Beginnings of Restoration in Cuba?
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The Cuban Revolution has brought gains for the Cuban people in areas such as education, health, gender equality, provision of utilities and public services, employment, nutrition, etc :
All these gains come under threat with the emerging tendencies towards capitalist restoration and growing inequality :
A study of this document indicates that the implementation of a ‘transitional programme’ for the restoration of capitalism is now starting to unfold in Cuba.This is a historical validation and vindication of Trotsky’s conception that the bureaucracy’s position and rule is inherently unstable in a world dominated by capital and the more so today as its structural crisis widens and deepens. The bureaucracy will restore capitalism or the proletariat will overthrow its rule as part of the process of advancing towards socialism [Trotsky – Revolution Betrayed].
How are these gains to be defended as these trends increasingly assert themselves?
A fundamental problem presents itself as soon as private capital enters and becomes developed within the sphere of circulation. In order to reproduce itself, it must – sooner or later – put down roots within the sphere of production itself. If it is unable to do this under the present conditions in Cuba, it cannot and will not survive and thrive. Historically, this is precisely how capital originated as the dominant relationship of production as a whole in England. First, it conquered the former sphere with commodity and money capital (trade and usury) and then entered agricultural production in the 16th century.
The Protestant Reformation served to accelerate this process with the transfer of land from the church to the bourgeoisie whose social existence rested on the production of surplus value. These developments then proceeded to have a dissolving effect on the Guild System and we see capital enter the sphere of production itself in the period of manufacture from the16th to the mid 18th century. Elizabethan reforms (the so-called Elizabethan “Golden Age”) served to facilitate capital’s entry into production as a whole. The growth in trade and the foundation and exploitation of the colonies in the Americas once again further accelerated this process
In Cuba, the state is already letting land for agricultural production for profit. Capital can take “co-operative” forms as well as private forms. Capitalist agricultural production is entirely possible on state-owned land. The state levies a rent as the landowner and the capitalist farmer takes the rest as profit. Adam Smith himself – who considered rent to be a tax on capital – advocated the nationalisation of the land in Britain during the 18th century as a means of accelerating the accumulation of capital in agriculture and manufacture. Smith saw private landownership as a retarding force on the development of capitalism and therefore advocated state ownership which he insisted must levy a nominal rent only. This is an inconvenient aspect of his work which today’s philistine “neo-liberal” worshippers of Adam Smith prefer to ignore.
‘Landed property acts as an absolute barrier only to the extent that the landlord exacts a tribute for making land at all accessible to the investment of capital’ (p.764, Absolute Ground Rent, Marx, Vol 3, Capital). If the land is freehold (i.e. owned by the farmer or by corporate representatives of agricultural capital) then the rent also accrues to capital. If land is leased by the state to capitalist farmers in Cuba, then the next stage in the underlying dynamic will be transference of ownership from the state to private capital. It may not be as far-fetched as some may think. Capitalist sugar producers, for example, would want ownership and control over the sources of the raw material as well as the actual industrial refining and packaging facilities. The “socialist” state would simply collect (parasitically as with all landowners) a share of the surplus value in the form of rent.
In England today, large areas of arable land are ‘crown land’ (i.e. state-owned land) on which capitalist agriculture takes place at a very handsome rent for the state power (the treasury) and equally handsome profit for the capitalist farmer. The phenomenally high organic composition of capital (C/V) in agriculture – greater than the average social composition – has effectively abolished absolute ground rent to be replaced by the most lucrative forms of differential rent. Some of the most fertile arable land in England is state-owned land. In England, the history of landed property is the history of the theft of the common land by means of state-sponsored deception, violence and wholesale massacre. The bloody period of ‘primitive accumulation’ to which Marx refers in the final chapter of volume one of Capital.
We need to recognise the gains made by the Cuban Revolution but, more importantly, the question now facing us is how do we defend those gains in the face of restorationist trends? It is not simply a task which faces the proletariat in Cuba but calls for internationalism, especially from the American class movement. The Cuban Revolution has been swimming in a hostile sea of US blockade and capitalism with its crises. To simply remain afloat for 50 years under these conditions has been a major achievement. The deepening structural crisis of global capital is the actual source of these restorationist trends in Cuba. The question is not why but rather how do we resist them now? Global capital will not be able to gain full access in Cuba without the co-operation of the Castroist bureaucracy.
In 2004, Istvan Meszaros published his article Cuba : The Next Forty Five Years in the Monthly Review magazine.
It is interesting to study its contents in relation to what is currently unfolding in Cuba. In relation to capitalist restoration, Meszaros writes, in the penultimate paragraph, that..
Only the most eager form of wishful thinking can expect Cuban capitulation on this vital issue
He does not distinguish between the class interests of the Cuban proletariat and the caste interests of the Castroist bureaucracy in this article and, as far as I am aware, in other writings on Cuba. In my opinion, this is a most profound and erroneous political oversight, to say the least. This bureaucracy is now becoming, increasingly, the agency of restoration in Cuba in the trajectory of its economic and political policy. The caste interests of this bureaucracy rest on the social relations established in the course of the revolution. However, under the conditions of deepening crisis of the global capital system, these social foundations become increasingly buffeted and undermined and this bureaucracy, in its life and rule, becomes subject to the contradictory forces of this crisis which push it back and forth between seeking to entrench and reaffirm these social foundations or moving onto the road of capitalist restoration. It is clear that opposing tendencies are now emerging within this bureaucratic caste in Cuba which personify these opposed sides of these living contradictions to which Cuban society is now being subjected. As in China and Russia, it appears that the restorationist tendency is getting the upper hand.
The quoted sentence, in my opinion, is, therefore, breathtakingly naive, politically careless and blindly fideistic in relation to this caste that rules over Cuban society. We merely have to consider the historic forces and ‘whirlpool’ to which both the Soviet and Chinese systems have been subjected and engulfed within over the last quarter of a century. It is the growing and intensfying structural crisis of capital (a conception brilliantly developed by Meszaros himself) which has captured these systems for global capital more efficiently than any Scylla and Charybdis could an ancient fishing vessel.
Why should the Cuban system, or any other, be exempt from the action of these historical forces? And where do we distinguish class and caste interests in this process?
What does the slogan “Defend the Cuban Revolution!” or “Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution!” mean today in the light of these unfolding developments when the top layer in Cuba is stepping forth as the proxy for capitalist restoration?
Of course, sanctions and intervention must be opposed and insofar as the Cuban bureaucracy articulates the opposition to such measures, the international proletarian movement must support it. But we cannot support its growing restorationist tendencies and policy today.
The question which I am concretely raising here is the changing relationship between the Castroist bureaucratic caste and the proletarian class in Cuba as the process of restoration begins to unfold. In my opinion, this caste (or the dominant section of it) is already putting in place ‘transitional measures’.
This bureaucracy is NOT the proletariat in Cuba, no matter how much it has endeavoured to associate and identify its caste interests with the class interests of the proletariat ; the political chicanery of every reactionary social stratum or formation in human history which seeks to justify its continued existence in the face of hostile forces.
The Cuban system, dominated as it is by a privileged and parasitic bureaucracy which is not a class but a Castroist caste, exhibits more or less the same structural characteristics as the old Soviet system. As a social formation, it resembles the Soviet system in all the major features of its ruling structures and most essential social relations.
The Soviet system was, according to Meszaros, neither “capitalist” nor “state capitalist” but rather “post-capitalist”. Trotsky himself (1936, Revolution Betrayed, Chapter 9) insisted that the Soviet system was not a form of “state capitalism”. In this respect, Meszaros and Trotsky coincide. Later some “Trotskyists” described it as “state capitalist”. And this description not that long after Trotsky wrote Revolution Betrayed. We still find this notion persisting in various grouplets and tendencies on the left. Trotsky remarked (and I paraphrase here) that the characterisation of the Soviet Union as “state capitalist” was an attempt to squeeze the living reality of a historically novel and unfamiliar social formation into the formal categories of the familiar in order for metaphysical (non-dialectical) thought to comfortably ‘apprehend’ and ‘box’ the nature of the Soviet Union. In this way, the living reality of the Soviet system eluded their conceptual grasp.
There is not a single, convincing analysis and discourse of the nature of the late Soviet system which gives us an adequate characterisation of it to be a form of “state capitalism”. For example, Tony Cliff’s studies (State Capitalism in Russia (1955); Russia : A Marxist Analysis (1964) is formalistic and superficial. Moreover, there is no legitimate and ‘sound’ historical study of how it was – ab initio – or became “state capitalist” either before or after Trotsky’s study in his Revolution Betrayed written in 1936.
Capital existed in the Soviet system in a different mode to the way it exists in capitalist society. In the Soviet system, it existed as a “mode of social metabolic control” (Meszaros) which is distinct from its existence under capitalism as a more intrinsic, organic and more widely and deeply embracing and economically controlling social relationship of production and distribution which also incorporates within itself this latter “metabolic control”.But its social mode of existence was different in the Soviet system from what we have seen operative in under capitalism. [See Meszaros, I., Beyond Capital, Political Power and Dissent in Post-Revolutionary Societies, p.898. And specifically, section 6. Breaking the Rule of Capital, pp. 911-914 where he gives a fundamental characterisation of the nature of the Soviet system].
Recent events in Cuba (February 2012 and later) – especially in the ranks of the Communist Party – are indicating that restorationist trends are emerging in both party and bureaucracy. The origin of these trends, of course, are to be located in the deepening of capital’s global crisis. The opening of an offensive by the Cuban proletariat to wrest control of production and distribution from this bureaucratic caste would undoubtedly accelerate the trends towards restoration. The approach of the restorationist section of the bureaucracy would be a case of ‘better the devil you know’. But such an offensive may well split the bureaucracy into opposing camps. However, an uncritical stance towards the Castroist regime does not further the interests of the Cuban proletariat. Quite the contrary. It serves to legitimise the rule of this bureaucratic clique over it and can only postpone, in the current conditions, the restorationist trajectory.
As the trends towards restoration intensify, the proletariat in Cuba will have to begin to elaborate perspectives of organisation and struggle independently of and against the Castroist bureaucracy and CP leadership. As it approaches its own particular fork in the road of history, the only other alternative is that its labour-power (contrary to what Meszaros asserts) will become increasingly transformed into a commodity – to be bought and sold – on a market dominated by global capital. The Cuban regime is making a pitch for capital from the ‘BRIC’ countries but capital does not worship the flag it wears or in which it wraps itself. The creation of a market in labour power – where labour power is a commodity – effectively signals the temporal dominance of capital over labour.
Only when Gorbachev introduced a market in labour power, effectively turning it into a commodity – after all the pretentious nonsense and bluster about Glasnost and Perestroika “socialism”, etc – did the whole edifice start to implode with devastating consequences for the Russian proletariat. All this and recent developments is now pointing towards the reversal of every single gain made by the sacrifices of the Cuban revolution.
How do we defend the Cuban revolution today? By supporting those who are becoming instrumental in its dismantling and in the restoration of capitalism?
Forward to the Cuban Revolution!