A new four-part series by Sam King published on Red Ant
The small-scale but historically important protests in Cuba on July 11, 2021 provoked widely varied reactions from different groupings on the left outside of Cuba. Inside the rich, imperialist countries, reactions ranged from stepped up active solidarity with the Cuban Revolution to calls for overthrow of the Cuban “regime”. On both ends of that spectrum are organisations and individuals who self-identify as socialist.
Among those opposed to the Cuban leadership three things stood out. One is the hostility coming from those based within the imperialist states (such as Australia) that are themselves hostile to Cuba. Another is a lack of knowledge about the situation inside Cuba and disinterest or unwillingness to consider the concrete conditions. Third is the speed with which Cuba’s opponents were prepared to condemn the revolution and on the most spurious of grounds.
The clearest example of this hostility is examined in article one of the series The Account of Comrade Frank García Hernández Versus His Overseas ‘Friends’. This article deals with the demonstrably false claim circulated by socialists such as Emeritus Professor Alex Callinicos of King’s College, London that the Cuban government was arresting socialists who criticised it. The episode, which revolved around a public letter campaign, demonstrates the absurdity and arrogance of attempting to condemn from afar events about which you demonstrably know nothing.
The various reactions to the July 11 events reflect not only what happened in July or even various understandings of it. They reflect different overall views of the Cuban revolution. The second article in the series, Demanding the Impossible: Left “Criticisms” of Cuba addresses the most common left attack – that the Cuban government’s concessions to the capitalist market is evidence of it ‘selling out’ or is evidence of its pro-capitalist character. Like the petitioners’ attacks, these left criticisms are rarely if ever based in analysis of the situation and what is possible.
The third article, The Objective Situation Facing the Cuban Revolution, broadly outlines the very real material and social limitations that Cuba faces as a small island that is isolated, economically blockaded, and subject to a hostile sixty-year siege by the most powerful imperialist country in the world. In this situation it is fanciful to believe that Cuba could achieve “socialism in one country” – i.e. a fully socialist economy. Until there are socialist revolutions in other countries – especially the imperialist countries – that can provide solidarity, Cuba will remain ‘only’ an important hold-out against empire and achieve critical but limited social gains for its people. However, even this limited role is critical internationally as an example of the kinds of achievements that a social revolution makes possible – even on a small island.
The basic conclusions outlined in this article series about the limited possibilities open to Cuba are not “Stalinist” apologetics for a despotic regime. Rather, broadly speaking, they are the necessary conclusions for anyone who considers the objective situation Cuba faces. Those who proclaim Cuba is not worthy of our support because it has failed to live up to certain expectations from afar of what socialism is supposed to look like must believe that it is possible to create ‘socialism in one country’. But “Socialism in One Country” was the official policy adopted by the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin – which Callinicos and his friends claim to oppose. Socialism can only work as an international system.
So what could the Cubans do that would not be condemned by these imperialist country-based socialists? A fully developed “socialism in one country” is, as they correctly point out, impossible. Yet any and all concessions to capitalism are condemned as selling out in one way or another. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Basically, according to this view, the Cuban Revolution shouldn’t exist. Its crime is to exist in a poor country where such limitations exist.
That is why Professor Callinicos can possess such a degree of self-assuredness about Cuba in any situation, before he even has time to check any of the facts. The rich country “Marxist” professor does not wish to stain his own pristine hands with the dirty business of actually fighting to find a way forward in what is an extremely difficult situation.
Yet Callinicos’ hostility to the realities of real-world struggle is anathema to the Marxist tradition of Vladimir Lenin. This is shown in article four, Lenin’s NEP and the Cuban Situation. Lenin and the Bolsheviks – who also did not believe ‘socialism in one country’ to be possible, even in the Soviet Union – did not on that basis take a decision to relinquish the state power the Russian Revolution had accomplished. Like the Cubans the Bolsheviks attempted to retain power in extremely difficult conditions and were forced to make serious tactical concessions to the capitalist market and the capitalist class in a policy known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). It is useful to revisit Lenin’s writing from this period in some detail as he outlines key political and theoretical issues that Callinicos and Cuba’s opponents prefer not to touch.
The full series has now been published: