Revolution #56, August 13, 2006


U.S. Imperialism, the Cuban Revolution, and Fidel Castro

For more than 100 years, the United States has caused incalculable misery and suffering for the Cuban people. Any moves by the Bush administration against Cuba must be resolutely opposed. On the other hand, Fidel Castro is not a communist and Cuba is not a socialist society. The Cuban people need to make a genuine revolution to build a genuinely liberating society.

U.S. Domination Over Cuba

Cuba came under the domination of U.S. imperialism as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Cubans had been fighting for their independence from Spain, but the U.S. seized on the situation to turn Cuba into a neo-colony.

Cuba achieved formal independence in 1898. But in 1901, the U.S. Congress passed the Platt Amendment. This amendment, which was incorporated into the Cuban constitution until 1934, set conditions for U.S. intervention in Cuba’s domestic affairs. And the U.S. landed marines in Cuba in 1906, 1912, 1917, and 1920. The amendment also established a U.S. military colony in Cuba—the Guantánamo naval base—that is now used as a detention camp and torture chamber in the U.S.’s war on the world.

By the 1950s, the U.S. controlled 80 percent of Cuban utilities, 90 percent of Cuban mines, close to 100 percent of the country’s oil refineries, 90 percent of its cattle ranches, and 40 percent of the sugar industry. Cuba also became an investor paradise for U.S. gambling syndicates, real estate operators, hotel owners, and mobsters. The U.S. propped up the repressive and widely hated regime of Fulgencio Batista. This was the backdrop for the Cuban revolution of 1959.

The Cuban revolution was a just and popular rising against U.S. imperialism. The U.S. was not reconciled to its defeat. The U.S. wanted to regain its lost holdings and profits. But of even greater concern, it worried about the example Cuba set for others in Latin America. The U.S. moved along two tracks in the early 1960s: to crush Cuba and stamp out revolutionary movements throughout the region; and to launch the Alliance for Progress—promoted as a free-market solution to poverty but serving only to deepen U.S. economic penetration of Latin America.

In 1961, the U.S. carried out the Bay of Pigs invasion, which the Cuban people defeated. The CIA tried several times to assassinate Castro. The U.S. blocked Cuba’s ability to have normal trade with Western countries.

Cuba Is Not Socialist

Fidel Castro mouths Marxist phrases. But he is not a communist. And the revolution Castro led did not break Cuba out of the bounds of bourgeois economic, political, and social relations.

Castro sought to substitute one form of imperialist dependency for another. Prior to 1959, Cuba had been a “monoculture”: an economy based on sugar production for a world market dominated by U.S. imperialism. Castro did not lead and mobilize the Cuban people to fundamentally restructure this economic legacy. That would have required a radical and mass-based land reform to lay the foundations for a collective and self-sustaining agriculture that could feed the population. It would have required the step-by-step development of an industrial capability that would contribute to the development of a diversified agriculture and strengthen economic self-reliance.

Instead of making this kind of radical break with imperialism, Castro sought a “quick fix.” Sugar would remain king of the Cuban economy and Cuba would remain hostage to the world market. But in place of the United States, the social-imperialist Soviet Union became the linchpin of neocolonial arrangements (the Soviet Union ceased being socialist in the mid-1950s). The Soviet Union guaranteed Cuba a reliable market for sugar and provided Cuba with credits and oil, part of which it re-sold on the world market for food.

By the mid-1960s, Cuba became tightly enmeshed in the Soviet bloc. Castro supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and of Afghanistan in 1979. He launched ideological attacks on Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Castro also provided foot-soldiers for Soviet operations to expand imperial influence in Africa.

Cuba called itself socialist. But the entire Cuban economy was subordinated to a capitalist economic logic—produce, produce, and produce what you produce best: sugar. The masses of Cubans became wage slaves to this commodity logic. Their labor and energies were not serving the all-round transformation of society but rather the reproduction of relations of dependency and imperial exploitation.

Based on these economic arrangements, Castro was able to pump revenues from sugar sales into social programs, like health care and education. These measures produced certain benefits for Cuba’s poor. Politically, this helped solidify a base of popular support for Castro. Did this make Cuba socialist? No.

Real Communism

In “Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism,” Bob Avakian discusses three alternatives in today’s world. The first is to let the world stay the way it is—which is clearly unacceptable.

The second alternative is to leave intact the fundamental relations of economic exploitation and rule by an oppressive class but to put some band-aids on certain social problems and inequities of class society. This is what Cuba represents. Fidel Castro has created a kind of “neocolonial welfare state” in which the masses remain exploited and powerless over cardinal affairs of society. But all this is dressed up with socialist phraseology. (How Castro has maintained this welfare state after the collapse of the Soviet bloc cannot be addressed here, but in recent years it has very much involved oil subsidies from Venezuela and financial ties with China.)

There is, Avakian points out, a third and truly emancipatory alternative. This is to make thoroughgoing revolution: to lead, unleash, and empower the masses to create a society without any form of exploitation; to overcome all oppressive relations and ideas; where intellectual ferment and dissent are fostered; and through continuing revolution to create the conditions enabling the masses to become masters of society. This third alternative, real communism, is what Cuba (and the whole world) needs.

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