Why does the British left attack Cuba?

On Saturday 11 July, Rock around the Blockade (RATB) supporters were subjected to a stream of anti-Cuban prejudice when the organisation debated the case for Cuban socialism with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). RATB agreed to the debate because we recognise that as the crisis deepens, it is the urgent task of socialists to confront imperialism and build an anti-imperialist movement in this country. Cuba is in the forefront of that struggle world-wide and its stance is recognised by progressive and revolutionary forces throughout the world. As it continues to denigrate Cuba’s achievements and its principled standpoint, the Trotskyist left in Britain, always completely hostile to Cuban socialism, is now playing a counter-revolutionary role.


For the AWL, Paul Hampton rejected any suggestion that Cuba was socialist, arguing it was impossible because the Cuban revolution had not been an act of ‘working class self-emancipation’: ‘no socialism is possible without the conscious active role of the working class’. The AWL say Cuba is a class society – ‘Stalinism’ – where ‘the state owns the means of production, and a totalitarian bureaucratic ruling class controls the state and extracts the surplus product from workers and peasants’; the Cuban revolution is an ‘historical abortion’.

Hampton’s position, in essentials the same as the rest of the Trotskyist left, is that Cuban society is not socialist but capitalist: there is no mode of production which Trotkyists can call ‘Stalinist’ without making a nonsense of Marxism. When this was pointed out in the debate there were guffaws: Marx had not been alive at the time of Stalin, so who could imagine his views about the Soviet Union or Cuba? This reduces Marxism to empiricism. The give-away is that Hampton focused on the mode of distribution of the surplus product and evaded the more fundamental question of the mode of production.

In opening the debate, Helen Yaffe for Rock around the Blockade exposed the left for its mechanistic view of revolution: Cuba’s ‘original sin’ was that the revolutionary movement had not been led by the trade unions. She explained why this had been the case – the corruption and gangsterism of Cuban unions under Batista – and then gave many examples of Cuban working class involvement in the struggle. She pointed out that the British left dismiss Cuban sources of information about the revolution, and instead bases its arguments on material provided by Cubanology, a collective term for academic opposition to the Cuban revolution sponsored by the US government and corporations. Particularly valued as Cubanologists, she said, are those who attack Cuba while claiming to be socialist: for example, Samuel Farber (see www. revolutionary communist.org/frfipages/198/FRFI_ 198 _far.html).

Hampton’s example of the ‘lack’ of working class freedom in Cuba was the fact that ‘in 1983 when an independent trade union along Solidarnosc lines tried to form, it was crushed and its members threatened’. Yet the main purpose of such an ‘independent’ trade union, in Cuba as in Poland, would have been to organise for the restoration of capitalism. As one RATB supporter said in the debate, socialism is class rule: seizing state power is the first step; retaining it is an altogether more difficult proposition and requires the suppression of counter-revolutionary forces. The AWL’s concept of democracy – soviets, workers’ councils – is purely formal: in Cuba, the mass organisations have taken a different form but are still organs of working class power.

During the debate one AWL supporter melodramatically suggested that ‘if anyone in Cuba raised our politics they would be a walking corpse’ - rich for an organisation that supports the Labour Party, responsible for millions of very real corpses. Another declared that although she was ‘not an expert on Cuba’ she was an ‘expert on revolutionary struggle’ – an ‘expert’ whose concept of revolutionary struggle is to call for a vote for the racist, imperialist Labour Party. A third said that gay pride was banned in Cuba – a fiction possible because of AWL’s reliance on Cubanology.

A Cuban supporter of RATB said ‘I am a Cuban, and I am working class, my whole family is working class. How can you prove the government is exploiting us? I am proud to be working class; I can be involved in the Cuban revolution as much as I want to be. How can you prove what you say?’ This is the essence of the problem. Once you have decided that Cuba is not socialist then you will twist facts to prove it. In his summing up, therefore, Hampton gave as an example of how his ‘Stalinist ruling class’ expropriates the surplus product the fact that agencies employing  people who work in the tourist industry are paid in dollars, but the government takes the dollars and pays the workers in pesos. Socialists, however, understand that this both funds universal social welfare and limits the inequalities that would arise if the workers were paid hard currency direct.

Hampton and his supporters say there was no single event that could be called a socialist revolution in Cuba. Yet there was a socialist revolution: not in one single act, but in a series of stages through to 1962. In her summing up Helen Yaffe cited Lenin’s conception when he replied to left opponents (including Trotsky) who criticised the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising:

‘To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without the revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression...to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution!’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 22 pp355-56)

Overall the AWL and the Trotskyist left raise a wholly implausible concept of a Cuban working class in complete subjection to a rapacious and ruthless ruling class. Yet they cannot cite an instance where the army has been used against the Cuban people since the revolution. They cannot cite death squads, concentration camps, disappearances, all manifestations of class oppression in Latin America in the past decades. Truly it is a peculiar form of class rule which seeks and achieves the highest educational and cultural standards for the people, and which actively supports democratic anti-imperialist movements. How can this be? Why did Cuban workers not rise up during the worst years of the Special Period? How were they terrified into submission? Where was the repression, the overflowing jails? The stance of Samuel Farber and his Trotskyist disciples is little more than chauvinism: the Cubans should have waited for a socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries because they were incapable of making their own.

The standpoint of the AWL is petit bourgeois socialism, whose theoretical premise is the rejection of Lenin’s standpoint on imperialism, and whose politics are undying support for the Labour Party or Old Labour. It organises amongst a privileged stratum of the population whose affluent lifestyle depends on the parasitism of British imperialism, and whose privileges the Labour Party was established to defend, along with the interests of British imperialism. It is typical that Hampton focuses so much on the distribution of the social product in Cuba: how much of the social product falls to the petit bourgeoisie was ever their principal concern.
Robert Clough

FRFI 210 August / September 2009


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