Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Comment: FSP calls for new socialist party in Cuba

The changes underway in Cuba have disoriented some supporters of the Cuban Revolution and its leadership outside the island. As I note in my introduction to this blog:  

This is understandable given that much of what we, and many Cubans, associate with "socialism" in Cuba — universal state subsidies other than health care and education, egalitarian wages, state ownership and management of almost the entire economy — is now being dismantled in the name of socialism. Both within and outside Cuba there are misconceptions about what socialism is, thanks in part to the legacy of Soviet bureaucratic "socialism" and its influence on Cuba. More precisely, there is widespread ignorance of the basic economic laws governing the transition from capitalism to socialism, as revealed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century. Raul Castro referred to this in his December, 2010 address to Cuba's National Assembly when he spoke about the need to transform "erroneous and unsustainable concepts about socialism, that have been deeply rooted in broad sectors of the population over the years, as a result of the excessively paternalistic, idealistic and egalitarian approach instituted by the Revolution in the interests of social justice."

In October 2010, the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), a US-based socialist group from the Trotskyist tradition with affiliates in Canada and Australia, issued a statement titled "To save the Cuban Revolution, a new socialist party is needed". While the FSP statement does not explicitly call for the overthrow of the revolutionary government led by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the replacement of the PCC by such a new revolutionary party is what the FSP comrades evidently believe is necessary if Cuba is to avoid what they see as a creeping process of capitalist restoration. The FSP did not await the decisions of the upcoming 6th PCC Congress to rush out their statement. 

While the FSP is a tiny organisation with a marginal influence in the US Cuba solidarity movement, their doubts have a wider resonance among some of the Revolution's supporters internationally. What follows is a point-by point response to their arguments. Readers of this blog are welcome to comment on the FSP statement and my response by submitting a comment below this post.

Freedom Socialist Party calls for new socialist party in Cuba

Comment by Marce Cameron

FSP: Half a century ago, the Cuban people ignited hope among the globe’s have-nots by making a revolution and building the first workers’ state in the West. 
From the first, the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) passionately defended Cuba — defying the U.S. blockade, leading aid caravans, and more. The party was also frank about its disagreements with the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

Over the years, FSP criticized the government’s treatment of lesbians and gays, urged deeper change for women, raised concerns about persistent racism, and called for decision-making by workers and for consistent support to revolutionary uprisings elsewhere. In recent years, FSP argued against the hardening trend toward market “reforms” and privatization.

Comment: The FSP offer no evidence for an alleged "hardening trend towards market 'reforms' and privatisation". There is no such trend. The preamble to the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines clearly states: "The economic policy of the new stage corresponds to the principle that only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the conquests of the Revolution, and that in the updating of the economic model, planning will be supreme, not the market."

FSP: Unlike many Trotskyists, however, FSP did not call for political revolution, which entails forcibly replacing the existing leadership. As long as the PCC still responded to some extent to popular will, and a capitalist course did not seem irrevocably fixed, FSP believed it would be dangerously irresponsible to press for an alternative party. The right wing lies in wait for just such an opening.

Now, however, the PCC is unmistakably driving Cuba toward capitalist restoration while shutting down even potential opposition. This became clear for FSP members at a party convention in July through reports by recent visitors to the island and by members who closely studied events of the last few years. After intense discussion, FSP members concluded that the only possible way to save the Cuban Revolution is to create a new party willing to fight for a socialist program and contend for state leadership. While it is still premature to call for political revolution, the crying need is to build an alternative leadership.

Comment: Again, the FSP offer no evidence or arguments to support their judgement that the PCC leadership is intent on leading a process of capitalist restoration in Cuba, or that this will be the unintended outcome of the renovation process. As for the "shutting down of even potential opposition", the only concrete evidence they offer is anecdotal — the expulsion from the Communist Party of one (!) member, Esteban Morales.

It is not clear, without knowing the details of the expulsion or the appeal process he has launched, whether or not Morales was expelled for his public warning that certain unnamed high officials are allegedly positioning themselves for a capitalist counter-revolution. Nor does the FSP discuss whether or not it was responsible for Morales, as a party member, to make such a generalised, unsubstantiated allegation that could serve to demoralise the Revolution's supporters in Cuba. But I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, since this seems to be the FSP's method as well: throwing around unsubstantiated allegations, fear-mongering, that may serve to demoralise the Revolution's supporters.

FSP: Inevitably, an anti-capitalist state exists precariously in a capitalist-dominated world. Cuba’s lot became far more difficult after the collapse of the USSR. Desperate for hard currency and technology — needed to keep people from starving — the government courted foreign investment.

Comment: Here, the FSP acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the US blockade in the early 1990s made Cuba "desperate" for the hard currency it needed to keep people alive and healthy, and to preserve the Revolution's core social achievements. 

FSP: Two decades later, the PCC no longer warns of market methods as treacherous necessities, but touts them. The incursion of capital is eroding stellar achievements in education, healthcare, literacy, and housing. Gossamer threads hold together the core of a workers’ state economy: nationalized property, control of foreign trade, and central planning. (For a full analysis, see "Cuba: Imperilled and Defiant — Can the Revolution Survive?").

Comment: If by treacherous is meant "betrayal", then the expansion of the small-scale private and cooperative sector in Cuba is not a betrayal of socialism, but a necessary moving away from the mistaken conception — arising from both revolutionary idealism and the malign influence of Soviet Stalinism — that "socialism" (i.e. the socialist-oriented society) equals state ownership and management of almost the entire economy in all circumstances.

As for the "incursion of [foreign] capital" allegedly eroding the achievements in health, education etc, didn't the FSP just acknowledge, in the preceding paragraph, that the opening to foreign investment from the early 1990s in such things as tourist hotels was necessary in order to sustain the social achievements of the preceding three decades? That foreign investment brings with it certain problems and dangers is undeniable, but there is no alternative until a new socialist revolution breaks out in an advanced capitalist country. Trade relations with revolutionary Venezuela and the other ALBA countries are vital, but they can't meet all Cuba's needs for investment funds and access to markets and technology. 

FSP: Privatization is quickening. In July, the government revealed that one million Cubans will be phased out of state jobs and announced measures to encourage small businesses. In August, it relaxed controls on private sales by farmers and opened 99-year leases to foreigners planning golf resorts and other lavish developments. Then, in September, Fidel Castro told a U.S. journalist that the “Cuban model” doesn’t work — a seeming endorsement of recent “reforms.”

Comment: It is highly misleading to claim that "privatisation is quickening". No large Cuban state enterprises are being privatised, nor is this being contemplated. As for small productive and service entities such as bakeries, repair workshops, cafeterias and the like, many will be run by cooperatives that share the profits and pay taxes. In other cases, such entities will be managed by small private businesses with up to 10-15 employees. A steeply progressive payroll tax will make the hiring of more workers prohibitively expensive.

In all cases, the state (i.e. Cuba's 169 municipal governments) will not privatise the premises in which these cooperatives and small businesses operate; rather, cooperatives and small businesses will pay rent on these premises. Other small businesses will operate out of rented private spaces such as spare rooms and garages. In the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, the third guideline states: "3. In the new forms of non-state management, the concentration of ownership in legal or natural entities shall not be permitted."

In agriculture, there is no privatisation process of state lands. Individuals, cooperatives and state enterprises may apply to use idle state farmland rent-free on a long term basis, an arrangement known as usufruct, but the state retains ownership of this land on behalf of society.

FSP: The PCC’s “free market” measures have greatly aggravated social inequality. Women and Black Cubans have lost the most, and their situation will worsen severely if capitalism returns.

Comment: The Special Period economic crisis of the past two decades, precipitated by the sudden demise of the Soviet Union and its allies at the beginning of the 1990s and the tightening of the US blockade, compelled Cuba's revolutionary government to introduce market concessions in order to save the core social achievements of the Revolution. While these market concessions had the desired effect of stimulating a gradual economic recovery, they came at the cost of growing social inequality.

However, other Cuban government policies during the Special Period have had the opposite effect of containing social inequality: maintaining free health care and education and not closing any schools or hospitals; paying idled workers 60% of their wages; extending the rationing system to cover most available consumer goods; not throwing anybody out of their homes; etc. But the FSP is silent on all this, perhaps because it doesn't fit with their frame-up of the PCC as a pro-capitalist party.

It's true that women and non-white Cubans have suffered disproportionately during the Special Period (it's also true that women and non-whites have gained the most from the Revolution's striving for social equality). But the FSP don't make any distinction between what they see as unavoidable and avoidable consequences of the Special Period market concessions in this regard. Unavoidable, for example, is that fact that for historical reasons light-skinned Cubans are far more likely to have relatives living in rich countries such as the US and Spain who may send substantial remittances to family in Cuba. Unavoidable too, I suspect, is that not enough new childcare centres have been built during the past 20 years due to severe material constraints.

What has the Revolution done, or not done, to address the specific problems of women and Afro-Cubans during the Special Period? This should be the subject of a serious study, not a cheap shot. People who have supported revolutionary Cuba for decades should know better.

FSP: One of Cuba’s main problems is the growth of an increasingly rigid bureaucracy. Workers do not control production or state policy. The government has promoted public discussions. But left critics assert, convincingly, that the real purpose of these is to win cooperation with already decided policies and to stigmatize people who disagree as counterrevolutionaries.

Comment: The FSP avoids any discussion of whether or not the economic "updating" foreshadowed in the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines and Raul Castro's repeated calls for free and frank public debate are aimed at strengthening or weakening the bureaucratic tendencies in Cuba's socialist state. The fact that they rushed out their statement before the public release of the Draft Guidelines doesn't lend credibility to their unfounded assertions. As veteran Cuban economist Joaquin Infante argues convincingly in his Juventud Rebelde interview, the reforms will tend to undermine, rather than strengthen, bureaucratism. Unlike the FSP, I am not convinced that the public debate on the future of Cuba's socialist project is mere window-dressing. There is no basis for such a cynical view.

FSP: The PCC seems bent on squelching any possibility of correction by its own members. Last year, it indefinitely postponed its next Congress, at which left critics intended to present alternative economic policies and call for more democracy. This spring, Cuban scholar Esteban Morales wrote that pervasive corruption is the revolution’s greatest threat and called on the PCC ranks to mobilize against it. He claimed that some officials are feathering their own nests as they ready for capitalism’s return. In response, the party booted him out.

Comment: How does "the PCC seems bent on squelching any possibility of correction by its own members" square with Raul's repeated insistence on the need for open debate? How does it square with the party leadership's December 1 appeal, published in Granma, for "everyone [to] express their opinion, without hindrance, disagreeing if they wish. Nobody must keep an opinion to themselves, much less be prevented from expressing it"? I commented earlier on the foolishness of basing such a sweeping judgement on one anecdote, the revoking of Esteban Morales' PCC membership.

Has it not occurred to the FSP that perhaps recovery from the ferocious 2008 hurricanes, which caused economic losses of around US$10 billion, the global economic crisis and the need to strive for consensus on strategic changes mean that holding the congress earlier would have been premature?
FSP: In 2008, Cuban scientist Celia Hart told an FSP visitor that Cuba needs a party embracing the internationalism and uncompromising opposition to capitalism advocated by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. She anticipated taking up this challenge at some point in the future. Just weeks later, a car accident claimed her life.

Comment: I'm inclined to say: so what? Even if we were to take this seriously, it's not at all clear that Hart was suggesting the replacement of the PCC, as the FSP now calls for. I've never come across anything in which Hart calls for the replacement of the PCC. Presumably, what she was saying is that the PCC should embrace, or (more likely) embrace more consistently (in relation to what I have no idea) the internationalism and uncompromising opposition to capitalism of Lenin and Trotsky. The hint that perhaps Hart's tragic death in a car accident had something to do with her political views is, frankly, outrageous.

FSP: Since then, the need for leadership to carry out an organized campaign for socialism has sharpened. Capitalist restoration could happen in a heartbeat.

Comment: Fortunately, the PCC is carrying out just such an "organised campaign for socialism". And no, comrades, capitalism could not be restored in Cuba "in a heartbeat". Cuba is not Eastern Europe. Capitalist restoration in Cuba would involve a great deal of bloodshed, and wouldn't have the slightest chance of succeeding without massive US military intervention and vast numbers of US casualties. The FSP are allowing their unfounded fears to get the better of them.

FSP: Many in Cuba call for change, but they are not yet united politically or organizationally. Despite the challenges posed by the bureaucracy — indeed, because of those challenges — a disciplined, dedicated party is the only vehicle able to bring this unity about.

Comment: Many Cuban revolutionaries, among them Raul Castro and the PCC leadership, are indeed calling for change, and are united politically and organisationally in the PCC. The PCC, a prestigious organisation of Cuba's revolutionary vanguard led by the historic leadership of the Revolution — not a party of bureaucratic power and privilege as existed in the former Soviet Union from Stalin to Gorbachev — is leading the process of debates and changes in the direction of a socialist-oriented renovation.   

FSP: The party that the FSP is calling for is a revolutionary and internationalist socialist party. FSP believes that cornerstones of its program would include:

• Protect public ownership, reverse privatization and the invasion of foreign capital, and reassert central planning as the only way to meet people’s needs.

• Build genuine workers’ democracy, including means for workers to control production and make social policy.

• Material and political support to revolutionary uprisings internationally. Contrary to Stalinist notions of appeasing imperialism, this is the best security for Cuba’s own revolution.

Comment: The implication here that Cuba — revolutionary Cuba that defeated imperialist South Africa in Angola and Namibia, and that has sent thousands of internationalist volunteers to Venezuela, Pakistan, Haiti, East Timor and elsewhere in recent years — has carried out a Stalinist foreign policy based on seeking to appease imperialism (?!) is nauseating. If this is not what is implied, what is meant by this reference to Stalinism?  

FSP: Will defenders of socialism in Cuba be able to build such a party? There are no guarantees, but it’s clear that no other road now exists to save the revolution. And it may be that comradeship from abroad will encourage and support Cuban leftists in this essential task.

Comment: So, the FSP abandon their political solidarity with the PCC and throw in their lot with small, isolated cliques of leftist critics of the PCC in Cuba whose views tend towards anarchist or even liberal utopianism and, of course, cynical resignation. Evidently, the FSP and their Cuban counterparts feel themselves to be kindred spirits, since both find themselves politically marginalised in their respective countries.

The FSP — far removed from the responsibilities of the PCC leadership, just like their co-thinkers in Cuba — have, sadly, completely lost touch with reality. They have capitulated to their own fears and anxieties about the fate of the Revolution and to their own mistaken conceptions, shared by no few revolutionaries in Cuba, of what a socialist-oriented society must be like. Ironically for socialists in the Trotskyist tradition, they have failed to come to terms with the lessons of the Soviet debacle other than the existence of a totalitarian bureaucracy.

FSP: For too long, the solidarity movement has seen any critique of the PCC as treason — but the true betrayal is to hide from reality. Only a party that is still honestly confident in socialism can give Cuba the strength to hold on until U.S. imperialism is brought down in its homeland. The duty of Cuba’s friends is not to stick to “my party, right or wrong.” It is to support a break with the past that will make possible the future of liberation for which so many Cubans have lived, fought and died.

¡Viva la Revolucion cubana!

Comment: "The true betrayal is to hide from reality". How true. Yet the real betrayal here is not the PCC leadership's abandonment of socialism — this party has led Cuba's embattled socialist revolution magnificently in the most extraordinarily adverse circumstances — but the FSP's betrayal of its duty, our duty, of political solidarity with the PCC, the party of Fidel and Raul and hundreds of thousands of others who strive to emulate their example. 


  1. This is a very educational article. I would dispute what you imply in the beginning of this article, that FSP is a supporter of the Cuban revolution. In my years of Cuba solidarity work in the US, I can only say that, at best, they were lukewarm and passive in their support. It seems to me they have been looking for an excuse to drop their lukewarm support, and now they think they have found a reason. Real international solidarity is shown, not when it is popular, as it was in the 1960s, but when it is needed in the midst of an anti-imperialist campaign. In that, FSP does not measure up, it caves into the present campaign against Cuba and shows an inability to think for itself. Stan Smith

  2. While *I agree* with the *overall* sentiment behind your critique of the FSP's (apparent) position, I'm sorry to say find your approach hackneyed Marce.

    The FSP position - whatever its merits or otherwise - seems more nuanced than you allow. Of course, this could be the cover under which they abandon their support for the revolution (and this may well be likely, given some of the rhetoric in their article).

    But it could also - perhaps (or not) - be a call for a "multi-party socialist democracy" where their "truly" socialist party could work alongside the PCC and win over both its members and the population. Whatever the viability of this position, it is just as pregnant in their article (if not more so) as any supposed call to "overthrow the PCC".

    In addition, your response to their critique of the PCC falls into precisely the trap they have set - a blanket defence of the PCC as though it were a homogenous, monolithic body.

    The reality is - of course - that it is not, and that there are a number of tendencies at play, some of which would like to see a "Chinese style" (if adapted) reform of the Cuban economy. And there are the classic "bureaucrats", the Stalinists and opportunists of whatever pelt.

    And there are the genuine revolutionaries - more frequently than not *unclear* about the way forward (because Marx and Engels did *not* reveal how the transition could be accomplished, beyond the most painfully broad brush-strokes).

    So, while the FSP position may be wrong, your response does the struggle for socialism in Cuba something of a disservice by blindly opposing everything they say, rather than contextualising it, and thereby de-fanging it.

    If you want to make this blog a leading, *intelligent*, source of information and debate on Cuba, you need to learn to avoid knee-jerk reactions to such critiques (however wrong they may or may not be).

  3. I attended the FSP's meeting "Cuba on the brink: how can the revolution be saved?" Coming out of that meeting I concur very much with some of Stat Smiths sentiment.

    Basically the report that the FSP gave boiled down to 3 "problems" the Cuban's have:

    1. There has never been "workers democracy in Cuba."

    2. The Cuban's do not have a socialist/Marxist foreign policy

    3. The economic moves Cuba is making are to restore Capitalism.

    Now while point 3 is a new development, the critiques of Cuban democracy and foreign policy that the FSP hold are about how Cuba has operated since the very beginning of the revolution.

    Of course if you actually believe that Cuba's working class aren't actually the class in power and if you believe that the Cubans aren't internationalist then you can hardly give strong support for Cuba to begin with.

    For some reason despite workplace meetings which vote, despite mass organizations such as the Cuban Communist Youth, Federation of Cuban Women etc. having rights enshrined in Cuba's model of popular power and having elected leaders subject to recall at local meetings, Cuba doesn't have workers democracy in the same way the Russian's did.

    In terms of foreign policy the FSP were very critical of the Cuban's not doing more to spread the revolution. This is despite Che's efforts, despite the Cuban's in Vietnam, Angola etc. As well as the doctors around the world. Apparently a real socialist leadership would be calling for a socialist international (they ignore the Venezuelan call because apparently the Venezuelan's support Capitalism???). In terms of where the Cuban's have failed to support real revolutions the FSP gave two examples Czechoslovakia and Nicaragua.

    In the case of the former one should have a careful read of Fidel's speech while it does support the soviet union it is also incredibly critical of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia which is quite remarkable given that the Cuban revolution was less then a decade old, had already been the subject of a US lead invasion etc. For the Cuban's to say more then this could have been suicidal. In the case of Nicaragua apparently Fidel encouraged the Nicaraguans "not to go down the Cuban road," I don't know the exact circumstance of this comment. But I would say IN GENERAL the Cubans have done their best where possible to create the conditions for socialism internationally.

    Lastly in terms of the economic changes I won't say so much other then one of the FSP comrades at the meeting commented that he understood why many of the changes were taking place but that the problem was these were a "retreat" being touted as a "step forward". I could say more about what the proposals actually do (but Marce has done it so much better), but if the way Raul promotes the changes are a bigger concern then the changes themselves then this really is just a way of moving further away from what already seems like lukewarm support.

  4. Ignoring the emotional language (“nauseating”, “outrageous” etc) which pepper Marce's "commentary," the point of the matter is in the very last paragraph. The question is begged: "since when did unconditional defense of the Cuban revolution equate with unconditional support of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC)?" It does not, and that assumption is Marce’s major error. It is also a convenient means of deflecting criticism.

    The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) has always seen itself as a critical friend of the revolution. This means exactly what it says: pointing out errors while defending the core principles of the Cuban Workers State. Our position is that the PCC leadership is proposing to weaken the foundations of the Workers' State and that there needs to be an organised counterpoint to this leadership.

    What we are saying is that for the revolution to survive and to expand there needs to be a renewal of revolutionary leadership within Cuba. For quite some time we believed that this could occur from within the PCC, but the PCC leadership has now shown that it is no longer willing to tolerate internal criticism. We are not liberal democrats, though, and we are not inclined to support calls for “multi-party democracy” because we see that as opening the doors to imperialist intervention in Cuban Politics. Neither are we ultraleftists calling for a "political revolution,” precisely because that would mean blood on the streets and also give a foothold to imperialism.

    We are calling for an alternative, “indigenous” (for want of a better word) *revolutionary* leadership to oppose, from within Cuba, the pro-capitalist path proposed by the PCC leadership. That means a party committed to return Cuba on a trajectory towards socialism, not away from it.

    Theory often gets in the way of uncritical support for revolutions in other countries, but the theoretical basis for our position comes down to this: at some point the *quantity* of privatisation of the economy, in this case the number of people thrown off the State payroll, may become a change in the *quality* of the economy, where it is no longer centrally planned and controlled. That, in general, was the mechanism by which the Chinese Communist Party leaders restored capitalism in China, although on a necessarily larger scale.

    That the Cuban Revolution is in danger is not a new observation, by the way. Who can deny that it has been under pressure from day one? As any Marxist knows, socialism cannot be built in one country, and the best defense of the Cuban Revolution is to organise a revolution in the established capitalist countries - particularly the United States of America. That is what we are about. That does not mean that we abstain from everyday defense of the Revolution. We have broken the blockade numerous times, for example by taking supplies through U.S. borders and on to Cuba. My point is that we are not uncritical cheerleaders but active, critical friends of the Revolution.

    By the way, is it possible for a debate amongst socialists to occur without the tiresome, redbaiting tone of Marce’s posting (“tiny”, etc)? FSP is not by any means a mass organisation - but we aim to be! I’d like to remind Marce that there was a time - during the 1914-18 war - when the revolutionary socialist movement in Europe was reduced to less than 100 people. “Better Fewer but Better”, as VI Lenin once put it.

    Finally, it has to be pointed out that Marce’s commentary is focussed on a brief statement in the Freedom Socialist newspaper: ("To save the Cuban Revolution, a new socialist party is needed") Our full position, including our analysis of the Cuban economy and political institutions today and our reasoning is found here: ("Cuba: Imperiled and Defiant — Can the Revolution Survive?"). I urge readers to read the full document before commenting.

  5. the FSP proposal to 'save' Cuba and calling for a new party is a strange and pointless exercise in paternalism - surely it's best to study and understand what Cuba is doing, than pretend to 'save' them - first of all, there are no 'free market' measures in Cuba, in the current reforms - second, no australian is going to save anything in Cuba - why copy imperialism, which pretends to be saving the world? - the aid industry also mimics this 'saviour complex' - third, a basic principle of Cuba socialism is 'unity', a point that many fail to apreciate - Cubans do not want to be divided or dictated to by outsiders, and this is fundamental to their survival, and to whatever success they have had - isn't the more ethical position for us to take lessons from the experience of others and focus on trying to fix our own mess? - Tim


If you're not signed in with one of the accounts listed in the drop-down menu select "Anonymous" and include your name, or a pseudonym, in the comment. If you have suggestions for improving the blog or its content please email Marce Cameron. All the usual norms of posting etiquette apply. Comments must be respectful in tone, consistent with the blog's aims and relevant. Comments will be moderated accordingly.