Cuban Protests and The Two-Step Strategy

Cuban Protests and The Two-Step Strategy

article I wrote about the Cuban protests on my blog when it was in the news

Cuba is one of the few remaining communist states. Most of these states collapsed either with the fall of the Soviet Union, or breakup of Yugoslavia. The strongest of the remaining is easily China, but unlike China Cuba is hanging on by a thread. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the Island nation has been sputtering along economically, trying it's hardest to hold itself together. For generations the left has idealized the Cuban regime just as steadily as the US and the right have demonized it.

For the left the nation is a shinning pillar of anti-imperialist resistance, for the right and US authorities it is a dismal example of communist totalitarianism. Are either of these positions justified? In the past week the most significant protests since the special period (the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse) have taken place, so the question of the nature of Cuba and it's current crises has again occupied the world-stage. So, is it communist totalitarianism to blame for Cuba's situation? Simply, no. Totalitarianism as a concept doesn't mean much in the first place. Even the most dictatorial regimes have bureaucratic procedures, the idea of any regime, especially one as rickety as Cuba, having total control over society, is just inane. It also simply isn't the case that Cuba's problems can be totally reduced to regime itself. America currently suffocates the country with an embargo that it implemented purely as retaliation for the regime aligning with the Soviet Union. While Obama normalized relations, Trump designated it a state sponsor of terrorism, and Biden, even according to the white house secretary, has no inclination to alter US pressure on Cuba despite running on it during his campaign. Such efforts would receive opposition in congress anyway.

So does the blame rest on US imperialism? Partly, but the idea that this explains even most of the problems is simply naïve. Cuba has it's own social structures and authorities which have an independent place in the world. All the US has done is put pressure, extremely destructive pressure, but it has never been successful in making Cuba into a crypto-colony like it was before the revolution, despite no lack of trying. Cuba is a sovereign nation, whereas Palestine for example essentially isn't and Afghanistan for another is still occupied by the US government. So what is the real issue at the base of all this?

Cuba as we know it today is the living record of a strategy pursued by the socialist movement of the 20th century in order to overthrow capitalism and change the world. This strategy consisted of taking state power and then using that state power to change society; two-steps. So in 1959 the 26th of July movement replaced the Batista regime which had been ousted by popular unrest. Soon after this happened the leadership drifted toward the Soviet Union and it's Marxist-Leninist ideology because relations between it and the country which backed the dictatorship that formerly controlled it naturally soured. In addition to the Embargo the United States also tried to overthrow the regime outright, planting rebels who were routed in the Bey of Pigs incident. Against US hostility Cuba took the other side in the Cold War and set about trying to change Cuban society in a socialist direction.

The problem was, however, that since the 1920s in the Soviet Union "socialism" in the language of communist states didn't mean what it meant before and during the Russian Revolution. Throughout the communist world all "socialism" really meant was a process of mercantile capital accumulation where the "socialist states" would give themselves whatever advantage they could on the world-market by only partly insulating themselves from it. The "socialist world" wasn't "socialist" at all, if what you mean by socialism is an alternative to capitalism. The socialist world was simply one political incarnation of the larger capitalist world. Cuba became no different. The regime's survival was tied to effective participation in the world-economy. What the regime did end up doing was carrying out land reform and constructing a social safety net that helped lift the former colony out of the dark ages, Cuban healthcare is still an achieving sector. However, this was the compromise the underwrote labor intensive capital accumulation.

At one point workers were simply ideologically extorted to increase the intensity of work and not paid a dime more for it, beside some social prestige. This kind of social compromise was actually the norm for the whole capitalist world from the end of World War until the 70s. The economic driver of the regime remained it's colonial sugar trade where sugar exports financed the national economy. This type of export of food/raw material is the typical pattern of trade for a country situated in the doldrums of the world-economy. This lead to an ill-advised campaign in the 70s to harvest 10 million tons of sugar which ultimately produced economic crises. Cuba, like the other COMCON members, was economically subordinate to the Soviet Union, and so became dependent on exporting to it at prices which the Soviets artificially inflated. When the Soviet Union collapsed Cuba's purchasing power declined by 70%. It has only been able to skate by through joint ventures with foreign capital as well as opening up a tourism industry.

The recent protests were produced by economic hardship resulting from covid wiping out the tourism industry. The regime has implemented austerity in order to cope with this by unifying it's US currency convertible peso with the regular peso and moving goods into stores that only accept foreign money, leaving those who have to work to buy foreign currency out in the cold and producing queues outside stores. Essentially the regime is sacrificing the well-being of it's people in order to gain desperately needed participation in the world-market. The sorry state of Cuba is typical for any country in the periphery of the capitalist world-economy. Governments and social norms are usually more repressive, economic well-being for the mass of people is usually depressed, and social destabilization is easy to come by. Being in the periphery means being at the bottom of the world-division of labor where all the extraction and exploitation that feeds the core takes place. So the issue here is not communist totalitarianism, or even primarily US imperialism, the issue is peripheral development in the capitalist world-economy.

So, what happened to socialism? Why did we get peripheral capitalism with a communist face instead? This is for the same reason that the rest of the socialist world failed to break from the capitalist world. The two-step strategy. It was assumed that the power of the state structures could allow communists to make accelerated progressive social change. In reality holding state power meant being subject to the world-economy and it's political hierarchy of nation-states, i.e., it meant submission to the status quo. The only option for movements with state power was to recast "socialism" as a synonym for development at their respective node within the capitalist world-system.

Ignoring this reality is the central tenant of the pseudo-analysts of both right and left. US officials and right wing Cuban Americans cast the issue as one of communist tyranny, not understanding the social basis of the Cuban regime in the capitalist world-system. This same lack of understanding leads leftists to simply assume that the protests are neo-Bey of Pigs with no evidence other than the supposition that any organic social unrest under a socialist government and victim of American imperialism must be impossible. The most important thing the left outside of Cuba can do is understand this reality; that Cuba's current situation is the result of the failure of the two-step strategy to bring anti-capitalist social change. Opposing the embargo would also be advisable.
Sources:
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Posted By

Ivysyn
Oct 8 2021 02:59

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  • The most important thing the left outside of Cuba can do is understand this reality; that Cuba's current situation is the result of the failure of the two-step strategy to bring anti-capitalist social change.

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Comments

noslavery
Oct 12 2021 15:53

Correct. Two-step strategy doesn't work. It points to the flaw of historical materialism too. Marxists think that they have discovered law of human development. So, they give right to themselves to "direct" society base on that so-called law which is known by their elites. This explains their brutality when they gain power. Laws, now in form of laws of state, must be implemented no mater what. In this sense, they are the same as those who rule. This can never change the world.
Generally speaking, world never changes without removing Marxism as an alternative. Historical materialism of Marx and Engels is fundamentally authoritarian, it is materialistic not humanistic. It lacks the fact that humans invent social relationship, good or bad. Humans make culture, culture has not formed independent of their will.

adri
Oct 12 2021 20:26
noslavery wrote:
Historical materialism of Marx and Engels is fundamentally authoritarian, it is materialistic not humanistic. It lacks the fact that humans invent social relationship, good or bad. Humans make culture, culture has not formed independent of their will.

There was some discussion here earlier about "production/economics" being everything in deciding history, which was not something Marx and Engels subscribed to. M&E never excluded the influence of other factors. See Engels here for example in a letter to Joseph Bloch,

Engels wrote:
According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure—political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas—also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.

Spikymike
Oct 13 2021 14:53

Not a bad text from Ivysyn (concessions to leftist terminology aside) but more discussion of use here in these 2 documents:
https://libcom.org/blog/after-cuban-protests-discussion-proletarios-cabr...

Ivysyn
Oct 13 2021 17:41
Quote:
concessions to leftist terminology aside

I get that ICT probably conceives of the left as inherently a wing of capital, there are also some Anarchists I work with that agree with this. I just don't find it convincing personally.

Ivysyn
Oct 13 2021 17:43
Quote:
Generally speaking, world never changes without removing Marxism as an alternative. Historical materialism of Marx and Engels is fundamentally authoritarian, it is materialistic not humanistic.

Related to what adri touched on, I actually don't think the historical materialism of Orthodox Marxism has anything to do with Marx's understanding of social change, which per Dunayevskaya I actually see as humanist.

Dyjbas
Oct 14 2021 18:33
noslavery wrote:
Marxists think that they have discovered law of human development. So, they give right to themselves to "direct" society base on that so-called law which is known by their elites. This explains their brutality when they gain power.

Marxists never "gained power" in Cuba. An armed nationalist clique did.

Ivysyn wrote:
I get that ICT probably conceives of the left as inherently a wing of capital, there are also some Anarchists I work with that agree with this. I just don't find it convincing personally.

Do you see left liberals, social democrats, Trotskyists and Stalinists as part of the same movement as genuine communists and anarchists?

Ivysyn
Oct 19 2021 11:04
Quote:
Do you see left liberals, social democrats, Trotskyists and Stalinists as part of the same movement as genuine communists and anarchists?

I think it's complex and requires careful analysis. The basis of "the left" historically has been radicalism; the idea of accelerated progressive social change. For the last 200 years radicals have been divided over how to achieve this goal. The primary strategy they pursued was taking state power and centralist organizing. This brought them into the orbit of liberalism which instead wanted limited change administered slowly by technocrats. So the centralist left pursuing state power was transformed into a bureaucratic structure that served to contain popular unrest, rather than facilitate it. This has been the function of Leninism, Marxism-Leninism, Social Democracy, and traditional movements for National Liberation.

So it just isn't true that "the left" is an arm of capital acting only to contain the spontaneous energies of the working class. Marx himself was involved in the 19th century left, so any "Marxist" position which holds this is very perplexing to me. The same is true of any such Anarchist position since the Anarchist movement was a left movement. However, it is quite right to say that the dominant tendencies of the historical left have served as little more than stabilizing mechanisms for the capitalist order.

Dyjbas
Oct 19 2021 13:31

It's a mistake to think that left liberalism, social democracy, Trotskyism and Stalinism, etc., share the same goals as communists but simply differ on the way to get there. They do not.

This was something Marx recognised as even back in his day there was no shortage of people calling themselves "reds", "republicans", "democrats" and "socialists" who in reality "far from wanting to transform the whole society in the interests of the revolutionary proletarians, only aspire to a change in social conditions which will make the existing society as tolerable and comfortable for themselves as possible".

Today, just as back then, it remains important to differentiate ourselves from this "left" of capital, rather than lump everyone together in some amorphous category of "radicals" seeking "progressive social change".