A Popular Regime, Not Stalinism

— Marc Viglielmo

SAMUEL FARBER’s REVIEW of Janette Habel’s book, Cuba The Revolution in Peril ["Cuba and The Left Today,” ATC 45] is a good example of the problems plaguing many socialists who have criticisms of the Cuban Revolution. It seems that there really is no middle ground for supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

There are those who will not discuss questions concerning lack of workers’ democracy, or political pluralism, hiding behind idiotic rationalizations such as "it’s not for us to criticize" or "we don’t really have all the information," etc., etc. And then there are those who use legitimate criticism of Cuba as a launching pad for their own rather strident attacks on the revolution, attacks which usually give the impression that these critics are washing their hands of the whole business of Cuba, having demolished all the arguments of those poor unfortunates who are so stupid as to believe the "Castroist-Guevaraist" nonsense pouring out of Havana.

Here are two paragraphs of Farber’s:

“Similarly, she (Habel] also seems to partake of another notion maintained by a number of Trotskyists that a Stalinist system—-independently of whether one analyzes it as ‘degenerated workers’ state,’ ’state capitalist’ or ‘bureaucratic collectivists’—-can only be defined as such if it is controlled by a traditional Communist party originally established as a client party of the CPSU. These Trotskyists conclude that since Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their associates did not come out of the traditional Communist parties and did make a revolution overthrowing capitalism, they cannot be Stalinists.

“This conclusion leaves out the fact that Castro, Guevara and associates established a socioeconomic and political system that in every important respect was structurally and institutionally a carbon copy of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including features such as the full nationalization of the means of production, a one-party state controlling all aspects of life in the society including stratified unions, the absence of the right to strike or of any other civil and political liberties, and an all-embracing secret police and system of neighborhood surveillance to help maintain the regime in power.”

Farber must know about the record of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) before the revolution, and the fact that, following policy laid down in Moscow, it ignored or belittled the July 26 movement, up until shortly before the final victory over Batista. What distinguished the July 26 movement from the CCP was that it made a revolution, as opposed to the CCP, which was following the Stalinist-Menshevik line that required supporting the "progressive" bourgeoisie (including persons such as Batista).

Why does Father use the phrase "full nationalization"? What means of production would Farber like to leave in private hands? He does not elaborate. Nationalization of the means of production is not a hallmark of Stalinism. If Farber doesn’t like nationalizing the means of production, he’s entitled to his opinion, but he shouldn’t label this measure "Stalinist."

For Farber, the network of Committees for Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) is just a "carbon copy" of the KGB, ZOMO and the other secret police organizations. How was it that these Stalinist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe were unable to enlist the masses in forming similar grassroots organizations to spy on themselves?

Farber comes up with a simple solution: Cuba is "more Stalinist" than these other Stalinist regimes! Father gets into this predicament because he cannot conceive of a government such as Cuba’s having such great popular support, while still retaining many of the repressive features that Farber cannot tolerate.

For Farber, there can either be a workers’ democracy with workers’ councils, multiparty government and political pluralism (which means it would have popular support), or a Stalinist police state (which means no popular support). Nothing in between. He reasons this way: since the government is repressive, it cannot have popular support, and since the CDRs are organized by the government, the CDRs therefore must be a giant police surveillance network, which is even more sinister and "more Stalinist" precisely because they "invade more areas of people’s lives."

Comparing the CDRs, which organize immunization programs for children, and which organized defense against real counter-revolutionaries, to the KGBs physical torture of dissidents and to its gulag is ludicrous. Comparing those few Herberto Padilla’s unjustly persecuted to the tens of thousands of lives destroyed by the Stalinist police state in the USSR is ridiculous. Of course one should protest the arrest of dissidents anywhere. But to fail to acknowledge these significant differences is to distort reality.

The fact that there have never been mass protests in Cuba against the government, on the scale of Berlin in 1953, or Hungary, Poland and North Vietnam in 1956, or in Prague in 1968 or in Peking in 1989, has little significance for Farber. Cuba is a rather strange "carbon copy," isn’t it? Doesn’t this indicate that there is a different kind of relationship between the people of Cuba and the Cuban government than that which existed in Hungary or Poland, or other countries with Stalinist bureaucracies?

Farber may respond that there has never been a “Tiananmen Square" in North Korea, either. That can only mean that there is more popular support for, or acquiescence to, the regime in North Korea than there is for those regimes that ruled in Eastern Europe. What else could it mean? There hasn’t been a police state apparatus in the history of the world that could prevent any and all mass protests. The absence of protest does not always mean that there is more effective government repression. It can also mean that the masses do not feel the need to protest.

Both Cuba and North Korea have been the victims of sustained economic blockades and constant military threats from U.S. imperialism for decades. What influence this has on the attitudes of the two peoples toward their governments, and toward the idea of any kind of violent uprising against the government in the context of this incessant pressure from imperialism, is another question Farber does not consider.

Clearly there is a direct connection between the level of pressure exerted by imperialism on a given anti-capitalist government and the extent to which the masses are willing to forgo the kind of struggle against the bureaucratic practices that a regime might be engaging in at any particular time. This involves a recognition on the part of the masses of the real danger of imperialist-inspired destabilization, or agent provocateurs taking advantage of internal strife.

Which brings us to the question: what would Farber do, or propose, if he were in Cuba right now? What concrete program would he draw up for action in the anti-bureaucratic struggle? Which political tendencies in Cuba does he look to for change? With what other like-minded "democratic revolutionary socialists" in Cuba would he like to unite? If Farber avoids questions as these, it is difficult to take him seriously as a "democratic revolutionary socialist.

The reason there has never been a "Tienanmen Square" in Cuba, the reason that Fidel Castro can travel throughout the country and mingle with ordinary Cubans without any fear of attack and the reason that May Day celebrations in Cuba are the largest in the world is not because of a more sophisticated police state apparatus. It is because the government has genuine, massive support among the people. Which doesn’t excuse its repressive aspects. But as long as one attempts to deny this basic fact, one gets into the kind of problem that Farber gets into.

Later in the review, Farber makes some inaccurate statements. Here’s one.

"Castro has initiated and has been responsible for both the Soviet-inclined and Guevaraist economic policies of the past as well as for the current policy that combines internal Guevaraism for Cubans—indeed, a rapidly unraveling Guevaraism—with market economics for foreigners, i.e. a strong emphasis on foreign investment in tourism and other industries."

Castro opposed the introduction of Soviet-style economic reforms, as Guevara certainly would have. Castro was overruled by the others in the Central Committee. It was only as a result of growing disenchantment and apathy among the working class that the government reversed itself and launched the rectification campaign in 1986.

Farber omits any reference to Carlos Tablada’s book on Che Guevara’s economic thought, which brings out the profound differences between Guevara and the Soviets on questions of economies. For Farber, Guevaraist and Stalinist schools of economic thought have no fundamental differences.

Farber correctly points out the problems in Guevara’s approach to the trade unions, and to the source of the kind of voluntarism that Guevara espoused. But for Farber, everything is black and white. There is no mention of Tablada’s tours of the United States, during which he stated that the regimes that collapsed in 1989 were not socialist, a statement at odds with Castro’s repeated statements that the 1989 events were a calamity for socialism. Isn’t it interesting that Castro, the supposed dictator who controls everything, "allows" Tab" to tour all over the United States, Canada and Europe saying something almost diametrically opposed to what he has been saying?

Imagine Brezhnev or Deng Xiaoping permitting the same thing. Farber’s "carbon copy" looks curiouser and curiouser.

Farber states that the microbrigades are "economically harmful" because workers are assigned to jobs other than their "own." The thousands of day care centers constructed by the microbrigades are an example of the "economic harm" done to Cuba. Also, does Farber deny that some skills, such as those required in construction, are relatively easy to learn, and therefore can be taught to workers coming from a variety of backgrounds?

The privileged bureaucracy in the former USSR, the bureaucracy that had access to special shops, that owned private villas, whose representatives sent their children to the best schools-this bureaucracy has no counterpart in Cuba. The kind of corruption which has come to light in Cuba recently is the exception to the rule. In the former USSR, it was par for the course.

Absent from Farber’s review is any mention of the international role played by Cuba. The hundreds of thousands of Cubans who volunteered for service in Angola, or who volunteered to be teachers or doctors in Nicaragua while contras murdered and pillaged, is a social phenomenon that has no parallel in the former USSR or Eastern Europe.

And what kind of "carbon copy" of Stalinism is Cuba, where one of the best selling books nowadays is Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed?

November-December 1993, ATC 47