How the SWP whitewashes
the Castro regime

by Mark, Detroit
(from Communist Voice #11, Dec. 15, 1996)


. One of the foremost cheerleaders of the Castro regime is the trotskyite SWP (Socialist Workers Party). An important part of their efforts to paint up state-capitalist oppression in Cuba as socialism involves portraying the period of the late 1980s as one in which the Cuban party and state leaders undertook measures aimed at combating capitalist practices that had been spreading throughout Cuban society. In fact, Castro's reform efforts not only maintained the state-capitalist system that has long existed in Cuba, but instituted a number of additional market capitalist features into the economy. (See the article "Did Castro steer Cuba towards socialism in the late 1980s?" on pages 3-9 of this journal. ) This article will briefly look at some of the ways the SWP fraudulently tries to portray the late 80s as a period when communist measures were introduced in Cuba.

. The SWP arguments appear in two articles published in 1991 in issue #8 of New International. (See excerpts on pages 14-17 of this journal. ) New International is a journal of the SWP's international trend often publicized in the pages of the SWP newspaper, The Militant. The basic approach of these articles is that even if Cuba has been following a wrong course toward capitalism for the last couple of decades, this doesn't discredit the great "communist" leadership of Castro and his cohorts. In the SWP fantasy world, the policies Cuba has long been following are not the responsibility of the top Cuban leaders. Likewise, the SWP can maintain their view that Cuba is building socialism only by attaching little significance to how Cuban society has actually been operating since the 1959 revolution, or even some parts of their own analysis of the ills afflicting Cuba. In other words, the SWP does not bother the activist with the unpleasant reality of the Castro regime, but thinks it can pawn off most anything as communism. Not surprisingly, this method is also applied to the policies followed during the mid-1980s "rectification".

SWP's "communist" measures: profit-making and the 14-hour day

. According to an article by the editor of New International, Mary-Alice Waters, Castro's "rectification" policies of the late 80s would "deepen the communist trajectory of the revolution." She contends that the "heart of the rectification process" of Cuba in the 1980s was the so-called "voluntary labor" brigades.

. She pretends these brigades are enterprises based on communist principles. Allegedly, in the brigades profits aren't important and the work is undertaken without concern for any personal return for the workers involved. The labor brigades will supposedly become "a school for communist consciousness. " As well, they allegedly will help eliminate any privileges for management by fighting "the kind of division of labor that allows a layer that administers to derive a higher social status".

. This description paints a very nice picture, but it has nothing to do with what's actually going on in the brigades. For instance, Waters is particularly excited about the so-called "model" construction brigades of the Blas Roca Contingent. But in fact these contingents operate on capitalist business principles. They must survive on their own resources and are profit-making enterprises. A good deal of the workers' wages are directly tied to the amount of profits through a profit-sharing bonus system. In some brigades, people join so they can acquire certain desperately needed commodities. For instance, workers who construct housing have the inside track on it. As well, brigade workers might also get other scarce consumer goods as bonuses in addition to their wages. It's good if there's some more housing, but once again, this is hardly a communist method which dispenses with material incentives as the SWP claims.

. Waters really goes on about the alleged overcoming of the distinction between management and labor in the brigades. She claims that the brigades provide insight into "how should the working class organize social labor". Thus, she implies the brigades are an example of the workers running society. Actually, it was the regime's top bureaucrats, not the workers, who decided to establish the brigades and determined the principles on which they would be organized and the general projects they would undertake. Furthermore, the so-called merging of labor and management Waters refers to was modeled after certain labor-management cooperation schemes imported from Japan and the Western capitalist countries during "rectification. " In Cuba, as in the market capitalist countries, these methods are aimed at extending capitalist profit principles.

. When the late 80s reforms began, Cuban state enterprises were already run on a profit-making basis. But the Castro regime was not satisfied with profitability based on the performance of the enterprise as a whole. Thus, the reforms aimed at creating subunits out of the state enterprises and agricultural co-ops, each of which had to be profitable in itself to survive. These subunits are the labor brigades. To reinforce the profit-motive, often a good amount of wages and other material benefits were tied directly to a brigade's profitability. The so-called elimination of the distinction between labor and management that Waters talks about consisted of mobilizing the workers to help insure the profitability of the brigade. The workers' role was basically to find more efficient means for their own exploitation. Indeed, by tying wages directly to profits, the workers were under tremendous pressure to work themselves to the bone and put the heat on their comrades who had difficulty keeping up. When all is said and done, far from being a forerunner of the classless communist society, the methods employed by the brigades helped pit worker against worker and encouraged them to think like the capitalists or, in the case of Cuba, like the capitalist managers of state enterprises.

. In Cuba, just as in the West, the result of profit-sharing and labor-management cooperation are more difficult conditions for the workers. The "communist" methods of the brigade have resulted in tossing aside basic protections of the Cuban labor code and led to 14-hour working days with no overtime pay. Under such conditions, the idea of the masses participating in political life becomes a joke, much less them running society. Under such conditions only the privileged few will rule. Meanwhile, while Waters points with pride to the fact that there were evidently some cutbacks of administrative personnel during "rectification", this hardly proves that the gap between labor and management was being overcome. Indeed, in the West too, "downsizing" has hit these sections. But in Cuba, a well-off bureaucratic and management class not only continued, but during "rectification" some of them were assisted in establishing their own private large-scale enterprises. As the president of Cuba's Chamber of Commerce put it: "now we are looking to the West .  .  . to turn us into business executives. " (1)

SWP fights the just skepticism of the workers toward the reforms

. While showing unbridled enthusiasm for the latest brigade schemes, it's quite interesting that even a shill for the Castro regime like Waters admits that the labor brigades organized in earlier periods in Cuba were not so hot for the workers. She states: "The volunteer brigades of the 1960s and early 1970s were transformed into their bureaucratic negation and then largely eliminated" and that they "became a thinly disguised program to increase the length of the compulsory workweek and the intensity of labor" as in the Soviet Union under Stalin. She even notes that this is why "many Cuban workers remain to be convinced that the minibrigades and construction contingents represent a qualitatively different political course" "even among those who support the minibrigade movement".

. So why does Waters think it will be different this time? Instead of an answer, she simply assures the reader that "a revolutionary change of direction could be initiated, because a communist leadership and politicized working-class vanguard existed in Cuba. " She manages to "forget" for the moment that this same alleged "communist leadership" were the ones who ruled when, according to her account, brigades were basically a means to squeeze the workers. Similarly, it slips her mind that these great leaders were responsible for the period from about 1970-1985 that Waters condemns as a cesspool of capitalist corruption. While experience has taught the Cuban workers skepticism toward the regime, it has taught the SWP nothing.

Ignoring their own theory

. Actually, if we take another of Waters' arguments seriously, even blind faith in Castro will not be enough to make the brigades into something wonderful this time around. Referring to the problems of the early labor brigades in Cuba that disappointed her, she says the following:

. "If the minibrigade movement remains simply an adjunct to a system in which bureaucratic command planning dominates the organization of labor, then the inevitable result will be continued and increasing stratification, inequality, generalized corruption, the deadening of class consciousness, and the blocking of workers' control of production. "

. As Waters sees it, the only way to avoid these problems is for the present brigade movement to become the general way of doing things. But she apparently doesn't think this is possible now.(Let's forget for the moment that if the brigades being proposed during the late 1980s wereextended everywhere, socialism would be no closer. ) Thus, after stating that it would be good if the brigades spread, she says "the minibrigades can ultimately play only an auxiliary role" and are "peripheral to the main organization of labor in basic industry, agriculture and transport. " Waters does not point to anything else besides the brigades that the Cuban rulers are doing about the rotten way the bulk of the economy is run. So the picture she creates is one where the economy as a whole is not being "rectified" but continuing along toward "stratification", "inequality", etc. In that case, by Waters' own logic, the present labor brigades are bound to turn into an assault on the workers. First we are told that this time the brigades will help advance Cuba toward communism. Then a theory is given that the brigades will rot on the vine. If Waters and her trend can, nonetheless, still swear that Cuba is really on the road to communism, it's because they don't even take their own theorizing seriously.

My revisionist party -- right or wrong

. As noted above, one of the basic methods SWP uses to whitewash the Cuban regime is to pretend that whatever rotten policies were implemented, the party and state leaders are great revolutionaries. Sure, Cuba may have been mired in decay, even back to the 60s if we take seriously their condemnation of brigades from that time. But the SWP comes up with the most amazing excuses to exonerate Fidel and the party and state bureaucrats. For instance, the SWP rails against the ills that followed from the adoption of a whole system of reforms utilizing capitalist mechanisms in the economy beginning in the early 70s. They say these reforms were ruining the revolution. But does this mean there is something fundamentally wrong with Castro and the party? Oh no.

. According to Waters, Castro all along desired to follow a different course, but didn't have enough clout in Cuba to have his way. Thus Waters writes that the reforms SWP doesn't like took place because "Che's--and Fidel's--communist political perspective lost ground to those who thought building socialism was primarily a matter of .  .  . skillful use of the law of value and other methods left over from capitalism. " But then in the mid 80s, "a new course was charted, the fight to win a majority to a communist perspective advanced, and a revolutionary replacement for the 'lame nag' [the bad reforms begun in the early 70s -- Mk. ] conquered. " Now even if we accept Waters' sanitized version of history, it is evident that Castro went along with a ruinous course for at least 15 years. In fact, Castro was enthusiastically promoting this course. It is also clear that the majority of the party was enthusiastic for this ruinous program. This is the sort of great "communist" leadership touted by Waters. It doesn't bother her that if Castro really was against this major threat to the revolution, he went along with it.

. It's pure fiction to pretend that Castro was somehow fighting against the market-style reforms for the last 15 years. Nor did Castro suddenly convince the majority of party leaders or members to take up real communist policies. The truth is that the 80s "rectification" was acceptable to those who liked the old ways because, in fact, the old ways were not fundamentally challenged.

. Then again, even the universally acknowledged advocates of the type of system that SWP denounces are held in high esteem by these spineless opportunists. One of the strongest proponents of a state-capitalist economy incorporating many market mechanisms has been Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, who during the 80s "rectification" was on the political bureau of the Cuban "Communist" Party and was a vice-president of Cuba's Council of State. Rodriguez has, since the early 60s, fought for the economic model that was allegedly "rectified" in the 80s. In the introductory article in New International (#8), Rodriguez is praised as "part of the central leadership that charted the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist course that has marked the Cuban government for more than thirty years. " Only those who will let anything pass for communism curse Rodriguez' policy for subverting the whole revolutionary process, but nonetheless speak adoringly of him for charting an anti-capitalist course.

. To top it all off, in another article in the same magazine, SWP leaders Jack Barnes and Steve Clark offer the following gem. After going on and on about how allegedly it was the views of Che Guevara (2) that represented the real communist policy, they announce that in the late 80s "Cuban communists will confront the necessity of doing what Fidel Castro correctly insists has yet to be tried in Cuba: a serious attempt to put Guevara's proposals into practice [italics as in the original -- Mk. ]. " So from 1959-1986, Castro and the other "communists" have not been following a communist policy. Surely, that would make the SWP doubt the Cuban "communist" leadership. Wrong! Their faith in the Cuban leaders is unshaken. They insist that now (after a mere 27 years!!) the Cuban leaders are about to "enter back onto the communist road" and say this "is a tribute . . . to the central leadership cadre of the government and the Communist Party." Really, this is a tribute to the SWP's ability to let no amount of evidence from before or after the late 80s cloud its judgment on the Cuban revisionist rulers.

SWP's "workers' state": socialism not required

. The SWP's ability to dismiss the significance of Cuba not pursuing a path toward socialism for nearly three decades finds its roots in its version of the trotskyite theory of the "deformed workers' state". This theory is supposed to deal with the transition period to socialism following the revolution. It holds that once there is state property in much of the economy, a workers' state exists whether or not the society moves toward organizing on socialist lines. Supposedly, only when state property generally gets converted back to outright private ownership does the "workers' state" cease to exist and capitalism becomes restored. Thus, under this theory, a workers' state can exist no matter how little a role the workers have in running society and how oppressive its government is, no matter how many counter-revolutionary political stands it takes, no matter how entrenched class stratification has become, no matter if the state economy runs on capitalist lines -- in short, no matter if the workers' state represents the workers interests at all!

. The article in New International (#8) by SWP leaders Barnes and Clark shows how they apply this theory. The article states:

"the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, and China remain workers' states, even if horribly deformed. None of them, however, can accurately be referred to as socialist. "

They are not considered socialist because they don't have "a government committed to organizing the workers and exploited farmers to reorganize economic production and distribution along the lines leading to socialism. " From this explanation, it's clear that the "workers' state" doesn't really have to be run in the interests of the toilers at all. Nor can the countries mentioned be considered as examples where there has been just a short-term interruption in the revolutionary process. The SWP would agree that the Soviet Union first went astray with the rise to power of Stalin in the 1920s. Thus, even 70 years of decay is not enough for the SWP to admit that their "workers' state" no longer exists. Clark and Barnes consider Cuba to be not merely a workers' state, but, in 1991 at least, also "socialist", since they pretend the Cuban "Communist" Party is advancing the country toward socialism. But the SWP's "deformed workers' state" theory shows how they can defend the Castro regime even when it spends decades pursuing a course toward capitalism.

Denying state-capitalism in Cuba

. The SWP admits that the societies it touts as "workers' states" include those "laying the basis for the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism, as it reinforces the values and norms of bourgeois social relations. " But it refuses to see that the counter-revolution does not require the abolition of state property. The counter-revolution has long been accomplished in Cuba and their other so-called "workers' states through state-capitalism. If, as SWP complains, Cuban society has simply been running on capitalist principles for many years, if an elite of bureaucrats lives well off the labor of the masses by virtue of its position in the party or state, than this iscapitalism even though state property exists. True, a real revolutionary workers' government will not be able to immediately overcome all the economic relations left over from the old capitalist order. But the SWP is talking about governments that are not even taking steps to overcome the old social relations. If a government is unable or unwilling to overcome the capitalist relations bequeathed to it, then these relations will flourish, and the formerly revolutionary ruling power will no longer be revolutionary. It will not be a workers' state, but a bourgeois state, even if state property continues to predominate.

. Actually, the Barnes-Clark article concedes that even in the state sector in Cuba, "commodity relations among state enterprises is the meat and potatoes of growing layers of careerists in management". But the SWP leaders refuse to admit that the existence of commodity relations even within the state sector in Cuba implies that capitalist relations exist. Their arguments all boil down to one point -- that only pure market capitalism is really capitalism, a view that has more in common with Libertarianism than Marxism.

. The SWP leaders correctly point out that commodity relations pre-date capitalism and that capitalism came into existence only "when commodity production and exchange began to be increasingly generalized and dominant on the basis of private ownership of industry, banking, and wholesale trade". But if, as they admit, commodity relations exist among the state enterprises, then commodity relations are dominant in Cuba altogether, too. After all, the state sector has been dominant in Cuba. And if commodity relations characterize the state sector itself, then all the more so do they characterize the co-op sector and the private farm, artisan, and service sector of the economy. Naturally, the black market, always an important part of the Cuban economy, reflects commodity relations as well.

. Since it's clear that commodity production exists throughout the economy, all that's left of the SWP arguments is that there is state property in Cuba, not private property. But if commodity production is generalized in Cuba, than state enterprises must be functioning like private enterprises, even though legally they are state property. Indeed, Barnes and Clark admit that in the Cuban system "each enterprise functions increasingly on the basis of its own 'profitability' rather than in line with a centralized national plan to advance social and political priorities. " So not only is commodity production generalized, but the state sector operates like privately-owned enterprises. The SWP can only deny state-capitalism in Cuba by failing to take their own analysis seriously.

. In fact, time and again the SWP's own description of what has been going on in Cuba comes back to haunt them. For example, they argue that Cuba's state economy can't be capitalist because it does not follow "the specific form of the law of value characteristic under capitalism. " Barnes and Clark then proceed to a list of features that one would find in a model free-market economy. Of course, why capitalism can only exist in one specific form is anyone's guess. Even among the "normal" capitalist countries, a "pure" free-market system no longer exists as there is monopoly domination, extensive government intervention in the economy, price controls and subsidies, etc. However, the idea that the bulk of the specific forms required by the SWP to admit the existence of capitalism don't exist in Cuba is contradicted by their own analysis of the effects of the existence of commodity relations within the state sector. For instance:

* The SWP says real capitalism means the law of value manifests itself in "the establishment of prices of production". In describing how the state sector operates in Cuba they say that "even after the expropriation of capitalist industry and banking, it is still possible for blindly determined prices of production to begin to be reproduced. "

* Barnes and Clark state that true capitalism involves the "competition of large capitals" but confess that Cuban enterprises "are forced into competitive markets" and must "find their own markets for the finished goods they produce".

* They argue that for capitalism to exist, the law of value must result in "anarchic competition".As for the economic system in Cuba, Barnes and Clark report that it is organized in a manner where "it is impossible to organize economic and social planning that diminishes the sway of the laws of motion of capitalism and leads to socialism. "

. No matter how the SWP twists and turns to disprove the existence of capitalism in Cuba, capitalism confronts them at every turn.


1. Eckstein, Susan Eva; Back from the future: Cuba under Castro, p. 68; Princeton University Press; 1994. (Back to text.)

2. Guevara's policies were not actually based on Marxism-Leninism. But regardless of how one evaluates his views, in the late 80s the Castro leadership simply used his revolutionary reputation as a cover for austerity measures for the masses and to justify certain economic emergency measures. (Text)

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