership, of being part of the world Stalinism, and as such, reinforcing the policies of pacific coexistence and of socialism in one country.

It is also true that there was indeed another possibility, different than the one Cuba took: to make concessions, if necessary, but keeping control of the State over both foreign trade and economic planning. So there were options. But to take them, Cuba needed to have a revolutionary leadership at its head, willing to sacrifice everything to maintain a Workers’ State, and more importantly, with a policy of driving the revolution forward, of placing the task of world revolution at the forefront.

The Castrist leadership did the opposite: it placed at the forefront its own place as the “administrator” of the Cuban state, a bureaucratized Workers’ State, and made pacts with imperialism (first the European and then the US’s] to restore the capitalist economy and return to the colonial ties, to not have to give up their positions after 30 years administrating the Workers’ State.

The same process in the Soviet Union demanded 70 years, the murder of all Old Bolsheviks and a civil war, at times silent, at times open, against every worker vanguard which appeared in the Soviet Union, and also in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Eastern Germany.

After a long curve done under the pressure of the revolutionary masses, Che’s prediction that Fidel would turn to the right has confirmed.


As said in the beginning of the first article, the Cuban Revolution is one of the great events, if not the greatest and most important of the history of Latin America.

To study it critically is an obligation of every honest revolutionary, as it is learning from its mistakes. There is, however, a central lesson to keep in mind and perspective: the revolution, even in a tiny isle next to the greatest imperialist country in the world, and with an extremely small working class, is still possible.

Cuba teaches us that, even in the worst conditions, it is possible to fight and take power. Even against the designs of a world counterrevolutionary leadership, as was Stalinism at the time of the Cuban Revolution, which braked and betrayed every struggle; even under those conditions the revolution could triumph.

The imperialist epoch, the fact that even the minimum democratic demands clash against the interests of the national bourgeoisies and the imperialism, always puts in the agenda for the day, and makes present, the possibility of the revolution.

So it was in Cuba and so it is in the world. The revolution shall triumph!

The debilities the Cuban revolution has presented, especially the absence of a revolutionary leadership, and as a result of it the lack of a coherent internationalist strategy, can and must be avoided. The absence of a revolutionary Marxist workers’ party may not be essential for the revolution to triumph, but it is essential for the revolution to go through with its most important tasks. Especially the world revolution.

Furthermore, a leadership pushed against its own will to expropriate the bourgeoisie, so, going further than it wanted, inevitably will undermine the very revolution. By not being willing to take forward the revolution to its final consequences, that is the struggle against imperialism at a world level, these leaderships will eventually start acting to undermine, brake, divert and defeat the revolution along its course.

It is for this reason that when Cuba was a bureaucratized Workers’ State, the policy of the Trotskyists was to fight for a political revolution, to keep all social achievements of the revolution but to overthrow the bureaucratic leadership, thus opening the path for true a workers’ democracy, with the goal of placing the State under to service the world revolution, and stopping the bureaucratic leadership from driving the Workers’ State to the capitalist restoration.

Today, with capitalism restored, the tasks in Cuba have changed. There is the need for a new socialist revolution, which expropriates the bourgeoisie and imperialism, frees Cuba of its condition of semi-colony, and places the Cuban Atate under the service of the world revolution.

Finally, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, of looking for shortcuts, of being popular, and of telling the masses only what they already know or what they want to hear, it belongs to the revolutionaries the task of saying the truth openly, to present the correct program for each challenge, to know how to swim against the current of opinions when they are wrong, to build a solid revolutionary organization with patient, active work, which allows, when the time comes, for the revolution to find a mature, conscious leadership to it.


[1] PSP (Popular Socialist Party) was the name of the Cuban Communist Party before the revolution.

[2] French theorist, who became famous in the 60’s by writing Revolution in the Revolution?, in which he took Che Guevara’s focusist positions to its ultimate consequences. In the 80’s, he was an advisor to the Mitterrand administration.


Translation: Gabriel Tolstoi.


Read the first article [soon to be translated]: The Cuban revolution, a revolution of countercoups

Read the second article [soon to be translated]:  The Cuban Revolution: from the struggle against the dictatorship to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie


Check out our other content

Check out other tags:

Most Popular Articles