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Cuba: The Next Forty-Five Years?

István Mészaros is author of Socialism or Barbarism: From the “American Century” to the Crossroads (Monthly Review Press, 2001) and Beyond Capital: Toward a Theory of Transition (Monthly Review Press, 1995).
This essay was written at the request of the Brazilian periodical, Margem Esquerda, and published in its November 2003 issue.

This year Cuba will be celebrating the forty-fifth anniversary of its victorious revolution: a great historic achievement. And when we bear in mind that the Cuban revolution—the long sustained action of a nation of just eleven million people—survived for forty-five years against all odds, successfully confronting the declared enmity, the U.S.-dictated international political encirclement and economic blockade, as well as the ever renewed attempts to subvert and overthrow the post-revolutionary order by the world’s most preponderant economic and military power, even this simple fact puts forcefully into relief the magnitude and the lasting significance of the ongoing Cuban intervention in the historical process of our time. We are all contemporaries to an achievement whose reverberations reach well beyond the confines of the tendentiously propagandized “American Hemisphere,” offering its hopeful message to the rest of the world.

In 1999, three years before the U.S. government ominously decreed that Cuba belonged to the extended version of the “axis of evil,” envisaging the elimination of the Cuban “vicious circle”* at an early phase of the aggressively promoted “new American Century,” I wrote in the foreword to the Indian edition of Socialism or Barbarism:

We are about to leave the twentieth century, described by capital’s most vocal apologists as “the American century”. Such views are voiced as if the October Revolution of 1917, or the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions and the colonial liberation struggles in the following decades had never taken place, not to forget the humiliating defeat directly suffered by the mighty United States in Vietnam. Indeed, the uncritical defenders of the established order confidently anticipate that not only the coming century but the whole of the next Millennium is destined to conform to the unchallengeable rules of “Pax Americana”.*

To be sure, all those who engage in the futile attempt to rewrite history refuse to acknowledge even the obvious; namely, that major historic events, like the ones just mentioned, cannot be wishfully undone in order to suit the political contingencies of the moment. Such events arise from quite fundamental social contradictions. They cannot be deprived in any way of their historical relevance and burning actuality as long as their deep-rooted contradictions have not been addressed in a positive and lasting form by a more advanced stage of development. Not even when we think of the kind of wholesale capitulatory reversal which we have witnessed in the former Soviet Union can we succumb to the view that the initial contradictions have been surmounted.

Dare we think about the next forty-five years? The answer can only be that we must. Historical changes of the magnitude here referred to, although they immediately make a dramatic impact, can only fulfill their full potential in a longer perspective. This is all the more true because the well entrenched historical adversary always adjusts its own strategies—constrained only by the ultimate limits of its systemic determinations—in order to nullify every move of its progressive counterpart. This is so whether the adjustments mean granting some more or less temporary reformist concessions or, on the contrary, ruthlessly engaging even in the most destructive course of action. This is why Khrushchev’s notion of a “peaceful competition” with capitalist production, as the mutually accepted judge of the rival objectives, was extremely naïve, to say the least, when the actual historical stake concerned nothing less than the question of instituting a radical hegemonic alternative to capital’s social order. The firmly established capitalist antagonist never entertained the kind of illusions for which a very high price had to be paid.

In this context we should not forget that if there is a question mark regarding Cuba’s next forty-five years, the same question mark hovers over the future of all humanity. For at the present phase of capital’s historical development, as a result of the system’s deepening structural crisis, not only the past reformist concessions must be taken back—as indeed they are—even in the capitalistically most advanced countries but, given the chronic insufficiency of the productively available remedy, the deadly irrationality of engaging in the most destructive course of action on a global scale looms large on the horizon, trying to impose itself as the rational solution to all our problems.

Cuba is next door to the United States and can be militarily reached very easily. But, of course, the same unhindered, easily reachable targeting is in active preparation—both for the purpose of blackmail, including nuclear blackmail, and for unleashing some devastating military action—even for the most remote corners of the world. Yesterday’s “Star Wars Project” could still pretend to be a “defensive shield,” even if in reality it was nothing of the kind. However, its heavily updated successor, codenamed “Falcon” (Force Application and Launch from the Continental U.S.), by no stretch of the imagination could be considered anything other than a blatantly offensive system of weaponry, to be deployed against the entire world. The first operational phase of this system will be completed by mid-2006, and the initial tests will take place already in 2004. The fully developed unmanned delivery vehicles will be able to “strike targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours.” Moreover, they will “carry a payload of up to 12,000 pounds and could ultimately fly at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound.” The purpose of this infernal war machine is to enable the United States to go it alone against whichever country they please to subdue or destroy, in their design to achieve world domination as the unchallenged and unchallengeable ruler of global hegemonic imperialism. As John Pike, head of the Washington think tank, GlobalSecurity.org, commented on the new weapons system: “It is about blowing people up on the other side of the planet even if no country on earth will allow us to use their territory.”*

The failure of the American government’s long-standing policy against Cuba is widely recognized. Even a former minister of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative British government has great reservations about the American anti-Cuban stance and its adoption by the governments of Europe, as he made it clear in a recent article:

It is naïve in the extreme to think that in the post-Castro era Cuba will effectively become the 51st state of the US. Yet that is precisely what many in the US administration and indeed, on this side of the Atlantic, appear to believe. In fact, the very opposite is likely to happen….We must avoid the danger of borrowing the blunt instrument of America’s political sledge-hammer [nor should we view Cuba] through the unfocused binoculars of American wishful thinking.*

Needless to say, critical views, even when they cannot be accused of a “left-wing political bias,” make no difference at all to the reactionary policymakers of the U.S. administration. One of their undersecretaries of state, John Bolton, shamelessly accused Cuba of being the supplier of biological weapons to the enemies of the United States, on the “grounds” that the Cubans have an advanced pharmaceutical industry. This was a provocative attempt to mark out Cuba as a “morally justified” early target for U.S. military attack. I myself sharply commented at the time (June 2002) in a Brazilian TV interview, that such men have no morality and no respect whatsoever for the truth. Not surprisingly, attempts of this kind, designed to indict Cuba of fictitious anti-American crimes, are constantly renewed. Fidel Castro reported in his May Day 2003 speech a very recent and equally threatening case:

The policy of the US government is so brazenly provocative that on April 25, Mr Kevin Whitaker, chief of the Cuban Bureau at the State Department, informed the head of our Interests Section in Washington that the National Security Council’s Department of Homeland Security considered the continued hijackings from Cuba a serious threat to the national security of the United States, and requested that the Cuban government adopt all of the necessary measures to prevent such acts. He said this as if they were not the ones who provoke and encourage these hijackings, and as if we were not the ones who adopt drastic measures to prevent them.

The international controversy about the sentencing of the Havana hijackers had a great deal to do with disregarding the direct military threat to which the country was—and continues to be—subjected on this score.

The cynical pursuit of provocative acts and their hypocritical misrepresentation in the mass media remain the defining characteristics of U.S. policymaking that Cuba is condemned to live with for the foreseeable future, even if by no means for the next forty-five years. To be sure, not for the next forty-five years! For it is inconceivable that the present, extreme aggressive phase of global hegemonic imperialism—which is now absurdly trying to “compensate” for the incurable wastefulness of its system of destructive production by way of astronomical expenditures on armaments and associated military adventures, financed from the “black hole” of American indebtedness—should be able to endure for remotely that long, instead it may exterminate humankind altogether if not stopped well before that time.

Cuba has been forced to live in a state of emergency for a very long time. The great hardship that had to be overcome under such circumstances was not confined to the consequences of the American blockade. After the demise of the Soviet system the situation became even more aggravated, not only through the further tightening of the American blockade, in the vain hope of precipitating an immediate collapse, but also due to the country’s sudden loss of its main markets and supply sources. As a result, the calorie and protein intake of the population was nearly halved, and the painful years of the “special period” were needed to restore the nutritional requirements of the people to the earlier level.

It goes without saying, the conditions of a continued state of emergency are unfavorable to the achievement of several desirable objectives both on the political/cultural and on the economic plane. But they cannot be simply wished out of existence, nor should they be, of course, prolonged any longer than it is historically justified, once the conditions change for the better.

Here we can see a great contrast with the Soviet experience. As we all know, for a number of years after the October Revolution the country had to cope with the extreme hardship of a genuine state of emergency. Later on, however, Stalin artificially prolonged for decades the earlier fully justified state of emergency, since that provided him with the easier option for implementing his authoritarian policies. But following in this way the “line of least resistance”—in that in Stalin’s view all questioning of the decreed policies could be easily crushed—resulted in the institution of mass labor camps, with terrible consequences for labor productivity, bringing with it the gross violation of legality for which Khrushchev rightly castigated him in 1956. Moreover, when in 1952 Stalin had to admit that Soviet labor productivity was in serious trouble, he tried to remedy the situation by stipulating yet another authoritarian solution, in terms of a strictly managerial imposition of labor discipline. In his last major writing, “Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.,” he decreed the eternal validity of the “law of value,” the absolute permanence of the “nonessential” division between mental and physical labor, and the rightful separation of society into well rewarded “socialist executive personnel” (“our business executives”) and “physical labor power” firmly controlled not only politically but also by “rational” market-like institutional practices. He insisted on the need for proper “commodity production and circulation” to be regulated on the basis of “cost accounting and profitableness” bequeathing thereby a dangerous legacy for the future also by conferring “socialist legitimacy” on the traditional authoritarianism of the “disciplining market” whose fateful consequences are familiar to us all.*

Obviously, there is nothing artificial about Cuba’s painfully long state of emergency in the face of the constantly renewed and intensified military threats of its preponderant adversary. Nevertheless, no one can deny that the full potential of the Cuban revolution will be brought to fruition in a future when, as a result of a fundamental change of circumstances and global relation of forces, it will be possible to say that the almost prohibitive burden of confronting capital’s destructive forces belongs irrevocably to the past.

The victorious Cuban revolution is both unique and of a universal significance. It is unique in that it grew out of two hundred years of resurgent struggle, at first against Spanish colonialism and thereafter against U.S. imperialist domination. The great historical figure José Martí—who more than one hundred years after his death remains a tremendous inspiration to the present—directly connected, in his far-sighted vision, the two phases. He thus clearly anticipated well before the conclusion of the anti-Spanish struggle that Cuban emancipation would only be accomplished when they have succeeded in defeating the new, American, domination.

But the Cuban revolution is also unique in the sense that the overthrow of the servile Batista regime was preceded by three years of armed struggle, sustained by an ever increasing number of the country’s population. To this must be added that at the time of the revolution’s victory the U.S. government still maintained the illusion that it would still be able to dominate the country as it pleased under the new circumstances, even if in a somewhat altered form. Moreover, given the overwhelming popular support for the overthrow of the American client regime, in the heat of the moment it even had to make some friendly noises about the change.

When their attempts to reimpose their former domination by other means failed, at once they adopted an openly hostile attitude. It is on that account that we can clearly see that the historical adversary necessarily adjusts its strategies when it has to face a major challenge. It does so in order to reverse the situation, or at least in order to prevent further occurrences of what it has been surprised with or, rather, subjected to. Accordingly, subsequent U.S. policymaking not only against Cuba but all over Latin America (and not only there)—assuming the form of the violent overthrow of democratically elected governments (cynically in the name of “democracy and freedom”) and the imposition of brutal dictatorships—heavily underlines this point. The Cuban revolution is thus unique also in the respect that in its aftermath even the first signs of a potential anti-imperialist armed struggle had to be crushed by direct or indirect U.S. intervention, as shown also by Che Guevara’s tragic fate.

The Cuban revolution is unique for a variety of important reasons—including the historical constitution of its leadership from José Martí to the present—so it cannot be imitated or repeated, let alone turned into the compulsory model of revolutionary transformation. Nevertheless its universal significance cannot be emphasized strongly enough. In the past the attempts to impose the Soviet model, under Stalin and his successors, caused immense damage to the socialist movement everywhere. This cannot be allowed to be repeated in the future, no matter how great the temptations might be to do so. No one puts this more firmly than Fidel Castro himself. Talking about our own predicament he said:

Tremendously strong mass movements are emerging, and I think that these movements will play a fundamental role in future struggles. There will be new tactics: not the Bolshevik style and not even our own style, because these belonged to a different world. This should not discourage anyone. We need to see and analyze, with the greatest possible objectivity, the current setting in which the struggle will have to unfold, under the unipolar dominance of a superpower, the United States. There will be other roads and other ways by which the conditions will be created for transforming this world into another one.*

The apologists of capital often try to rationalize and “explain away” their own contradictions and troubles as if they were the result of having been “exported” from an alien territory by a “subversive force,” and conspiratorially imposed upon them. As the lines just quoted clearly indicate, nothing could be further removed from a genuine strategy of socialist transformation. For a well-grounded strategy must always advocate the grasp of real levers of transformation by the given social movements which cannot succeed in their historic mandate unless they constantly reorient themselves under the prevailing social conditions and dynamically changing historical circumstances.

The universal significance of the Cuban revolution resides in its great affinity with the aspirations of all those who want to extricate themselves from the paralyzing constraints of capital’s social order.

Although in a general sense this concerns everyone who shares the cause of human emancipation, understandably the echoes generated by the Cuban revolution were the greatest in Latin America. For the countries of that continent have been, and indeed are, all dominated by the same imperialist power, and their efforts to significantly redress their situation were constantly frustrated and ultimately always nullified, both for internal and for external reasons, by the system under which they had to reproduce their conditions of existence. The message of the Cuban revolution to them was, therefore, twofold.

First, it focused on the question of regaining from America their national sovereignty and corresponding power of decision making, thereby freeing themselves from the military, political, and economic domination of their overpowering neighbor.

And, second, at the same time the fundamental questions of the socioeconomic reproductive system as a whole had to be subjected to a radical critique, both because of the capitalist order’s overwhelming domination by the United States and, more importantly, because of the historical anachronism and destructive wastefulness of capital’s social metabolic determinations in general at the present stage of history. In other words, all of the Latin American countries (and not only them) had to struggle in order to get out of the real vicious circle of trying to resolve their immense problems on the cynically inflated tiny margin of American “economic aid,” when in reality it is the U.S. economy itself which remains massively dependent on the resources which it must exploitatively transfer from the rest of the world, in many different ways, to its own sphere of production and consumption.

Right from the beginning the message of the Cuban revolution was unmistakable regarding both of these sets of questions which profoundly affect all of the Latin American countries. Thus, irrespective of how soon and how successfully the countries concerned can act in the interest of realizing the deeply interconnected objectives confronting them, the twofold message of the Cuban revolution—calling not only for anti-imperialist struggle, but also for a structural/systemic change of society, as ultimately the condition of success also of the first—is bound to resound with ever greater intensity, even under the most difficult circumstances, over the entire continent.

As regards the time in front of us, there can be no doubt that the challenges and dangers are bound to remain enormous, despite all the achievements. The military threat against Cuba by the United States has been intensified in the last few years, in line with the growing aggressiveness of U.S. policy all over the world. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, Cuba has been also singled out as one of the states constituting the extended “axis of evil,” with all of the sinister implications of such a characterization. Nevertheless, the U.S. policymakers must also remember their humiliating fiasco at the Bay of Pigs. They must realize that Fidel Castro’s assertion, in his May Day 2003 speech, is not an idle threat, when he insists that in case Cuba is attacked, like Iraq, “the aggressors would not merely be facing an army, but rather thousands of armies that would constantly reproduce themselves and make the enemy pay such a high cost in casualties that it would far exceed the cost in lives of its sons and daughters that the American people would be willing to pay for the adventures and ideas of President Bush.”

In truth, the U.S. design for a permanent global imperialist domination has no greater future than the earlier varieties of—in the end always failed—imperialism. Sooner or later also the globally overextended aggressors are bound to come to grief, even if on the road to their ultimate failure they may destroy the conditions of human existence on this planet. And in that literally vital sense, overcoming the military threat to which Cuba is subjected is the common cause of all humankind.

Naturally, the dangers are not confined to the military plane. The other crucially important dimension is the political-economic warfare to which Cuba has been subjected in the last forty-five years, which has been constantly intensified and has assumed new and more dangerous forms. Today it takes the form of an enormous pressure for “marketization,” rendered all the more problematical in view of the fact that the acceptance of market ideology significantly contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet system under Gorbachev and his collaborators.

When Stalin, in 1952, formulated his first version of marketized discipline—according to which “labor power” would be “compensated for” with “profitably produced consumer commodities” for its conformity to such discipline—much of what he had decreed was theoretically quite unfounded and had to remain in the realm of fantasy. For the Soviet system could not operate on the basis of commodity production and circulation, under the law of value, above all for the simple reason that it did not have a proper market, and least of all a labor market. Many things can be regulated in an economy with tolerable reliability with the help of a pseudo-market, which in fact did exist in the Soviet Union. But this is certainly not the case where the allocation and firm control of labor power are concerned. Even Khrushchev resisted the temptation of extending the changes inspired by Stalin into that dangerous field. Only under Gorbachev was the critical step taken for the establishment of a fully fledged labor market, bringing with it catastrophic consequences for the Soviet economy and society at large, instead of fulfilling the totally unrealistic expectations of the policymakers.

This is where we find the crucial line of demarcation. Naturally, talk about marketization can cover many things, often implying nothing more than the better use of material and human resources. That is a perfectly legitimate concern under all circumstances. As a matter of fact, though, it happens to be grossly violated, despite all pretences to the contrary, precisely under capital’s present phase of hopelessly wasteful production and consumption: the sworn enemy of all real concern with economy and with the corresponding rational allocation of resources. The question that needs answering is: who is in effective control of society’s combined resources, the “associated producers” or an extraneous decision making force, even if the latter is ideologically embellished with the name of Adam Smith’s imaginarily benevolent “invisible hand”? Once labor is allowed to become a commodity just like any other, tossed around according to the fetishistic/mystifying—and very far from objective—requirements of the labor market, the door becomes firmly shut to all aspirations to realize the much needed socialist objectives of the people. Instead, everything is poured into the whirlpool of capitalist restoration, as bitter historical experience tells us. Only the most eager form of wishful thinking can expect Cuban capitulation on this vital issue.

The Cuban Revolution demonstrated its solidarity, in a most tangible way, with the cause of human emancipation on countless occasions. But solidarity is a two-way street. International solidarity can make a meaningful contribution to the next forty-five years of the Cuban revolution.


Notes

* In a May 1, 2003, speech President Fidel Castro cited Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, “an intimate friend and advisor of President Bush, has made this enigmatic statement to a Miami TV station: ‘I cannot go into details, but we are trying to break this vicious circle.’ What methods are they considering to deal with this vicious circle? Physically eliminating me with the sophisticated modern means they have developed, as Mr Bush promised them in Texas before the elections? Or attacking Cuba the way they attacked Iraq?”

* István Mészaros, Socialism or Barbarism (Kolkata: K. P. Bagchi & Co., 2001), 3.

* Julian Borger, “US-based missiles to have global reach,” The Guardian, July 1, 2003.

* Colin Moynihan, “Cuba has been left out far too long: Britain and Europe must break with 40 years of failed US policy,” The Guardian, July 1, 2003.

* For a fully documented discussion of these problems see chapter 17 of Beyond Capital (London: Merlin Press, and New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995).

* Fidel Castro, “El mundo caótico al que conduce la globalización neoliberal no puede sobrevivir,” Granma, June 25, 1998. Quoted in Gilberto Valdés Gutiérrez, “El sistema de dominación múltiple” (unpublished).