Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

May/June 2005 • Vol 4, No. 5 •

The Militant and the Cuban Revolution

By Walter Lippmann

The Militant’s January 1960 Cuba editorial reads like what some Trotskyists say about Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez today. This isn’t a remote historical dispute. It’s about how we understand today’s struggle. Some Trotskyists today demand Chavez nationalize industry and call for the expropriation of the capitalists.

The Militant in 1960 harshly criticized Cuba’s revolutionary leadership. Deriding Cuba’s leadership as “petty bourgeois”, claiming (without evidence) that it “failed to consider” nationalization and expropriation, The Militant insisted Cuba’s transitional measures “were not foreseen, still less included in the program of the Castro leadership”. The Militant’s editors couldn’t know what Cuba’s leadership “foresaw”, or “considered” except from reading published documents.

Cuba’s revolutionaries didn’t call for nationalization or expropriation deliberately. Building the broadest alliance against Batista’s dictatorship required working with many forces, including capitalist ones. At the height of the Cold War, an explicitly socialist program would have undercut building the broadest possible anti-dictatorial unity.

Fidel Castro understood the need for the maximum unity, and the need to avoiding tipping his hand as to the final goal. Fidel didn’t originate this approach. Jose Marti, in his political testament, his 1895 letter to Manuel Mercado explained:

“I have had to work quietly and somewhat indirectly, because to achieve certain objectives, they must be kept under cover; to proclaim them for what they are would raise such difficulties that the objectives could not be attained.” It’s on the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s website:

Since the SWP, and those who see themselves as its inheritors, never explained what happened, here’s my explanation. The error had two sources. First, the SWP’s understanding of and application of Trotsky’s celebrated theory Permanent Revolution. Second, an exaggerated emphasis on the primacy of “program”. Stressing explicit, programmatic declarations, led The Militant to politically characterize those who’d organized and led Cuba’s revolution as “the main danger” to it.

Leon Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution described revolutionary processes extremely well. Serious people everywhere, including Cuba, read, study and learn from Trotsky. The Militant, however, confused “description” with “prescription” when it editorially demanded nationalization and expropriation.

This was presumptuous from a U.S. newspaper addressing Cubans who had overthrown their capitalist dictatorship over a year before The Militant wrote its editorial.

The “main danger to the Cuban Revolution” was not as The Militant wrote, “in its own leadership”. The “main danger” was in Washington.

Instead of emphasizing what The Militant wanted Cubans to advocate, the editorial should have demanded “Hands Off Cuba”, “U.S. Out of Guantanamo”, etc. The Militant’s priorities were backwards.

(It would have been fine for The Militant to “discuss” its ideas on nationalization and expropriation, but demanding it of the Cubans, as The Militant did, was wrong.)

The Militant even spelled out what foreign policy Cuba needed: “The aim of Cuba’s foreign policy should be the formation of a United States of Latin America that could unite all countries below the Rio Grande in an interlocking socialist economy of enormous productive capacity.”

This is the same mistake, on a continental scale. Fidel had already proposed a much more appropriate program, not dissimilar from the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, long before: in Buenos Aires, in May 1959:

The SWP changed its stand after Joe Hansen and Farrell Dobbs visited Cuba, but it never acknowledged its error or explicitly analyzed how it was made. Reading that 1960 editorial today we can try to learn from it. Then we can practice what we’ve learned in analyzing Venezuela today.

Joseph Hansen rightly said Cuba was “the acid test”. How much more valid that is today. Thanks to the editors of Socialist Viewpoint for permitting me to share my view. I realize my view is at sharp variance with the editorial stance of Socialist Viewpoint.

CubaNews, May 10, 2005

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