To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
November 27, 2016
RE: The debate over the legacy of Castroism

Fidel Castro died on November 25 at the age of 90. He led the Cuban revolution when it overthrew the brutal, US-backed Batista regime and carried out a series of important social reforms, but he also led the Cuban regime to model itself after the corrupt system that existed in the Soviet Union. His death has resulted in another round of discussion in the left of the pluses and minuses of Cuba today and of Castro's legacy. This is not just a historical discussion, but it essentially bears on what path left-wing movements should take, what should be considered socialism, and what regimes should be supported around the world. Over the years, the Communist Voice Organization has devoted a good deal of attention to the situation in Cuba, and especially to the basic economic structure in Cuba. We believe that the Cuban revolution was an important event in world history and that US pressure against Cuba is an imperialist atrocity, but that Castro eventually adopted the economic and political model of Soviet state-capitalism, and that a healthy revolutionary movement must reject this revisionist model.

Below is an exchange about Castro's legacy that took place on Frank Arango's Facebook page after Castro's death. We will be carrying additional material later, and we also welcome readers sending in comments.

From a Facebook exchange over Castro's legacy

Frank Arango: Fidel Castro bravely led an important 20th Century revolution, but I think we should keep our feet on the ground as to what he did afterward. These are some links in that regard:

[This reference includes links to articles such as

FA:  Along with many others, I was inspired by the Cuban revolution, and then opposed the U.S. imperialist invasion (Bay of Pigs) and embargo. But I really can't praise Castro for anything he did after the earlier '60s. Supporting the Ethiopian military junta (the Derg) as it attempted to crush the anti-colonial war of the Eritrean people was taking the wrong side. Supporting the compromising factions in El Salvador--factions that murdered leftists who wouldn't go along--was wrong. Painting the revisionist USSR as socialist, and following its state-capitalist model, was wrong. I don't think we should forget these and other things in the wave of sentimentality.

FA: Castroism has actually caused great harm to the revolutionary movement all over the world. For example, it's non-class anti-imperialism can lead one to supporting more or less progressive governments or movements, but it can just as much lead one to supporting reactionary or fascist ones, e.g., the Castros' support for the Derg yesterday, or Assad the Butcher today. Or its socialism without the workers, i.e. revisionist bureaucrats and technocrats ruling on behalf of a new bourgeoisie, discredits socialism everywhere.

RS: Frank, when did the "counter revolution" take place?

FA:  I actually didn't use the word “counter-revolution” because I think it would overly simplify what happened in Cuba. Remember, the program and ideas of the July 26th Movement were not socialist. Instead, its goals did not go beyond parliamentary democracy, modest social reforms, and a relationship with the U.S. on terms more favorable to the domestic exploiters. And leaving aside parliamentary democracy, in the earlier '60s the revolution had achieved those goals, e.g., major land reform, nationalizations of industry, beginning social reforms that benefited the masses (one of which was to become Cuba's world famous universal health care system), etc.--all of which were compatible with the capitalist system of production.

From a slightly different angle, the ideas of the July 26th Movement were essentially Jeffersonian-democratic, petty-bourgeois and elitist. But that elitism continued as Castro and others, from the top, began to identify themselves as a communists and embarked on the path of setting up a state capitalist system. This was a system where the people were “consulted” and where the leaders made many “self-criticisms,” etc., but it was never a system that the working people were masters of. Instead, bureaucrats representing the interests of the growing state-capitalist bourgeoisie did. The second link above has several articles which examine the twists, turns and evolution they've gone through in ruling over the decades. But no matter what they've tried, the contradictions in the very system they've been building has increasingly forced them into the swamp of seeking foreign investments (and giving favors for them) and neo-liberalism.

My criticism of Castroism is a not that the Cuban leadership couldn't accomplish the impossible in conditions where the U.S. invaded, bullied, erected an economic blockade, etc. But the effects of the latter shouldn't be used to brush away the above. Small Cuba has trade with relative giants China, Europe, Brazil, Canada and Mexico. Indeed, from the earlier 60s it's had trade with Canada. (I remember how angry the U.S. was when Cuba imported buses from Canada in the early days.) And for almost 30 years it also had lots of trade with the USSR, Eastern bloc and others.

There's also the question that Cuba's supposed steadfast opposition to imperialism was not that at all. After all, it became a subordinate and dependent country of the imperialist USSR. Not only that, diplomatically, with its propaganda, and sometimes with troops, it supported Soviet imperialism. As well, it also maneuvered independently. For example,

"Although they kept it quiet, Argentina's dictators had a gentlemen's agreement with Castro. Under the pact, Videla supported Cuba's bid in 1977 to join the Executive Council of the World Health Organization, a diplomatic feather in Castro's beret. The quid pro quo was that Havana stump among nonaligned nations to name Argentina to the United Nations, prestigious Economic and Social Council. Apparently Cuba's vote was the 18th and decisive ballot, landing Argentina the coveted UN seat."--Bloomberg.

In order to get out of their domestic crisis and growing unpopularity, the Argentine generals later launched war with Britain over the Falklands/Malvinas—a war that was reactionary on both sides. But forgetting all about the fact that the generals represented a murderous and oppressive dictatorship over the working people, Castro lavished praise on their war as being anti-imperialist. This was an example of the non-class anti-imperialism that leads many to support the likes of Assad today.

I can't emphasize enough how harmful Castro's promotion of Soviet revisionism (and his own revisionist ideas) as representing socialism has been.

RS: "Soviet Imperialism", "State Capitalism", you sound exactly like the Trotskyists Tony Cliff and your explanation offers zero evidence that the capitalist mode of production and capitalist class relations exist. You do understand what materialist evidence is do you not. On my wall I have posted a rather fine essay critiquing the state capitalist line regarding Cuba []. I suggest you read it and then explain how your thesis supports your line which I find anti-communist and idealist.

FA: Neither I nor Communist Voice have ever gotten our analysis of Cuba or the former USSR from Cliff or the ISO. As far as materialist evidence is concerned, I think the article on market fundamentalism in Cuba (linked to above) provides plenty--yet you haven't spoken to it. On the USSR itself, this article is materialist [The anarchy of production under the veneer of Soviet revisionist planning], as is the whole series at [Russia: the state-capitalism of the former Soviet Union and its relation to the market capitalism of today]. Search the site and you will also find a critique of Cliff.

You rightfully support the Syrian people's uprising, but how does that square with Cuba's support of the bloody dictatorship? An "error"? No, they've many times supported reactionaries, and there's a class basis at root of it. <>