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Successor to the Workers’ Advocate
Volume 3, Number 2
May 8, 1997
In this issue:
Apologizing for the Castro regime or supporting the Cuban workers?
How some former anti-revisionists reconcile with Cuban revisionism
Movie review: Che
Report on a visit to Cuba, Jan. 1993
What’s happening in Cuba?
Two perspectives on Mexico:
Taking democracy to the limit, or organizing a socialist movement
Marxist theory on democracy and socialism in relation to revolutionary work in Mexico
The fight for democratic demands and the socialist revolution in Mexico
El Machete’s call for a new coalition
General strike shakes up Ecuador
General strike shakes up Ecuador
By Pete Brown
Leave it to the media to focus on the most backward features of any situation. Take as example the crisis in Ecuador of early February. The working class of that country forced the president from office after he unveiled the most draconian austerity budget yet. The way the news media in the U.S. played it, it was simply a bizarre comedy taking place in some banana republic. The media played up the notion that the president was a weirdo, a wannabe pop star who made a video of himself singing “Jailhouse Rock" surrounded by sexy girls. And he was portrayed as the candidate of the poor in Ecuador. So this is the sort of idiot you can expect to have in office, if you allow the poor people to have a say in government!
The best way to lie is with half-truths. This story as told by the media is full of half-truths. And they add up to one big lie told to working class people in the U.S. The truth is, the situation facing the Ecuadoran working and poor people is very similar to the situation in other countries of Latin America, and in fact is close to what the working class of the U.S. faces. The government is going through a period of austerity budgets, cutbacks, and privatizations while the workers are faced with job losses and lowered living standards; meanwhile the rich are reaping record profits. The only way out for the workers lies through the class struggle; but the lying bourgeois media don't want us to take that road, in Ecuador or anywhere else.
The news media was full of speculation in early February about the causes of the Ecuadoran president's downfall. Jealous intrigue among the ruling politicians, rumors of a possible military coup, influence of the U.S. — all of these were cited. And all of these were taking place. But the underlying dynamic forcing these actors onstage was the motion of the working class. Trade union and community lenders called a 48-hour general strike to protest President Abdala Bucaram's austerity budget. The strike was widely supported and accompanied by large street demonstrations. This was the crisis that all the bourgeois politicians, the military, the U.S., etc. were responding to. The workers initiated the crisis by standing up against the austerity measures supported in general by all the bourgeois politicians as well as the U.S. and its advisory organizations (IMF, World Bank, etc.). The Ecuadoran military, while pretending to stand above the fray, insisted on “stability", meaning bourgeois business as usual and continuing to drive down the masses' living standards.
Abdala Bucaram came to power last summer as the anti-austerity candidate in Ecuador's presidential election. Bucaram's party is a vaguely leftish, populist organization that had not previously won the presidency But for the '96 elections Bucaram took a pronounced stand against austerity and exposed the growing gap between rich and poor Bucaram promised improved social welfare programs and construction of new housing for the poor He coupled this appeal with demagogic attacks on the bulks and corporations. This won him the votes of Ecuador's poor, who are the vast majority of the population. (Two-thirds of Ecuador's population have incomes below the official poverty line — which is far below the U.S. poverty line. The official minimum wage, earned by many working Ecuadorans, is $30 per month.)
But after coming to office Bucaram shut off his populist rhetoric and reversed his anti-austerity position. Bucaram kept up the crazy antics that had been a feature of his presidential campaign, calling himself "El Loco" and releasing a rock video, etc. — apparently thinking this would be enough to keep him popular But at the same time Bucaram intensified the austerity measures of the previous administration, removing the government subsidies that many poor people relied on to subsist. The cost of electricity, public transport, cooking fuel, gasoline and telephone service soared. He accelerated the privatization of state companies and began dismantling laws that protected workers from arbitrary firings.
Why this reversal of policies? It's simply the old story of opportunistic bourgeois politician catering to the masses to win their votes — but once installed in office he reverts to opportunistic bourgeois doing the bidding of the rich (while at the same time helping himself to the public till). Bucaram had the usual song about “The budget crisis is much worse than I imagined, the previous administration really messed things up“ — the same song we have heard from bourgeois politicians like Bill Clinton. But in Bucaram's case, because he had gone overboard making promises to the poor, the effect of the reversal was dramatic. Bucaram had won the presidential election by the largest margin in Ecuador's history, but within a few months he was the most detested president in memory
A coalition of community organizations launched a movement against him. This led to a 10-day sitdown demonstration at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Quito, which in turn sparked the two-day general strike of early February During the strike tens of thousands of people massed in Quito's central plazas surrounding the congressional building and the presidential palace. Economic activity was shut down: workers stayed away from their jobs, buses did not run, shops were closed. The strike culminated in a massive march to the presidential palace, which Bucaram had surrounded with barbed wire barricades and troops. As the march approached, Bucaram's presidential guard opened fire with tear gas; one marcher was killed in the ensuing melee.
After a one-day rest, the general strike was due to begin again. But in the meantime leaders of Ecuador's congress, terrified by the prospects of open struggle in the capital, met and voted to remove Bucaram from office. They did this through a legalistic maneuver* impeaching Bucaram would require a two-thirds vote, which would be difficult to get, so instead they declared him ‘mentally unfit for office", which required only a majority vote. A tense couple of days followed in which Bucaram, his vice president, and the leader of congress all declared themselves the legal president. Eventually, however, the ruling class settled on Bucaram's vice president as the new president (at least temporarily), and things settled down.
So Bucaram is out and the question of succession is settled, at least for now But the main, underlying question remains: what to do about the austerity policies first denounced and then taken up by Bucaram? This is a question not just for the working people of Ecuador, but for those of all Latin America — and North America too. As in Ecuador, we workers in the U.S. see our wages and benefits going down, our trade union rights being wiped out, the social safety net being dismantled, and class divisions getting wider as the rich get fantastically richer. The crisis in Ecuador has important lessons for all of us.
First of all. it recalls the decisive importance of the working class. It was the workers, their strikes and mass demonstrations, that forced Bucaram out of office. Many conservative bourgeois felt embarrassed by Bucaram, but as long as he did their bidding and kept the masses subdued, they were satisfied to let him rule. Only when the workers broke free of Bucaram's tutelage did the ruling class decide something had to be done. While installing a new president, the bourgeois political leaders put Bucaram's austerity measures on hold, for now They promised not to try and implement them until a new permanent administration is in place, and they promised to allow a more wide-ranging discussion of the measures. This doesn't mean the measures have been permanently shelved. The government is still in a budget crisis, and the bourgeoisie's only solution is to push this burden onto the working class. But through their struggle the workers at least won a temporary reprieve.
Despite the lying bourgeois media, the working class and its struggle is still the center of political life, in the U.S. as well as in Ecuador, Mexico, South Korea, etc. When workers do get together and rise up in protest, they can topple presidents and parliaments; budgets can be reworked, and legislation rewritten. But to consolidate and direct the gains made in their struggle, workers need permanent, strong, and militant organization; otherwise reaction inevitably sets in, and the bourgeoisie takes away any gains made by the workers. To carry through reforms now, as well as to prepare for the final onslaught against capitalism, workers need a revolutionary party based on anti-revisionist Marxism. 
By Pete Brown
An article in the April 14, 1997 issue of Time magazine purports to tell its readers how Washington works. The lull title is "How Washington Works ARMS DEALS: The inside story of how the Pentagon and big defense contractors got the President to open the way for weapons sales to Latin America.” And the article does contain some useful facts about the military-industrial complex. But it is presented in a narrow framework, that of the present-day discussion of election contributions. The point of the article is that the big arms manufacturers are looking for new markets; but the government bans the sale of late-model jets to Latin American countries; so the arms merchants contributed money to election campaigns in 1996, and the result was that the government is now close to rescinding that ban.
In telling this story, the article brings forward interesting facts. For example, the close ties between the defense contractors and the Pentagon. When the corporate manufacturers told Defense Secretary William Perry of their need for new markets, he went right to work meeting with Latin American generals trying to sell them some planes. And the Pentagon arranged for late-model planes to appear in air shows in Latin America, to drum up interest.
The article gives a rundown on election contributions by arms-exporting companies in 1996. Lockheed Martin was first, with $2.35 million, and General Motors/Hughes was second with $1.05 million. Then the article notes that of the congressmen petitioning President Clinton to repeal the ban on jet sales, many of them received substantial cash contributions. For example, Newt Gingrich received $27,000 in PAC money from manufacturers of F-16 and F/A-18 jets.
Some of the devious arguments of the arms merchants are exposed in this article. For example, they try to sell jets to Peru, which is in a local arms race against Ecuador Ecuador recently bought Kfir jets from Israel. But the engines for Kfir jets are made in the U.S. So U.S. arms merchants are simply pushing these countries into competition with one another, pushing them toward another war, one that will be deadlier and more expensive than their border clash of 1995. Peru eventually decided to buy MIG jets from Belarus, but this doesn't dampen the U.S. arms merchants' spirits; it simply reinforces their main argument for ending the ban, which is “if we don't do it, someone else will.” And that someone, these days, is often Russia or one of the other former Soviet republics, selling off old weapons and also manufacturing new ones.
The article's narrowness stems from attempting to explain everything as a result of campaign contributions. True, the bourgeois politicians are notoriously corrupt. But that doesn't mean their decisions can be explained merely on the basis of campaign contributions. The politicians are tied to the capitalists by thousands of threads, threads that bind them with ties of class loyalty. They don't just receive campaign contributions from these corporations. They own stock in these corporations, or their friends and family members do. They, their friends and/or family members have served as corporate officers, or on the board of directors, of these and similar corporations. They have similar connections to these corporations' corporate suppliers and customers. And in general their class outlook is to look out for the interests of all capitalists, to help them maximize profits (as long as it doesn't conflict with their own interests). And being thoroughly imbued with the imperialist spirit, they are particularly keen on helping the profits of military contractors.
Another weakness of the article is that it paints a pacifist picture of the U.S. State Dept., which has been opposing lifting the ban on jet sales. The State Dept.'s position is not explained very well, so the article leaves the impression that the State Dept, just generally opposes the spread of armaments. But that would be a fairy tale. The State Dept, supports the policy of U.S. imperialism around the globe. This means supporting U.S. militarism and helping friendly regimes to get arms. But the State Dept, is also concerned with maintaining imperialist stability, and has reservations about an unrestricted arms race in Latin America. Expensive arms purchases might destabilize some governments there (for example, Ecuador's present budget crisis is due to a considerable extent to its 1995 war with Peru). And if governments start using their latest weapons, who knows what the result might be? Regional conflicts have a way of spreading and becoming dangerous to other countries outside the region.
But despite these reservations, it appears that Clinton will lift the ban on jet sales. This is in line with imperialism's never-ending militarization. With every advance of technology, the imperialist military demands that it be equipped with the latest types of weaponry. The old weapons are sold off to ‘friendly regimes' to be burnt up in regional wars and suppressing the masses. Right now the Pentagon is pushing for a new generation of aircraft. Altogether it proposes to spend $415 billion over the next 35 years, for new aircraft alone. And some politicians are pushing to revive Reagan's ‘star wars” research, which ate up many billions of tax dollars. The bourgeois politicians, spokesmen for imperialism, like to pretend that this is all to ‘preserve the peace”, but the truth is, they aren't arming for peace; they're arming for war. They haven't yet decided where, or who the enemy is, but they're getting prepared nonetheless. And they plan to make the working class pay, in blood and money, for their wars. 
How some former anti-revisionists reconcile with Cuban revisionism
Apologizing for the Castro regime or supporting the Cuban workers?
By Mark, Detroit
Is Cuba socialist?
Michael's alternative: the market
Criticizing the Soviet bloc as too "egalitarian"
Obscuring the class structure in Cuba
Sarah gives Cuban state-capitalism a socialist tinge
Sarah's transition period: Repression plus capitalism
Sarah's transition period to fashionable opportunism
Is it necessary to support the Cuban regime to defend social programs?
Can the threat of a U.S.-backed right-wing regime justify defending Castro?
Undermining independent class action against Cuban revisionism
Does it make any sense to talk about socialism in Cuba?
Appendix: How Sarah parodies an anti-revisionist approach toward Cuba
In the left today, the Castro regime, and the social order it built in Cuba, are widely seen as a viable alternative to the ills of capitalism. Among many activists, the support given to Cuba arises in part from progressive sentiments. They want to be able to point to an example of socialism as the bourgeoisie crows about the alleged ‘death of communism' and the wonders of free-market economics. Or they feel they must rally behind the Castro regime because of U.S. imperialism's bullying of Cuba and other countries. Some may hold that while the former Soviet Union, or the present China are oppressive and class-divided societies, Cuba is different.
Views like those above may originate from the best intentions. But they will not hold up to a serious analysis. The “socialist" and "communist" labels that the Cuban leaders have adorned themselves with cannot change the fact that they have constructed an oppressive state-capitalist order. Their “egalitarian" phrases cannot hide that Cuba has a hardened class structure where a handful of party and state bureaucrats lord over the toilers. The fact that the U.S. contributes to the suffering of the Cuban masses does not mean that their suffering is not also due to the system the ruling state and party bureaucrats have set up. Portraying Cuba as different than the Soviet Union or China cannot change the fact that there too, state-capitalism is looking more and more like private capitalism, and foreign investment is being promoted as the savior of the economy.
If we want to really show solidarity with the Cuban workers and the gains won by the 1959 revolution, we must not only rally against the U.S. blockade. We must recognize that the revolution of 1959 died long ago. To be for revolution in Cuba today means not cheering on the regime, but supporting the class struggle against it. Today, the Cuban workers cannot advance their interests unless they can gain the ability to act as an independent class force. The Cuban workers need to distinguish between genuine Marxism-Leninism and its revisionist counterfeit as practiced and preached by the bureaucratic ruling class. As long as the Cuban revisionist leadership is able to drag the masses behind each policy shift, they will have no ability to defend their interests against either the Castroite ruling class, the foreign multinationals or the U.S.-backed reactionaries in Miami.
What attitude to take toward the society set up in Cuba under Castro has long been a dividing line between genuine communism and pseudo-Marxist opportunism in the U.S. left. For instance, most groups that cling to the traditions of Soviet revisionism and Trotskyism dress up Cuba as “socialist" or a “workers' state" of some kind. No matter how many complaints they may have about certain policies of the Cuban rulers, so long as much of the economy is in the hands of the state, they insist that Cuba could never be capitalist. On the other hand, anti-revisionist communism takes up the tasks necessary to promote the development of a distinct proletarian class politics in opposition to the Castro regime.
Communist Voice carries on the anti-revisionist communist tradition which the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA had championed, but started to abandon as it beaded toward collapse. This party dissolved in 1993 amidst a number of fundamental ideological and political disputes. Among them was the question of Cuba. The MLP had exposed the state- capitalist nature of Cuba and punctured the “communist" credentials of Castro and co. But particularly in the party's last two years, a section of party leaders and other members were rapidly losing heart for the fight against revisionism. Two central committee (CC) members writing on Cuba put forward views which, though not formally, in essence opposed the party's anti-revisionist perspective and apologized for the Cuban regime. This included a draft article for the MLP's national newspaper, the Workers' Advocate, written by CC-member Michael entitled “What's happening in Cuba?"1 As well, CC-member Jim authored a "Report on a visit to Cuba" which appeared in the MLP's internal Information Bulletin #80, dated February 10, 1993. This report included observations by Jim from a recent trip he had made to Cuba along with his views on the situation there.
Meanwhile, in the last months of the party, a leaflet of the Chicago Branch appeared which downplayed the issue of opposition to Cuban revisionism and the Castro regime.2 Following the dissolution of the party, the former Chicago Branch renamed itself the Chicago Workers’ Voice group. The CWV group has been reconciling with Cuban revisionism. For instance, it considers a group in Mexico, El Machete, which hails Cuba as socialist, to be the organizing center for a proletarian party in Mexico. Recently, the CWV's Sarah, who was also a member of the last MLP central committee, has published an article entitled "Che", glamorizing the state-capitalist system in Cuba. This article was published in the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal #12, dated February 26, 1997 (We reprint the three articles from Michael, Jim and Sarah in this issue of Communist Voice.)
The writings of Michael, Jim and Sarah chronicle the sorts of differences that divided the MLP at the end of its life and after. But in addition, their attempts to justify support for Cuban revisionism are a variety of the excuses often heard in left-wing circles. Thus, refuting these views is part of tackling the arsenal of fashionable opportunism on Cuba in general.
Is Cuba socialist?
The view that Cuba is a socialist or sort of a socialist society is one of the common misconceptions in the left. This point of view is given credibility by Michael, Jim and Sarah. Michael refers to "Castro's experiment to build 'socialism' on one island" and paints the Cuban rulers as attempting to build an "egalitarian" society.3 Jim echoes the idea that Cuba is egalitarian by glossing over the class distinctions in Cuba and describing the Cuban regime's policies as the "leveling of living standards" Sarah, states that Cuba has "features of a society in transition" to socialism. These characterizations are not mere "slips" of the fingers on the keyboard, but accurately summary the line of reasoning presented in the articles. This is further confirmed by the fact that these articles as a whole are devoid of the idea of the need for the Cuban workers to build their own class trend in opposition to the Castroite ruling class.
Nevertheless, the reader is cautioned that within these articles, one can also find phrases that seem to contradict the portrayal of Cuban revisionism in glowing terms. The authors tend to cling to certain characterizations from the anti-revisionist critique, while abandoning them in other formulations and in the general content of their articles. Their method has mainly been to slip in the new content while parroting phrases that they hoped would allow them to escape criticism for abandoning the general approach toward Cuban revisionism that the MLP had previously taken. By way of exception, Sarah's recent article does provide the service of directly attacking the approach of the MLP and its immediate predecessor, the COUSML (Central Organization of U.S. Marxist-Leninists).
Now let's look at the particular arguments by these authors and compare them to what has actually been going on in Cuba.
Michael argues that in the "Special Period" in Cuba in which the country's economy went into severe crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union:
"the fact of the matter is that it is not possible to maintain a commitment to egalitarianism in a society in the conditions of growing want. The Cuban regime has decreed rationing, but even if it succeeded in being loyal to its proclamations giving everyone an equal ration for survival, decrees cannot stand up to the logic of economic necessity or the class divisions within the society"
It is perfectly true that a country that cannot eliminate want cannot achieve the abolition of classes, and Cuba is not a wealthy country. But the fact that the elimination of class differences requires overcoming poverty in no way proves the Cuban regime's alleged commitment to egalitarianism. If it did, than one could describe the capitalist rulers in any poor country as communists simply limited in their egalitarian efforts by the level of economic development in that society. This is what Michael does as regards Cuba's state-capitalist regime. He uses Castro's deceptive egalitarian rhetoric to argue as if the Cuban regime was really socialist, but encountering difficulties is achieving its completely egalitarian aims. Michael uses general phrases about the conditions necessary to eliminate classes to gloss over the concrete features of the system run by Castro and his fellow bureaucrats.
Michael's arguments about the regime's alleged egalitarianism do not square with reality, however. He refers to "giving everyone an equal ration" as his example of the "egalitarian” policy being pushed for by Castro. This creates the impression that the Cuban government is out to have equal conditions for everyone. His argument omits one little detail, however. Even if everyone in Cuba had an equal ration, the rationing system has been only one part of the distribution system. Rationed goods, often inadequate and unavailable, have been the official distribution system for the masses. But for those with more money, there has been the opportunity to purchase at a much higher price more of the goods that have been rationed, plus goods not available through rationing. Such goods were not only distributed through the black market, but through legal “parallel markets’, “dollar stores" and certain legal free markets. Jim's report correctly notes one of the features of the unequal distribution system when he describes
“the workers' complaints that the people at the top who urge sacrifice and require jail sentences for engaging in the black market are buying what soap and food they need at the dollar stores."
The elite could not only get soap and food, but had high salaries, the best homes, exclusive vacation areas, and cars and other luxury items that the masses could only dream about.
To the extent that “egalitarianism" exists, it exists solely among the majority at the bottom, not the more privileged, and certainly not for the top elite. During the ‘Special Period' that Michael is writing about, the already meager rations for the masses were further reduced, subsidies of consumer prices on some key goods and services eroded, and the conditions of the masses greatly deteriorated. Meanwhile, the role of the distribution of goods (legally and illegally) outside of the ration system has taken on much greater importance over the years, making possible even greater disparities between those with lots of money left over after purchasing rations and those without. What Michael presents as the ‘egalitarian' measures of Castro are really the imposition of austerity measures on the poor by the well-fed bourgeoisie.
Not only were the rations cut back but much of the government's “egalitarian' rhetoric was connected with a revival of so- called “voluntary" labor. This labor policy was portrayed by the regime as embracing the communist ideals of working for the good of society without concern for direct benefits to oneself or some small group. However, the ‘voluntary' labor brigades established in the late 80s and early 90s in Cuba were not based on communist principle. Rather, some were little more than a new form of semi-private, profit-oriented businesses. In such brigades, the workers' pay was tied directly to the profitability of the enterprise. The brigades on the whole were based on the participants getting direct material rewards. The brigades were also based on extraordinarily long work hours and abolishing the standard protections of the Cuban labor code such as overtime pay. In fact, wage-cutting was going on across the board in the state enterprises. Moreover, the decision to embark on such a course was not some voluntary decision of the workers, but was rammed down their throats by the bureaucrats.
Nor was the basic direction of the other economic measures taken to deal with the severe crisis in Cuba “egalitarian." Rather, they would more accurately be described as concessions to market-capitalist methods. The 90s have been a period when the free peasant and artisan markets have been restored, when a officially-sanctioned section of small private businesses has grown, and when black-market activity became an imposing feature of the economy. The once-dominant state agricultural sector has been largely dismantled into competing co-ops. Meanwhile the regime was encouraging privatization of state industry. They have been offering up many sectors of state industry to private investors. As well, they have turned over various large state enterprises to small groups of upper bureaucrats who can run them pretty much like a “normal” private business.
Michael's article itself recognizes various features of market capitalism coming to Cuba. Nevertheless, he portrays the regime's policy in a period when it is moving from state-capitalism to private capitalism as trying to maintain a commitment to egalitarianism. Michael himself mentions that part of Castro's policy in the Special Period is austerity measures. But he talks about austerity as if it were striking a blow for egalitarianism. How else can one interpret his references to "people in Cuba are indeed making heroic sacrifices” and “one cannot help but admire their determination to see that social justice is not destroyed"? This makes the austerity drive of the Cuban state bureaucracy seem like a campaign of the masses to preserve a society where the toilers rule. Perhaps one could object and say that Michael is not arguing that socialism, or something like it, is being saved by austerity, but only some social programs still maintained by the Cuban state-capitalist regime. But this would still mean promoting austerity as a progressive measure. It would, in effect, be telling the workers that going along with an exploitative regime is the way to defend their interests. It is echoing the line of Castro himself who argues that austerity is helping to save a revolutionary order.
Michael's alternative: the market
Even though Michael winds up giving a revolutionary coloration to austerity, this doesn't stop him from also railing against the Castro regime's attempts to “feed people on exhortations." But it must be kept in mind that Michael falsely equates a state-capitalist regime's austerity measures with egalitarianism and an attempt to build socialism. He considers ‘feeding people on exhortations” (i.e., austerity) to be the result not of state-capitalism in Cuba, but of socialism. Having arbitrarily lumped together state-capitalism and socialism, Michael looks toward private capitalism for relief from austerity. He thinks that if the Castro regime replaces its 'exhortations' with the free market, it will avoid the wrath of the masses. He writes under his subhead entitled "You can't feed people on exhortations."
“Therefore, in the face of the growing private capitalism, either the regime will be forced to adapt more and more to it, or the conditions will be created for a social explosion."
Of course, Michael's vision of private capitalism in Cuba as the way to avoid austerity is absurd. Indeed, Castro hardly needs Michael's advice on how to install market mechanisms. He's been doing it for years, and it's gone hand-in-hand with growing austerity measures and covered up by phony super-revolutionary rhetoric.
Criticizing the Soviet bloc as too “egalitarian”
But although Michael is hostile to what he imagines is Cuba's experiment with socialism, the fact remains that by defining the government's program as ‘‘egalitarianism", he prettifies the measures of the regime. He paints the reign of state-capitalist bureaucrats as trying to establish communism. He characterizes the problem with the regime's polices of the recent period as merely moving too quickly in this direction before the objective conditions are ripe. For such a critique to have any possible relevance though, it would have to be assumed that a revolutionary process toward socialism has been going on in Cuba over the last three decades or so. It would have to be assumed that the state-capitalist rulers are still a vehicle for revolutionary transformations. But such assumptions aren't valid. Long ago, the revolutionary motion of 1959 died out. For several decades the division between the state-capitalist rulers and the masses has created the groundwork for a new struggle, the class conflict between the workers and other toilers, and the state-capitalist system.
Indeed, Michael sometimes talks as if the last 30 years in Cuba are the continuation of a revolutionary policy, not the consolidation of a new class order He argues that "it is more than 30 years since the revolution. You cannot maintain revolutionary zeal in favor of sacrifice in the face of continual hardship.” Once again, this is confusing the rhetoric of the regime with what is really going on. For decades the Cuban regime has dressed up each of their policy shifts in communist-sounding phrases. And no doubt they have called for continual sacrifices from the masses. The mainstream bourgeois commentator concludes from this Cuba really is socialist and blames socialism for the ills caused by state-capitalism. In similar fashion, Michael blames "revolutionary zeal” for the present class antagonisms.
True, in other places in his article, Michael refers to Cuba as "a state-capitalist society like the rest of the former Soviet bloc.” The total picture thus painted tends to eliminate the distinction between a society in the process of building socialism, and state-capitalism. According to Michael, we can have a society which is both a consolidated state-capitalist order and at the same time is run by egalitarians whose main fault is relying too much on revolutionary zeal in mobilizing the masses. We can have a regime which he acknowledges must rely on “repression" of the masses to survive, but is nonetheless carrying on a revolution. Cuba is indeed a society like those in the former Soviet bloc. That being the case, consistency would demand that Michael consider the problem with the rulers of the former Soviet bloc to be an excessive commitment to egalitarian principles. That would be a strange argument considering that Michael quite justly points to the "huge gap between the ruling bureaucracy and the masses" in these countries.
In fact, the last 30 years in Cuba have seen the consolidation of a Soviet revisionist economic model that is not based on communist egalitarianism, but is permeated with capitalist methods. Planning under the control and for the good of society as a whole was undermined by the competing profit interests of state "self-financing" enterprises. Top officials became a privileged ruling class living in relative splendor while for the masses there was always one more sacrifice awaiting.
In the report by former MLP CC-member Jim, we also find that the Castro regime's policy is given the egalitarian tinge. He notes that
"a heavy component of Cuban politics" is criticism of "relying too heavily on material instead of moral incentives.” "Indeed there are quotations from Fidel and Che to this effect all over the place,” he adds. Such reasoning, he reports, was found mainly among "what could be described as those most favorable to the revolution.”
Jim offers no explanation for all this but merely wonders aloud that "this may seem odd." What's odd though is Jim's failure to explain what the connection is between the regime's rhetoric and its austerity campaign. Jim knows perfectly well that the Cuban rulers are dealing with the crisis through austerity measures on the masses. As well, it should be obvious that the "revolutionary" slogans appearing everywhere are part of this government campaign, whose ideas, as Jim notes, are most supported by those Cubans who are enamored with the regime. Why then does he not explain that the egalitarian rhetoric of the regime is merely a cover for driving down the workers?
Obscuring the class structure in Cuba
The question of whether Cuba is egalitarian is also tied to how one evaluates the class structure there. The class structure that existed before the Cuban revolution has since undergone considerable change. But this doesn't mean that the country is moving toward the abolition of classes. Quite the opposite. A new class society became entrenched a long time ago. Despite the bombardment of communist-sounding slogans coming from the Cuban government at various times, the basic policies continue to ensure a deepening of class divisions.
Jim's report has a good deal of useful information on how different segments of the Cuban population live. But although he entitles a section of his report "Classes in Cuba" he never tells us what he considers the class structure to be. Instead, he emphasizes how hard it is to find class differences. Jim evidently was unable to come up with a summary of the class structure in Cuba because, according to him
"it is not easy getting a read on how the class structure breaks down in Cuba." And why is that? Jim tells us that "many of the present functionaries, officials and professionals have their roots in humble positions prior to the revolution.” As well, we learn that "the gap between living conditions and incomes seemed pretty narrow" and "it seemed that leveling of living standards has gone pretty far."
The major changes in the old class relations in Cuba meant that in a short time a large section of people from working class or poor peasant backgrounds became elevated into party, managerial and professional positions. Indeed, its true that there are top officials who also come from humble backgrounds. This does not change the fact that a new class society solidified, though. Those who have moved in to a higher status became a privileged strata in relation to the mass of workers. The revolution eliminated some of the old obstacles to social mobility But in turn it created new ones. For instance, Jim mentions that officials and professionals can provide more educational opportunities and other advantages for their children. Thus, while some workers' children will still "move up in the world" the odds of them doing that are less. The offspring of workers will be more likely to remain on the bottom.
Despite the revolution bringing very dramatic class shifts at one time, class mobility later on bears a certain resemblance to what takes place in other capitalist countries. The process of someone from humble origins passing over to the petty-bourgeoisie, and occasionally higher, happens in the U.S., too. Yet only those believing in grade-school civics texts really believe the fairy tales that this means there are no serious obstacles to social elevation or that a degree of social mobility means there is no class structure.
The transformation of a whole section of those from humble roots into the officialdom and the professions is something that happened in a number of the revisionist state-capitalist societies. This in itself doesn't end class differences, though. Despite this phenomenon, a new class stratification grew. Cuba is no exception to this rule.
Jim talks about how for the leveling of living standards has gone, but finds himself obligated to immediately add the qualifier that "we are not talking about the people at the very top of power” such as top party officials, black marketers and some Cuban executives in the tourist industry. That's quite a qualifier. Class leveling has gone quite far — if we ignore the existence of the rich! It's fine that Jim admits that he isn't accounting for the rich in his description of class leveling. But it also begs a question. If Jim is aware of a class living well above everyone else, why does he insist it's so hard to discover the class structure in Cuba?
Having eliminated the richest Cubans from his overall evaluation of class structure, Jim devotes his attention to describing how among everyone else, “the gap between living conditions and incomes seemed pretty narrow.” He notes that he visited a no-frills housing project where some workers and some professionals lived side by side. Very well. But from the details Jim himself provides about the relative living standards, it's clear that there are very important gaps between the ordinary workers and the professionals and functionaries. For example, Jim refers to better clothing, access to cars or motorcycles, and better educational opportunities. He also refers to the fact that the professionals or lower level officials have “more access to dollars (to purchase soap and other essentials)." In other words, the "narrow" gaps are the gap between running out of the meager rations and being able to afford the essentials plus some goods which are luxuries in Cuba, like cars. They include educational opportunities that will maintain one's status above an ordinary worker. In fact there is evidence that the Cuban masses are quite aware of these gaps. Thus, they refer to the alternative markets that those with higher incomes shop at as “markets for the rich.”
Jim also cites wage differentials among most people he talked to. He says they ranged from 150 pesos a month for a factory worker to about 250 a month for a technician or a professional. He adds that “some salaries are higher, with various perks" Such figures don't in themselves tell us that much about the overall wage differentials, nor are wage levels exactly the same thing as class structure. But presumably Jim takes these figures as further evidence that there is hardly any gap between living standards in Cuba. However, even taking these figures, the higher-salaried people were making two-thirds more than the workers.
But is it really so unusual to find some professional/ technical types who don't earn gigantic salaries? In the U.S. there are a lot of lower professional/technical people whose salaries aren't enormously different than average-paid workers. They too often live in the same apartment complexes or neighborhoods as workers. This is evidence that a lot of teachers, nurses, lower managers, etc. are not very wealthy, not that there is no evident class structure in the U.S. — even if we exclude the capitalists.
Of course, the status of some professions varies in different countries. For example, there are some very high paid professions (doctors, e.g.) in the U.S. whose Cuban counterparts are modestly compensated. This is a feature that Cuba shares with other revisionist countries like those in the former Soviet bloc. In part this is a remnant of the revolution which has long passed, and partly it's a reflection of the general poverty in Cuba. Still, this does not negate that there are important gaps between a section of professionals and the average Cuban worker.
Another issue that should be considered in evaluating the class structure in Cuba is that the giant contraction of the Cuban economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union has created a certain leveling that has nothing to do with the revolution long-passed or government policy of recent years. Jim records examples of such leveling, but fails to draw out that economic collapse is a far cry from the Castro regime pursuing the elimination of class differences. For instance, Jim notes that "people, especially professionals, have pesos but have a lot of trouble spending them" because even the high-priced shops were empty. But in fact the government had generally been pursuing policies designed to reduce the overall role of subsidized, low-price rationed goods in favor of making more goods available to those with more money through such mechanisms as government-run "parallel markets’ which charged market-type prices. Not long after Jim departed Cuba, the government also legalized the use of the dollar for Cubans, increasing the ability of those with extra money to convert their Cuban pesos to dollars and to purchase goods in high-priced "dollar stores.”
Now let's return to the question of housing. Jim emphasizes that it is a sign of equality in Cuba. But even here, he must admit he is not looking at the housing for the rich. He also acknowledges that there is a good deal of decrepit housing for the poor in Havana. Actually, about one in five people in Havana does not even have running water or electricity. Housing shortages have been a big problem in Cuba long before the economic crash of the 90s. Construction of low-cost housing was scaled back in the 1970s. In the early 80s the government opened up the private construction sector to deal with the growing problem, which resulted in more housing, but at prices only the relatively affluent could afford. Since then, the efforts undertaken by government-organized brigades were supposed to provide some low-cost housing, but have hardly put a dent in the growing urban slum conditions.
If we look at the information in Jim's report, it's hard to see how finding the class structure in Cuba is the big mystery he makes it out to be. We can see a ruling bourgeoisie of high state and party bureaucrats. There are rich defacto owners of stock-selling Cuban corporations (Jim refers to them as "Cuban executives”). There's a state sector middle strata of lower officials, technicians and professionals. There's a strata of private petty-bourgeois entrepreneurs including private farmers, artisans, and providers of all sorts of services from appliance repair to restaurants. (Some of these become pretty wealthy by Cuban standards.) Jim makes mention of the miserable plight of the Cuban factory workers. He also notes the slum conditions of the marginalized sectors of the masses. The above capsule summary is not a definitive description of the class structure in Cuba. But it is enough to establish its existence. It's also enough to show that if Jim can't get a handle on the class structure, it's because he refuses to see what's right before his eyes.
Sarah gives Cuban state-capitalism a socialist tinge
Sarah's view that Cuba had "features of a society in transition" to socialism is also based on ignoring even the features of Cuban society that she recognizes. She admits that Cuba
"was a small country whose economy was always capitalist” She states that "in my opinion, the Cuban leadership, while it stood at the head of many progressive measures in Cuba, has overall played a bad role.’ This bad role is “in regard to revolutionary theory and what direction the various revolutionary movements should take" including that they ‘promoted reformism’ and "have hamstrung the movements in various countries." In her previous recent writings, Sarah has apologized for Castro's alliance with the former state-capitalist Soviet Union as an objective necessity, but in her latest article she reverses herself at one point and criticizes “the way its [Cuba's] economy was tied to the Soviet economy ’ She also criticizes "the current austerity measures" of the Castro regime.
So the economy has been capitalist and the ruling regime has been promoting “reformism" instead of revolution and has been shoving austerity measures down the throats of the masses beneath hypocritical revolutionary phrases. The country was dominated by a big imperialist power, the Soviet Union, and anyone with revolutionary aspirations who uttered a word against Soviet revisionist policy was squashed (this is what Sarah implies happened to Che, e.g.). Well, if this is Sarah's idea of what the transition to socialism is, then I can only hope that no worker will ever have to go through it again!
What then is the evidence that Cuba has been a society in transition to socialism? Sarah writes that
"the masses and many activists from the leading political party were inspired by ideas of socialism, and they attempted to put those ideas into practice — this gives Cuban society features of a society in transition” to socialism.
Thus, she argues that there were some people in Cuba and the party who had sincere sentiments for socialism. Yes, that's it! What does the objective reality of Cuba matter stacked up against the subjective intentions of some people who, insofar as they took a revolutionary stand, were suppressed!
According to Sarah, the existence of these sentiments means that only recently has it become possible that Cuba will lose the features of the transition to socialism. She says that “those features [of a transition to socialism — Mk.] are not and probably can not be maintained today in the current climate of globalization.’ She refuses to recognize that the revolution, while accomplishing some positive things, has been over for decades. What is going on now is not a sort of socialism being conquered by the world market, but a repressive state-capitalist system evolving toward private capitalism. Sarah's description obliterates the difference between revisionist society and socialism.
Lest there be any doubt about Sarah's sentiments, she couples her arguments about the transition to socialism with an assault on the views of the MLP, a group which considered the policies followed in Cuba as the consolidation of state-capitalism and a revision of Marxism. She describes the “atmosphere" of the MLP and its predecessor, the COUSML, as influenced by “a tendency to negate that experience altogether under the thought that the Cuban Revolution is just a variant of Soviet revisionism." Sarah admits that evidence for her charges against the MLP and COUSML are "not in the official documents’ of these organizations. Just as Sarah's "evidence" for depicting Cuba as in transition to socialism is not based on the actual policy in Cuba but the ideals in the hearts of some unknown people there, so she judges the COUSML and MLP not on what they actually said, but by leaving earthly reality behind and sailing into the “atmosphere"!5
But for now the essential issue is that Sarah's grudge is directed at the view that Cuba is a revisionist, state-capitalist order like the Soviet Union. She considers this outlook the problem to understanding the Cuban "experience." Indeed, it's notable that while Sarah talks about the Soviet Union being a revisionist society, there is not a single reference in her article to Cuban society overall as a revisionist society or state-capitalist, or even to its ruling party's theory as "Cuban revisionism." Evidently, Sarah finds the idea that Cuba is revisionist too restrictive to accommodate her view that it really has been on the way toward socialism.
If Sarah is so interested in the real experience of Cuba, it is strange that she has to take recourse in the subjective mind set of some unknown people as her main argument. But if we want to seriously analyze what happened to the Cuban revolution certain facts must be considered. There can be no talk of a transition to socialism unless the workers take power. In Cuba the workers never took power. Castro's July 26th movement was not a proletarian trend in its ideology nor did it have an organized base among the workers. The PSP, which merged with Castro's trend to form the party that has ruled Cuba since 1965, had some influence among the urban workers but used it to promote the phony "communism” of Soviet revisionism. Prior to the revolution, they had long been meek reformists in practice. So the ruling party in Cuba was not born as a revolutionary workers' trend. But did it later evolve into a proletarian revolutionary trend? No. While there have been various forms of mass organizations, they have been vehicles for the bureaucratic strangling of the masses, not for developing their ability to take charge over society. In this regard, Jim's report offers a telling description of how even during elections, the authorities do their best to restrict any serious political discussion. Basically, the Cuban workers have been deprived of political rights.
As far back as the 60s, there has been a powerful influence of Soviet revisionism, not proletarian communism, in determining Cuba's internal and external policies. By the early 70s, Castro was announcing what a great error it was not to have sooner adopted something very similar to the state-capitalist economic system in the Soviet Union, and this Soviet revisionist setup has continued to be the basic system to date, modified only by certain turns to free-market policies.
Sarah offers no concrete analysis of the trends that led the Cuban revolution or ruled afterwards. Since someone in the party or society had ‘ideals of socialism' she decides that rulers, whose deeds violated the ideals of socialism at every turn, created a society striving to build socialism. This technique of Sarah's is bound to consistently create confusion. Let's try to analyze the AFL-CIO this way. Among the ranks of the unions there are those who have ‘ideals of socialism' and more still who sincerely want to see the workers' cause advance in some way By Sarah's criterion, this would suffice to prove that the AFL-CIO leadership is militantly defending the workers, and is even somewhat revolutionary. All we have to do is discard an evaluation of its policy and the fact that the militant and revolutionary-minded workers are hounded by the labor bureaucrats.
Sarah's transition period: Repression plus capitalism
Sarah intimates that Che is an example of the sincere people in the Cuban party, and I have no reason to question Che's courage and self-sacrificing concern with the plight of the oppressed. But what does Sarah think of Che's policies in relation to the transition to socialism? We learn that his policies were
‘very reasonable things to do in a small country under imperialist blockade — even in a small capitalist country — if the leadership of that country does not want to go along with the dominant economic forces.”
(For now, let's set aside the question of whether Che's policies should be described as Sarah does and how reasonable they really were.) If we recall that Sarah thinks the Cuban regime has features of the transition to socialism because of those like Che with high ideals, then her description of the economics of the transition period is simply having a certain degree of independence from the big powers. She never refers to the need for the workers to take power. She never mentions the process of the toilers being trained to run the affairs of society. She never explains that over the years the Cuban state sector was run along lines which led to the consolidation of new forms of capitalist anarchy of production and class stratification. If the transition to socialism is simply some independent capitalist economic development, then every bourgeois nationalist regime in the world is also in transition to socialism!
Her efforts to paint policies acceptable to a capitalist country as socialistic confirms that Sarah's conception is that the transition to socialism is really just a kind of capitalism. Not only is Sarah's version of the transition period merely capitalist economics, but it is also compatible with a system which gives the boot to the sincere socialists while cynically using Che's name to push repression and austerity.
Sarah's transition period to fashionable opportunism
Sarah tries to differentiate herself from Soviet revisionist and Trotskyist evaluations of Cuba. She says that they "look at Cuba and say that the experience was just great.” Since Sarah has any number of criticisms she feels she has gone beyond these trends. Actually, even among the biggest cheerleaders of Cuban revisionism, there are a lot of criticisms of the Cuban experience. And many of these groups will denounce Castro as a scoundrel even while prettifying Cuba as sort of socialist. In this respect, Sarah's approach is similar to fashionable opportunism. One of the most craven supporters of the Castro regime is the Socialist Workers Party The SWP claims that Che had the real revolutionary policy in Cuba, but they allege that his policy was never really followed. They criticize the economic policy over the decades as being run on capitalist principles. They think that policies followed in Cuba have overall been pretty bad ("laying the basis for the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism”, e.g.)6 Yet they find any subterfuge to support the regime as in transition to socialism. One of their excuses is that there really were well-intentioned people in the leadership of the Cuban party. Sarah basically echoes these views.
As for the fact that Sarah criticizes Castro while the SWP considers him a great Marxist, this is something many opportunist groups do who nonetheless maintain that Cuba is a “workers' state” of some sort. A number of Trotskyist groups talk about Castro as a traitor to the revolution, even as they wind up supporting him in practice time and again. True, Sarah criticizes other trends for saying ‘Cuba is on the path to socialism.” But what's the difference between being on the path to socialism and having the features of such a society?
Sarah also raises that while Cuba had features of the transition to socialism ‘these measures do not constitute socialism" and refers to ‘the impossibility of establishing socialism in a small country in the larger capitalist world.” Evidently, she is raising that Cuba was on the way to socialism, but couldn't complete the building of socialism because of world conditions. That seems to be the case because she says ‘true, enough, those features [of the transition period — Mk] are not and probably can not be maintained today in the current economic climate of globalization.”
This line of reasoning hardly sets Sarah apart from the opportunist approach to Cuba, however. Many Trotskyists who pretend Cuba has been a ‘worker's state' or in transition to socialism will grant that it cannot complete its socialist transformation so long as it is surrounded by capitalist states. They hold that the transition period will exist so long as state property predominates, ignoring that Cuban state property is already a form of capitalism. Sarah holds Cuba has been in transition to socialism but perhaps these transitional features will the in the present capitalist ‘globalization’. So, at best, Sarah differs from most of the Trotskyist theorizing on the matter mainly in that she feels that ‘probably' the possibility of continuing the transition period has ended in recent years.
True, Sarah apparently distances herself from the bulk of Trotskyists by depicting the Cuban transition period as capitalism while the bulk of Trotskyists would say it is something beyond capitalism. But as long as she insists that Cuba is in transition to socialism, she is in agreement with the Trotskyists on practical matters. Meanwhile, on the level of theory, Sarah puts herself in conflict with the general idea that the transition to socialism is something more than capitalism. Insofar as the Trotskyists simply state this idea, they are right and Sarah wrong.
Is it necessary to support the Cuban regime to defend social programs?
Another popular idea among the left is that even if the Castro regime is flawed in various ways, at least it will continue to defend the social programs in Cuba. This ignores that as the Cuban rulers head further toward market capitalism, the social programs are being sacrificed. All sorts of consumer price subsidies have been reduced, rations cut back, and even the vaunted health care and child care systems are tattered and torn.
We have already seen how Michael winds up prettifying austerity measures as ‘heroic sacrifices' and ‘determination to see that social justice is not destroyed.” He doesn't call for any struggle against the regime, but instead frets about the possibility of a ‘social explosion.” His answer to preserving some social programs is saving Castro from the masses by having his regime adopt more market mechanisms.
Jim follows about the same course. He notes there are some cutbacks going on in social programs, but does his best to make it look like the regime is really doing all it can to defend the welfare of the masses. And he recommends that the regime give freer reign to market forces, which he alleges will take the anger of the masses off of the regime. He states that:
‘Given Cuba's present poverty, the attempts at state intervention and control are both the saving grace and the worst nightmare for the regime. On the one hand, there is much that is rational, and even popular, about state intervention. At the same time the state is blamed for everything. And this psychology seems unavoidable given the extent to which this government attempts to hold the economic reins of Cuba's poverty.‘
Jim deals with situation in Cuba from the standpoint of the regime, not the masses. He frets about the hungry being upset with the elite. He argues as if Cuba is not a class divided society, but instead one in which the government should be trusted to do all that it possibly can do for the masses. Thus, no matter how hard the masses are hit by the measures the regime takes, Jim portrays the government as ‘rational' and ‘popular '. Meanwhile, Jim mimics Castro when he calls for more market capitalism as the way out of the crisis. Like Michael, Jim forgets to mention that the Cuban regime's moves to the market are a motive force of austerity. For instance, the spread of the market mechanisms in Cuba is expected to generate a few hundred thousand layoffs in the state sector which will come at a time when fee social safety net is also being slashed. Are these things "rational" and "popular,” too? Well, Jim's criterion is whether such measures are carried out in a thoughtful way or not. For instance, he notes that "food rations have been cut and cut again" but ‘the milk ration only goes to small children and pregnant mothers" By Jim's reasoning, the masses shouldn't blame the regime for austerity, but be grateful for the way it is carried out.
Of course, Jim or others could argue that we mustn't blame Castro too much because Cuba is a poor country that has been buffeted about by events outside of its control. But the same could be said about the rulers of lots of poor countries where ‘normal” capitalism exists. Before the 1959 revolution, Cuba was heavily dependent on U.S. imperialism. If the U.S. put up barriers to imports of Cuban sugar, or if it lowered the price it paid, the Cuban economy would go into a tailspin. Should we have fretted then about the Cuban masses getting angry with the Cuban regimes of the time? Should we have condemned the lack of social relief of the regimes who had tied Cuba tightly to the sugar economy and dependence on the U.S., or been content if only austerity was imposed in a somewhat kinder manner? It must also be pointed out that austerity and severe economic hardship in post-1959 Cuba didn't begin with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's undeniable that the state-capitalist order in Cuba traditionally had a much better social welfare system than most poor countries and some programs were as good or better than even the rich capitalist powers. But it's also true that the masses remained poor and exploited. There have been numerous waves of austerity, which is one of the reasons that a huge number of ordinary masses have left Cuba. This is further evidence that the Cuban masses cannot rely on the Cuban rulers to defend their social welfare.
Since 1959, forces outside Cuba have long played a role in previous austerity measures, too. Over the last 30 years or so, Cuba's debt crisis or balance of trade problems to the former Soviet Union as well as the Western capitalists have contributed to the hardships imposed on the masses. The collapse of the Soviet bloc was a heavier and more sudden burden than anything in the past. But this does excuse the regime which entangled Cuba in such a system and now continues to make the masses pay for the crisis of the revisionist bloc that it touted for over three decades as the socialist savior of Cuba?
For her part, Sarah seems to oppose the austerity measures of the Castro regime. She says that
"not all the problems of Cuba the current austerity measures, etc. are due to objective conditions” But she also feels that the features of Cuba that she mistakenly considers as proof of an attempt to build socialism "probably can not be maintained today in the current economic climate of globalization.''
So Castro could follow another policy — but then again, maybe he was prevented from doing so by the objective conditions. Thus, Sarah vacillates on whether the masses should be upset with the regime's austerity drive.
Can the threat of a U.S.-backed right-wing regime justify defending Castro?
The threat of a U.S.-backed regime of right-wing Cuban exiles is also used as an excuse to back the Cuban regime. Michael, for example, argues that if the masses rise up against Castro, such
"an explosion unfortunately carries with it the danger that it may be used as a pretext for U.S. intervention. And should that happen, the extreme right-wingers in Miami may well return. It is no secret that they seek total revenge on the revolution.''
Thus, the masses are to avoid a regime which will dismantle the gains of the revolution by bowing down to a regime which is heading in the same direction. In fact, by Michael's own account, it is the Castro regime's strangling of the masses with repression and austerity that is giving rise to the social explosion he fears in Cuba. Moreover, if the issue is staving off free-market measures, than the only difference between what Castro is doing and what the right-wing conservatives in Miami want is whether the transition to the market is gradual or sudden. Indeed, as explained earlier, Michael and Jim both campaign for the policy of gradual adaptation to the market that Castro is carrying out.
Jim also seems to think that toning down the struggle against Castro is vital to defend Cuba against a right-wing "gusano" government. His report recounts how some Cubans he talked to were worried
"that if the grip [on political rights and access to information — Mk.] is loosened the gusanos will seize on this for their aims.'' Jim continues. "Our reply was that if the workers can't mobilize themselves politically, then in the long run Cuba is even more vulnerable to a gusano counterrevolution."
Jim's reply is that freedom for the workers will help stave off the reactionaries, but he does not raise that freedom is needed to stave off the state-capitalist bureaucrats. If the gusanos try to take over, they should certainly be fought. But Jim somehow overlooks that at present it is not mainly the gusanos, but the Castro regime, which is standing on the necks of the Cuban masses.
Once again, Jim and Michael cannot distinguish their stand from that of the Castro regime itself. Castro defends his oppressive rule as the only alternative to horrors of a naked capitalist regime. In fact, the same logic was advanced by various apologists of the former revisionist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They pointed to the horrors of Western-style capitalism in order to rally behind the state- capitalist tyrannies.
Undermining independent class action against Cuban revisionism
If the Cuban workers are to move ahead, they must fight against both their present state-capitalist oppressors and the U.S.-backed reactionaries. They need to understand that while the 1959 revolution accomplished progressive changes, that revolution has come and gone. One of key features of the 1959 revolution was the weakness of the workers' independent class trend and the lack of their own revolutionary class party. It is high time the workers begin the arduous task of reorganizing themselves as an independent class force against the Castro regime. The workers not only need their own trend for the immediate battles, but so as to prepare for a new revolution in the future. To take the first steps in this direction, the Cuban toilers need to see that socialism is not state-capitalism and Castroism is not Marxism-Leninism. For the Cuban toilers to be more than just passive victims in the present turbulence, a lot will depend on whether they can establish a trend for proletarian communism. The pace at which the Cuban workers can re-establish their ability to take independent class action cannot be known for certain. But they must be encouraged to begin to take up this task at once.
But such encouragement is not forthcoming from the apologists for Cuban revisionism. Neither Michael, Jim nor Sarah points to the need for the Cuban workers to establish their own revolutionary class trend in opposition to Cuban revisionism. Michael and Sarah do not even raise the issue of any sort of struggle against the Castro regime.
Jim's report raises the question of
"what do we, the class conscious workers in the U.S., suggest that the Cuban workers do?” But Jim confesses he was “tongue-tied" in trying to answer and that his answers "amounted to the big fudge on the big questions" of the struggle.
True enough, his list of issues he raised on what the Cuban workers should do confines itself to rallying them against U.S. bullying while falling silent on the need to strike blows against the oppressive regime. When Jim does raise some issue of domestic Cuban policy, such as austerity or the lack of political freedom, he fails to mention to his Cuban cohorts that any progress in this regard will require fighting the regime.7 After reporting that he is "tongue-tied” as regards building a resolute struggle against the regime, Jim admits that
"the points above about room for the workers to mobilize are incompatible with the present regime, and probably imply its overthrow"
Evidently, Jim can't decide what is more important; preserving a government of repressive bureaucrats or removing the workers' political shackles. Such is Jim's method of saving the Cuban workers from the repression of a possible future U.S.- backed government!
Does it make any sense to talk about socialism in Cuba?
Besides those arguments already mentioned to oppose the development of an anti-revisionist proletarian trend in Cuba, Michael and Jim emphasize the issue of whether the objective conditions make any talk of socialism in Cuba ridiculous. Jim raises the question of whether the economic conditions for socialism can be established in Cuba
"in the face of the hostility of the whole capitalist world?" He explains that this is why he asks “what are the prospects for workers' revolution and socialism in Cuba? Does it make any sense to talk about such a thing?” Meanwhile, Michael argues that economic reality doomed "Castro's experiment to have 'socialism' on one island.” (Earlier we dealt with Michael's confusion of Cuban state-capitalism with socialism.)
Michael and Jim both imply that without a series of accompanying revolutions, Cuba will not be able to successfully build a socialist society. But to raise the issue of what external conditions would be most advantageous to the success of a future attempt at socialism in Cuba in order to negate the internal class struggle is a sham. This is what our apologists for Cuban revisionism do. The truth is something else, however. If the question of evaluating the conditions that will provide the likelihood of success for a socialist revolution is to be taken seriously, and not just as an excuse for despair, then the task today is to immediately start on the path of reorganizing the Cuban proletariat on the basis of revolutionary class politics.
Today the Cuban workers are disorganized. They are a long way from being in a position to launch the socialist revolution. But this does not mean that the proletariat can afford to resign itself to suffering in silence. It means that the task at hand is proletarian reorganization. This involves the masses fighting for their immediate needs against the Cuban revisionist rulers. But it involves much more than that. Contrary to Jim's doubts about raising the issue of socialism today in Cuba, that is exactly what must be done. This does not mean advocating that the socialist revolution is just around the comer It means demonstrating that the liberation of the Cuban toilers is only possible through a workers' revolution and socialism. It means explaining the difference between Marxist socialism and the revisionist forgery that has existed in Cuba for several decades. It means inspiring the masses with a vision beyond the pathetic alternatives of a “gusano” takeover and the revisionist bureaucracy The key thing is that every encouragement must now be given to the building of an anti-revisionist communist trend.
If the success of a future socialist revolution in Cuba hinges on accompanying revolutions, this is all the more reason to begin organizing a revolutionary trend against Castroism. Supporting Castro won't help the development of other revolutions. The Castro regime is an obstacle to the cause of revolution both in Cuba and abroad. Meanwhile, the development of a distinct revolutionary workers' trend in revisionist Cuba would be an encouragement to the rebuilding of a proletarian socialist movement everywhere.
What the conditions will be when the Cuban proletariat is clamoring for state power cannot be known with precision. But it seems unlikely that the Cuban workers will be on the verge of a new revolution while the world around them is quiet. The victory in Cuba in 1959 was itself part of a series of revolutionary struggles of the time. There are other questions that can't be answered for sure, too. By the time the proletarian movement becomes powerful, what will the economic and social system in Cuba look like? But whatever the circumstances that exist in the future, the question of the most favorable circumstances for launching a decisive blow against the old order only becomes a serious matter as part of the efforts of the Cuban proletariat to establish itself as an independent, revolutionary class force.
Appendix: How Sarah parodies an anti-revisionist approach toward Cuba
According to Sarah, the anti-revisionist approach is an obstacle to dealing with the situation that has existed in Cuba. As she puts it,
"there is a tendency to negate that experience altogether under the thought that the Cuban revolution is just a variant of Soviet revisionism."
She considers the COUSML and the MLP as examples of the harm caused by considering Cuba to be a revisionist society. She admits that she can find nothing in the official documents of these groups to back up her assertions about the views of these organizations. But so what. Instead of evidence, she offers up vague references to an “atmosphere" against taking the experience of the Cuban revolution seriously. Let's look at Sarah's charges in more detail.
Contrary to Sarah's view, the stand of the COUSML and the MLP towards the Cuban revolution was not one of simple-mindedly negating its experience. These organizations did not deny that the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959 brought progressive change and supported the blows it delivered to U.S. domination. It's notable that while Jim and Michael's articles that we have reprinted in this issue of Communist Voice were quite controversial in the MLP for other reasons, no one objected to the fact that both recognize the positive gains brought about by that revolution. Meanwhile, the MLP's national newspaper, the Workers’ Advocate, published an article in its July 1,1990 edition entitled "Cuba under Castro: Not the communist alternative to Gorbachev" This article, while pointing out how Castro championed Soviet revisionism and rigged up a state-capitalist system in Cuba, also notes the "gains made by the working people in the Cuban revolution."
Nor does this article portray Cuba as an exact carbon copy of the Soviet revisionist system. While it argues that "Castro embraced the same basic economic and political model prevalent in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe," nonetheless, it also points out that the Cuban revolution had its own unique features, too. Perhaps what Sarah finds upsetting about the "atmosphere" of the MLP is that the unique features of Castroism it referred to are called "non-Marxist concepts.”
Sarah also hints that it's the stand that Cuba was revisionist that leads to a lack of interest in examining its experience. Sarah is a subscriber to our journal, Communist Voice, which stresses anti-revisionism. In less than two years, our journal has carried three major articles on Cuba detailing the workings of the state-capitalist system, plus six other articles focusing on the controversies in the left on Cuba. Meanwhile, Sarah's CWV Theoretical Journal has published no in-depth articles on Cuba, and when it talks about Cuba, likely as not it is to downplay the need to fight Cuban revisionism in countries like Mexico and to defend the Mexican newspaper El Machete, which promotes Cuba as socialist. The last CWV leaflet on Cuba we know of was published in September 1993, and it downplayed the need to fight Cuban revisionism.8 Once again, Sarah grasps at straws to discredit those who bold that Cuba has been a revisionist society
Sarah's accusation that the anti-revisionist perspective led to little interest in examining Cuba in the MLP is also false. First, I have already pointed out above that the MLP did define its position on Cuba, and did it a lot better than its critics like Sarah. Second, while there were problems in the MLP in dealing with Cuba, they involved issues that Sarah has no interest in bringing to light. The problems that arose near the end of the MLP's existence in writing on Cuba were not due to the pursuit of anti-revisionism. Quite the opposite. Rather, they were in good measure connected to the fact that major party leaders, like Michael and Jim, were abandoning an anti-revisionist perspective. Their articles obscured much of the Cuban experience. When their views were challenged, they undermined efforts to debate the issue, and this culminated in their opposition to a proposal at the MLP's 5th Congress to have a journal for continuing the debate that had broken out in the party on this and other issues.
Those, like Michael and Jim, who were abandoning anti-revisionism, also vented their spleen against the alleged narrow-minded "atmosphere" in the MLP. According to them, the bad atmosphere was created by the fact that their opponents in and around the MLP criticized their views as at odds with Marxism. Instead, they thought their views should just be accepted by the party, or else it was the party that was intolerant. When Sarah raises that the MLP had a bad atmosphere simply because it did not abandon its appraisal of Cuba as revisionist to the likes of Michael and Jim, she is arguing much the same thing.
Third, the MLP and the COUSML devoted enormous energy to going back to find the roots of the revisionist theory and the corruption of the international communist movement. This process, which began in the later 1970s, eventually led to examining the origins of the revisionist societies. Beginning in the later 1980s, efforts focused on re-examining the history of the Soviet Union. This was accompanied by a concerted effort to deepen the grasp of the Marxist theory of socialism. The study of the Soviet Union led to a big push to review even the earliest history of the Soviet revolution. The major emphasis on examining Soviet history was not because no one cared about Cuba, Viet Nam, East Germany, etc., but because it was thought that these societies were all largely modeled after the Soviet revisionist system. In particular, it was thought that this study would provide clues to understanding the evolution of Albania, since this country had borrowed much from the Soviet Union of Stalin's time. (The MLP had considered Albania to be socialist but began to criticize its political views in the early 80s. This eventually led to dropping the idea that Albania was socialist and to tracing the roots of its degeneration to its reliance on the Stalinist model.)Thus, whether or not it was a good idea to put so much focus on the Soviet Union, this decision does not reflect a lack of interest in examining Cuba. Of course if Sarah feels that the Cuban system is a fundamental departure from the Soviet revisionist system, then it would be understandable for her to claim that interest in examining the Soviet system doesn't prove an interest in Cuba.
While parodying the MLP's stand, it's notable that Sarah's Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal #l2, continues to hail as “our LA comrades” the Los Angeles Workers' Voice group which supports the view that all the revolutions of the 20th century that were not directly for communism were worthless frauds. Sarah creates suspicion against organizations that actually supported the progressive changes brought about by the 1959 revolution but condemn the state-capitalist order that ensued. Meanwhile, Sarah's efforts to portray Cuban society as advancing toward socialism has apparently allowed her to placate her Los Angeles "comrades” who totally “negate the experience” of any revolution that is not socialist.
1 Michael's draft article never appeared in the Workers' Advocate, due to opposition in the editorial board. A decision in May 1993 to have CC-member Jim prepare discussion materials for publication on the issues raised by the draft was not carried out as neither Michael nor Jim showed interest in furthering the discussion before the party collapsed several months later. At the MLP's 5th Congress at which the organization disbanded, both opposed a proposal for a journal that would exist for a period of time after the party that would carry all sides of the controversies that divided the MLP.
2 This leaflet appeared in the Sept. 20, 1993 issue of Chicago Workers’ Voice and was reprinted with a critical commentary in Communist Voice v 1, #1, April 15, 1995.
3 Michael puts the word "socialism" in quotes. But for this sentence to have any logical sense, the quotes around "socialism" cannot be taken as meaning that Cuba is not really socialist. After all, Michael cannot possibly believe that capitalism cannot be built in Cuba!
4 Eckstein, Susan Eva; Back from the future: Cuba under Castro, p. 163; Princeton University Press; 1994.
5 See the appendix at the end of this article for more on Sarah's fanciful interpretation of the stand of the MLP and COUSML on Cuba.
6 To see more on the SWP’s stand on Cuba, see Communist Voice, v.2, #6, December 15, 1996, p. 12.
7 Given the repression any left opposition in Cuba was likely to face, it would have been understandable if Jim was not able for this reason to spell out the need for a struggle against the regime. But Jim at no time claims that this problem affected his formulations, but points to his own political confusion as the problem.
8 See in Communist Voice v. 1 #1, April 15, 1995 for this leaflet and a criticism of it. 
Movie review: Che
By Sarah, Chicago Workers' Voice
The following article by Sarah, here reprinted in full, originally appeared in the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal, #12, February 26, 1997. Despite the many declarations against Soviet revisionism in this article, she also declares that the revisionist state-capitalist order in Cuba is sort of in transition towards socialism. She restricts the concept of revisionism to the policies and practices of the late Soviet Union, rather than Castroist policies, whether she regards those policies as good or bad. She also ignores the similarity between the internal policies and structures of the Cuban mid Soviet regimes. Sarah distinguishes her current attitude towards revisionism from that of the late anti-revisionist groups she supported in the past — the COUSML and the Marxist-Leninist Party. She ends up denouncing those who regard Castroist doctrine as revisionist, claiming that they ignore the lessons of the Cuban revolution. You can criticize the Cuban leadership, but only a little and very quietly — such is CWV policy. Such views of Sarah are among those criticized in the article "How some former anti-revisionists reconcile with Cuban revisionism", which appears on pp. 6-17 of this journal.
Political activists are following the uprising in Chiapas, the strikes and demonstrations in Korea, the demonstrations in the Dominican Republic with much interest. These dramatic mass struggles inspire activists not only to act, to organize and change the world, but also to think about the future. What will the next wave of struggles look like? What issues will inspire revolutionary action? What ideas will guide the mass struggle? What forms of organization are needed? How can we build a real socialism that will end exploitation once and for all?
In the 1990's the former Soviet Union disintegrated. Its autocratic state capitalist system went bankrupt and the giant country was replaced by several smaller states with the more typical market capitalist economy and bourgeois parliaments.
In the 1980's and 1990's there was another kind of disintegration. Many left wing and revolutionary organizations collapsed. Many have noted the general crisis and confusion that exists within the left. For organizations that followed the Soviet Union as a model of socialism this collapse was inevitable. However many other organizations also died in this period. The reason for this, I believe, is that much of the left drew their bearings from trends such as revisionism, trotskyism and anarchism: trends that are not capable of guiding a socialist revolutionary movement. Since the current situation finds many in the left without their former bearings, it opens up the possibility that activists will take stock of the history and experience of the revolutionary movement in this century If they can come to grips with its mistakes and forge ahead with what is needed, they will be in a position to advance revolutionary theory and organize new revolutionary movements, movements more powerful than the old.
However, it is also possible to maintain the ideas, practices and types of organizations that led to the current crisis. In fact for some people, romanticizing about the heyday of the Comintern or the Fourth International (if it ever had a heyday) is not just a daydream but their life's work.
In the current situation, filled with confusion, uncertainty and the search for reliable bearings to guide revolutionaries, the life and legend of Che Guevara has gained renewed interest.
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Many activists saw the move Che when it played in Chicago. This movie documents Che Guevara's days in Bolivia. It follows the path taken by Che and the guerrilla group he led. The director interviewed several people who knew Che during those final days. He interviewed one of the participants in the guerrilla group, several peasants who met Che, and one of the soldiers who captured him.
The movie provokes interest in some important issues. At the beginning of the movie the director shows that Che had some disagreements with Soviet politics at the time. The director says that Che liked neither the bureaucracy nor the high living of Soviet officials. The movie documents a speech given by Che in Algiers that criticized the idea of "peaceful coexistence." This was a key political idea put forward by Soviet leaders at the time. "Peaceful coexistence" certainly sounds like a fine and progressive idea, especially when one considers the super aggressive attitude of U.S. imperialism towards the Soviet Bloc countries. But it was not meant as a diplomatic stance. It was a key ideological ingredient of the Soviet Union's politics, a politics we refer to as "revisionism,” the revising of revolutionary Marxism into sterile reformist politics that sounds like the original but has all the revolutionary working class content ripped out of it.
The politics behind the slogan ‘peaceful coexistence" downgraded the significance of the armed struggles against imperialism such as the Vietnamese war against U.S. imperialism and the armed liberation movements in Africa. But it didn't simply belittle armed conflict in favor of peaceful forms of activism. Soviet revisionism sometimes supported “reformism with guns,” that is, it sometimes supported an armed conflict so long as the toiling masses were not likely to gain power or generally get out of control of the ‘national’ bourgeoisie. The essential thing for revisionism is that the workers and peasants must tail behind the capitalists.
Immediately after Che returned to Cuba, there were several days of private meetings. Che then resigned his positions in the Cuban government. The movie provokes a question about what happened. Was Che cut out of his positions in Cuba because he criticized the Soviet Union? And if so, doesn't that make the current promotion of Che by the Cuban Communist Party and Cuban government somewhat cynical?
In the movie. Che's letter to the Cuban people was read. Some of the activists in Chicago who viewed this movie thought that it sounded suicidal. Some feel that, if Che were indeed kicked out of politics in Cuba, perhaps the only path he saw was a path of militant action leading eventually to revolutionary martyrdom.
To speak to this argument we must first look at the issue of Soviet politics and the fight against this distortion of Marxism.
There is some debate over whether Che could have been more open in criticizing Soviet politics. However, the real issue is did Che want an open debate on Soviet politics. For example, he could have joined in the "Great Polemic on the Line of the International Communist Movement” as the Communist Parties of China and Albania called it. At the time that Che resigned from the Cuban government, a major debate criticizing Soviet politics was underway China and Albania were publicly denouncing several Soviet theories, especially "peaceful coexistence," at large meetings attended by all the communist parties in the world. By the late sixties the debate was raging. The communist movement was suffering the largest split in its history with one side denouncing the "Khrushchovite revisionism” of the Soviet Union while the other deplored the ultra-leftism of Mao Zedong and his allies.
Flawed though it was with many revisionist problems of its own, the debate in the communist movement inspired many activists to fight revisionism. Che never spoke about this polemic, nor about the splits that were developing in many of the communist parties. Of course Che did not have to join the Chinese side to oppose Soviet revisionism; he had some criticism of his own and presumably could have developed it. I want to point out that there is no indication in any of his writings, nor in the movie, that Che wanted to develop an open fight in the revolutionary movement against Soviet politics.
It was important to wage a struggle against revisionism. Some activists have pointed out that Che would have faced enormous obstacles, including the virtual impossibility of waging such a fight from Cuba. (Of course, this shows the falseness of upholding Cuba as a defender of revolutionary politics against revisionism today.) If Che even had inklings of the bankruptcy of Soviet politics (and apparently he had some dissatisfactions), and if he were cut out of Cuban political life, then he undoubtedly felt himself to be in a difficult situation. He would not be the first one to choose a path that meant martyrdom when faced with unacceptable politics and an unclear path.
The movie brought out Che's isolation from the masses in Bolivia. Please note that the guerrilla fight can be important for developing the revolutionary movement but only if it is connected to the mass struggle and aims to develop that struggle. In Bolivia, at the time, miners were fighting important battles against the companies and the government. However, the guerrilla struggle led by Che did not hook up with this fight. The guerrilla fighters did not have and were not able to win the support of the Indian peasants. Clearly Che did not have an assessment of the conditions for a revolutionary movement in Bolivia.
Before he died, Che spoke to a young girl who was interviewed in the movie. His last words showed his revolutionary spirit. He talked of his desire for a new type of life without exploitation and oppression. This is what inspires revolutionary activists everywhere. If one is to honor his spirit and the lives of other revolutionary martyrs, one has to ask the hard questions of how to advance the revolutionary movement.
One question to ask is what inspires the renewed interest in Che?
Che's name is linked with the spirit of internationalism and revolutionary heroism. He was born in Argentina. He participated in the political struggles in Guatemala. He escaped to Mexico from Guatemala after the CIA coup. There he met Fidel Castro. In 1956 he was aboard the yacht Granma when it landed in Cuba. He participated in organizing the Cuban revolution. He was an important figure in leading the revolutionary armies that eventually captured power After he resigned from the Cuban government, he went to the Congo (later Zaire) where he fought with the anti-imperialist movement. Finally, he led an expedition to Bolivia in hopes of helping to foment revolutionary struggle in Latin America. In close consultation with the U.S. military, Bolivian soldiers murdered him after his capture. Watching the horrors of nationalist strife in Bosnia, Rwanda and other countries, we see the importance of an internationalist perspective and the burning need to advance the worldwide revolutionary movement. Che lived and worked and died as an internationalist.
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Che's name has some link with anti-revisionism: As previously mentioned, Che criticized the former Soviet Union regarding "peaceful coexistence,” and in practice he pursued a line opposite to what the Soviet Union advocated. However Che was not an anti-revisionist per se.
Today, most leftists have some criticism of the politics and practices in the former Soviet Union and the communist parties linked to the Soviets. However, the hard work of critiquing revisionism is not very popular It means sorting out what went wrong, separating the good from the bad, figuring out what that experience means for the advance of the revolutionary movement. Most importantly, it means discarding some long- cherished views and changing some long-held practices. I think it is easier to rely on the old answers of Soviet-style revisionism, or Trotskyism, or anarchism, or on vague populism than to answer hard questions and to change. Unfortunately, the current promotion of Che goes along with this general mood. Che's critique of Soviet revisionism may be more a matter of the desires of current-day activists than a reality in his own life.
Che's name is linked with socialism, especially "socialism” in Cuba. But what is "socialism" in Cuba?
The revolution freed Cuba from the abject subjugation to U.S. imperialism that was the Batista regime. After the revolution the working class, the peasantry, and the oppressed attempted to put many measures in place that would further their interests, that would give them a new life. This is very important social experience. After the revolution, the many reforms that were carried out improved living conditions, increased the literacy and skills of the masses, and improved industrial and agricultural techniques. Many of these reforms were beneficial to the masses.
Because the Cuban revolution defeated U.S. imperialism and because it brought a better life for the masses, it is highly regarded. This revolution and the Cuban experience should be closely studied. I have read Tablada's book on Che's economic plans. (Che Guevara, Economics and Politics in the Transition to Socialism by Carlos Tablada. Pathfinder/Pacific and Asia. 1989) In the main, the measures Che considered implementing sound like very reasonable things to do in a small country under imperialist blockade — even in a small capitalist country — if the leadership of that country does not want to go along with the dominant economic forces.
This is what gives Cuba its contradictory character In reality it was a small country whose economy was always capitalist and which survived in its position largely because of the rivalry that existed between two imperialist powers. At the same time the masses and many activists from the leading political party were inspired by ideas of socialism and they attempted to put those ideas into practice — this gives Cuban society features of a society in transition. And, true enough, those features are not and probably can not be maintained today in the current economic climate of globalization.
However, these measures do not constitute socialism. One of the questions not dealt with by Che, at least as reported by Tablada, is the impossibility of establishing socialism in a small country in the larger capitalist world. However, Che does view the Soviet bloc as socialist.
I think it is important to look at this experience critically In the camp of those whose politics were and are heavily influenced by Soviet-style communism, the older-style communist party politics and by Trotskyism, many look at Cuba and say that the experience was just great, that any problems are just a result of the pressures of world imperialism, the U.S.-led blockades and embargoes, etc. As far as they are concerned, Cuba is on the path to socialism.
Among those who came out of other politics, especially Maoism and supposed anti-revisionism, there has been a tendency to negate that experience altogether under the thought that the Cuban Revolution is just a variant of Soviet revisionism. I think some of this idea existed in the organizations we came out of — the COUSML and MLP — at least in the atmosphere, if not in the official documents. Neither of these organizations wrote much about Cuba although it's hard to say why Certainly there were many other important issues that we had to deal with. But perhaps there was not so much interest in Cuba because we all knew that it was, after all, revisionist.
* * * * *
I think the Cuban experience needs to be studied just as does the Soviet or Chinese experience. We need to separate the good from the bad and concentrate the essence of this rich revolutionary experience. Not all the problems in Cuba, such as the current opening to Western imperialism, the way its economy was tied to the Soviet economy, the current austerity measures, etc., are due to objective conditions. Nor do all these problems stem from the ideological mistakes of the Cuban leaders.
Part of assessing the Cuban revolution involves appraising the role of the Cuban leaders. In my opinion, the Cuban leadership, while it stood at the head of many progressive measures in Cuba, has overall played a bad role — and I think it has to be sorted out what was good and what was bad about its role. In particular, it has played a bad role in regard to revolutionary theory and what direction the various revolutionary movements should take. They have promoted reformism and in some cases have hamstrung the movements in various countries.
For example, it urged the revolutionary forces in Nicaragua not to "make the mistake we made" by being too socialist and driving the capitalists out of the country. Actually the capitalists and petty-capitalists fled Cuba after the revolution at the instigation and insistence of the C.I.A. Moreover, the Cuban leadership pressured the Sandinista regime to accommodate the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie at precisely the time that the Nicaraguan toilers were pressuring the government to take measures against the rich, measures that would have strengthened Nicaragua's hand in the contra war
Today in Cuba, Che's name is hailed as a beacon lighting the "socialist" path. Despite Che's revolutionary aspirations, it appears that his writings are being used as a way to promote austerity for the masses in Cuba while a reopening to western capitalism takes place. It is important today to clarify the difference between state capitalism and socialism. Che had the desire to end exploitation and oppression. However, he did not know fully how to accomplish this. Invoking his name as a revolutionary beacon that leads to the establishment of socialism does not help activists to clarify this question. 
Report on a visit to Cuba
By Jim, S.F. Bay Area Jan. 20,1993
The following report, here reprinted in full, originally appeared in the Information Bulletin (internal discussion bulletin of the Marxist-Leninist Party), issue #80, Feb. 10, 1993, during the last year of the MLP's life. Jim was a member of the Central Committee of the MLP. While his report contains much useful eyewitness information, Jim plays down the class contradictions shown by his own observations and is skeptical that there is any point to the development of a class struggle against the exploitative class order in Cuba. He claims that it's not even clear what the class differences are in Cuba, although he ends up admitting that the working class is the most ‘disenfranchised and alienated” section of the population in Cuba. He admits ‘fudging' on the big questions about Cuba, never refers to state-capitalism or revisionism in Cuba, and seems to regard Castroism as socialism but with a bad political regime. See the article “Apologizing for the Castro regime or supporting the Cuban workers?" starting on page 6.
Last week comrade Michael1 and myself returned from three weeks in Cuba. Most of that time we stayed in an apartment in a housing complex in a suburb in East Havana. This was within a quick bus ride from downtown Havana, as well as near some of the big housing projects where hundreds of thousands of Havana's working people live. We visited a day care center, a teachers' college, and an urban polyclinic. In our daily travels in and around Havana, we engaged in hundreds of discussions with Cubans of all professions and political persuasions. This included extensive discussions and debates in people's homes in the giant Alamar housing projects, as well as in the dilapidated areas of old and central Havana. We were not able to travel outside of Havana, except for a short excursion to nearby Matanzas province. This was unfortunate because we were repeatedly told that in rural Cuba the economic situation is better and the political attitudes are correspondingly different.
We have beat hard pressed to come up with a summation. The whole situation is so contradictory The hardest thing is trying to come up with some perspective of struggle, some way out for the Cuban working people, as the situation doesn't offer attractive options. So the following are some rough notes of some observations to help get the thought process going.
The number one issue in Cuba is the economy It is a wreck. The government calls it "the special period." The outskirts of Havana are littered with closed and crumbling factories and industrial projects, and the city itself is in urgent need of a coat of paint.
There is a desperate industrial crisis for lack of petroleum, parts and supplies. Much of the old Soviet/Eastern European machinery has been reduced to rusting hulks. There is an incredible lack of consumer products, as they have found -no way to replace the relatively beneficial trade of Cuban sugar and citrus for Comecon [Soviet bloc — CV] goods. And agriculture is in crisis for similar reasons. Herds of cattle had to be slaughtered because the supply of Comecon feed was cut off, and the cattle weren't suited for Cuban fodder. They are only now attempting to grow formerly imported vegetables. And while they have had a relatively modern and large-scale agriculture, it is hobbled by a lack of fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, and particularly fuel for the tractors. The newspapers carry major articles on the advances in the science of animal traction — that is, how to harness and drive oxen, a science Cubans were glad to have forgotten decades ago.
It seems that there is still a certain level of well-being, a safety net, which is tattered and worn, but which is still holding up the Cuban people. We saw no homeless, no destitute beggars, no drunks or drug addicts in the street. At the same time, the people are poor. Many have new Chinese bicycles, and in their homes they often have soviet model color TV's, radios and refrigerators. Many live in the post-revolution housing projects, which are generally clean and liveable compared to the desperately cramped and poor housing in old Havana. Over the last ten years or so there has been a process of giving people title to their apartments in these projects. Beyond that, the poverty is real. Clothes are tattered and repatched. Shoes are broken, and there is an apparent crisis of footwear for school children.
The diet for most Cubans has deteriorated dramatically, as food rations have been cut and cut again. Meat has become almost unavailable. The ration of rice and beans and oil is about half of what a family needs.
The shortages are especially painful because people are not accustomed to such a straggle with poverty Both friends and foes of the regime point out that the 1980’s were relatively abundant years, as Cubans did not lack for the essentials of food and clothing until the breakdown of the trade agreements with the former Soviet Union. Moreover, the Cuban people are relatively modern and well-educated. For example, they know the fundamentals of hygiene. So when the soap ration is cut to half a bar per person per month, it is felt all the more acutely
Cuban salaries are low, from about 150 Cuban pesos a month for a factory worker, to about 250 a month for a technician or a professional. Some salaries are higher, with various perks, etc., but this is the range of most of the people we spoke with. State-controlled and subsidized goods are generally quite cheap. (Cigarette prices were something of an exception, as they had been raised sharply, causing a lot of grumbling.) The problem is there is nothing for sale within the legal peso economy. People, especially professionals, have pesos but have a lot of trouble spending them beyond the limited goods accorded their ration books. Most of the shops and stores, even in the shopping “mall" of central Havana, are closed or empty There are a few ice cream, and pizza shops. (There are public cafeterias where rationed food is distributed, however, the quality was extremely miserable). And there are a few stores that will have some grapefruits available one morning and maybe plantains another Even when the newspaper Granma goes on sale there are long lines. Another legal peso market we saw were the handicraft fairs connected to the big housing projects, but here we are talking really titty scale trade among neighbors.
Then there is the black market. It seems that people wouldn't be getting by without the black market. The peso prices in this market are extremely steep. For example, a pair of shoes may cost 700 to 1000 pesos, maybe four month's wages. Part of the black market is meat and other produce from relatives and friends in the countryside. Another part is from pilfering and skimming state supplies. And another part is connected to the dollar black market connected to the tourists and foreigners. On the Havana waterfront there is an illegal dollar market in cigars, prostitution, and even in food with underground restaurants. (By the way, we had seen reports that there was also a busy drug trade, but we saw no evidence of it.)
Then there is the legal dollar economy The Cubans even mint their own tourist coins for this. The dollar economy is mainly for tourism, hotels, nightclubs, restaurants, etc. There is also a system of dollar shops filled with all kinds of imported goods, from Coca-Cola to Dutch cheese. There is a flagrant tourist apartheid in that the hotels, clubs, tour buses, are not accessible to most Cubans. Among other things, there are stiff jail sentences for Cubans caught with dollars without a good explanation. Nonetheless, it was striking how many Cubans have the necessary connections to get into the markets for the diplomats and tourists. It seems deliberate policy as a means to funnel the dollars from prostitution and other black market operations back into the hands of the government. The separate dollar economy is a real blight, obviously dividing Cubans from non-Cubans, but also diving those Cubans with access to the dollar economy and those without — a sore point among many.
Given Cuba’s present poverty, the attempts at state intervention and control are both the saving grace and the worst nightmare for the regime. On the one hand, there is much that is rational, and even popular, about state intervention. Most of all, there is the state prioritization of such things as health care and education (more on this below). Or, in the face of the milk shortage, the milk ration only goes to small children and pregnant mothers. In the face of the transportation crisis, during rush hours state inspectors stop trucks and other public vehicles and make them pick up passengers waiting for overloaded buses. The electric black outs are extremely unpopular, but the fact that they are pre-scheduled in a way that appears more or less fair probably makes them more bearable.
At the same time, the state is blamed for everything. No matter what the grievance, big or small, Fidel's government is to blame. And this psychology seems unavoidable given the extent to which this government attempts to hold the economic reins of Cuba's poverty.
Health care and education:
Pretty much across the political spectrum there was agreement that Cuba's health care and education systems were excellent. Much has been written and said about these things, but here's a few things we noted.
Cuba has put a lot of resources into its health care system. It has trained so many doctors that it has a surplus, and is now cutting back on admissions to medical school. It is also sending doctors to Brazil and elsewhere. In the mid-1980's it set up a new system of primary care with a family doctor system. A neighborhood doctor is assigned to every 700 or so residents, and he is responsible that Juan the diabetic is getting the proper diet and medicine and Juana the expecting mother gets the prenatal care she needs, too. And these doctors are connected to polyclinics that administer all but the more sophisticated care that requires hospitals. They claim remarkable success with this system: reducing infant mortality (which just fell again to 10.2 per 1000 births, approx U.S. levels); combatting infectious diseases; and improving prevention.
Officially, there have been no cutbacks in medical care despite the special period. But there are some cracks. For example, people told us that dental care is suffering for lack of filling materials.
Then there is education. It starts with the day care system, which is truly amazing for a poor country. The day care center we saw was spacious, well-staffed — including very professional educators with 5 years of university training and professional-level wages, two nurses and a part-time doctor, cooks, etc.— and just a beautiful haven for kids to play. Apparently, this is part of a uniform national system. Some of the pattern of this system was borrowed from the old Soviet Union. Nonetheless, for poor Cuba, the day care system seemed like an island of well-being. Officially, there are no cutbacks here either. However, we were told by a knowledgeable mother that many centers are now turning away new children because they do not have sufficient food to feed them.
Another thing to note is changes in the higher education system. Previously, Cuba maintained a generous program of funding university and other higher education. It was relatively easy to get in, tuition was free, and the state covered living costs. But now things are tightening up a lot. Only those with the top grades are being let in. While we were not able to detect the precise mechanism how it works, it seemed that a disproportionate number of medical students and other professional students that we met were children of party members and functionaries.
One boon to both the medical and education system is the big investment that the government is putting into biochemical research and the pharmaceutical industry. This is real. There is a lot of money going into this sector, which means employment for professionals and health care spin offs for the population (e.g. the development of a vaccine for meningitis, which we were told has virtually eliminated meningitis among Cuba's children, but which is barred from the U.S. because of the blockade).
We also learned a little bit about HIV/AIDS treatment in Cuba. They have given some 18 million AIDS tests in Cuba over the last several years (there are 11 million on the island which means some have been tested more than once). Apparently people want to be tested so they can get help. Anyone testing positive is placed in a sanitarium, which in recent years have been loosening up to allow healthy people to work, visit, etc. The sanitarium are not necessarily seen as banishment but as the only way to deliver the needed care (nutrition, medicines including AZT, etc.) In short, the whole thing is more complex than portrayed in some U.S. media.
Classes in Cuba:
It is not easy getting a read on how the class structure breaks down in Cuba. The revolution has mixed and stirred and leveled, breaking down old class and racial lines.
Based only on our observations, many of the present functionaries, officials, and professionals have their roots in humble positions prior to the revolution. They (or their parents) had been in the trade union movement, or maybe they had been peasants that had collaborated with the July 26 Movement in the sierra. For these people, the revolution carried them across the old class (and often racial) barriers. For example, we celebrated new years with a family that had four generations present. The great aunt had been a seamstress in a bra factory. Her grandparents had been slaves, and her family had suffered discrimination. Soon after the revolution, she was given a decent pension, a better apartment, and health care. Her nephew who she had raised had been a union activist and supporter of the revolution from the early days. Now he was a party man and low-level functionary. The other middle-aged members of the family had all been sent to university and now hold good professional jobs. And now their children were on a similar track, with one daughter being a national swimming champ and an educator. There were similar stories that went with other families of judges, doctors, directors, military officers, etc.
The other striking thing was that the gap between living conditions and incomes seemed pretty narrow. In the vast housing projects outside of Havana, professionals and functionaries live in the same relatively small and relatively barren apartments as the workers. One could notice that their shoes and clothes were better, and they may have had more access to dollars (to purchase soap and other essentials). Some of them also had motorcycles or cars. Then there were other perks that were harder to see, like educational opportunities for their kids. But generally, it seemed that leveling of living standards has gone pretty far. Here it should be stressed that we are not talking about the people at the very top of power (for example, we did not see much of the west side of Havana where the old bourgeoisie used to live and where top party and other offices are). We did hear that certain Cuban cultural figures earn a lot of money abroad, and are allowed to live accordingly in Cuba. And, given the extent of the black market it is hard to believe that there are not a lot of people sitting on some pretty big nest eggs. Also, there is a section of Cuban executives in the tourist industry, some connected to European and other joint ventures, who are known to be doing well.
The other striking gap we saw, was that workers' housing in the old quarters of Havana is extremely cramped and dilapidated. The situation is beyond repair The official plan is to build housing for these people in the housing projects on the outskirts, and turn most of old Havana into museums and offices. But this plan has been stalled by the realities of the special period. Meanwhile, who is left in old Havana are generally the poorest workers and marginalized unemployed and retired. (Note: there are also large newer parts of Havana where the make-up is more similar to what we saw in the housing projects.)
Politics and attitudes:
At one level, Cuba is a closed down, censored society For example, the sources of information and press for the population is extremely restricted. There are three newspapers in the country: Granma the organ of the CP and the official reprint of Fidel's latest; Trabajadores the trade union paper geared to production figures; and Juventud Rebelde with the latest on the Union of Young Communists rock concert. These used to be pretty regular and plentiful. Now Granma has fewer pages, less information, comes out four or five times a week, and can be pretty hard to find. There is also the magazine Bohemia who's distribution is even more limited, although its scope of coverage may be a little broader As for publications coming from outside, there may be some possibility for foreign technicians and diplomats, but such things cannot be found in the stores or among the people. Even among strong defenders of the regime, there is agreement that the press is arrogant and thoroughly inadequate.
Meanwhile, there are two television stations. The news is pretty perfunctory (supposedly they carry CNN for big international stories). There is a lot of pop music/MTV type stuff. Brazilian soap operas. And American trash movies, with Spanish subtitles. There are also over 50 Cuban radio stations, which may be the most fluid media.
In any case, while literacy rates are very high (even little kids can read the subtitles on the Terminator 2 and other flicks), there isn't much to read. How could anyone be politically conscious without access to political information? Unfortunately, especially among the poorer sections, there isn't much politics at all.
We were there during the elections for some 13,000 local or municipal delegates. The system was a tittle hard to get a handle on, but it looked like two (or sometimes three) candidates were chosen at local assemblies. A brief biography of the candidates were posted on the neighborhood CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) office. And then there was a secret ballot vote between them. Besides the official urgings to get out the vote, there was no campaigning at all. This system is contrasted to the bourgeois politicking and careerism of capitalist elections. But the net result is something of a yawn. There was no public debate of policy, no discussion of views, and little interest among the people. In February, the national elections are going to be held for the national assembly and for the top leadership positions (Fidel, Raul, etc.). Apparently, this is the first time these positions have been drawn through direct elections. The problem is, unless there is some room for a clash of opinions and public debate, it will still leave the people outside of politics.
Meanwhile, among the people, we found a wide spectrum of political opinions. It did not seem that people were afraid to speak their mind, and they spoke openly and often forcefully. Especially among older people who had a taste of the past (and maybe even had a taste of a sweatshop in Miami) and have realized some security in the present, we found not enthusiasm but a certain faith in Fidel and the ability of the system to overcome the blockade and the special period. We also met younger people, students and others, who are proud of Cuba's accomplishments, but are more critical and concerned for the future, how long people will accept going without soap, etc. There is a lot of talk about the mistakes of the party, especially around the Soviet question and economics, and there is a revival in studying Che Guevara's economic and other writings. Che is still something of a hero, and people are debating such things as his criticisms of the Russians for relying too heavily on material instead of moral incentives. This may seem odd, but a heavy component of Cuban politics is exhortation to the individual to commit oneself. "A single grain of sand.” as Che said. Indeed there are quotations from Fidel and Che to this effect all over the place. In any case, we witnessed a number of debates of this type among what could be described as those most favorable to the revolution. There are varying degrees of recognition that the official optimism is unrealistic. There is a general skepticism that any good news is going to come soon from abroad (e.g. no one is big on China, or Iraq, or whatever). And there is this groping for a Cuban solution in the wisdom of Jose Marti or Che.
We also met plenty of people who have had enough. Some are just outright pro-U.S. and either want to go to Miami or want Miami to come to Havana. These are people who might curse at Cuba and spit at the ground for the benefit of a passing tourist. We found a large number of these people in old Havana and along the waterfront plying the tourist market. Some are more sophisticated, they want a radical change, but they are savvy enough to know that things might not go so well in America for a dark-skinned young man who doesn't speak English. They also may recognize that the Americanization of Cuba may destroy the positive reforms and reduce Cuba to another Haiti. Some of these people are looking towards Mexico (where many Cuban artists and intellectuals are now living) or Europe.
The focus of the discontent is economic. The TV is full of pictures of the good life, and life in Cuba right now is tough. Young people want Nikes and Reeboks, but they are almost going barefoot. A section of professional people are disillusioned because they cannot live anywhere close to the life a computer programmer or civil engineer may expect to live.
Workers seemed especially unhappy. We met dozens of workers from tobacco factories, distilleries, bakeries, etc., and no other section than the rank-and-file factory hand seemed so generally disenfranchised and alienated from the system. The lack of petroleum, parts and materials has closed factories across the country According to the Francisco Linares Calvo, minister of the State Committee of Labor and Social Security, there is not a single unemployed worker in Cuba. At the same time, there are 125,700 registered surplus workers, and those who can't find productive work receive 60% of their wage. (Interview in the 4 January 1993 Trabajadores) Of course, this is official nonsense. There are a great number of unemployed, or marginally employed, and most probably do receive their 60% or more stipend. But it is all very contradictory. On the one hand, people sit at home stewing, or more likely spend their time scrounging for food and clothes. On the other hand, people on the job are exhorted to work hard and put in large numbers of voluntary hours. And workers, even angry and disillusioned workers, were putting in extra hours because they thought they could benefit from it. At the same time, much of the extra work and extra effort was unproductive make-work, and workers don't appreciate that either. Many are sent into the fields to help with the crops. Trips to the country is one way to supplement the poor diet. But there is resentment of not being able to make a living as workers. The anger among these ordinary workers was strikingly inarticulate. They are mad because the system doesn't work, they don't have shoes or clothes or food. One hint at a class perspective was anger at the higher ups who had access to dollars.
What are the prospects?
There is a lot of resentment and frustration building up in Cuba, and it would be foolish to deity the possibility of an explosion like in Eastern Europe. At the same time, the revolution is still fresh in the minds of a wide section, and the understanding of the reforms gained is a factor for patience and even determination among some. One possibility is that as Fidel's generation goes into retirement, the next generation will attempt to steer a third, more social-democratic course in alliance with Europe and Mexico. Of course, the violent hostility of the U.S. and the exiled bourgeoisie is another factor weighing against a gradual evolution and towards explosion. If the economy goes from bad to worse, the regime's remaining credibility will plummet. If Cuba's biotech makes a few big breakthroughs that may buy time.
The most difficult thing is what do we, the class conscious workers in the U.S., suggest that the Cuban workers do? In our discussions we were continually hemmed in by this problem, to the point of feeling tongue-tied. Points we found ourselves repeatedly making:
— Opposition to the U.S. blockade and the threats and bullying against Cuba. The blockade is placing extreme economic hardships on the Cuban people. There is also the acute problem of separation of families, as almost everyone we spoke to had a close relative (frequently a father or brother) in the U.S. and little means of contact. There isn't even reliable mail service. And the phone connection is nearly impossible. While Cuba puts up some obstacles to Cubans travelling to the U.S., the U.S. blockade is the main problem.
— Sympathy for the gains produced by the revolution: health care, education, etc. A large section of the people, maybe especially women, are strongly committed to these things.
— Sympathy for the workers' complaints that the people at the top who urge sacrifice and require jail sentences for engaging in the black market are buying what soap and food they need at the dollar stores.
— That the working people can't wage a successful struggle for their needs and interests without information and without means to express those needs and interests. That means access to literature, books, etc., and access to the media, publishing, etc. Of course, the reply to this was often that if the grip is loosened the gusanos will seize on this for their aims. Our reply was that if the workers can't mobilize themselves politically, then in the long run Cuba is even more vulnerable to a gusano counterrevolution. Even supporters of the regime recognized that there was a serious problem here.
— That Cuba's economic crisis (e.g. the collapse of sugar prices) is part of a larger world crisis, and this requires a broader struggle against world capitalism. We tried to link a successful struggle of the Cuban working people in defense of their interests with the revival of world (and regional) workers communism.
Of course, all this amounted to the big fudge on the big questions. What about the overthrow of the present regime? Would you encourage such a struggle so as to clear the path for a new wave of struggle? In fact, the points above about room for the workers to mobilize are incompatible with the present regime, and probably imply its overthrow, yet it's not the same. And beyond that, what are the prospects for workers' revolution and socialism in Cuba? Does it make any sense, to talk about such a thing? Yes, Fidel has made some terrible economic blunders, which have meant that they failed to make investments in things that they needed when they had a chance. But even with the best policy decisions, is there any prospect for the Cuban economy to flourish in face of the hostility of the whole capitalist world? That is a dilemma. 
What's happening in Cuba?
By Michael, Detroit, 1993
Below is a draft article written by former Marxist-Leninist Party Central Committee member, Michael, in 1993. The article met opposition within the editorial group of the MLP's national newspaper, the Workers' Advocate, and was never published. The next Central Committee meeting, in May 1993, a half year before the MLP dissolved, decided that such materials should be published as discussion documents in the Workers' Advocate Supplement as part of an ongoing debate, but Michael stonewalled the issue until the MLP dissolved later in the year. The first part of the article denounces U.S. imperialism's efforts to strangle Cuba, as the MLP always did, and recounts the development of the economic crisis in Cuba. The main problems in the article begin after that. The article winds up confusing Cuban state-capitalist oppression with socialism and the regime's austerity measures with "egalitarianism." With this perspective, the need for building an anti-revisionist trend among the Cuban workers is lost. This article is examined in the article ‘Apologizing for the Castro regime or supporting the Cuban workers?' starting on page 6 of this journal.
Bush and Congress are stepping up the campaign to strangle Cuba.
In April, the White House tightened the trade embargo. Ships that trade with Cuba will be barred from U.S. ports unless they obtain special licenses from the Treasury Department.
Meanwhile Congress is considering a move to completely bar ships that trade with Cuba from entering U.S. ports. The bills under consideration would also subject foreign subsidiaries of American companies to the ongoing embargo and impose sanctions on third countries trading with Cuba. These bills are sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, showing that the campaign against Cuba is a bipartisan policy of U.S. imperialism.
The U.S. government is also putting the heat on foreign companies and governments which plan to invest or trade with Cuba. Washington closely monitors all trade and investment in Cuba from anywhere in the world.
A while ago, for example, the Agriculture Department declared that wheat sales to India were being “reviewed" because that country was selling rice to Cuba. And South American businesspeople who have planned to invest in Cuba are regularly threatened with economic retaliation if they carry through with their plans.
All these measures are part of the three-decade-long campaign to bring the small Caribbean country to its knees. Before the 1959 revolution against the U.S.-backed dictator Batista, Cuba had been a poverty-stricken dependency of the United States. American companies made superprofits out of the island's sugar plantations, and Havana was a playground for people with money from the U.S. The revolution put an end to this insulting state of affairs. The U.S. government has sought revenge ever since.
Washington's stand is that of an arrogant imperialist bully It wants to tighten the squeeze until Cuba changes its system to what the U.S. government considers appropriate: private capitalism and American-style democracy This is an open assault on the right of peoples to determine their own destiny, but U.S. imperialism could care less about other people's rights. It arrogantly gives itself the right to determine what will or will not happen in Cuba.
Impact of the Soviet collapse
Today U.S. imperialism smells blood in Cuba, because of the collapse of the state-capitalist order in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Three decades ago, in order to find relief from the U.S. blockade, the leaders of the Cuban revolution sought aid from the Soviet bloc. They embraced the Soviet state-capitalist model and turned Cuba into a satellite of the Soviet Union. But now that Cuba's former friends are out of power, the country is in dire economic straits.
The Cuban revolution did chalk up impressive gains in education, health care, and nutrition for the working people. This stands out in contrast to much of the "third world," where the lot of the poor is harsh and miserable. Part of this improvement came as a result of revolutionary changes in Cuban society. And part came because the Soviet bloc — for geopolitical reasons — subsidized the Cuban economy
Cuba calls itself socialist, but in reality it is a state-capitalist society like the rest of the former Soviet bloc. The workers do not run the country; a bureaucracy which rules in their name does. And while there is not a huge gap between the ruling bureaucracy and the masses — as existed in Eastern Europe — the officialdom are still very much a privileged ruling class. And the working class remains a class of wage slaves.
The integration with the Soviet bloc came with another price. The Castro regime gave up attempts to diversify the economy and linked itself totally to the fortunes of the Soviet bloc. It still remains heavily dependent on the fortunes of its sugar production. Once the Soviet bloc collapsed, the economic well-being of the country came face to free with crisis. True, the U.S. embargo exacts a heavy cost from Cuba, but even without it the Cuban economy would be in deep trouble. Its economic linkages have been broken and its subsidies cut off.
In 1989, the Soviet bloc was responsible for 83% of Cuba's trade, much of it subsidized. Now the country must pay for everything with hard currency at world market prices. And it just cannot afford to. For example, Cuba use to get some 12-13 million tons of oil from the Soviet Union in exchange for 4.3 million tons of sugar. They consumed 10 million and sold the rest on the world market. That gave them the hard currency to buy machinery, raw supplies and equipment from the West.
This year, Cuba may be able to only acquire 6 million tons of oil.
That means just over half as much the oil it need for industry. agricultural equipment, and transportation. At least 67 industrial centers have been shut down. Hundreds of thousands have been laid off. Bus services have been cut. Electricity has been curtailed. After almost mechanizing the farm sector, Cuba has had to bring back yoked teams of oxen. And a million bicycles have been imported.
The Castro regime's response
The Cuban regime has adopted a threefold program to deal with its crisis:
* Austerity and rationing
* Diversification of the economy, based on emphasizing food self-sufficiency and wooing foreign investment. Also the development of medical and biotechnology sectors which Cuba thinks it can find export markets for.
* Tightening of political controls over the population.
These measures make up the campaign to deal with the "Special Period in Peacetime." Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership have declared "Socialism or death!" By that they insist they will maintain at all costs the state-capitalist order which they call socialism.
A great many people in Cuba are indeed making heroic sacrifices to deal with the current crisis. And one cannot help but admire their determination to see that social justice is not destroyed. But the reality is that the state-capitalist system is being undermined, and private capitalism is coming to Cuba anyway. Will it come in such a way that some of the social gains of the last 33 years are maintained? Or will it come in a way that wipes out most of them? That is the difficult question lying ahead of Cuba today.
The vengeance of the capitalist market
Why do we say that private capitalism is coming anyway?
First, it is coming by government policy. The Cuban economy needs foreign currency It needs it to buy energy; it is desperately short of that. And it needs it if it hopes to have any economic growth. Cuba is simply not big enough or rich enough a country that can do with its internal resources alone.
The Cuban regime has already decided to set up a sector governed by private sector rules. That is the tourist sector. A number of foreign investors — especially Spanish — have come in to build hotels and other tourist facilities. The foreign companies manage these facilities, and they have the right to hire and fire.
Cuba has also agreed to other foreign investments, in which the same rules will apply. So the result is that an important sector of the economy is being created which will be run by private enterprise.
The other way that private capitalism is coming is by the force of economic realities. Castro hopes to insulate the foreign-run sector away from the rest of this economy which is run by the state. That is dubious under any circumstances, but under conditions of acute shortages and rationing, it is impossible. The result is the mushrooming of the black market and corruption.
Visitors to Cuba these days all note these social consequences. For example, a writer for the Latin American journal Proceso noted last fall: “the problems of supply have been partially resolved by Cubans with two recent and openly tolerated institutions, corruption and the black market. Everything is lacking in this city of 2 million. But it is possible, if one knows the back door, to make do." Goods bought in stores for diplomats are sold on the black market. Burglaries are on the rise. Single women and hustlers throng the areas frequented by tourists. Indeed, he comments further- "If during the decades [past] the entire island was a bordello for the U.S., today, in the afternoons and evenings, the entire Havana pier and its prolongation to the west, 5th Avenue, is a showcase of sexual offers for the foreigner with hard currency " (Latin America News Update, Nov 1991, p. 14.)
You can't feed people on exhortations
Many progressive Cubans are upset that the result of the Special Period is a lowering of public morality. But a moralist complaint clarifies nothing. It is not that Cubans are becoming corrupt by choice, rather it is being forced upon them by the harshness of economic realities.
The fact of the matter is that it is not possible to maintain a commitment to egalitarianism in a society in the conditions of growing want. The Cuban regime had decreed rationing, but even if it succeeded in being loyal to its proclamations giving everyone an equal ration for survival, decrees cannot stand up to the logic of economic necessity or the class divisions within the society. There will be competition over scarce supplies, and the well-off will do better than those at the bottom. Over a century ago, Karl Marx pointed out that in order to have socialism, the economy must have conquered want. He wrote that the "development of productive forces is an absolute necessary practical premise, because without it privation, want is merely made general, and with want the struggle for necessities would begin again, and all the old crap would necessarily be restored. ” (Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, 1845-46) And certainly, one can see today that the old crap is coming back in Cuba, no matter what the exhortations of the regime.
Therefore, in the face of the growing private capitalism, either the regime will be forced to adapt more and more to it, or the conditions will be created for a social explosion. An explosion unfortunately carries with it the danger that it may be used as a pretext for U.S. intervention. And should that happen, the extreme right-wingers in Miami may well return. It is no secret that they seek total revenge on the revolution.
Unfortunately, even as the regime opens up to foreign investment and has no choice but to tolerate the black market, it believes that it can preserve state-capitalist "socialism" through ideological exhortation and repression. But it is more than 30 years since the revolution. You cannot maintain revolutionary zeal in favor of sacrifice in the face of continual hardship. You cannot defeat economic reality by ideology
Indeed, attempting to feed people on ideology means only increasing the gulf between the regime and the people. Cuba remains a class society And the black market and the ‘tourist apartheid’ mean that it is the ones with privilege, the ones with connections, who do better than the ones without. Such a situation is bound to create a wider feeling of anger against the hypocrisy of the regime when it exhorts the masses to egalitarianism while tolerating greater privileges for those at the top. Visitors to Cuba already report growing resentment among the poor against the better off.
In the final analysis, the Cuban regime's solution ends up banking on police measures to control popular discontent. While the U.S. lies about ‘massive human rights violations in Cuba" — nothing there compares to the U.S.-supported death- squad regimes of Central America — still, it is true that the Cuban government intimidates, harasses, and beats down any signs of discontent which do not agree with the government's policies.
A repressive policy will not preserve Castroite state-capitalism. It may temporarily succeed, but the experience of Eastern Europe should not be forgotten.
No one can predict exactly what will develop in Cuba. Or when. But the economic trends are clear They do not bode well for Castro's experiment to have "socialism” on one island. The real question is, in the trying times ahead, will the working class be able to preserve some of the social gains they have made and be able to organize to defend themselves from the harsher exploitation which is coming? 
Two perspectives on Mexico
Taking democracy to the limit, or organizing a socialist movement?
By Joseph Green
What is the “the relationship between the fight for democratic demands and the process of gathering forces and building organization for a socialist revolution in Mexico"? This is the question addressed by Anita in a polemic against my article "On proletarian tasks in the period of the tottering of the PRI regime?/Once again on peasant socialism"1 (Her polemic, "The fight for democratic demands and the socialist revolution in Mexico”, appeared originally in the latest issue of the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal2, and is reprinted on pp. 49-51 of this issue of the Communist Voice.) She has a diametrically opposite view of the question than I do.
In my article, I advocated that for the proletariat to take advantage of the tottering of the PRI regime, it not only had to take part in the general movement for democratization, but to recognize this movement's limitations. It had to see through the quasi-socialist colors in which the Chicago Workers’ Voice and many Mexican leftists were painting it. Only then would the proletariat and revolutionary activists take up the tasks needed to organize a socialist revolutionary movement, something which the general democratic movement will not do, and only then would the proletariat be in the position to utilize democratic rights for improving its conditions and extending the class struggle. These are the protracted tasks of preparatory work for revolution, protracted as social revolution is not imminent in Mexico and there will be a long period of building up an independent proletarian trend.
Replying to me, Anita sees the socialist movement as springing from taking democratic demands "to their revolutionary limits" In her view, the socialists are simply the most militant and revolutionary members of the general democratic movement. She is silent on the specific program for socialist work which I set forward. And she herself puts forward few, if any, specific tasks for developing the socialist movement, and instead believes that the socialist forces will arise spontaneously from the growth of militancy in the general democratic movement. She has no idea of what the socialist activists should do to help develop a truly Marxist party, supporting instead a plan by the petty-bourgeois nationalist journal El Machete to build a coalition by taking the consensus of the views of whatever left groupings it can get to join with it in discussions. (Anita's article is in fact mainly an introduction to and defense of El Machete's call for this coalition, a call which is reprinted on page 32 of this issue of CV.)
Anita pretends that any reference to the limitations of the general democratic movement means not seeing any relationship between the fight for democratic demands and the struggle for socialism. On the contrary, I have not only recognized such a connection, but I have advocated it more consistently than Anita and the CWV have. Anita and the CWV don't see the point of the democratic struggle unless it is immediately revolutionary, and they cannot formulate a correct policy for what to do when revolutionary events are not imminent. So in order to deal with the tottering of the PRI regime, Anita has to paint the current situation as revolutionary, with the perspective of "pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary (not socialist but revolutionary) limits" She doesn't say what these "revolutionary limits" are, but just creates great expectations. Indeed, she suggests near the end of her article that there is a possibility that this movement might pass to socialism after achieving the revolutionary limits of democracy.
In fact, Mexico is facing a "democratization" similar in general outline to what has taken place elsewhere around the world in the last decade. There will be exciting events, but this will not inaugurate a social revolution. Moreover the bourgeoisie will ask the masses to pull their belts tighter in gratitude for the democratization. I advocate that despite the limited nature of the likely outcome, the proletariat can and should strive to utilize the crisis to achieve as many rights as it can, establish independent political and economic organizations, and develop a class struggle against the cutbacks and austerity programs of the bourgeoisie. What the workers and other sections of the masses do or don't do in this crisis will affect events for years to come. Anita and the CWV instead dream of the glorious revolution, democratic if not socialist, while all but ignoring the need to establish truly independent proletarian organization, which doesn't yet exist on any large scale. Anita and the CWV pepper their articles with "revolutionary” phrases, but they only sugarcoat what is really happening in Mexico. They want to look revolutionary, but they have no independent program to set before the socialist activists and end up simply urging them to be, in effect, the militant shock troops for the petty-bourgeois democrats and the liberal bourgeoisie. How many times does one see in CWV articles on Mexico the view that the programs of the reformists are interesting and of value, but require revolution to be put into effect!
Thus Anita does not see that the general democratic movement is inevitably a bourgeois-democratic movement, in which the class alignments are different from what takes place in the struggle for socialism, nor does she tell the truth about what type of change is imminent in Mexico. Instead of centering her attention on how the Mexican proletariat can break the chains that subordinate its organizations to the bourgeoisie, she pretends that these chains have already been broken on a local level.
Our difference on whether to go beyond the general democratic movement also appears in the analysis of the peasant movement. I advocated in my article that the proletariat, while supporting the peasant revolts, must simultaneously take a critical stand toward the views set forward by the Zapatistas and similar movements. The CWV, not just Anita but Jack Hill and Sarah, instead glorify the Zapatista program and present the ejido (Mexican agrarian co-ops with small-scale peasant agriculture) as quasi-socialist.
Thus on the agrarian question, the CWV puts a “revolutionary" gloss on the current struggles. It considers that the Zapatistas will in fact be taking the democratic demands to their ‘revolutionary limits” if only they stop supporting the bourgeois reformist party (the PRD, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas's Party of the Democratic Revolution). Here again, the CWV is unable to support a struggle without painting it in flaming red colors. Instead of articulating an independent proletariat stand on the countryside, they become the left fringe of the Zapatista leadership. While Anita and the CWV pin their hopes for socialism on moving the Zapatistas to the left, I on the contrary advocate that the proletariat and socialist activists must recognize the petty-bourgeois character of the general peasant movement. Such peasant movements generally can't see beyond more aid to small-scale peasant farming, don't recognize the reasons for the ongoing decay of the ejido, and don't take notice of the exploitation of the poor peasants by their richer neighbors inside the ejido (talking only of their exploitation by forces outside the ejido). So to build a socialist movement in the countryside, the urban proletariat and socialist activists have to do more than support the general peasant revolts. They must also encourage the rural workers and poor peasants to unite in their own class organizations in defense against the rich peasants (as well as other exploiters) and to recognize the poverty for the majority that is inherent in small-scale peasant fanning.
Anita replies to these points by saying that ‘the CV author doesn't understand the indigenous peasant movement.2 Yet, although the CV has published a good deal of material on what's happening in the ejidos, Anita refuses to give her views on this question. In her article, she resolutely closes her eyes to the class differences developing within the ejidos and agrarian communities and among the peasants; she talks only of the class differentiation in the countryside between the ejidos and poor peasantry on one side and the various ranchers and capitalist exploiters outside the ejido. She continues the CWV policy of going beyond support of the peasant uprisings to idealizing them, saying that the ejidos and indigenous agrarian communities in the Lacandona Jungle (where the EZLN is based) are different from those elsewhere. Indeed, she implies that in southern Mexico, and perhaps throughout Mexico, the peasant movement is already a movement of poor peasants and rural laborers in their own interests, thus ignoring the real character of the general peasant movement and overlooking the varying stands taken by politically-active peasants. Indeed, she even claims that there isn't much class difference between the peasants and workers. On the question of whether the ejidos and agrarian communities are socialist or near-socialist institutions, she avoids any direct discussion of the theories set forward previously by other authors in CWV and by El Machete.
How Anita presents our differences
Anita however sums up the differences between us differently She pretends that I am disparaging socialist work and stand only for ‘some democratic changes" She writes that:
"The Communist Voice author asserts that I and other authors in the CWV cannot accept that the possibility of change in Mexico is only for 'some democratic changes' so we are painting the struggle of the masses (i.e. the EZLN), as socialist. One doesn't have to be very astute to observe that the socialist revolution is not imminent in Mexico, and that the fight for democratic demands is not a fight for socialism. It seems that the CV author doesn't understand the indigenous peasant movement, nor the relationship between the fight for democratic demands and the process of gathering forces and building organization for a socialist revolution in Mexico.”
From this, a reader might imagine that I had opposed carrying out socialist work in the name of realism. One might be confused about who it is who says that the current perspective should focus solely on "democratic demands”, and imagine that Anita is defending the need to work for socialism even at present. In actual fact, far from advocating that the only ‘possibility of change' in Mexico is some democratic tinkering, I have advocated that the activists should seek to build a socialist movement and take up protracted work for socialist revolution. I have pointed out the limited nature of the ongoing changes in Mexico not in order to restrain the activists to bourgeois "realism”, but in order to encourage them to go beyond such "realism" and to see what is necessary to build a truly radical movement, one devoted to the class interests of the proletariat. Such a movement, while seeking to achieve the maximum in democratic liberties for the masses, will also seek to develop the class struggle against exploitation.
And Anita? When one ponders the rest of her article, it turns out that it is she who presents the overall task as simply taking the "democratic demands" to "their revolutionary limits" She creates revolutionary expectations while limiting the framework of all revolutionary work to ‘democratic demands" Instead of dealing with how to utilize the current Mexican crises to develop a mass independent proletarian movement, which would be a real revolutionary change that would electrify the world working class movement, she talks of pushing the overall situation in Mexico to "revolutionary limits” and about an ongoing "Mexican revolution" which is supposedly analogous in some ways to the democratic revolution in Russia in 1905.
This shows that she can't deal with the reality of protracted work in a situation where the revolution is far off, and doesn't know how to carry out socialist work while democratization is going on.
Anita doesn't grasp that revolutionary work under the difficult condition of proletarian disorganization doesn't consist of presenting the present as already very revolutionary, or hoping that democratization — if only it is taken to its limits — will transcend the boundaries of bourgeois democracy and start to merge with socialism. Both in Mexico and the U.S., real revolutionary work requires not just hoping for a growth in the size and militancy of the general movement, but encouraging a change in the nature of the movement, the repudiation of old practices and the building up of a anti-revisionist communist trend, different from the political trends now influential among the progressive activists. Anita recoils from this task, preferring popularity in the left-wing movement at the price of embracing petty-bourgeois illusions, and abandoning the struggle to build an anti-revisionist Marxist trend devoted to proletarian reorganization.
So Anita glosses over the problems of the current movement. I on the contrary advocate that real solidarity with the Mexican workers, poor peasants and activists means joining with them to develop a truly revolutionary path that rejects the fashionable theories and practices that have dominated and hamstrung the movements for so long. Instead of patronizing the movement as Anita and the CWV does, revolutionary solidarity means doing our fraternal duty of encouraging the formation of a anti-revisionist communist trend in Mexico.
Going beyond the general movement against the PRI's regime
In my article, I had pointed to a number of tasks that a real socialist program of action for Mexico should include today. These included taking part in the struggle to topple the PRI regime. In fact, a real socialist program is more consistent on the democratic issues than the CWV, because Marxism doesn't have to pretend that this struggle will have a very revolutionary outcome in order to recognize the importance for the proletariat of fighting for democratic rights. But the socialist program isn't the democratic program taken "to its revolutionary limits", as many petty-bourgeois socialists think, but goes far beyond the limits of the general democratization movement. For example:
* it must show the bourgeois nature of the change of regime that is imminent in Mexico. This doesn't mean denouncing the struggle for democratization; on the contrary, breaking down the system of police repression and state tutelage that today dogs the mass organizations and struggles is of vital importance to all working people. But recognizing the reality behind the fancy democratic words is vital if the proletarian movement is not to be subordinated to "civic society", the liberal bourgeoisie, and the petty-bourgeois democrats. The CWV on the contrary vacillates between denouncing the democratic struggle as simply "democratization schemes of the bourgeoisie" and pretending that there is a pure democratization without a bourgeois nature and directly linked to socialism.3
* it must call for the development of independent proletarian organizations of all types, separate from the petty-bourgeois democrats and all factions of the bourgeoisie. Of central importance is the struggle to develop a proletarian party with a truly communist program. Stress must also be laid on the struggle to develop trade unions that are free both of the PRI (which most Mexican unions are enslaved to today) and of the various pro-capitalist trends that are seeking to dominate the minority of "independent" (of the PRI) unions. Anita on the contrary supports the petty-bourgeois democrats and nationalists of the El Machete group and glosses over the difference between the peasant movement and the workers' movement.
* it must repudiate the long-standing theory that the ejidos or small-scale production could provide a prosperous life for the peasantry and prevent the split between rich and poor peasants, if only there were proper government policies and more aid to the countryside. It must expose the petty-bourgeois and peasant socialist theories that see something socialist in the ejidos and the Cardenista agrarian policy followed for a period of time by the PRI. Anita on the contrary prettifies the PRI's history prior to its turn to conservative (also called neo-liberal) economic policies.
* in the countryside, it must pay special attention to encouraging any tendency among the rural workers and the poor peasantry to organize a movement of the rural semi-proletariat, separate from the general peasant movement, which has a petty-bourgeois character Anita on the contrary claims that the overall peasant movement is already a movement based on the class demands of the poor peasants and rural laborers.
* it must show what real Marxism-Leninism is, and contrast it to the various revisionist ideas which are quite prevalent, such as the still widespread view of Castroist state-capitalism as socialism. The CWV on the contrary has been apologizing for the crusading Castroism of El Machete and has now gone to the extent of claiming that the Cuban regime should not be called revisionist. (See Mark's article "How some former anti-revisionists reconcile with Cuban revisionism” starting on page 6 of this issue of CV.)
Implementing such a program would not only help prepare the proletariat for its long-range program of socialist revolution, but would give the proletariat the greatest chance to win some social gains during the ongoing struggle over the form of government in Mexico. It would help frustrate the bourgeois plan — seen in the wave of democratizations of the last few years that has embraced a number of countries throughout the world — that the masses should tighten their belts as the price of some democratic rights. And far from meaning that the working class should withdraw into itself and ignore the struggles of other working people, the existence of independent proletarian organization is the only way the working class can exercise significant influence on the peasantry, the urban petty-bourgeoisie, the indigenous peoples, etc. and step forward as the leader of all the oppressed masses in Mexico.
Anita's theory of spontaneity
Neither Anita nor the CWV in general promote any of these tasks needed to carry out socialist work at the present time. Instead, Anita's article puts forward one theory after another to reinforce the idea that the struggle for socialism springs spontaneously from the struggle for democratic demands. She ends up obscuring or playing down many of the key class contradictions in Mexico.
Among the notable features of her theory of revolution are the following:
* she believes in "pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary limits" but can't explain what this means;
* she promotes that the stage of the Mexican revolution at the moment is simply to work for ‘democratic demands';
* she says that the struggle for these democratic demands has a "dual nature”, hinting that the democratic struggle is sort of socialist.
* she denies the inevitable vacillations in the political and social stands of the peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie.
* she prettifies the liberal bourgeoisie as progressive and can only oppose it today by saying there is no longer a Mexican liberal bourgeoisie in the full sense. In line with this, she prettifies the Cardenista and Echeverrista policies of the old PRI, prior to its conservative shift to "neo-liberal” (which is the same as “neo-conservative”) free-market policies.
* despite her assertion that the socialist revolution is not imminent, she creates the expectation of an immediate revolution that may well grow over into a socialist revolution.
* she says that there already is a strong independent movement of the proletariat on the local level, although it is fragmented on the national level. This fits in with her support of El Machete's plan of trying to unite various groups without an ideological basis for this unity
* she reduces the idea of the proletariat leading the working masses to that the workers, peasants and other urban poor all put forward such demands at demonstrations as "healthcare, education, justice, democracy, etc."
* her view of organizing "a revolutionary proletarian trend” looks more like merging with the petty-bourgeoisie, and has little to do with building independent proletarian organization.
* she suggests that ejido peasants and workers are just about in the same class position, arguing that the peasants are just about in the same position as workers "who may [also] own their little house and garden but are exploited by - the capitalists”
* she prettifies the EZLN by suggesting that the ejidos of the Lacandona Jungle are different from those formed as part of the ejido program of the PRI government.
All these theses suggest that the democratic movement will develop of itself into a socialist movement, and negate the need for specific socialist work. They also gloss over today's widespread confusion over the path of struggle, and denigrate the struggle against long-standing but mistaken views. Instead Anita and El Machete present a glorified picture of the present movement, painting it in socialist or near-socialist colors. If the socialist activists follow such theories, they will end up simply the militant or ‘revolutionary' or fighting wing of a general democratic movement which doesn't go beyond liberal bourgeois aims.
In an accompanying article I deal with the theoretical arguments given by Anita for these positions, and contrast them to the Marxist stand on the development of the socialist movement. I also point out the lack of content in her revolutionary slogans and their inability to deal with the realities of Mexico today or with the Cardenista ideology stemming from Lazaro Cardenas's reforms of the late 1930s.
1 In Communist Voice, vol. 2, #6, issue #11, Dec. 13,1996.
2 CWVTJ, issue #12, Feb. 26, 1997.
3 Indeed, one of the writers in the CWVTJ, who is not from the CWV but an allied group, the Los Angeles Workers Voice, is a "left communist" who regards any struggle that isn't directly for socialism as treason to the proletariat and, on that basis, denounces all the national liberation and bourgeois-democratic struggles of the 20th century Presumably if he felt that the CWV really supported a bourgeois-democratic struggle, he would denounce them as strongly as he denounces national liberation. If the CWV regards his mistake as minor, and if he can live with their support of "democratic struggles", it is presumably because the CWV only supports a glorified kind of democratic struggle that, in their mind, is far beyond bourgeois-democracy. 
Marxist Theory on Democracy and Socialism in Relation to Revolutionary Work in Mexico
By Joseph Green
Pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary limits
—The struggle for democratic demands—
—The dual nature of the revolution—
The bourgeois nature of the democratic revolution
The uninterrupted revolution
—Hoping the peasantry and petty-bourgeois will stop vacillating—
—Transforming the Mexican liberals of the good old days of Lazaro Cardenas into revolutionaries—
—The revolution is imminent —
—The independent proletarian movement has only to unite on a national level —
—The political organization that does nothing —
—About the alliance of all the working people —
—Merging with the petty-bourgeoisie —
Forgetting about the peasant bourgeoisie
—Glossing over the class differences between the workers and peasants —
—The ejidos in the Lacandona Jungle —
In the article "Two Perspectives on Mexico"1 I outlined Anita's views which try to give a profound theoretical justification for the abandonment of the tasks of building up a socialist movement during a period of "democratization" She tries to present this as Leninism, even though the quotations from Lenin in her article actually oppose her petty-bourgeois democratic stands. It will thus be worthwhile to examine her arguments in more detail. Since she compares the situation in Mexico to the democratic revolution of 1905 in Russia, it will necessary to spend a good deal of time examining the actual Leninist theory concerning socialist work in a democratic revolution. Although Mexico is not actually facing a democratic revolution, this material remains of value not only to refute Anita's stands, but to illustrate the general Marxist-Leninist principles concerning socialism and democracy.
Pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary limits
The central point of Anita's theory about the relationship between democratic struggles and the socialist revolution is that the movement should push "the democratic demands to their revolutionary limits” But what does this mean concretely? Does this mean that one should fight for particularly radical demands? Does it mean certain ways of fighting for these demands? Anita never says.
In fact, she ends her article by once again endorsing ‘the forces around El Machete' She says that they are seeking "to develop a program to push the limits of the democratic struggles" However, they too don't know seem to know what it means to push the limits of the democratic struggles. Indeed, in the last point (#10) of El Machete's "Elements of analysis for the current political situation", they call for "defining a strategic and tactical project to confront the diverse options for the" strengthening of capitalist power", that is, the strategy and tactics haven't been set forward yet.1 Yet this undefined strategy and tactics is all that separates El Machete from the EZLN. That's clear from point #9, where they agree with the general position of the EZLN leadership. They say that there are two principal proposals among the "popular, democratic, and revolutionary forces", that of the PRD and reformist forces and that of "rupture with the [PRI] regime", set forward by the EZLN, themselves and others. They have the same "principal proposal” as the EZLN, but there are different shades or "positions" within that proposal. After explaining the EZLN leadership's view of what is needed, they only add that their stand "supposes that this [what the EZLN leadership proposes— Jph.] will not be possible without an advance in the preparation of a new revolution, with the coordinated use of all the forms of struggle which are decided upon by the people and which is called the construction of popular power" They want "an advance in the preparation of a new revolution" but don't say what this is other than that the people will decide upon the forms of struggle and build a "popular power" It is not exactly a revolution, but only "an advance" in that direction, and yet it is already the construction of "popular power"2 In short, El Machete wants to be more revolutionary than EZLN, but isn't quite sure how.
It's a good thing to put serious effort into working out one's tactics and strategy, and it may take activists a long time. The problem is that Anita and El Machete don't see the problem in replacing tactics and strategy with bare revolutionary phrases like "take the democratic struggle to the revolutionary limit' or "advance the process of the revolution". El Machete seems to think that the revolutionary program can be developed simply by having various activist groups sit around a table and come to a consensus. In this situation, "taking the democratic struggle to its revolutionary limits" means little more than putting a revolutionary face upon whatever the more militant wing of the general democratic movement happens to be doing.
Anita refers to Lenin's analysis of the 1905 revolution in Russia and quotes his book Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. But Lenin gave definite answers to tactical and strategic questions. In Two Tactics, for example, he discusses definite questions such as the stand to be taken to the convocation of a popular constituent assembly, towards a provisional revolutionary government, towards organizing an insurrection, towards the slogan of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants, etc. When he talks about revolution, it is not an empty phrase that can describe any phase of militant activity, but a real revolution complete with an insurrection. When he discusses the popular constituent assembly, he doesn't say that the point is to take it to its revolutionary limits, but discusses precisely what the revolutionary proletariat wants and how this compares to the demands of other political trends. To instead evade the particular issues and say that the tactics are to be more revolutionary than anyone else is a method which has more in common with petty-bourgeois revolutionism than with communism. And indeed, until one analyzes the actual tactics needed for a situation, how can one know which tactic is more revolutionary?
Anita uses the slogan of "taking the democratic struggle to its limits" as the answer for how to prepare the forces for socialism in Mexico at this time. Lenin's view about the relationship between the democratic struggle and the socialist movement is different: he held that the revolutionary proletariat had to "go far beyond the uttermost limits" of the democratic struggle:
". . . the radical difference between the workers' and the bourgeoisie's struggle for liberty, between proletarian and liberal democratism, is also becoming more palpable. The working class and its class-conscious representatives are marching forward and carrying this struggle forward, not only unafraid of bringing it to completion, but striving to go far beyond the uttermost limits of the democratic revolution."3
This didn't just refer to what to do after the success of the revolution, but also prior to the revolution. It meant that the proletariat had to organize independently and undertake work that the general democratic movement would not do or would oppose. He wrote that
"... How should the class-conscious worker, the socialist, [in the period of the democratic revolution--Jph. ] regard the present-day peasant movement? He must support this movement, help the peasants in the most energetic fashion . . . At the same time, however, he should explain to the peasants that it is not enough to overthrow the rule of the bureaucracy and the landlords. When they overthrow that rule, they must at the same time prepare for the abolition of the rule of capital, the rule of the bourgeoisie, and for that purpose a doctrine that is fully, socialist, i.e. , Marxist, should be immediately disseminated, the rural proletarians should be united, welded together, and organized for the struggle against the peasant bourgeoisie and the entire Russian bourgeoisie. Can a class-conscious worker forget the democratic struggle for the sake of the socialist struggle, or forget the latter for the sake of the former? No, a class-conscious worker calls himself a Social-Democrat for the reason that he understands the relation between the two struggles."4
Can the work to disseminate socialism be presented as taking democracy to its revolutionary limits? Not in the Marxist view. It goes beyond the "uttermost limits" of the democratic struggle. Can the work to organize the rural proletarians against the peasant bourgeoisie be presented as taking the struggle for land reform to its revolutionary limits? No. Communist work in the democratic revolution must go beyond the limits of democracy, and it must do so right from the start and whether the democratic revolution succeeds or fails.
Petty-bourgeois democracy sees socialism as a purer and higher form of democracy, as democracy applied consistently to social questions as well as political questions. Marxism sees socialism as going beyond the limits of bourgeois-democracy. A program that is restricted to "taking the democratic struggle to its limits" is not a formula for preparing forces for socialism, but for merging with the general democratic movement.
--The struggle for democratic demands--
In line with her formula of "taking the democratic struggle to its revolutionary limits", Anita presents the present "nature of the Mexican revolution" as being the struggle for "democratic demands". For article after article, Anita and the CWV group have been saying that there the struggle in Mexico is for socialism, that only socialism will solve the problems of the masses, etc. Now Anita informs us that the revolution in Mexico is roughly analogous to that in Russia in 1905, implying that a democratic revolution is imminent. She reconciles this with the former assertions of the CWV by talking about "the duality of the Mexican revolution".
For the sake of argument, let's accept for the moment Anita's implication that a democratic revolution is imminent or underway in Mexico. Even then, Anita's reduction of the tasks of the revolutionary tasks to fighting for "democratic demands" would be wrong. The proletariat and Marxist activists would also face many organizational tasks--such as building the proletarian party, developing trade unions that are independent of PRI and of all factions of the bourgeoisie, etc. --as well as the fight for various demands. Nor should the list of practical demands be reduced to only democratic ones. For example, in discussing a proposed program for the Russian proletarian party at a time when they really were facing an imminent democratic revolution, Lenin remarked:
"Now let us look at the practical part of the program. This part consists, in our opinion, of three sections, in substance if not in arrangement: 1) the demands for general democratic reforms; 2) the demands for measures of protection for the workers; and 3) the demands for measures in the interests of the peasants. "5
The Marxist program doesn't just formulate the most radical general democratic measures, but gives a special status to the demands for the working masses.
Anita's theory wrongly identifies the social demands of the masses as "democratic demands". This slurs over the different class interests of the various forces in the democratic movement. In Russia, for example, not all the forces who wanted a more democratic system necessarily supported the social demands. The liberal bourgeoisie wanted to increase its exploitation of the masses, this accounting for its treachery to the masses and the revolution. The peasantry supported demands in its own interests, but so long as it acts as a united whole with the peasant bourgeoisie and defends the general interests of small-scale production, it also had an interest in the exploitation of labor. Lenin, in the course of arguing that the peasantry is capable of wholeheartedly supporting democratic revolution, pointed out that one reason was that:
"Even in fighting the proletariat, the peasantry stands in need of democracy, for only a democratic system is capable of giving exact expression to its interests and of ensuring its predominance as the mass, as the majority [in the conditions of 1905 Russia--Jph. ]. "6
While Anita plays down the differences between different classes that all have "democratic demands", Lenin brings out clearly the class contradictions among the supporters of democracy, even among the workers and peasants.
However, Mexico isn't facing a democratic revolution at this time, but a protracted period of class struggles leading eventually to the socialist revolution. The crumbling of the PRI's political monopoly is one of the important crises that will take place during this period. The most concrete facts referred to by Anita--such as that the bourgeoisie is now the ruling class in both the Mexican city and countryside, industry and agriculture, as opposed to semi-feudal landlords--speak against her comparison of the present situation to the democratic revolution of 1905 in Russia. All this further undermines the idea that the issue today is simply fighting for democratic demands. Such a view has more in common with the petty-bourgeois democratic idea that socialism is democracy taken to its further limits than with Marxism.
--The dual nature of the revolution--
To give a theoretical basis to her assertions about the democratic struggle, Anita talks of "the duality of the Mexican revolution". She never directly explains what this "dual nature" is, yet this duality is how she reconciles the CWV's repeated assertions that socialism is the goal in Mexico with her comparison of the present situation in Mexico to the democratic revolution of 1905 in Russia. In effect, she mixes together the democratic and socialist revolution in order to present that "democratic struggles" are both democratic and socialist, and that the general democratic movement, if it is militant enough, will grow over into a socialist movement.
A term like "dual nature" could, of course, refer to a wide number of aspects of a revolution.7 But what we will deal with here is Anita's attempt to fudge on the social character of the revolution.
Unable to explain what she means by the "duality of the Mexican revolution", Anita says that it is more-or-less illustrated by a statement from Lenin's famous Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, a statement that Anita says illustrates the duality of revolution in Russia. But Lenin says the opposite of what Anita says.8 He lays stress on the fact that even a "complete" victory of the democratic revolution "will by no means be a socialist revolution". He doesn't refer to a "dual character" of revolution at all. Instead he emphasizes that the democratic revolution is precisely that, a democratic revolution and not a socialist one. He does state that the victory of the democratic revolution would "clear the way for a genuine and decisive struggle for socialism". This is the basic way in which Marxism defines the value of bourgeois democracy -- it clears the way for broadening and extending the class struggle. There is a big difference between clearing the way for another revolution, the socialist revolution, and saying that the democratic and socialist revolution are simply two faces of a dual revolution. So it's no wonder that Anita goes on to imply that Lenin's views don't apply to Mexico after all; to do this, she lists every difference between Mexico and Russia she can think of, relevant or not.
Anita needs the dual nature of the revolution for the following purposes:
* she denies the bourgeois nature of the democratization in Mexico, if that democratization is carried out in a radical enough fashion. She claims that if democracy is taken to its revolutionary limits it loses its class character and takes on something of a socialist character.
* she wants to present that the peasantry as a whole is a supporter of the coming Mexican revolution (as it might be in a democratic revolution) and in general to tone down various class contradictions that one might ordinarily expect in a revolution.
* she seeks to present that the present situation in Mexico is revolutionary even though a socialist revolution is not imminent. It will be worthwhile to examine these points in more detail.
The bourgeois nature of the democratic revolution
All Anita's talk about democratic demands might make one think that the CWV group and El Machete are wholehearted supporters of the importance of dealing with the issue of democratization. The real story is a bit more complicated. The ongoing democratization in Mexico is not going to bring a revolutionary regime. When the CWV and El Machete are forced face to face with this reality, they can be quite skittish. The discussion article by Tono Garcia, "In defense of Marxism", which was carried in El Machete and the CWV, denounced bourgeois democracy as a plot of the CIA and made raving sectarian attacks on the general democratic movement. Another discussion article in reply, by Ricardo Loewe, was also carried in these journals. It defends the Jesuits, the non-governmental organizations, "organizations in defense of human rights" and various other sections of the general democratic movement and "civic society", but is notably silent on the overall issue raised by Tono Garcia of the attitude towards bourgeois democracy.9 In general, the CWV and El Machete only support democratic demands when they can paint them as something separate from bourgeois democracy. Anita dreams of a democratization taken to its revolutionary limits, which is a most unlikely outcome of the present crisis in Mexico, because she apparently believes that this removes its bourgeois nature.
This theory, that democracy loses its bourgeois nature when it becomes radical, can seem plausible. There are different types of democratic reforms, from some which provide a good deal of political liberties for the masses to miserable liberalizations that provide next to nothing for the masses. The petty-bourgeois democratic therefore believes that radical reform transcends "bourgeois" democracy. And indeed, the ruling bourgeoisie in Mexico and other countries hardly want radical democracy. So a multitude of petty-bourgeois democratic journals around the world expose the moneyed interests, blame the severity of the class struggle on violations of democracy, and promote a purer, wider, popular democracy, as the answer to exploitation. But the Marxist theory is quite different. It holds that even the most radical democracy has a bourgeois nature.
In the book Two Tactics, which Anita quotes to prove the supposed dual character of the democratic revolution, Lenin states baldly that
". . . In general, all political liberty founded on present-day, i.e. , capitalist, relations of production is bourgeois liberty. The demand for liberty expresses primarily the interests of the bourgeoisie. "10
That would seem to be clear enough. But perhaps Anita, who seems to be quite capable of reading Lenin in the exact opposite sense to which he writes, might somehow insist that Lenin is not talking about revolutionary democracy? Does Lenin, like the typical petty-bourgeois democrat, believe that this bourgeois nature of democracy vanishes when it is carried to "its revolutionary limits"? Well, Lenin, talking precisely about the most radical outcome of the democratic revolution, as a result of "a victorious popular insurrection", states:
". . . an appraisal of a provisional revolutionary government's significance would be incomplete and wrong if the class nature of the democratic revolution were lost sight of. The resolution [of a Bolshevik Congress--Jph. ], therefore, adds that a revolution will strengthen the rule of the bourgeoisie. This is inevitable under the present, i.e. , capitalist, social and economic, system. And the strengthening of the bourgeoisie's rule over a proletariat that has secured some measure of political liberty must inevitably lead to a desperate struggle between them for power, . . . Therefore, the proletariat, which is in the van of the struggle for democracy and heads that struggle, must not for a single moment forget the new antagonisms inherent in bourgeois democracy, or the new struggle. "11
So the most radical outcome of the revolution still has a bourgeois nature. The reader may ask in perplexity, how can this most radical outcome, namely, the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry, strengthen the bourgeoisie? A mere liberalization, which leaves the bourgeoisie in power, could do so, but a popular revolutionary regime? But consider. Such a regime in Russia would have eliminated the power and the estates of tens of thousands of semi-feudal landlords, while extending the freedom of tens of millions of small-proprietors, the peasants, including millions of the peasant bourgeoisie. Such a radical land reform would have immensely broadened the basis of capitalism in Russia, as would other democratic changes. In place of the slow evolution to capitalism of a relative handful of semi-feudal landlords, it would have spurred the development of capitalism on a mass scale. If the bourgeoisie is only identified with the large vested interests of the moment, with the particular moneyed interests at a certain time, then it is impossible to see how a revolution which chops down these interests can have a bourgeois nature. But in fact the chopping down of these interests may well inspire a faster and broader growth of capitalism.
But if the democratic revolution has a bourgeois nature, should the proletariat participate in it? The CWV doubts that the proletariat or socialist activists should do anything that might accelerate the growth of capitalism. Take land reform. The CWV has had trouble distinguishing its program from that of the late reformist and president of Mexico from 1934-1940, Lazaro Cardenas. The main criticism of his agrarian program by the CWV's Jack Hill (Oleg), is that it "gave a big impulse to the development of modern capitalist agriculture. " But any land reform, however radical, would in the long run accelerate capitalist development, and so would the EZLN's demands. When I pointed this out to the CWV, Jack indignantly wrote that, if I believed such a thing, I must therefore be an opponent of any demand for reform. He was quite convinced of this, and righteously demanded that "Joseph should clarify" the issue. Clearly Jack believed that a socialist could not support demands that accelerated the development of capitalism. This would presumably be treason to the proletariat and the revolution. And presumably Jack thought that the proper demands would not develop capitalism but something else. A partial realization of socialism, perhaps? When I pointed out to Jack that not only land reform, but the struggle of indigenous women in Chiapas against patriarchalism, the anti-slavery struggle in the U.S. , and the national liberation movement throughout the world also opened the way for capitalist development, he fell silent.12
So how could Lenin support democratic revolution even though he held that such a revolution was a "bourgeois revolution"? He wrote that
"only rebel Narodniks, anarchists, and Economists could conclude [from the democratic revolution being a bourgeois revolution--Jph. ] that the struggle for liberty should be negated or disparaged. . . . The proletariat has always realized instinctively that it needs political liberty, needs it more than anyone else, although the immediate effect of that liberty will be to strengthen and organize the bourgeoisie. It is not by evading the class struggle that the proletariat expects to find its salvation, but by developing it, by extending its scope, its consciousness, organization, and resoluteness. "13
Thus, in the interests of furthering the class struggle, Lenin could support a peasant revolt which would broaden the basis for capitalism. He wrote:
"... full victory of this peasant movement will not abolish capitalism; on the contrary, it will create a broader foundation for its development, and will hasten and intensify purely capitalist development. Full victory of the peasant uprising can only create a stronghold for a democratic bourgeois republic, within which a proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie will for the first time develop in its purest form."14 As Lenin explained, "Outside the class struggle, socialism is either a hollow phrase or a naive dream."15
The revolutionary proletariat seeks liberation through the development of the class struggle, while the petty-bourgeois democrat tries to evade the class struggle. That's why Lenin could support a democratic revolution without pretending that revolutionary democracy would transcend capitalism. He emphasized that the democratic revolution didn't eliminate class contradictions but broke up the old alliances of the democratic movement and brought new antagonisms and a further development of the class struggle. There is no way forward except the class struggle, and the broader base for capitalism established by the democratic revolution facilitates that class struggle.
The uninterrupted revolution
But perhaps it will be objected that this theory of the bourgeois nature of democracy became obsolete after Lenin set forward the theory of the uninterrupted revolution. Did not Lenin say in 1918 that
". . . To attempt to raise an artificial Chinese Wall between the first and second [the democratic and socialist revolutions--Jph. ], to separate them by anything else than the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and the degree of its unity of the poor peasants, means to distort Marxism dreadfully, to vulgarize it, to substitute liberalism in its place. "16
Indeed, is this not what Anita is trying to remind the reader of when she writes that
". . . There is no 'wall' between the democratic struggles and the socialist struggle. How far the revolutionary movement can go depends on what class force wins leadership of the movement--on the strength of the proletariat in the fight. "
Doesn't this indicate that the democratic revolution need not have a bourgeois character if the proletariat wins leadership of the movement?
Not at all. In the very passage when Lenin talks about "uninterrupted revolution" he stresses that this is the same theory that was "explained by the Bolsheviks as far back as 1905. " In 1905 Lenin had also noted that the possibility of the interweaving of bourgeois and democratic revolutions. Yet Lenin stressed that this did not wipe out the distinction between them. He wrote:
". . . we all insist on the absolute necessity of strictly distinguishing between them [the democratic and socialist revolutions--Jph. ]; however, can it be denied that in the course of history individual, particular elements of the two revolutions become interwoven? Has the period of democratic revolutions in Europe not been familiar with a number of socialist movements and attempts to establish socialism? And will not the future socialist revolution in Europe still have to complete a great deal left undone in the field of democratism?"17 And the basic difference in class forces between these two revolutions, the great dividing line between the two that is so important in both theory and practice, was formulated by Lenin as "The proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to completion, allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush the autocracy's resistance by force and paralyze the bourgeoisie's instability. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, allying to itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population, so as to crush the bourgeoisie's resistance by force and paralyze the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. "18
A few months later Lenin reiterated this analysis about the distinction between the democratic and socialist revolutions while talking explicitly about the uninterrupted revolution. He stated:
". . . for from the democratic revolution we shall at once, and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organized proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way. If we do not now and immediately promise all sorts of 'socialization', that is because we know the actual conditions for that task to be accomplished, and we do not gloss over the new class struggle burgeoning within the peasantry, but reveal that struggle.
"At first we support the peasantry en masse, support it to the hilt and with all means, including confiscation, and then (it would be better to say, at the same time) we support the proletariat against the peasantry en masse. . . . We promise no harmony, no equalitarianism or 'socialization' following the victory of the present peasant uprising, on the contrary, we 'promise' a new struggle, new inequality, the new revolution we are striving for. Our doctrine is less 'sweet' than the legends of the Socialist-Revolutionaries [petty-bourgeois revolutionaries--Jph. ], but let those who want to be fed solely on sweets join the Socialist-Revolutionaries; we shall say to such people: good riddance. "19
And now back to Lenin's passage in 1918 about there being no Chinese Wall between the democratic and socialist revolutions. He reiterated exactly this same analysis about the distinction between the two revolutions and two different sets of class alignments. He wrote:
"Things have turned out just as we said they would. . . . First, with the 'whole' of the peasants against the monarchy, against the landowners, against medievalism (and to that extent the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic). Then, with the poor peasants, with the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited, against capitalism, including the rural rich, the kulaks, the profiteers, and to that extent the revolution becomes a socialist one. "20
The result of this examination of Lenin's exposition of the Marxist view of the bourgeois nature of democracy is clear. Democracy, even when obtained by the most radical democratic revolution conceivable, has a bourgeois character. The socialist-minded proletarians should support democracy not out of any hope that democracy will transcend capitalism but because democracy creates a wider and broader field for the class struggle, which is the only path on which the proletariat can achieve emancipation. The recognition of the bourgeois character of democracy leads the Marxists to advocate that the proletariat must go beyond democracy while organizing, while the denial of the bourgeois character of democracy leads the petty-bourgeois democrat to, wittingly or unwittingly, subordinate the proletarian movement to the general democratic movement. This is true in an actual democratic revolution, as well as in the present situation in Mexico.
The CWV thinks that one can distinguish between good and bad proposals for democratic reform by whether they give an impetus to capitalist development. If they do, they are bourgeois schemes, but -- says Anita -- if democratic demands are pushed "to their revolutionary (not socialist but revolutionary) limits" they are part of "clearing away the obstacles to socialist revolution". It is true that not just a democratic revolution, but even meaningful reforms can clear away the obstacles to socialist revolution, but they at the same time also clear the ground for a broader development of capitalism. But how can the same democratic reforms clear away the obstacles both to the growth of capitalism and for the socialist revolution? From the point of view of petty-bourgeois radicalism, this is absolutely impossible. From the point of view of Marxism, democracy can do both at the same time, because the wider, freer and broader development of capitalism provides a wider, freer and broader field for the class struggle, which is the only path to the socialist revolution.
But if democratization, and even the most radical democratic revolution, prepares the ground for both capitalism and socialism, it follows that it is misleading to describe the struggle for democratic demands as by itself "gathering forces . . . for a socialist revolution". Democracy does not give rise spontaneously to a socialist movement. There has to be work that goes beyond democracy, work that is based on the spirit of the class struggle. Otherwise the opportunities created by democracy will be wasted, and the masses will be cemented more than ever to the bourgeois order. This socialist work cannot wait until various democratic reforms have been conquered, but most take place simultaneously with the democratic struggle, or else the activists will unwittingly be preparing the proletariat to trail behind the liberal bourgeoisie.
--Hoping the peasantry and petty-bourgeois will stop vacillating--
Anita also uses her concept of the dual nature of the Mexican revolution to support slurring over the differences between proletarian and petty-bourgeois politics. Her idea is that the peasantry might vacillate with respect to socialism, but it can be consistently revolutionary in the democratic struggle. She ignores that even when the peasantry is a fervent participant in the democratic revolution, it still is subject to petty-bourgeois vacillations.
She and I had clashed on this earlier. Upset by people who combined support for the Zapatista uprising with a critical evaluation of the EZLN leadership's stands, she wrote that while the EZLN was "a petty-bourgeois peasant force with vacillations between reformism and revolution", any serious criticism of these vacillations was "academic and sterile". Somehow, by avoiding such "sterile" activities as the fight against vacillations, she thought it a real possibility that the EZLN and "the peasant and indigenous movement can be won over to break completely with reformism".21 In reply, I pointed out that "it makes a mockery of the recognition of the petty-bourgeois character of the peasant movement to say that this movement can stop vacillating and break completely with reformism. This is the standpoint of peasant socialism, which sees no difference between the general peasant movement and the socialist movement. "22 In turn, Anita claims that, in the present conditions in Mexico, "there is a real potential for the proletariat to pull this movement away from reformism, pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary (not socialist but revolutionary) limits. " Given the current state of disorganization of the workers' movement, which even Anita has to admit is presently "weak", she is not really expecting the proletariat to pull the peasantry along, but is glamorizing the peasant movement. Of course, if all she meant is that the proletariat should criticize the vacillation of the peasant movement, that would be fine. But as we have seen, she regards such criticism as "sterile". No, instead she is still dreaming that the peasantry will finally break, once and for all, with reformism.
Aside from the practical absurdity of Anita's perspective in the current situation, its theoretical basis is also defective. To make her point, Anita uses an analogy to the Russian revolution of 1905. Actually, even with regard to that revolution, Lenin held that "Only the proletariat can be a consistent fighter for democracy". (23) The peasantry as a whole could fervently fight for a democratic revolution based on an agrarian revolution, and the proletariat needed an alliance with the peasantry if the revolution was to succeed. But it was only the revolutionary proletariat that could impart a consistent character to this struggle.
Does it seem like a very subtle distinction--that the revolutionary peasantry might be one of the leaders of the democratic revolution and yet it remains prone to vacillation? Perhaps. Yet the Marxist theory of the democratic revolution pivots on this distinction, a distinction borne out by past revolutions. The history of the peasant movement, and of the various parties that represented its radical wing, such as the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Trudoviks, shows their vacillations in full. Recognition of this fact is essential to maintaining proletarian independence in the democratic revolution.
Anita however hopes to prove her point and illustrate the relation between "the revolution movement and democratic revolutions" by citing a passage from a work of Lenin's entitled "The Bolsheviks and the Petty Bourgeoisie" from 1907. She notes that Lenin said that the proletariat may be able to lead the revolution "together with the peasant masses" and "the basic tactics of the socialist proletariat in the bourgeois revolution" is "to carry with them the democratic petty bourgeoisie, especially the peasant petty bourgeoisie" and "draw them away from the liberals".24 Anita ends the quotation there, because Lenin spoke in the rest of this article emphatically and decisively against Anita's interpretation. Lenin went on to note that the peasantry will inevitably vacillate, and he drew definite organizational conclusions from this. He showed that the socialist proletariat must maintain independent organization. Instead of merging with the other forces in the democratic revolution, such as the revolutionary peasants represented by the Trudoviks, it must "march separately but strike together".25
So Lenin wrote:
"How 'to guarantee that the petty bourgeoisie, recognized by Novy Luch [a Bolshevik paper--Jph. ] as allies, will not turn away from the Left and defect to the Constitutional-Democratic [liberal bourgeois, whose name is often abbreviated as "Cadets"--Jph. ] camp'? It is because this cannot be guaranteed that we are against any permanent agreement with the Trudoviks. Our line is 'march separately but strike together at both the Black Hundreds [the reactionaries--Jph. ] and the Cadets. That is what we did during the St. Petersburg elections, and that is what we shall always do. "26
Anita cites from Lenin only that part of Marxist theory that is acceptable to the petty-bourgeoisie and not the part that separates the proletariat from the petty-bourgeoisie. She stops quoting Lenin as soon as he starts talking about proletarian independence, even in a democratic revolution. She talks about the possibility of the revolutionary petty-bourgeoisie being won away from the liberal bourgeois in a democratic revolution, and leaves out the Marxist analysis that there is no permanent guarantee of this and that petty-bourgeois vacillation will continue. The petty-bourgeoisie isn't won away from the liberals once and for all, but the socialist proletariat must constantly fight its tendency to vacillate. Anita's version of Marxism presents criticism of the petty-bourgeois vacillation as "sterile" since the petty-bourgeoisie might be won away from the liberals, while revolutionary Marxism presents this possibility as another argument in favor of criticism of petty-bourgeois vacillation.
The Trudoviks themselves seem to have objected to Lenin's views about "march separately but strike together" and to have claimed, like Anita, that this means failure to recognize that the petty-bourgeoisie could ever be won away from the liberals. Lenin went on to reply to this objection, saying that:
"Noviye Sily's [a Trudovik paper--Jph. ] objection is that part of the petty bourgeoisie might be drawn away from the Cadets. Of course they might, just as we took away part of the Cadet Tovarishch [a Left Cadet paper with some Menshevik contributors--Jph. ] at the St. Petersburg elections. To achieve this, we Social-Democrats must go firmly along our own, revolutionary road, . . . "(27)
This question came up again at the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social-Democrats in May 1907. Lenin, while championing "the right and duty of the workers' party to assume leadership [in the democratic revolution--Jph. ] of the petty-bourgeois democratic parties, including the peasant parties"(28), sharply stressed the inevitable vacillations of the petty-bourgeois and peasant parties, including the most revolutionary and far left ones. He wrote that:
"The Trudoviks are definitely not fully consistent democrats. The Trudoviks (including the Socialist-Revolutionaries) undoubtedly vacillate between the liberals and the revolutionary proletariat. We have said this, and it had to be said. Such vacillation is by no mean fortuitous. It is an inevitable consequence of the very nature of the economic condition of the small producer. One the one hand, he is oppressed and subject to exploitation. . . . On the other hand, he is a petty proprietor. In the peasant lives the instinct of a proprietor--if not of today, then of tomorrow. It is the proprietor's, the owner's instinct that repels the peasant from the proletariat, . . .
"Vacillation in the peasantry and the peasant democratic parties in inevitable. And the Social-Democratic Party, therefore, must not for a moment be embarrassed at the fear of isolating itself from such vacillation. Every time the Trudoviks display lack of courage, and drag along in the wake of the liberals, we must fearlessly and quite firmly oppose the Trudoviks, expose and castigate their petty-bourgeois inconsistency and flaccidity. "(29)
The Menshevik hangers-on of the liberal bourgeoisie ridiculed Lenin's attitude to the peasantry. How could one talk of alliance and vacillation at the same time? They apparently couldn't understand his views about "march separately but strike together", and mocked that this meant that Lenin did not even recognize the peasants as allies. This is exactly the same type of criticism as Anita makes of me, when she complains that criticism of petty-bourgeois vacillation is "academic and sterile". Lenin answered it as follows:
"Comrade Lieber [a Menshevik--Jph. ] has most energetically accused me of excluding even the Trudoviks from the bourgeois-democratic allies of the proletariat. Lieber has again been carried away by phrases, and has paid insufficient attention to the substance of the dispute. I did not speak of excluding joint action with the Trudoviks, but of the need to cut ourselves off from the Trudoviks' vacillation. We must not fear to 'isolate' ourselves from them when they are inclined to drag along in the wake of the Cadets. "(30)
Thus even in a democratic revolution, the vacillation of even the most revolutionary and leftist parties of the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie is inevitable. Moreover, Mexico isn't facing a democratic revolution today, but a long preparatory period for a socialist revolution. Even Anita, after making the comparison to 1905, immediately adds that the present situation isn't at all like that anymore. This undermines Anita's point even further. Lenin's assessment of the class forces in the socialist revolution referred to "the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. "(31)
Brushing aside the actual nature of petty-bourgeois movements, Anita instead pretends that in talking of the petty-bourgeois nature of the peasantry as a whole, I am denigrating the poor peasants and semiproletarians. She writes that:
". . . As to the future of the alliance between the proletariat and peasantry, I don't think it is inevitable (depending on how the democratic struggle develops) that the poor peasantry, and semi-proletariat in the countryside will 'betray the proletariat'. "
Since she says this in a reply to me, and even puts certain words inside quotation marks, the reader would think that I had made the dread accusation that the poor peasantry will inevitably "betray the proletariat". I said nothing of the kind. I emphasized that the proletariat should encourage any tendency on the part of the poor peasantry and rural laborers to develop independent organization in their own class interests, separate from that of the overall peasant movement. What I said was inevitable was that the general peasant movement would vacillate. I did not accuse the poor peasantry of some treachery in the future, but I did, in effect, accuse peasant socialism and petty-bourgeois democratism of betraying the proletarian class struggle today.
--Transforming the Mexican liberals of the good old days of Lazaro Cardenas into revolutionaries--
Anita also has difficulty dealing with the liberal bourgeoisie. She presents the real liberal bourgeoisie as being worthy of support, so that she can only oppose the liberals today or even the PRI by saying that they are not the liberal bourgeoisie as of old.
Here too she claims that her views are similar to that of Lenin's. She makes the astonishing claim that Lenin saw the liberal bourgeoisie as a revolutionary force. She writes, referring to her comparison of the 1905 revolution in Russia to Mexico today:
". . . not since the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940) has there been a section of the bourgeoisie who could actually claim the label 'liberal' in the sense it is used by Lenin to discuss a democratic, nationalist bourgeoisie who supported the peasants' struggle for land. "
Actually, Lenin wrote that
". . . There is no doubt that the proletariat and the peasantry are the chief components of the 'people' as contrasted by Marx in 1848 with the resisting reactionaries and the treacherous bourgeoisie. There is no doubt that in Russia, too, the liberal bourgeoisie and the gentlemen of the Osvobozhdeniye League are betraying and will betray the peasantry, i.e. , will confine themselves to a pseudo-reform and take the side of the landlords in the decisive battle between them and the peasantry. "(32)
Indeed, in her article Anita even quotes the second sentence of this quote herself. Yet, surprisingly, she gets from it that Lenin uses the "label 'liberal'" to refer to a bourgeoisie which supports the peasant struggle for land.
Also notable is her glorification of the Mexican reformist Lazaro Cardenas. There was a time when the CWV was indignant when it was pointed out how Cardenista their stands on Mexico were. Now Anita has gone to extent of claiming that Lazaro Cardenas was the leader of a liberal bourgeoisie which was "democratic, nationalist" and "support[ed] the peasants' struggle for land". This, mind you, is the same Lazaro Cardenas who originated the basic system of rule used by PRI today (he founded the PNR which later was renamed PRI). Indeed, Anita presents the rule of the PRI and its predecessors not as a bourgeois regime but as a worker-peasant-bourgeois alliance that grew frayed and finally was severed when the bourgeoisie turned to neo-liberalism relatively recently. Really! She says that
"Coming out of the Mexican Revolution, the original program of the PNR and then the PRI defined itself as a class alliance of the peasantry, the workers and the political class. . . . Step by step, as the bourgeoisie grew stronger, the interests of the toilers were betrayed. For the peasantry, this betrayal was codified by president Carlos de Gortari with the changes in the land reform article [in Jan. 1992!!!--Jph. ] of the Mexican Constitution tied to the NAFTA negotiations. "
Here her criticism of PRI is solely its turn to neoliberalism in general (i.e. its abandonment of liberalism in favor of a conservative, also called neo-liberal, economic policy) and in particular its growing abandonment of the ejido program of Lazaro Cardenas. (33)
All this shows a remarkably friendly attitude to the PRI. To see the betrayal of the peasantry as codified in Jan. 1992 -- whereas Emiliano Zapata was murdered in 1919 -- shows incredible illusions in the old Cardenista agrarian program of the late 1930s.
And what about the liberal bourgeoisie of today? She says that there isn't really one in the full (Leninist) sense. In fact, a liberal bourgeoisie exists in Mexico, with representatives in the reformist PRD, in "civic society", in some sections of PRI, etc. The PRD, for example, has major influence in the activist movements, and the EZLN has let it and other reformists take the leadership of the national coalition that the EZLN is promoting. Yet Anita still doesn't see any liberal bourgeoisie in Mexico in the fullest sense. She is even reluctant to unequivocally label the PRD as a party of the liberal bourgeoisie. She says that it "politically represents a merger of petty-bourgeois social democracy (the Second International), reformist Marxism (the Partido Socialista Unificado de Mexico), and the liberal 'political class' (i.e. , bourgeois politicians such as Cuauhtemoc Cardenas). " No doubt the PRD has managed to carry along a good section of the petty-bourgeois groups and it has bourgeois politicians. For that matter, something similar could be said of the Democratic Party in the U.S. But the DP and PRD they are nevertheless parties of the bourgeoisie.
Anita's equivocation about the liberal bourgeoisie and the PRD may be related to the fact that El Machete, which she supports, identifies PRD as "on the side of the popular democratic, and revolutionary forces". (34) El Machete says it has a "different proposal" for the movement than PRD, but includes PRD as part of the revolutionary forces. In its recent call for an organization, El Machete says that the organization should not have the same structure as the PRD, but does not say anything else about it. It seems that El Machete too has a hard time dealing with the PRD.
--The revolution is imminent--
Anita also makes use of her theory of the dual nature of the revolution in order to present the situation as already very revolutionary today. She pooh-poohs talk about the importance of recognizing the importance of protracted work when the revolution is still far off, saying that everyone knows that "the socialist revolution is not imminent in Mexico". Yet she talks of "democratic struggles" throughout Mexico which might well be taken "to their revolutionary limits". Indeed, by the end of her article, referring to the present situation in Mexico, she says that "There is no 'wall' between the democratic struggles and the socialist struggle. How far the revolutionary movement can go depends on what class force wins leadership of the movement. " She thus dangles before the reader the perspective the proletariat might soon win leadership of the ongoing struggles in Mexico, converting them into "the socialist struggle". This would mean the socialist revolution might be pretty close after all.
--The independent proletarian movement has only to unite on a national level--
. What is needed to allow the proletariat to win leadership of the "democratic struggles"? Anita admits that "there is not a party of the proletariat or even a strong Marxist-Leninist trend". She admits that "the workers' movement continues to be weak". She admits that the movements are "nationally very fragmented and weak". But she doesn't put forward any task for building up the proletarian movement other than uniting the local struggles, for she says that
". . . The independent mass movements of workers and urban poor remained active and strong in their local areas, . . . "
It is important that local and partial struggles break out among the workers even while the majority of their unions are affiliated to the Mexican ruling party, the PRI, and while the "independent" unions are subject to the strong influence of American pro-capitalist unions and other backward trends. It is vital that the masses intervene in this time of crisis in Mexico. But it is revolutionary play-acting when Anita tells us that these movements and local activist coalitions are locally strong and "independent", and hence implies that all they need do is unite. Can it be said that the majority of the organized workers, for example, are involved in independent local organizations when they are in PRI-affiliated unions? Can it be said that the local activist organizations have clear, revolutionary views, but for some unknown reason haven't been able to unite? Anita simply gets excited over the local demonstrations in working class neighborhoods, and tells the movement--just keep on doing whatever you are doing, and unite. She prettifies a situation where many such groups have illusions in the reformist party of the liberal bourgeoisie, the PRD, or with the middle-class "civic society". She leaves out any discussion of the serious problems concerning what to organize in a difficult objective situation: she reduces things to the simple contrast between "local" strength and "national" weakness.
El Machete also engages in the same play-acting concerning the strength of a disorganized left. It assures the world that the left "has postponed the destruction of the ejido or the annihilation of the communal forms of production". Jack Hill (Oleg), another CWV writer and supporter of El Machete, had informed the world previously that "the ejidos are rapidly dying. The 'reform' of Article 27 [of the Mexican Constitution--Jph. ] did that. "(35) Now El Machete has great news -- the ejido lives. And, presumably, it's all because of a few left coalitions and demonstrations. In fact, the ejido was and is decaying due to the development of the split between rich and poor peasants and the spread of capitalist relations in the countryside. The reform of Article 27 didn't start this process, and some demonstrations aren't going to stop it. We'll take a glimpse in the last section of this article at what the ejidos and the communal agrarian communities ("comunidades agrarias") really look like.
But if Anita's main contrast is between local strength and national fragmentation, and if the main enemy is simply sectarianism, then the main task that remains is uniting these groups. At the end of her reply to me Anita endorses "the forces around El Machete" whose program she describes as follows:
". . . To strengthen the unity of the most revolutionary elements and organizations in the mass movement, to develop a program to push the limits of the democratic struggle, and to begin the process to form an independent proletarian organization. "
Bearing in mind what she means by these phrases, she is putting forward that the task is simply to unite and be more militant. She reprints from El Machete the article "Work to form the political organ of the toilers" to show what she means. (It is also reprinted elsewhere in this issue of Communist Voice. ) This article puts forth no analysis of what is holding back unity. It doesn't say what is needed to achieve unity other than to hold a meeting. It doesn't put forward any program as a basis for unity, not even Anita's formula of "push(ing) the limits of the democratic struggle". It simply hopes to see the unity of all those forces "who propose to make a revolution". (It does not even say what type of revolution. )
--The political organization that does nothing--
What does El Machete see as coming from such unity? Is it aiming at a political party? In the discussion articles in El Machete, the need for a proletarian party has been questioned.36 Today El Machete presents this as a minor question of a name, and says of the organization to be formed,
"Will it be the Party of the Proletariat? Will it have another name? For now it is not important what we baptize the child, nor how its functioning will be structured or formed."
Well, what is important? El Machete says over and over again that this new organization will not interfere with or have any affect on the various activist groups and coalitions that it is seeking to unite. It makes one wonder what the point of having such an organization is, if it isn't going to affect how the struggle is waged in demonstrations, strikes, workplace organizing, etc. But three of the eight paragraphs in El Machete's call for a meeting aim at reassuring the activists on this point; it's the only thing that is definite about the proposal. The proposed organization
"is not to exclude nor substitute for the social organizations"; the attempt to build it doesn't mean "to negate the serious attempts at political organization" which have already occurred; the organization "should not (and cannot) supplant the unions nor the popular organizations".
Well, yes, there should be trade unions as well as a political party, but that's hardly likely to be too controversial. But any proletarian political organization worthy of the name will seek to radically supplant or transform those trade unions which are, say, affiliated to PRI. And, from the point of view of Marxism, it makes no sense to have a party if it isn't to dramatically alter the previous way the activists were organized, replacing some activist groups with the party branches and organizations and rallying other non-party activist groups around itself.
There is of course a type of flimsy, do-nothing "Marxism" that has given up the struggle to transform the left movement, to say nothing of changing the broader world. Oleg, who also supports El Machete, writes in CWV that
"At this point I no longer believe that any one group has a monopoly on the one and only true path to revolution, so I am inclined to come down hard against those who are holding onto their sects and saying that they have the one true answer to all questions of revolutionary tactics, strategy, and ideology. "37
From this point of view, why build a party at all? It's just another sect. Why spend all that time fighting about different views, as Marx did in the First International, or as Lenin did in order to build up a new communist international? It's all so simple, just give up the search for the proper revolutionary path and instead substitute a coalition of all the groupings, which will coordinate actions by consensus. And thus, the Marxist idea of building a proletarian trend is replaced by the post-modernist nonsense that objective truth doesn't exist, hard work to find the truth isn't necessary, and one opinion is just as good as another.
Moreover, El Machete has most likely been influenced by the model put forward by the EZLN. The EZLN has been organizing a nation-wide coalition, called the Zapatista Front of National Liberation (as opposed to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, which is the EZLN itself). El Machete's plan of uniting, without much of a basis of unity other than the desire for some militancy, resembles the Zapatista call. Only the Zapatista Front is, even according to Anita, led in most of Mexico by the PRD and other reformists. 38 El Machete may perhaps see no further than a loose grouping that isn't so directly under the thumb of the outright reformists or that can function as a left faction within the coalitions dominated by the EZLN-PRD coalition.
--About the alliance of all the working people--
But even without the loose coalition envisioned by El Machete, Anita thinks that the workers, peasants, and urban poor are already in an alliance. She writes that:
"For many years, there has existed, in many forms, an alliance between the proletariat, the urban poor, and the poor peasantry around economic and democratic demands. " She says that this is seen in the fact that the peasants demand many things which "are the same as the demands of the workers and urban poor (e. g. , healthcare, education, justice, democracy, etc. ). This alone suffices to be, in her view, "another difference between the peasant movement in Mexico and in Russia in 1905. "
There are, of course, many links between the workers and peasants of Mexico, especially as millions of peasants have flooded into the cities, and as millions of peasants have become full or part-time rural laborers. The Zapatista revolt, for example, found sympathy among millions of ordinary Mexicans, and not just peasants. But far from the joint action between the workers and peasants more advanced than it was in Russia in 1905, it is undoubtedly less advanced. Anita to the contrary, workers and peasants also wanted healthcare, justice, democracy, etc. in Russia, not just in Mexico. But moreover, the workers had developed their own party in Russia, and there was mass revolutionary action by both workers and peasants against the existing regime. When Anita presents demands for healthcare as a new advance in the worker-peasant alliance, she is engaging in revolutionary play-acting which trivializes the great principle of the working class leading the working masses. She is removing from this principle anything that could inspire activists to organize a separate movement of poor peasants and rural laborers in the countryside or otherwise make major changes in the way the Mexican movements are organized.
--Merging with the petty-bourgeoisie--
The general glorification of the movement in Anita's writing leads to simply merging the socialist activists in the general democratic movement and with the petty-bourgeoisie. She pays lip-service to the organization of a proletarian movement by talking of a "revolutionary proletarian trend", but she simply attaches the proletarian label to any merging of the proletariat and the socialist activists with the petty-bourgeoisie.
For example, she begins one paragraph with the view that "the peasant movement in Southern Mexico" is "absolutely not" socialist. However, in the next sentence she says that she thinks that "the existing struggle of the masses of peasants, indigenous peoples, workers and oppressed is where revolutionaries must fight to define a revolutionary proletarian trend". If all she meant is that the revolutionary workers and socialist activists should seek to influence the struggle of all the working masses, it would be a correct idea although badly stated. Or if it simply meant that socialist activists might originate as activists in other movements, which is another reason why socialist propaganda should be spread widely, that too would be correct. But as an answer to where an independent proletarian trend will be "defined", it suggests the idea of merging with the petty-bourgeoisie.
In this regard, it should be noted that Anita never mentions the need to organize the rural laborers and semi-proletariat separately from the general peasant movement, even though she admits that this general peasant movement is "absolutely not" socialist. Instead she seems to think that the general movement of the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie will give rise anyway to a defined socialist movement, if only it is revolutionary enough. She certainly has a novel idea of defining the proletarian trend: it is something that need not be socialist nor proletarian. In support of her view, she puts forward a series of theses denigrating the difference between the proletariat and the petty-bourgeoisie.
But before dealing with Anita's merging of the concept of the proletariat and the petty-bourgeoisie, let's note how Lenin discussed this matter even during a democratic revolution. He stressed not only that there is a sharp distinction between democratic and socialist revolution, but that the proletariat must organize separately from its temporary allies in the democratic revolution. No doubt Lenin was quite aware that various activists in the peasant movement or various non-socialist movements might sum up their experience and become socialists. One of the purposes of widespread socialist agitation is to reach such potential socialist activists. But he did not think that the petty-bourgeois movements would grow over into socialist movements. Instead he pointed out that:
"A Social-Democrat must never for a moment forget that the proletariat will inevitably have to wage the class struggle for Socialism even against the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. This is beyond doubt. Hence the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party of Social-Democracy. Hence, the temporary nature of our tactics of 'striking jointly' with the bourgeoisie and the duty of keeping a strict watch 'over our ally, as over an enemy,' etc. "39
Lenin strictly emphasized that support for the general democratic movement, helping it fight the autocracy, taking part in the democratic struggle, were one thing and merging with the general democratic movement was another. Instead of presenting the general democratic movement as quasi-socialist, he emphasized the need for organizing the socialist movement as well as supporting the general democratic struggle:
"Thus, we must combine the purely proletarian struggle with the general peasant struggle, but not confuse the two. We must support the general democratic and general peasant struggle, but not become submerged in this non-class struggle; we must never idealize it with false catchwords such as 'socialization', or even forget the necessity of organizing both the urban and the rural proletariat in an entirely independent class party of Social-Democracy. "40
He indeed has a most interesting discussion of whether there should be socialist peasant committees during a democratic revolution, by which he means class organizations of the peasantry as a whole under the socialist label. He opposes the concept of "socialist" peasant committees and instead advocates the organization of full socialist committees in the countryside, branches of the proletarian party that aren't restricted to peasants and that unite socialist elements in the countryside with the proletariat as a whole. He regards revolutionary peasant committees as necessary and important in the democratic revolution, as something that should be supported, but as distinct from socialist committees. And he draws an analogy to work in the cities. There too the socialist movement is faced with allies of various sort in the struggle against the autocracy, and it should work with them, but without merging with them. Later on we shall see that Anita too draws an analogy with the city, but only because she takes it for granted that the proletariat should merge with the urban petty-bourgeoisie. Lenin's view, however, was different:
". . . In our opinion there should be no Social-Democratic peasant committees. If they are Social-Democratic, that means they are not purely peasant committees; if they are peasant committees, that means they are not purely proletarian, not Social-Democratic committees. There is a host of such who would confuse the two, but we are not of their number. Wherever possible we shall strive to set up our committees, committees of the Social-Democratic Labor Party. . . . These committees will conduct the whole of Social-Democratic work, in its full scope, striving, however, to organize the rural proletariat especially and particularly, since the Social-Democratic Party is the class party of the proletariat. . . .
"The reader may ask--what is the point, then, of having revolutionary peasant committees? Does this mean that they are not necessary? No, they are necessary. Our ideal is purely Social-Democratic committees in all rural districts, and then agreement between them and all revolutionary-democratic elements, groups, and circles of the peasantry for the purpose of establishing revolutionary committees. There is a perfect analogy here to the independence of the Social-Democratic Labor Party in the towns and its alliance with all the revolutionary democrats for the purpose of insurrection. We are in favor of a peasant uprising. We are absolutely opposed to the mixing and merging of heterogeneous class elements and heterogeneous parties. We hold that for the purpose of insurrection Social-Democracy should give an impetus to all revolutionary democracy, should help it all to organize, should march shoulder to shoulder with it, but without merging with it, to the barricades in the cities, and against the landlords and the police in the villages."41
Is such a presentation of the task of the struggle for democratic demands compatible with the idea that the proletarian socialist trend can emerge from among the "heterogeneous class elements and heterogeneous parties" that form the general democratic movement without the necessity for specific work directed to building the socialist movement and distinctly proletarian organization? The socialist movement becomes something definite only when it has independent organization, separate from that of the general democratic movement. Lenin's discussion of this question makes clear that such independence has nothing to do with boycotting the democratic struggle. It is fully compatible with rendering aid and support to petty-bourgeois allies and propagating socialism among them, but it is not compatible with merging with these allies.
Forgetting about the peasant bourgeoisie
Anita not only sees the proletariat and petty-bourgeois merging in the general democratic movement, she goes further and implies that there isn't much of a class difference between the workers and peasants anyway. For one thing, in discussing the peasantry, she talks only of the poor peasants or semi-proletarians, while glossing over the important role of the rich and middle peasants. Far from us to deny the great significance of the fact that the majority of Mexican peasants are poor peasants and semi-proletarians -- the Communist Voice has written about this repeatedly. It is the center of our analysis of the countryside. But Anita's doesn't point out that the peasantry is dividing up into rich and poor peasants. Her picture of the countryside and of the ejidos lacks rich peasants, and implicitly paints the entire peasant movement, all members of ejidos, and especially all the indigenous peasants, as basically semiproletarians. She talks of peasants selling their labor power to non-peasant exploiters, but she never points out that many poor peasants work on the fields of richer peasant neighbors in the ejidos or have to take usurious loans from them. Indeed, many poor peasants rent their land to the rich peasants and then end up working as hired laborers on what was their own land.
True, the poor peasants and rural semi-proletariat are indeed the majority of the peasantry. This was also true in Russia in 1905 too. In an article on the situation in 1905-7, Lenin gives figures indicating that more than four-fifths of the peasants were then poor peasants who were being economically crushed; the middle peasants who could get by with labor on their own land were only about one-eight of the peasantry; and the peasant bourgeoisie was only about a tiny 5% of the peasantry. (42) But Lenin didn't thereby conclude, as Anita does, that the peasant movement didn't have a petty-bourgeois character. Instead he held that, so long as the peasants stand for small-scale production and until the poor peasants engage in class struggle against the rich peasants, this is a movement of the peasantry as a whole. Indeed, until the poor peasants engage in an organized fight with the rich peasants, and begin to adopt proletarian viewpoints, they preserve the hope of somehow getting more land and farm implement and becoming solid, independent peasants. It is observed over and over how many poor peasants work themselves to the bone in the hope of becoming a better-off peasant. Even when they become rural laborers or go off into construction gangs or factories, this doesn't necessarily mean that the ruined poor peasants have lost the aspiration of returning to the land, and peasants and small farmers who finance their failing farms with their wages from working for others are quite common. Also it's notable that, in the land reform of the latter 1930s during the presidency of the reformist Lazaro Cardenas, many rural laborers on the plantations who had been militant union members once again sought land to become independent peasants. Many indigenous ejidatarios still needed to work on the plantations to get by, but they no longer formed a base for militant labor organizing. The movement for land was a movement of the "peasantry as such", and it had a very different character from class organization of the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat.
Anita however overlooks altogether the class struggle between the rich and poor peasants. No matter how much she talks about "poor peasants", it means little so long as she doesn't recognize that rich peasants exist in the ejido. She is simply dressing up the movement of the peasantry as a whole in proletarian colors, just as she dresses up the general democratic movement in quasi-socialist colors.
This results in Anita giving an absurdly oversimplified picture of the political sympathies of the countryside. In reality, not all ejidos supported the Zapatistas, even if we talk only of ejidos in Chiapas or around the Lacandona Jungle. The peasantry isn't simply divided into supporters of real revolution and supporters of the reformist PRD: on one hand, the Zapatista leadership didn't put forward the road of revolution, while some peasants even support the bourgeois-conservative party PAN. And despite the picture of fervent support for the ejidos implied by Anita and others, the peasantry did not rise up as one person against the PRI's reform of Article 27, which legalizes the buying, selling and mortgaging of peasant land in ejidos (this has always gone on in the ejidos, but it used to be illegal), makes it easier to dismantle ejidos, ends land redistribution except for the finalization of past promises, etc. To understand this, one has to recognize both the actual class divisions among the peasantry, and the real position of the poor peasant in the ejido.
--Glossing over the class differences between the workers and peasants--
But Anita, having implied that the peasants are all poor peasants and thus "very close to being a rural proletariat", concludes that their difference from the working class is therefore almost negligible. After all, she reasons, many workers are almost petty-bourgeois, and so what difference is there between the working class and the peasantry? Really! That's what she says! She argues that
". . . It is worth noting that the problem of petty-bourgeois ideology is not restricted to the peasantry. In Mexico, many workers have been so completely devastated economically that in order to survive, they are engaging in 'petty-bourgeois' economic activities. Neither is this problem restricted to the dependent or underdeveloped countries. In the developed capitalist countries, it's not unusual for industrial proletarians to own property and make income from rents, or to operate small businesses on the side and even to employ labor in those businesses. "
So, she reasons, since there are urban petty-bourgeois of proletarian origin (to say nothing of labor aristocrats), and because the working class doesn't exist pure and automatically free of petty-bourgeois ideology, then the poor peasants are just as working class as anyone else. She argues in essence that, since there is a petty-bourgeoisie in the cities, even in Chicago, why pick on the peasants and point out that they are a petty-bourgeoisie? And this argument would be unassailable -- if the urban petty-bourgeoisie and the working class were really the same class, and if the struggle against petty-bourgeoisie ideology were not one of the important struggles facing the working class. In the article that she is replying to, I had already pointed to the existence of the urban petty-bourgeoisie. From the class similarity between the petty-bourgeois in town and country I had concluded that the peasantry is in a separate class position from the workers. Anita concludes from the same fact that the workers and peasants are all but in the same class position.
Anita actually argues that any worker living in a house is basically in the same position as a peasant. Indeed, she says:
". . . It may be that the poor peasants in Mexico who own a piece of land and a house, and are exploited by the plantation owners, ranchers, and local capitalists [note, once again there is no mention of exploitation by the rich peasants, no mention of any class division within the peasantry--Jph. ], have more interests in common with the workers (who may own their little house and garden but are exploited by the capitalists), then they have with the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois ranchers. " (emphasis added,)
Naturally the poor peasants have more in common with the workers than with the capitalist ruling class. That's not the point at issue. The point is that those peasants who still cling to petty production as their salvation are in a different class position than workers, even if workers have a garden in their rented or mortgaged house. The point is also that the peasants are not just exploited by ranchers but by their rich peasant neighbors in the ejido. Moreover, if the poor peasants and rural proletariat are really to come into alliance with the urban workers it requires more than redefining the peasant movement: it requires that they organize in the countryside separate from the general peasant movement for aid to the ejidos.
Anita's theories about the peasantry would logically lead to the view that Mexico not only doesn't have a liberal bourgeoisie in the Leninist sense of the word (as we have seen her argue), but it doesn't have a petty-bourgeoisie in that sense either. Indeed, in point #2 of the "Elements of analysis for the current political situation", El Machete reaches this type of conclusion. It refers to various sections of the urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie, but only in order to suggest that their position is similar to that of the working class. El Machete sees no political significance to the difference between the working class and the petty-bourgeoisie.
--The ejidos in the Lacandona jungle--
Anita's theories about the peasantry are based neither on a close observation on what is going on in the Mexican countryside nor on any serious theoretical work, but on romanticizing the EZLN. She seeks to show that, whatever the case elsewhere, surely the movement of the rebellious peasants is essentially proletarian and the ejidos there have little to do with the Cardenista program. So while in general presenting the ejidos as composed only of subsistence plots of poor peasants, Anita especially glorifies the ejidos in that part of Chiapas where the EZLN is based. She writes that
"The ejidos of the Lacandona are not the ejidos formed by the PRI as part of the land reforms of earlier epochs. "
However, the ejidos in Chiapas in general and the Lacandona in particular were just as much a part of PRI's program as ejidos elsewhere in Mexico. The first really big wave of ejido formation in Chiapas took place as part of the campaign encouraged by Lazaro Cardenas, president of Mexico from 1934-1940. Since the 1950s a number of landless peasants have gone to Lacandona Jungle as their last resort. This migration was officially recognized when Luis Echeverria, president of Mexico from 1970-76, legalized many of these ejidos as part of his program of "colonization", which was the moving of landless peasants from their homes to uncultivated land elsewhere. The peasants who had settled in the Lacandona Jungle were one of the few groups of peasants who gained anything but marginal benefits from Echeverria's program of renewed Cardenismo
It is true that many ejidos in Chiapas in general and the Lacandona Jungle in particular aren't yet legally sanctioned. But this is no different from the situation anywhere in Mexico. The PRI always promised much more than it delivered. This is so notorious that one scholar has even compiled a table comparing the number of ejidos promised to the peasantry ("published resolutions" of the Mexican government) with the ejidos actually obtained ("executed resolutions") for each Mexican president. (43) Moreover, whenever PRI grants some ejidos, the peasants rush to claim additional ones. This happens all over Mexico.
Cardenas and Echeverria developed a good deal of support among the peasantry due to their ejido programs. Even today, it is notable that there is much influence on the left of Cardenista-style ideas, and a good deal of the criticism of PRI is directed at its shift away from the policies of Cardenas and Echeverria. Any agrarian program which can't see further than the ejido and land reform, or which imagines them as somewhat socialist, has something in common with Cardenista views, and variants of Cardenismo (Cardenista ideas) have influenced very different class forces. For example, insurgent peasants with faith in the ejido represent a very different class force from the bourgeoisie that had backed Lazaro Cardenas, and the proletariat has to distinguish sharply between them. Nevertheless, the program of the proletariat, while supporting various just demands for land reform, has to reveal that land reform and the ejido will not stop the capitalist evolution of agriculture and that small peasant production cannot bring prosperity to the peasantry as a whole. It has to reveal the development of the class struggle among the peasantry and stress the need to organize the rural proletariat and the poor peasants in their own interests, separate from the general peasant movement.
The CWV and El Machete have never successfully dealt with Cardenismo. Sarah's view that the ejido can be transformed into a socialist institution, or El Machete's view that the communal forms (agrarian communities, or indigenous ejidos) are in essence socialist, are nothing but a more refined, leftist form of Cardenismo. Sarah and Anita's views that the main issue is winning the peasantry from reformist ways of implementing land reform to revolutionary ways of doing it, is also one of the forms of "left" Cardenismo. It is no accident that El Machete, in its call to form an organization, doesn't criticize any aspect of the PRI regime other than its reversal of the Cardenista policies of the past. Such standpoints cannot help radical poor peasants overcome "left" Cardenismo and the idea that, with more government aid, the class struggle in the countryside will subside and the ejidos will flourish.
It is because she is unable to clarify the nature of Cardenismo and the old PRI program, that Anita has to resort to the absurd statement that the ejidos in the Lacandona Jungle have nothing to do with PRI's old ejido program. Still mired in prettification of the old ejido program, Anita implies that the ejidos, especially of the indigenous peoples, consist solely of poor peasants. These particular ejidos are the "comunidades agrarias", or agrarian communities. The talk of "communal forms" may give the impression that the peasants in these communities are all equal, an impression reinforced by Anita's insistence that all one needs to know about these communities is that the peasants in them are the poorest of the poor. But not all the peasants in them are on the bottom. For example, one searcher of a reformist political bent who is sympathetic to small-scale peasant production wrote:
". . . My observations are drawn from research I performed as an anthropologist during three decades studying agrarian change in highland Chiapas, including ways in which Mexico's oil boom of the 1970s and the resulting debt crisis of the 1980s redefined the lives and roles of the region's peasants. Among the indigenous peasants I know, I saw a gap grow ever wider between the wealthy, who were able to infuse their farming with cash derived from wage work near oil fields, on dam projects, and in urban construction projects, and the poor, who are finding it increasingly impossible to be able to afford to farm even their own land. "(44)
With respect to an ejido in Eastern Chiapas, he pointed that, as it evolved, peasants who started out pretty much all as poor peasants ended up divided into rich and poor peasants, with the rich peasants in the ejido hard to distinguish economically from private ranchers (in fact, this process goes on in ejidos of all types):
". . . the settlement's increasing commercial orientation separated settlers (who had for the most part begun production on roughly equal allotments of land) into two groups, one of poorer settlers who relied on subsistence farming and wage work for other compatriots, and a wealthier group involved in marketing cash crops and cattle. When one considers that wealthier colonists attained economies of scale from collective herding and commercial marketing, the distinction between them and private ranchers began to blur. Such differentiation . . . creates incentives for relative 'have-nots' to undertake new colonization of their own . . . "45
Another writer on the peasant movement, Dan La Botz, whose book is sympathetically reviewed in the CWVTJ, states with respect to the agrarian communities:
"The Indian leadership in the villages also changed. . . The state laws of the 1930s required each community in Chiapas to have a village government with elected civil authorities. Among these officials were escribanos or scribes: literate, bilingual Indians who served as middlemen between the Mayan community and the state and national government. The escribanos, or scribes gradually evolved into a new generation of caciques or political bosses allied with the PRI. These political bosses also exercised economic power through their control of beer and soft drink monopolies, trucking businesses, and local loan-sharking. "(46) He goes on to describe that "By the 1980s, Chiapas had changed fundamentally. . . . Indian villages were themselves became torn by a class struggle between the propertied and the propertyless. Whether the peasants became richer or poorer, the PRI tended to lose its grip over them. Chiapas's peasants became open to other forms of social and political organization. "(47)
Interestingly enough, La Botz describes the decay of ejido equality as the factor breaking the back of PRI domination. The ejido in full bloom, so idealized by El Machete, Sarah, Anita and many leftists, was a key factor demobilizing the peasantry and riveting it to the tyranny of the PRI.
If you recall, Anita claimed in her article that "It seems that the CV author doesn't understand the indigenous peasant movement". Whether this is true centers on the nature of the ejido and of the indigenous ejido, the agrarian community. If the ejido really consists, for all intents and purposes, only of poor peasants and semiproletarians, as Anita insists, then she is right. But if the ejido really is breaking up into rich and poor, if a struggle between rich and poor takes place among the peasants within the ejido, and not just between the entire ejido and commercial interests outside it, then it is Anita who has closed her eyes to the reality of peasant life in Mexico. If the indigenous peasantry consists for all intents and purposes only of the poorest peasants who are essentially working class, then Anita is right. But if there is a division between rich and poor among the indigenous communities as well as among the rest of the peasantry, then it is Anita who is living in a fantasy world, and she is doing so in order to support the dogmas of peasant socialists such as the petty-bourgeois nationalists of El Machete. And by propagating this false picture of the ejidos, Anita is prettifying Cardenismo and the old politics of PRI, prior to its turn to neoliberalism.
(1) This document is available in English in CWVTJ #11, pp. 9-13, Oct. 7, 1996.
(2) Note that CWV writers describe the EZLN's actions as an advance in the preparation of the revolution. Yet the difference El Machete has with EZLN is that the EZLN's program can only be accomplished, not as the EZLN sees it, but with an "advance in the preparation of a new revolution." El Machete's and CWV's program for Mexico thus appear to consist in large part of recasting EZLN's program in more revolutionary verbiage.
(3) "Two Tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, Postscript. Sec. II, p. 12.
(4) "Petty-bourgeois Socialism and Proletarian Socialism", Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 442, Nov. 7, 1905.
(5) "A Draft Program of our Party", Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 239,
(6) Two Tactics, Sec. 12, Chinese pamphlet edition, p. 108. This sentence is translated somewhat better here than in the Collected Works (Vol. 9, pp. 98-99), although the meaning is the same. In the Collected Works, the phrase is "even when fighting with the proletariat", which is perhaps ambiguous, although the context makes it clear that this means fighting against the proletariat, not alongside the proletariat.
(7) For example, it is a basic Marxist view that the class struggle takes place on the political, economic and ideological fronts. In this sense, every developed class struggle is not just dual, but even has three major parts. But it is one thing to note that the Mexican working class should both fight against political tyranny and against exploitation, and it would be quite another to mix up the general democratic movement and the socialist movement on the grounds of the "duality" of the class struggle.
(8) Similarly, she claims that Lenin said that the liberal bourgeoisie in Russia supported the peasantry in the democratic revolution, although her quote from Lenin says the exact opposite. (I will go into this later in this article. ) It is incredible that she quotes Lenin to provide authority for the very views that he is denouncing, but this reflects what happens when one interprets Marxism through petty-bourgeois democratic blinders.
(9) Tono Garcia's article appeared in El Machete, #63, July 19, 1995 and was translated into English in CWVTJ #8, Oct. 8, 1995. Ricardo Loewe's article appeared in the "For the Debate" section of El Machete in August 1995, and was translated into English in CWVTJ #9, Jan. 29, 1996.
(10) "Two Tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, sec. 13, p. 111.
(11) "Two Tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, Sec. 2, p. 27, emphasis added.
(12) I discuss this controversy in detail in my article "The ghost of Lazaro Cardenas and the present crisis in Mexico", Communist Voice, vol. 1, #5, Nov. 15, 1995, starting with the section "Oleg's main theoretical point--on the impulse to capitalist development". Jack Hill (Oleg) never replied. Sarah indirectly replied to this point--or at least, reiterated Jack's viewpoint--in her article "The continuing crisis in Mexico" by suggesting that if the reforms are carried out by the mass struggle of the peasantry, this might minimize such deleterious effects as capitalist development. I discuss this in the section "Women's rights" of my article "On proletarian tasks in the period of the tottering of the PRI regime/Once again on peasant socialism", which is the same article Anita is replying to. Both Sarah's and my article are contained in the CV, vol. 2, #6, Dec. 15, 1996. The CWV still hasn't grasped that there are objective economic laws at stake, laws that cannot be evaded or repealed by saying that the masses will arrange things as they like or the leftist coalitions will come to some consensus. As Lenin pointed out: "The better the condition of the 'village commune' and the greater the prosperity of the peasantry in general, the more rapid is the process of differentiation among the peasantry into the antagonistic classes of capitalist agriculture. " ("The Agrarian Program of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905-1907", Collected Works, vol. 13, pp. 241-2, emphasis as in the original)) But the CWV still believes that, somehow, a proper program of aid to small-peasant agriculture will retard or hold back the breakup of the peasantry into rich and poor peasants, peasant bourgeoisie and peasant laborers, instead of facilitating this breakup.
(13) "Two Tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, sec. 13, p. 111.
(14) "Petty-bourgeois and Proletarian Socialism", Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 440, Nov. 7, 1905.
(15) Ibid. , p. 443.
(16) "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky", Collected Works, vol. 28, section entitled "Subservience to the Bourgeoisie in the Guise of 'Economic Analysis'", p. 300, emphasis as in the original.
(17) "Two Tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, sec. 10, p. 85.
(18) Ibid. , Sec. 12, p. 100, emphasis as in the original. Of course, here Lenin is talking about a democratic revolution against an autocracy based on landlordism in the countryside. Not only is the present democratization in Mexico not a revolution, but it will modify the form of bourgeois rule rather than overthrow a medieval autocracy.
(19) "Social-democracy's Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement", Collected Works, vol. 9, pp. 236-7, Sept. 14, 190, emphasis as in the original.
(20) "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky", Ibid. , p. 300. It is the theoretical distinction drawn by Lenin that is the point here. It is arguable how far the Bolshevik revolution actually succeeded in developing the struggle of the rural semi-proletariat against the rural rich before the revolution degenerated into the Stalinist regime. But then again, it is precisely the weakness on this front that was one of the most important factors undermining the socialist character of the Russian revolution.
(21) CWVTJ #11, p. 14, col. 1 and 2. She of course does not specify what she means by "breaking completely with reformism", any more than she says what "taking the democratic struggles to their revolutionary limits" means. As of yet, it seems she simply wants the Zapatistas in particular to cool their alliance with the reformist PRD.
(22) CV, Dec. 1996, p. 32, col. 1.
(23) "Two Tactics" Collected Works, vol. 9, end of Sec. 6, p. 60.
(24) "The Bolsheviks and the Petty Bourgeoisie", Collected Works, vol. 12, p. 182, Feb. 25, 1907, emphasis as in the original.
(25) Ibid. , pp. 182-3, emphasis as in the original.
(26) Ibid. , emphasis as in the original.
(27) Ibid. , p. 183.
(28) "Concluding Remarks on the Report on the Attitude Towards Bourgeois Parties", Collected Works, vol. 12, p. 469.
(29) "Speech on the Attitude Towards Bourgeois Parties", Collected Works, vol. 12, p. 467. But doesn't Lenin say that the Trudoviks aren't fully consistent democrats? The petty-bourgeois democrat might therefore conclude that the problem is simply that the Trudoviks hadn't yet taken democracy to its most revolutionary limits, and blithely ignore the Marxist analysis that the peasant and petty-bourgeois parties inevitably vacillate due to their class position. Only the proletariat--and, ironically, only if it goes beyond democracy in its organizing--could be a consistent fighter for the democratic revolution.
(30) "Concluding Remarks . . . " Collected Works, vol. 12, p. 470, emphasis as in the original.
(31) "Two Tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, Sec. 12, p. 100.
(32) "Two tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, Epilogue. III, p. 136. Also note that Lenin's description of the liberal bourgeoisie gets even rougher when it comes to the question of the preparation of socialism, and not of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. With respect to socialist revolution, Lenin talked in this work about the proletariat having to ally to itself "the mass of the semiproletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyze the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. " (p. 100. )
(33) Moreover, in line with the dogmas of petty-bourgeois nationalism, she attributes the change in the land reform article solely to NAFTA and ignores that capitalist development in Mexico is the main force breaking down the ejidos.
(34) See pt #9 of their "Elements of analysis for the current political situation", an English translation of which appears in CWVTJ #11, along with a glowing introduction by Anita.
(35) CWVTJ #9, "Regarding Mexico: Some points in reply to Mark and Joseph".
(36) See Ricardo Loewe's reply to Tono Garcia, in which he said "Neither do I understand why there is a 'need for a proletarian party' ". This was in the August 1995 El Machete and reprinted in CWVTJ #9, Jan. 29, 1996, pp. 31-2.
(37) CWVTJ #12, p. 26.
(38) See "News from Mexico", CWVTJ #10, p. 3, col. 2. The only problem that Anita mentions about the reformist leadership of the Front is that the reformists "may not be acting with great enthusiasm".
(39) "Two Tactics", Collected Works, vol. 9, sec. 10, p. 85.
(40) "Petty-bourgeois and proletarian socialism", Collected Works, vol. 9, pp. 445-6, emphasis as in the original.
(41) "Social-democracy's attitude towards the peasant movement", Collected Works, vol. 9, pp. 237-8, September 14, 1905, emphasis as in the original.
(42) "The Agrarian Program of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905-1907," Collected Works, vol. 13, Ch. 1, Sec. 2, p. 227.
(43) See Appendix H, Samuel Schmidt, "The Deterioration of the Mexican Presidency: The Years of Luis Echeverria".
(44) From the introduction to "BASTA! Land and the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas" by George A. Collier with Elizabeth Lowery Quaratiello.
(45) Ibid. , p. 45.
(46) La Botz, Dan, "Democracy in Mexico: Peasant Rebellion and Political Reform", p. 28.
(47) Ibid. , p. 30.
The fight for democratic demands and the socialist revolution in Mexico
By Anita Jones de Sandoval,
Chicago Workers' Voice
The following article, which is reprinted in full, appeared originally in the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal, #12, Feb. 26, 1997. Some typos have been corrected. This is the latest from CWV in an ongoing debate with us concerning revolutionary work in Mexico. For our answer, see the article "Two perspectives on Mexico" starting on page 28.
This is the second in a promised series of articles about the mass movement and the political movement in Mexico. The original plan for this article was to discuss the ideological confrontation between reformism and revolution in Mexico. However, a recent article in the Detroit-based journal, Communist Voice,1 despite its author's polemical hyperbole about "would-be socialists" and "petty-bourgeois nationalists," raise some interesting issues regarding the relationship of the fight for democratic demands and socialist revolution in Mexico and the role of the revolutionary left.
The Communist Voice author asserts that I and other authors in the CWV [Chicago Workers' Voice] cannot accept that the possibility of change in Mexico is only for "some democratic changes" so we are painting the struggle of the peasantry (i. e. , the EZLN), as socialist. One doesn't have to be very astute to observe that the socialist revolution is not imminent in Mexico and that the fight for democratic demands is not a fight for socialism, but those observations don't equal an analysis of Mexico. It seems that the CV author doesn't understand the indigenous peasant movement, nor the relationship between the fight for democratic demands and the process of gathering forces and building organization for a socialist revolution in Mexico.
I think that there is a dual nature to revolution in Mexico. The current mass struggles in the countryside and in the cities (of workers, peasants, street vendors, indigenous peoples, et. al. ) are for democratic and often economic demands. It is an irrefutable fact that the workers' movement continues to be weak. Furthermore, there is not a party of the proletariat or even a strong Marxist-Leninist trend. Yet it is capitalism itself which is not satisfying even the basic demands of the toilers in Mexico. In the countryside, the big landowners are a part of the Mexican bourgeoisie, not a separate feudal class, or remnant of a class. Even in southern Mexico where there exists near-feudal exploitation of the indigenous peasantry, the oligarchy is integrated into the bourgeois class.
The duality of the Mexican revolution is similar to the duality which Lenin talked about in Russia in a number of his writings, but not identical. Lenin noted the duality of the revolution in Russia in explaining the Bolshevik program in the countryside and for the bourgeois-democratic revolution.
". . . There is no doubt that in Russia, too, the liberal bourgeoisie . . . are betraying and will betray the peasantry, i.e. , will confine themselves to a pseudo-reform and take the side of the landlords in the decisive battle between them and the peasantry. In this struggle only the proletariat is capable of supporting the peasantry to the end. There is no doubt, finally, that in Russia, too, the success of the peasants' struggle, i.e. , the transfer of the whole of the land to the peasantry, will signify a complete democratic revolution, and constitute the social basis of the revolution carried through to its completion, but this will by no means be a socialist revolution. . . . The success of the peasant insurrection, the victory of the democratic revolution will merely clear the way for a genuine and decisive struggle for socialism, on the basis of a democratic republic. In this struggle, the peasantry, as a landowning class, will play the same treacherous, unstable part as is now being played by the bourgeoisie in the struggle for democracy. To forget this is to forget socialism, to deceive oneself and others, regarding the real interests and tasks of the proletariat. . . " (V. I. Lenin, June-July, 1905, LCW, v. 9, p. 136)
Capitalist development and class differentiation in the countryside are considerably more advanced in Mexico than they were in the Russia of 1905 or even 1917. Furthermore, Mexico underwent a massive bourgeois democratic revolution from 1910 to 1925 in which the peasantry played a major role.
This revolution was incomplete due to the betrayal of the toilers by the emergent bourgeoisie; the struggle has continued with upsurges and retreats since then. It would be an error to apply Lenin's analysis of European peasantry in the 19th and early 20th century to Mexico now without noting these differences between the democratic struggle in Russia in 1905-1917 and Mexico now. Mexico is a capitalist country with capitalist relations in the city and countryside. It is also a dependent capitalist country, exploited by imperialism. It is a country with a large superexploited indigenous population, and a significant peasantry who are mainly poor peasants and semi-proletarians. Much of the semi-proletariat in the countryside seems very close to being a rural proletariat--they are workers on the plantations and ranches who also own individually or through the ejidos a tiny piece of land which they subsistence farm. In the countryside there are also latifundistas, minilatifundistas, and ranchers ("ganaderos"--small and large). In Chiapas in southern Mexico, even the medium-sized ranchers and landowners are tied securely to the PRI and form part of its local power elite. In the cities there is a large petty-bourgeoisie. This includes unemployed workers and dispossessed peasants who make up the poorest of the poor street vendors, numerous semi-proletariat, shopkeepers and professionals. There also exists an important proletariat working in heavy and light industry and in the service sector.
For some years the main contradiction around which political struggle has polarized is the struggle against the PRI regime--against its political machine, corruption, caciques, and the extreme forms of exploitation it has inflicted on the masses of working people. Struggle has broken out for democratization across a fairly broad spectrum of society, including some sectors of the bourgeoisie who want the PRI to share power with other political parties. For the poor toilers the struggle has centered on basic democratic and economic demands (jobs, wages, housing, education, social services, food, health care, land, political rights and end to repression, etc. ) Part of the struggle of the toilers includes the fight being waged by the indigenous peoples for all those basic demands, plus the return of lands stolen from them and some form of autonomy. The indigenous peoples' fight for land, economic and political rights is a part of the peasant movement itself, especially in southern Mexico.
For many years, there has existed, in many forms, an alliance between the proletariat, the urban poor, and the poor peasantry around economic and democratic demands. This is another difference between the peasant movement in Mexico and in Russia in 1905. As the quote from Lenin notes, the Russian peasant movement centered on the demand of the transfer of all the land to the peasantry. The peasant movement in Mexico has raised a series of demands which go beyond land distribution, many of which are the same as the demands of the workers and urban poor (e. g. , healthcare, education, justice, democracy, etc. ).
As well, not since the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940) has there been a section of the bourgeoisie who could actually claim the label "liberal" in the sense it is used by Lenin to discuss a democratic, nationalist bourgeoisie who supported the peasants' struggle for land. It has to be noted that Cardenas represented the section of the landowners and capitalists who were integrating into the PRI (then called the Partido Nacional Revolucionario) and were still in conflict with remnants of the older landowning class and with U. S. and British imperialism.
Coming out of the Mexican Revolution, the original program of the PNR and then the PRI defined itself as a class alliance of the peasantry, the workers and the political class. The Cardenas reforms and nationalizations were aimed at allowing the Mexican bourgeoisie, through the PNR, to consolidate itself and to develop the capitalist economy. Step by step, as the bourgeoisie grew stronger, the interests of the toilers were betrayed. For the peasantry, this betrayal was codified by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari with the changes in the land reform article of the Mexican Constitution tied to the NAFTA negotiations.
In recent years, the PRD has claimed to support the peasants and indigenous peoples in their struggles against the PRIista machine. The PRD politically represented a merger of petty-bourgeois social democracy (the Second International), reformist Marxism (the Partido Socialista Unificado de Mexico), and the liberal "political class" (i. e. , bourgeois politicians such as Cuauhtemoc Cardenas). The support it can give to the peasants is severely limited by the fact that the PRD leadership will fight with the PRI, but only to a point. It will not go against its own capitalist class, and it works to restrict and control the mass movement.
The EZLN and the peasant movement in Southern Mexico
The current crises of the PRI regime actually goes back into the 1980's when the PRI was first challenged seriously by bourgeois forces (PRD, PAN) of which the PRD, in particular, has a mass base among the petty-bourgeoisie, some peasantry and some workers. The independent mass movements of workers and urban poor remained active and strong in their areas, but nationally very fragmented and weak. Although the EZLN is not the only militant peasant organization in Chiapas, the uprising led by the EZLN marked the entrance into the arena of struggle of the poorest of the poor peasants, the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico. The mass base of the EZLN are the indigenous peasants whose families were peons on the plantations (fincas) of the Chiapan Priista oligarchy, and who live on ejidos in the Lacandona jungle. The indigenous lands have been stolen repeatedly over the course of 500 years of subjugation, and the communities forced ever deeper into desperation.
The ejidos of the Lacandona are not the ejidos formed by the PRI as part of the land reforms of earlier epochs. These ejidos were created by indigenous peons who fled the fincas to the jungle, and cleared land for their ejidos. Sometimes their ejidos have been legally recognized and sometimes not. These ejidos are subsistence villages, whose residents are exploited as rural workers, as woodcutters, as cheap, indebted labor by the latifundistas, the ranchers and the rest of the oligarchy.
These are two issues: first, the EZLN is not a socialist organization and its demands are not socialist. Certainly the demands of the indigenous peoples for the return of their lands, for autonomy, and for economic assistance and more social services, etc. , are theoretically possible through reforms. The EZLN in its program originally called for the satisfaction of the eleven basic demands of the "faceless, nameless" oppressed Indian masses, an end to the PRI government, a new coalition government (coalition of opposition, non-PRI forces), and a new constitution. In other words, for radical democratization perhaps even a democratic insurrection, but certainly not for socialism. Since the 1994 uprising, the EZLN has moved away from its more radical positions, shifting towards the reformist PRD, and even declaring themselves not to be in a struggle for "political power" according to Subcommandante Marcos. However, the EZLN has not completely given up its arms and organization. It continues to maintain strong support in Chiapas and to be able to hold out politically against the PRI. The EPR (Ejercito Popular Revolucionario) in Guerrero does have a program which calls for a fight for political power, however this is also within the framework of a democratic revolution.
So do I think the peasant movement in southern Mexico, the EZLN, the EPR, are socialist? Absolutely not. I do think that the existing struggle of the masses of peasants, indigenous peoples, workers and oppressed is where revolutionaries must fight to define a revolutionary proletarian trend, and to develop and deepen the revolutionary movement and gather forces under the leadership of that trend. The extent of class differentiation in the countryside and the extent of the poor peasantry and semi-proletariat does mean that there is a real potential for the proletariat to pull this movement away from reformism, pushing the democratic demands to their revolutionary (not socialist but revolutionary) limits and clearing away obstacles to the socialist revolution. As to the future of the alliance between the proletariat and peasantry, I don't think it is inevitable (depending on how the democratic struggle develops) that the poor peasantry and semi-proletariat in the countryside will "betray the proletariat". The question of the ideology of the small proprietor is a serious one. It is possible that if the small peasantry and the indigenous peoples win some of their demands for land, they will be hostile to the demands of socialism for the abolition of private enterprise. It may also be possible, that given the reality of Mexico, the poor peasants and indigenous communities will remain poor and in struggle, that capitalism cannot satisfy their basic needs and that this will continue to push them toward the proletariat. It is worth noting that the problem of petty-bourgeois ideology, is not restricted to the peasantry. In Mexico, many workers have been so completely devastated economically, that in order to survive, they are engaging in "petty-bourgeois" economic activities. Neither is this problem restricted to the dependent or underdeveloped countries. In the developed capitalist countries, it's not unusual for industrial proletarians to own property and make income from rents, or to operate small businesses on the side and even to employ labor in those businesses. It may be that the poor peasants in Mexico who own a piece of land and a house, and are exploited by the plantation owners, ranchers, and local capitalists, have more interests in common with the workers (who may own their little house and garden but are exploited by the capitalists), than they have with the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois ranchers.
The revolutionary movement and democratic revolutions
"But even if our revolution is bourgeois in its economic content (this cannot be doubted), the conclusion must not be drawn from it that the leading role in our revolution is played by the bourgeoisie, that the bourgeoisie is its motive force. . . . The leader of the bourgeois revolution may be either the liberal landlord together with the factory-owner, merchant, lawyer, etc. , or the proletariat together with the peasant masses. . . . From this, the Bolsheviks deduce the basic tactics of the socialist proletariat in the bourgeois revolution -- to carry with them the democratic petty bourgeoisie, especially the peasant petty bourgeoisie, draw them away from the liberals, paralyze the instability of the liberal bourgeoisie, and develop the struggle of the masses for the complete abolition of all traces of serfdom, including landed proprietorship. " (V. I. Lenin, "The Bolsheviks and the Petty Bourgeoisie", February 25, 1907, LCW, Vol. 12, pp. 181-182, [italics added by Anita, underlining represents emphasis by Lenin--CV])
This brings us to the other basic question raised by the CV. What program does the revolutionary proletariat have? The mass struggle requires alliances with different class forces. The development of a socialist movement requires differentiation between the bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie and the workers' organizations and interests. There is no "wall" between the democratic struggles and the socialist struggle. How far the revolutionary movement can go depends on what class force wins leadership of the movement--on the strength of the proletariat in the fight. The fact is, in Mexico, in the midst of the mass upsurges and retreats, the repression and the political crises, tentative steps are being taken to forge this trend. The forces around El Machete are a part of this attempt. What is their program? To strengthen the unity of the most revolutionary elements and organizations in the mass movement, to develop a program to push the limits of the democratic struggles, and to begin the process to form an independent proletarian organization. This process is very fragile and under tremendous pressure. I believe that it should be supported by socialists, in word and in deed.
The next article in this series will discuss this process of consolidating and nurturing of the left wing of the mass movement, and of the socialist forces in the workers' movement. <>
1 Communist Voice, Dec. 15, 1996, "Mexico and Peasant Socialism". Available from P. O. Box 13261, Harper Station, Detroit, MI 48213.
From El Machete:
The following article appeared originally in Spanish in the Mexican petty-bourgeois nationalist journal El Machete. This English translation is reprinted from the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal, issue #12, Feb. 26, 1997, where it appeared under the title "Work to form the political organ of the toilers". It is criticized in the article "Two perspectives on Mexico" elsewhere in this journal, especially in the sections "The independent movement has only to unite on a national level" and "The political organization that does nothing" on pp. 42-3.
Work to form the political organ of the toilers
In Mexico the "mass movement" has now at least 3 decades of development. In this mass movement are entrenched those who do not accept the official gifts, baptized by the enemy as "Democratic Openings" or "Political Reforms". Within these mass movements were generated the armed movements which have made their appearance in recent years (the EZLN, EPR, ERIP. . . ), and also from these "mass movements" were born the Fronts and Coordinating Organizations (Coordinadoras) which have been able to confront the State since the decade of the 1970s (CNTE, CONATIMSS, MPI, CNPA, FPFV, CONAMUP, CLETA, . . . )
It has been these coordinating organizations which put the brakes on the privatization of the IMSS (Instituto Mexicana de Seguridad Social) and resisted the privatization of transportation, and of PEMEX; their action has postponed the destruction of the ejido or the annihilation of the communal forms of production. It has been these social organizations which have been able to force money for the construction of housing out of the State's budget, and which have held back measures (of the government and others) with a tendency to provoke cultural genocide, such as those which would take back educational conquests or the often announced plan to privatize Chapultepec Park.
But the mass movement cannot by itself alone carry out the political struggle, rather this task responds to a political organization which gives it (the mass movement) cohesion. In this moment it is strategic to work for the consolidation of this organization.
Will it be the Party of the Proletariat? Will it have another name? For now it is not important what we baptize the child, nor how its functioning will be structured or formed. To define these is part of the discussion that is going on in many sectors. What is certain is that those who propose to make a revolution cannot be subjected to participating in politics by asking to borrow the structure of the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democratica) or the PT (Partido del Trabajo). It is necessary to create one of our own.
The formation of this political structure is not to exclude nor substitute for the social organizations, on the contrary, it must be complementary to the action of the mass movement, and inclusive, finding links with the grouping which are laboring to form the peoples' army.
This political organization should not (and cannot) supplant the unions nor the popular organizations. No, it must nourish itself with the more advanced cadre (open and closed) which have been produced by the mass movement over these 3 decades, who must carry out leadership and political organization tasks.
It is pertinent to clarify that this is not to negate the serious attempts at political organization which have occurred; on the contrary, we have to start from them and work to achieve the unity in theory and in practice of those whose struggle has demonstrated that they are, incorruptible, the most decided, and those who really want to make the revolution.
Of course, this can not be achieved with a meeting, nor in the short term, but it is the moment to begin, or better said, it is time to give another push in the process of structuring the political organization of the toilers. 
March 26. 1997
The folks at Red Star Rising Again were kind enough to send me some xeroxed information on your organization, as well as copies of your critique of their 'zine. I knew the old MLP, having done some work in DC on pro-choice defense with them. Too bad that the MLP, like so much of the left these days, basically imploded.
I see from your descriptive blurb, "What is Communist Voice?, that your main point of ideological struggle is over the question of revisionism in the communist movement. We both know that historically the term was formulated in the struggle against Bernstein's theory of the possibility of evolutionary, parliamentary socialism, and of a reformist revision of revolutionary Marxism in general. I note that you include Stalinism, Trotskyism, etc., etc., as being revisionist as well, and that your ideal is what might be termed a kind of “Marxism-Leninism before the Fall."
Would you care to elaborate? Does that mean pre-1921 Leninism? Pre-1928? You speak approvingly of the masses of Chinese workers and peasants in their decades-long struggle to come to power in 1949. Needless to say, the MLP — and I assume, the CVO — has its roots in the Maoist New Communist Movement. Do you embrace much of Maoist thought as anti-revisionist? The two-line struggle, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, etc., etc. were all aspects of anti-revisionist, anti-capitalist struggle. As were the 25 points with which Beijing officially broke with Moscow. What position do you have on these?
I guess my real question, at root, would be this. RSRA speaks of the need for a Modern Communism, oriented towards the changing realities of our time, rooted in the positive and negative experiences of the past workers' and revolutionary movements. It almost strikes me that you draw an arbitrary line, and say "nothing after this held anything positive for the revolutionary movement." As I've written. I've only seen a bit of your stuff, so I can't really judge. What kinds of self- examination of the experience of your current have your done? Have you truly examined the revolutionary legacies of Trotskyism, Maoism, anarchism, etc., or has it proved enough to read what Lenin or Marx wrote in polemic? In other words, as we enter a completely new period, with a completely new dynamic, where the bureaucratically-degenerated workers'/state capitalist states of the east have fallen by the wayside, and the road is open for the emergence of an authentic Modern Communism, how do you work to reappraise and move forward?
Anyway, I enclose three bucks for a copy of your journal so I can check it out for myself.
With socialist greetings,
April 24, 1997
Under separate cover we have sent you the volume 3, number 1 issue of our journal which evidently you have received by now.
You ask about our ideological roots. We consider ourselves a Marxist- Leninist trend. You use a number of labels we do not use, so it's sometimes hard for us to see precisely what's on your mind. Thus, it's unclear what you mean when you ask us if we support "pre-1921 Leninism” or "pre-1928 Leninism." We hold that Leninism, understood as the underlying theoretical principles that are represented by his work as a whole, is the same in 1997 as in 1921. The basic stand and approach of Leninism is useful as a guide to revolutionary activity today It is not a set of recipes or particular decisions Lenin must at such and such a time that can simply be copied when the conditions that led to these judgments have changed. Probably, you have in mind particular things that went on in 1921 or 1928 and want to know our opinion of them. Could you tell us more what issues you are referring to? More generally, we are interested in knowing your views and standpoint.
As for our stand on Maoism, we oppose it, although at one time we thought that Mao Zedong Thought was Marxist-Leninist. In the mid-70s, the immediate predecessor organization of the MLP, the Central Organization of U.S. Marxist-Leninists, began to critique the Chinese “three-worlds" theory We began to look into the roots of such fallacies and ended up repudiating Mao Zedong Thought. We also discovered that a number of our stands, that had been opposed by other Maoist organizations, were indeed anti-Maoist.
For example, the "two-line" struggle, as practiced by the Maoism, is not something we uphold. A genuine communist organization must wage a relentless struggle against opportunism. But the Maoist conception is an obstacle to this. For instance, the Maoist theory is that there must, of necessity, be a proletarian and bourgeois "headquarters” in the party On the one hand, this lends itself to portraying any disagreement in the party as one between class enemies, which creates an arbitrary, repressive atmosphere. On the other hand, it can also serve as a justification for promoting coexistence with opportunism.
The Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution is an example of sorts of Chinese revisionist "two-line"
struggle. Ostensibly, it was a fight against capitalist-roaders like
Deng. But in fact there was an underlying unity of principles between
Mao and his opponents. Maoist theory itself was “three-worldist",
Maoism could not firmly break with Soviet revisionist theory, and Mao
himself paved the way for the opening up of China to Western
imperialism. Thus, after the dust of the Cultural Revolution settled,
Deng and many capitalist roaders were still
coexisting within the Chinese Party.
You ask if we've examined other theories and wonder if we have just drawn some arbitrary lines. If we have rejected Trotskyism, Maoism and anarchism, it is because we have seen first hand the damage they do to the revolutionary cause. Our journal contains a number of articles on the history of anarchism. on the differences in the movement in Mexico, on the various attitudes toward the economies of the revisionist regimes like Cuba and the Soviet Union, on the approach toward the current difficulties of the. strike movement, etc. When you get a chance to read our journal, we would be interested in hearing your views on these articles and issues.
We agree that revolutionary
theory must deal with the changing realities of our time, and this is
why we founded our journal. We too think that the collapse of the
phony communist states (and of the various mass revolutionary
movements of the workers) is one of the central issues of our time.
It raises issues like what was the nature of these states, what does
the collapse mean. and what lessons should we draw? We think that to
deal with this, we must not simply say that each trend had some good
points and some bad points, but provide an overall assessment of the
nature of these trends. If Marxism is to show itself as the
revolutionary theory that can deal with the changing realities of our
time, it must vigorously overcome the ways of thinking promoted by
the phony communist trends like Soviet revisionism, Trotskyism, and
Maoism as Marxism.
Communist Voice