The Three Ways the Castros Betrayed Socialism

By Pedro Campos

Photo: Armando Toledo

HAVANA TIMES — In its nearly 60 years at the helm of power, the Castros betrayed three great paradigmatic ideals which the majority of the Cuban people had fought for: Democracy, national independence and socialism.

The 1952 military coup broke away from the institutional life stipulated in the 1940 Constitution. When the wide-ranging opposition this created tried to look for a negotiated solution to making Batista leave power, including a call for elections, an ambitious youth leader from the Orthodox Party attacked Cuba’s second most important military fortress with several of his followers in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. Even though they failed, the attack managed to exacerbate political contradictions, channeling the struggle against Batista down a violent path and projecting a new “radical, revolutionary” leadership.  

This was the birth of Castrismo, which was defined by violence and the division of Cuban society to hold control over this same society, both of which have been constants in its strategy to dominate.

Betraying democracy

The struggle against the Batista dictatorship to reinstate the democratic 1940 Constitution and its institutions, built up mass popular support from opposition groups to the point that the tyrant had to flee. The triumph of all of these mass movements in 1959 was capitalized on by Fidel Castro, the leader who led the attack on the Moncada Barracks and the guerrilla forces in the Sierra Maestra.

After repeating that the Revolution’s objective was to restore democracy in Cuba, Fidel and his entourage took power into their own hands, they ousted the provisional government, they didn’t reinstate the 1940 Constitution and they have called off democratic elections up until this very day, to allow for “revolutionary change, equality and social justice”, the populist/statist/autocratic project that has kept them in power indefinitely. 

Foto: Armando Toledo

Thus, it was in 1959 that the first great betrayal to the democratic objective of that people’s movement took place. As a result, a civil war was triggered which included the Bay of Pigs invasion and the guerrilla war in the mountains again, especially in El Escambray, which left several thousand dead, more than a hundred thousand prisoners, a large part of whom received long prison sentences, as well as the exile of around a million Cubans. 

Betraying National Independence 

One of the Cuban people’s great wishes was to always consolidate the national independence process which began with the Republic in 1902. The Platt Amendment, US-backed interventions and “mediations” in the first 30 years of the Cuban Republic and its close ties with corrupt governments after 1940, had been conveniently exploited by the revenge seeking Spanish and International Stalinist Communism, unhindered by the Cold War, to put Cuba up against its neighbor in the North.

When Batista fell, US trade relations with the island were profuse and a non-majority part of the Cuban economy laid in the hands of US companies. Criticism of the guerrillas’ excesses in power and of Fidel’s resistance to reinstate a democracy, as well as the nationalization of vast terrains of land which belonged to US companies in 1959 and of its industry in 1960, created a fierce clash with the Castro brothers’ regime, which still hasn’t ended today.

Everything, taking into account the La Coubre steamship explosion, the Bay of Pigs invasion, US support for the opposition, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 were Castro led attempts to export its “socialism” and destablize democracy in Latin America.

The perfect landscape for “anti-imperialism” always against the US which could be conceived by creating close ties with the USSR, the US’ main enemy in the Cold War. This led to a level of financial, political and military dependence which had never existed before in the time of the Cuban Republic. Installing Russian military bases and intelligence in Cuba and the latter voting with the Soviet Bloc at international bodies. There were strategic differences when it came to fighting methods, but the common goal was to “spread Socialism and overthrow Imperialism.”

The Socialist state centered regime and its dependence on the USSR ensured that Castrismo could consolidate itself and in doing this, strip the Cuban people of their sovereignty, which was hijacked by Fidel and his group, as well as subordinate the Cuban government to the USSR and Cold War’s general interests. No popular sovereignty, no national independence.

With the collapse of the USSR, subsidies, Russian oil exports and any aid in food, transport, machinery and arms disappeared overnight. The Castros’ economy plummeted. Its dependence on foreign markets and aid and the system’s own productive incapacity forced the Cuban government to look for new sponsors.

Betraying socialism

On April 16th 1961, Fidel proclaimed the “socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution” in front of thousands of supporters on the corner of 23rd and 12th streets in Havana. It was a demagogic act which was focused on winning over the support of Cuban workers and to get the USSR and other “socialist” countries’ to openly support his government in the face of an imminent invasion and the serious clash that they were already experiencing with their powerful neighbor in the North.

By adopting the principles of “Marxism-Leninism and the dictatorship of the proletariat” in an opportunistic manner, Castro established a kind of State-monopoly capitalism with its authoritarian nature, centralized decision-making process and wage-slavery for the sake of holding onto power, to the detriment of worker and the Cuban people’s interests.

Marti foresaw this: “The Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who —with the purpose of climbing up in the world— pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless to have shoulders on which to stand (1).”  And also the consequences of the Socialist State: “From being his own servant, man would then become a slave of the State. From being a slave of capitalists, as they are now called, he would become a slave of public officials.(2)” 

And just like all strains of Stalinist-statist “Communism”, which “compromised sublime justice with the mistaken or excessive ways of asking for it” (Marti also wrote) Castrism moved away from the original libertarian, self-government, humanist and democratic aspects of socialism, which encouraged workers to take a leading role, which encouraged full freedom and democracy and the development of free, private or associated forms of work, to become another vulgar dictatorship.

Photo: Armando Toledo

When it “nationalized” large, medium and small-size private property, nationally or foreign owned, it also interfered in all private businesses, production or services cooperatives, mutual health clinics, sponsored schools, leisure centers for associated workers and even retirement funds, union funds and property.  

However, as well as always standing in the way of free, private or associated forms of labor and its progress, outside of the state-led economy, it locked up union leaders, advocates for self-management and worker control and supporters of free associated work. From 1989, it has been secretly purging the PCC and the government, dismissing, retiring, laying off, persecuting, harassing, repressing, insulting and even locking up thousands of public officials, supporters of democratic socialism.

Workers were never the real owners of factories or agricultural and services companies. They continued to be exploited with wage-slavery and in the worst and most primitive form of wild capitalism. Now, the owner of this capital wasn’t a person, but an impersonal State; and they never enjoyed a real democracy which would have allowed them to exercise their political rights.

Castrismo didn’t take on socialism as a way to emancipate society, to create a political democracy and a thriving economy, but it did say that it would and it promised it would. It was a vile betrayal of Cuban workers and socialist ideals.
—–
Notes:
1- “The coming slavery” Comments on the homonymous work by Herbert Spencer.
2- Letter to Fermin Valdes 1894.

  • Joseph Marti

    Amen brother.
    Love the Jose Marti quotes on socialism.
    Curious to note the “anti-imperialist” Russians’ agressions toward Ukraine, Crimea…not to mention their long history of imperialism.

    • Jon

      Same aggression that the US uses on its borders. But the US uses its imperialist aggression across the globe in a demonstrable way that socialist and former socialist countries just don’t. The fundamentals of socialism v capitalism are the reason. The ideal of sharing v unlimited individual accumulation. If you get the New Yorker there’s an article this week demonstrating how equality seeking is an unborn trait.

      • Joseph Marti

        I think Winston Churchill said it best:
        “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”
        “Socialism is like a dream. Sooner or later you wake up to reality.”
        Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em Jon.

        • Jon

          Who says Churchill is the final arbiter. I find Trotsky much more interesting. Smarter and braver than Churchill ever was. Dreaming is a fundamental aspect and virtue of being human and key to social evolution.

          • Joseph Marti

            …Shithouse Philosophy….
            I defer to Mr. Churchill on the matter of dreaming.

  • Glenn E. Gromann

    Just a thought socialism does not work.

    • Jon

      And capitalism does?

      • Joseph Marti

        Yes

        • Jon

          Each fails or succeeds on their own terms. Unlimited individual accumulation of $ is good for a very few and pretty bad for the rest of us. And for the planet.

          • Joseph Marti

            Interestingly ironic that you state “each fails or succeeds on their own terms.” You ask “what is personal accountability?” You had the answer all along though misplaced through your scrambled “(ir)rationality”
            What incentive do you have for productivity if everything available is offered to you regardless of effort?

  • Doug1943

    If Cuba has, and always has had since the Revolution, “State-monopoly capitalism” and “wage-slavery”, I wonder why the American government has always hated it so much? There were unions under Batista, there are none now … sounds like an ideal situation from a capitalist’s’ point of view.

  • Jon

    Seems like a good tear down. But no alternative suggested. Would it be unmitigated laissez faire profit taking? It’s not helpful to criticize without offering constructive suggestions.

    • Joseph Marti

      Here’s one: Overthrow the Regime.

      • Jon

        Really helpful Joseph. Replaced with what comrade?

        • Joseph Marti

          Uhh, I don’t know….How about a true democracy, freedom of speech/press/thought, open markets, personal accountability….

          • Jon

            The devils in the details. “True” democracy? Markets open to plunder anywhere “they” want? Freedom of the press to lie and cover up the way the NYTimes covered up Allende’s overthrow? Indeed what IS personal accountability? Revolutions spring from concrete proposals. Try again.

          • Joseph Marti

            Jon, you strike me as a perpetually-embittered cynical defeatist discontent and shithouse philosopher.

    • RONIN

      Well, lets see here, could it be that the author might be suggesting, establishing a democracy and giving the Cuban people their independence from government intrusiveness as an alternative to above listed problems????

      And yes every form of government has its own problems. There are no countries in this world where a hundred percent of its citizens are happy with their government.

      “Each fails or succeeds on their own terms. Unlimited individual accumulation of $ is good for a very few and pretty bad for the rest of us. And for the planet.” How is individual accumulation of wealth “bad for the rest of us?” In the contrary wealthy individuals usually attain that wealth by running some type of legal business, which most likely employs workers, whom are paid according to their skill and experience, sooooooooo, the “rest of us” just might be indirectly benefiting from the “wealthy individual’s” accumulation of wealth.

      Besides, you are always free to try your own shot at “accumulation of $$$” I have no doubt that you will not be arrested if you wanna give it the good old college try. So stop whining about people’s accumulation of wealth and roll up your sleeves. At least in the free world, you get paid according to your skills and level of education (commonly referred to as “incentive”).

  • Cantthink Ofaname

    I just got back from Cuba and loved the culture and the people there. What I didn’t like was foreigners telling the locals what to think. Cuba is a Republic, which means it is democratic, and the people have a right to make their own decisions. I dislike what socialism has done to many countries around the world, but as a sovereign country if Cubans wants to be socialist then that’s what it should be. That being said I did notice a flourishing free market of many small businesses and entrepreneurs :)