21 July 2021
Anti-communist graffiti outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC, July 2021.
On 11 July, thousands of Cubans began taking to the streets to protest power outages, shortages of food and medicine and to express their dissatisfaction with the ruling Cuban Communist Party (PCC). Starting in San Antonio de los Baños, a dormitory suburb of the capital Havana, demonstrations spread across the island. The protests were the first since August 1994 (the Maleconazo unrest caused by Cuba’s economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union), although surpassed in size by demonstrations later organized in support of the Cuban government.
The recent protests were seized upon by the Western corporate media, C-list celebrities and social media “influencers” to promote the relatively small number of openly pro-capitalist elements in the crowds. The hashtag #SOSCuba, which originated in Cuban exile communities in Florida and Spain, quickly trended on social media. News outlets aired images of protesters carrying signs demanding “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), “Freedom” and “Down with the dictatorship!” The Guardian, Fox News, Financial Times, New York Times and Washington Post all used photos of Cubans rallying in support of the government while falsely labeling them as “anti-government protesters” (Express Tribune, 14 July 2021). The Guardian (12 July 2021) at least had the grace to subsequently admit its mistake.
While feigning concern for “freedom” and “democracy” in Cuba, the US ruling class sees the emergence of any form of protest on the island as a golden opportunity to destabilize the PCC government and overturn the remaining gains of the 1959 revolution. President Joe Biden cynically claimed to “stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from … the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime” (www.whitehouse.gov, 12 July 2021). The Republican mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, casually called for a US military assault and “humanitarian” air strikes on Cuba:
“What should be contemplated right now is a coalition of potential military action in Cuba, similar to what has happened . in both Republican and Democrat administrations.… They deposed Noriega and that country [Panama] had peaceful democracy for decades.… And President Clinton in Kosovo, intervening in a humanitarian issue with air strikes.”
—Miami Herald, 14 July 2021
One need not be an expert in 20th century history to know that American imperialism has repeatedly invoked “democracy” and “human rights” as cover for brutal invasion and regime change—the last two decades alone have seen this cynical ploy used in relation to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria with devastating results. The dishonest concern for “libertad” is primarily designed to soften up public opinion for imperialist intervention, allowing Washington to reassert direct control over Cuba while deflecting criticism of its criminal and suffocating embargo imposed on the Cuban people.
The US already spends some $20 million a year on “Cuba democracy and human rights programming” and another $13 million on “Cuba broadcasting” (Cuba: US Policy Overview, Congressional Research Service, 25 June 2021). In 2014, the US Agency for International Development (USAid), responsible for overseeing foreign aid, was exposed for its “secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government.” The scheme involved luring in unsuspecting users to the USAid-developed app ZunZuneo (aka, “Cuban Twitter”) through “non-controversial content” (e.g., sport, music), reaching a “critical mass of subscribers,” and then introducing “political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’—mass gatherings called at a moment's notice that might trigger a Cuban spring, or, as one USAid document put it, ‘renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society’” (Guardian, 3 April 2014).
Both Democrats and Republicans share a deep hostility to the Cuban Revolution, which overthrew capitalism in a region that has traditionally been considered Washington’s “backyard.” While promising to “reverse the failed Trump policies” on Cuba, Biden has instead continued the “hardline” approach of his predecessor. He refuses to lift the Trump administration’s last-minute designation of Cuba as “a state sponsor of terrorism” and he “has left largely intact Trump’s high-pressure, sanctions-heavy campaign against Cuba’s regime, despite campaign promises to the contrary” (Politico, 12 July 2021). Every year since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has voted on a non-binding motion calling on the United States to lift the embargo because of its devastating impact on the Cuban people. In June this year, 184 countries voted to end the sanctions; only the US and Israel voted “no.” The Democratic administration’s fundamental continuity with the Republicans largely explains why most Cubans see Biden as no “different from Trump” (CBS News, 24 June 2021).
The Cuban government estimates that from April 2019 to December 2020 alone US sanctions caused $9.157 billion in damages to the Cuban economy. Since 1960, American imperialism’s financial and trade embargo on Cuba has cost the country’s economy approximately $130 billion. US sanctions on Cuba have always had the explicitly stated goal of “alienating internal support” for “communist influence” by punishing the Cuban people “through disenchantment based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” Jacobin (7 July 2021) reports:
“US policymakers openly hoped impoverishing and starving the Cuban people would lead them to overthrow Castro. ‘Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba’ one State Department official wrote in 1960, in order ‘to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.’ Eisenhower said it more plainly: ‘If they (the Cuban people) are hungry, they will throw Castro out.’”
This policy continues today. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted that the blockade is designed to “starve” the island into bringing down the regime (Guardian, 14 July 2021). This amounts to an admission of a crime against humanity.
Exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, decades-long imperialist sanctions—along with bureaucratic misrule by the Stalinists running Cuba—have indeed managed to create “disenchantment, dissatisfaction and hardship” among wide layers of Cuban society. The Cuban economy contracted by 11 percent in 2020, and there are now frequent power outages, rising food prices and a shortage of many basic necessities. Cuba, which imports 70 percent of its food, has seen its foreign exchange earnings and overseas remittances plummet due to the blockade. The country increasingly relies upon tourism, which accounts for some 10 percent of GDP, though the industry has been severely impacted by the pandemic. In 2020, Cuba reported only a million tourists, a far cry from the 4 million that visited the island in 2019. While Cuba’s state-run healthcare sector has managed to develop two separate high-efficiency vaccines, the country is facing its worst Covid-19 outbreak as US sanctions undermine the fight against the pandemic.
Cuba remains what Marxists call a deformed workers’ state, a country where property in the means of production has been collectivized but a parasitic bureaucracy rules. The Cuban Revolution, which overthrew the brutal neocolonial regime of Fulgencio Batista in January 1959, ultimately led to the expropriation of the Cuban bourgeoisie and foreign capital, nationalization of industries, redistribution of land and the introduction of a planned economy. Cuba today excels in many societal metrics compared to that of its capitalist neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America (e.g., infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy, healthcare).
Yet in the absence of democratic control by the masses, the workers’ state issuing from the revolution was deformed from its inception. The Stalinists running the island are no friend of the working class. Castro’s July 26th Movement was an insurrectionary rural-based guerrilla movement largely committed to a program of radical liberalism. It was only after a two-year guerrilla war, the complete collapse of the corrupt Batista state, the absence of the working class as an independent political factor and a decisive intervention by the Soviets that the petty-bourgeois Castroites began carrying out large-scale nationalizations in the autumn of 1960. What emerged was a state politically and economically modeled on that of the degenerated Soviet Union.
Marxists defend the gains of the Cuban revolution against internal capitalist counterrevolution and imperialist intervention. In doing so, we may at times find ourselves temporarily on the same side of the barricades as the Stalinists, just as we did in the dying days of the Soviet Union in August 1991 (see “Counterrevolution Triumphs in USSR,” 1917 No.11). Resting upon proletarian property forms for their existence as a bureaucratic caste and occasionally forced to take actions to defend them, the Stalinist parasites controlling Cuba are in the long-run facilitating capitalist restoration and must be overthrown by workers’ political revolution. A successful proletarian uprising would seek to shatter the bureaucracy and police apparatus by mass action and develop a planned economy based on real workers’ democracy.
After six decades of “socialism in one island,” Cuba today is at a crossroads. The most recent outburst of anger is largely rooted in genuine grievances, and the demonstrations have overall had a politically heterogeneous character. While the protests seem to be fizzling out for the time being, without swift and decisive working-class intervention to resolve the situation in a pro-socialist direction, there is a grave danger that they may regain momentum with increasing numbers embracing a pro-capitalist perspective, much like the “democracy” movement in Hong Kong (see “Defend China against Pro-Imperialist ‘Democracy’ Campaign!,” 1917 No.42). For the moment, only a minority of those demonstrating have consolidated around a program committed to capitalist restoration and imperialist aggression; these elements must be suppressed. The vast majority of Cubans continue to oppose the US blockade and imperialist intervention, and instead desire significant changes to address social inequalities without restoring capitalism. This accounts for the pro-government forces who have taken to the streets, and the relative ease with which Cuban authorities were able to disperse the poorly organized leadership of the original protests and contain the demonstrations.
A Leninist-Trotskyist organization in Cuba would intervene to polarize the protesters, attempting to politically isolate any pro-capitalist participants while channeling outrage in a pro-socialist direction. Intervention on a revolutionary program would aim to address the issues facing working people as they deal with the immediate threats of counterrevolution, Covid-19 and the economic crisis, while pointing toward the need for workers’ power and the socialist transformation of society. Such a program would advocate: meeting basic needs such as food, utilities and housing through a system of democratic workers’ control (i.e., soviets); an end to the brutal blockade and canceling of all foreign debt; opposition to imperialist intervention; the creation of workers’ defense guards to suppress counterrevolutionary activity; the formation of a mass revolutionary party; political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy; running the centrally-planned economy on the basis of genuine workers’ democracy; and assisting the working classes of the region (and especially in the imperialist metropoles of the US and Canada) in throwing off the yoke of their own oppressors.
Indeed, a workers’ uprising on the island of Cuba would immediately transform the entire political landscape throughout the Caribbean and Latin America and inspire a resurgence of revolutionary activity across North America and beyond. The only solution to the prolonged isolation of the Cuban Revolution lies through its development and integration within a regional federation of socialist republics. The Cuban working class requires its own Bolshevik-Leninist party, politically independent of and opposed to the Stalinist Communist Party, dedicated to the unconditional defense of the gains of the 1959 revolution and its qualitative and geographic extension worldwide.
Cuba and Marxist Theory (Marxist Bulletin No. 8)
Cuba, the LRCI and Marxist Theory (1917 No.13)
Smash Yankee Imperialism! Defend the Cuban Revolution! (1917 No.11)