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June 2004 • Vol 4, No. 6 •

Latin America

‘Socialism in one country’
and the Cuban Revolution

By Celia Hart

The following is a just-translated essay published in May 2004 by Celia Hart, in the magazine TRIcontinental.

Cuba’s historic links to the international struggle for socialism, and to the former Soviet Union, have often been argued and misunderstood.

Voices from the island itself have rarely written publicly on this subject. Above all this was true during the island’s alliance with the USSR. With the process of “rectification” begun in 1986, and more so following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cubans have been thinking, assessing and reviewing how it was that the Soviet Union collapsed, throwing the island into a deep crisis. A considerable literature on this has developed, but it’s little known outside of Cuba.

Cubans naturally want to understand how it was that the Soviet Union collapsed. So it’s been vital to look carefully into the history of the Soviet Union to try to comprehend why the world’s first workers’ state imploded.

Scholars and political activists on both sides of the historic debate between Trotsky and Stalin have argued these issues since Trotsky wrote his historic polemic against Stalin’s program for the Sixth World Congress of the Third International in 1928, and it continues today. Here is a contribution on this question from an authentic Cuban revolutionary.

—The Editors

There is a veil of mystery over the twists and turns that helped the Cuban Revolution survive after the fall of so-called European Socialism.

For the foreign observer it might seem that the socialist revolution begun in Cuba 45 years ago has no point of contact with the tragic events that led to the collapse of the Wall last century and that the Cuban revolution is socialist for other reasons, that the warmth and sparkle of the Caribbean bestowed it with other rules governing its inexplicable vitality, in spite of the economic blockade by the United States, and the sudden destruction of relations with Eastern Europe. Perhaps that it is the leadership that has guaranteed its survival. That the Cuban Revolution today can defend its “right” to consider itself victorious from a Latin American perspective and its historical traditions and from the most demanding ethical considerations. Not at all. The Cuban Revolution maintains itself, among other reasons, for having been loyal to this day to the most consistent principles of Marxism-Leninism.

If the end of “socialism” in Europe is the most important negative lesson to understand the battle against Stalinism and the imposition of socialism in one country, the Cuban Revolution, even including its errors, is the positive lesson on the same subject. To understand the survival of the Cuban Revolution with its socialist character is important for the international communist movement, which now faces a beautiful battle now that all the Stalinist pseudo-theories, such as peaceful coexistence, socialist realism, socialism in only one country, etc., have collapsed.

There is still one resource left to the Stalinist sophists: to make a paradoxical alliance with the reformists and declare, paraphrasing Fukuyama, the end of political parties and the end of models. Truly curious. They splintered the parties, immobilizing them for action, and now want to strip any authentic party of its rights, condemning it to be rhetoric from the past. It is not that parties are useless, but that European “socialist” practice made parties futile. Parties will always be a moving force in struggles for the betterment of humanity.

Even if the name is changed due to intellectual over-zealousness, as long as there are groups of people who want to change the world using political and ideological means, parties will continue to exist. Somewhat like the verses of Bécquer, of the late Spanish Romantic Period of the XIX century: “There may not be poets/ but there will always be poetry.” They will not stop people from associating. What is true it that it will be the end of the Stalinist parties. Let’s call things by their right names.

The same is true of models. Models can be a useful tool to simplify the study of nature and society. What happened is that, as with the Stalinist parties, the model of socialism in one country could not pass the test of history.

And here we have the Cuban Revolution, despite its poverty, defending the causes of the world from a socialist perspective. And there they are, seven European countries falling into the lap of NATO in total submissiveness. If it were not tragic it would be interesting to see how imperialism and reformism, born of Stalinism, go hand in hand against a small country that, today, is burdened not only by the battle for a better world but that defends, with its very existence, the foundations of socialist theory.

My paper will be divided in two parts. First, why I think it is time to take up Trotsky again, and second, why I believe that the Cuban Revolution rejected, from its inception, the model of Socialism in one country and thus survived after initially falling into Stalinism.

1. Why Trotsky?

Trotsky’s postulates, at least their practical application in social movements, were confined to small groups of Trotskyists and didn’t develop fully even in the already far off 1960s when the symbolic Che and his revolutionary instincts allowed him “only the time necessary to oil the rifle.” I don’t think there is a more convincing practical application of Permanent Revolution than that carried out by this great revolutionary and hero of the youth of the 20th century, who left his posts in Fidel’s victorious revolution. Before this he had been in Africa.

It was clear to Che that a true revolution and true socialism was not exclusive to the borders of my country or my continent. The flag of this legend charged with romanticism and purity was interpreted from all angles. It promoted Latin Americanism and anti-imperialism. And, in fact, it is that, but as a chapter of internationalism and the Permanent Revolution against the bourgeois regime. It would be like saying that Lenin and Trotsky should be considered “Europeanists” for promoting the revolution in Europe.

Capitalism evolved into imperialism. Latin America became a clear scenario for social struggles, even if Che hadn’t said it. We should let the literature of action guide us. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering what Che said to Fidel in his farewell letter: Fight imperialism wherever it shows its face. Che Guevara initiated the era of permanent revolution in Latin America. (That’s how I see it.) And the foundation can be found in José Martí and Simón Bolívar, for whom the homeland was all of the Americas. José Martí went much farther. But we will leave that for later.

The fall of the Berlin wall caught the U.S. off base, as we say in Cuba in baseball-ese. The true Leninist militants were not seriously listened to, at least not in this part of the world. Those were not out dead; we didn’t have to shed a single tear unless it was tears of happiness. Everything Trotsky foresaw in The Revolution Betrayed was furthered considerably. I wish the Twin Towers had not fallen through the actions of a few incoherent fanatics and had been the emulation of the Berlin wall. And that, instead of the planes of airlines, the revolutionary thoughts of the Americas, including the United States, had downed the ideas of imperialism and colonialism. But I think we still have time.

Since Stalin’s apparent victory, which he achieved by using the most sinister tricks of Goebbels of repeating a lie ad nauseam, and murder and terror as his weapons, revolutionary forces have had two enemies: imperialism and Stalinism. An accommodation to the victory, to the real need to build a socialist republic, may lead into falling into Stalinism—without even having met Stalin. Above all for those who consider the revolution as employment. Just like with love, you can’t make a business out of revolutionary ideas. It would be prostitution.

Those who hold the revolution dear and carry it in their bones and heart rarely fall into Stalinism. Fidel Castro, Cuban president for more than 40 years, rarely takes off his guerrilla uniform; he has never cut a deal with the enemy and his words always resonate with internationalism. Chávez, in the midst of his political crisis, does not stop calling for the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean. They are two authentic internationalist leaders.

Then, why Trotsky?...In the first place, because it is politically necessary. Yes. The experience of the old fighter is vital to save time and effort for the new movements. No one is preaching that people should become Trotsky fanatics. But he should be studied with the same care that we devote to Gramsci or Mariategui. There is a veil of oblivion about him and I still cannot understand the reason for it. This oblivion could force us to have to rediscover what Trotsky did less than a century ago.

Of course, no one can copy blindly. It is the spirit, the essence, that we should not throw overboard. Fortunately all the teachings that this man wanted to leave us were not obliterated by Mercader’s1 horrible weapon. I still lose sleep at night remembering that Mercader came to my country after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

What I do think is absurd is that my Latin American and Cuban comrades recognize the usefulness of liberation theology but not Trotsky’s thinking. I’m never given a straight answer, just sweet pats on my back and a quiet “leave that dear, its over.”

Those who tell me to leave “old” affairs aside are the very same who try to reinstate (with good sense and correctly) even older thinkers who I believe are no less necessary. Bolivar, José Martí and even Christ. The only thing left for me to say is that if religion took a new direction and that Liberation Theology has its original source in the rise of Christianity, and that therefore this theology is useful and revolutionary, by the same rights we should turn to the origins of socialism. It is time for our rebirth. Trotsky will be there, at its origin, seated and expectant at Lenin’s left.

It is urgent. The blackballing of this figure in revolutionary movements can only be sustained by ignorance or by Stalinist tendencies. Stalinism, I repeat, is a dangerous evil that overtakes victorious revolutionary institutions like a sore that takes over stagnant organisms. We have no right to lose a couple of centuries more due to puerile dogmas. We need all those who said a truth to humanity and Trotsky is one of them.

It hasn’t been a long time since the Communist Manifesto, and much less since the events of Stalin’s treason to the proletarian cause. Events and conferences are held from all points of view. But they don’t mention Lenin. We must open the doors to a frank discussion among all revolutionaries who believe that Marxism is still one of the foundations for the salvation of the world. Let us not fall into the web of Stalinism that was woven with lies, treason and ignorance. Let us be moved by the desire to raise up the world.

Fidel Castro has repeated more than once that we will not change the name of the Karl Marx Theater nor of the Vladimir Ilich Lenin School. I am convinced that many compatriots don’t know how to read between the lines.

In the most difficult moments of my revolution, when the legitimate heirs of Stalin decided to erase Cuba with the stroke of a pen, when imperialism was buying suitcases to return and my people were suffering the most atrocious poverty openly plotted by imperialism and Stalinism, and against all forecasts, Fidel with a strong and courageous voice shouted—Socialism or Death. That day he saved the Cuban revolution. I don’t know of anything else as close to the closing words of the manifesto by Marx and Engels.

II. The Cuban Revolution, paradigm of socialist revolution

The Cuban socialist revolution that arose in the 60s is the only socialist revolution in the Western hemisphere. It not only survived the collapse of European socialism but it is still young, it keeps up a fight without quarter against American imperialism and has been the spiritual guide for many generations and peoples. Cuba, a poor and blockaded country (the pretexts used by Stalin to use this model in the USSR): Has it lasted 45 years under the banner of socialism in one country? If this is so, is this theory valid? If not, why hasn’t the Cuban Revolution fallen?

We’ll find the answers in the definitions.

People don’t even notice: When we talk about Cuba, we talk about the Cuban Revolution, not Socialist Cuba. The USSR never accepted the term soviet revolution, except at the beginning when it was the Bolshevik Revolution, the most beautiful revolution in the world. In these usages lie the true essence of the authenticity of my revolution and of its right to continue forward. The USSR, with all its rockets, oil and economic development, stopped being a revolution, signing its own death warrant.

The cornerstones of a socialist revolution are internationalism and the social (class) struggle without quarter.

III. Internationalism in the development of the Cuban nation

To understand the bond that exists between the Cuban socialist revolution and internationalism we arrive at a happy paradox: A universal outlook and social justice have been cornerstones in the formation of the Cuban nation.

Contrary to a significant number of countries, Cuba based itself as a country in being a melting pot of Spanish immigrants and African Negroes who, as journalist Marta Rojas pointed out to me, when they arrived in this land they lost their individual identity (the Galicians, Basques, etc) and were only Spaniards or perhaps “Gallegos.” The “blacks” brought by the slave boats were simply referred to by that term, leaving behind the tribes and geographic regions that they belonged to. The noted Cuban writer, Alejo Carpentier, winner of the Cervantes literature prize, concluded, “We Cubans were born on the boats.”

In this manner, the Cuban nation, perhaps hidden by a love for the Homeland, has its roots in two other continents with the flavor offered by American lands. In our origin, to begin with and in a very short time, three continents blended. This union becomes the substrate of our identity shaped by an exceptional anti-imperialism:

From the beginning of the wars for Independence, Antonio Maceo, military leader in the liberation wars against Spain, amazingly expressed that the only way he would be found fighting on the side of the Spaniards would be if the United States tried to take over Cuba. He knew intuitively who, in the long run, would prove to be the real enemy without having to study socio-political treatises.

Máximo Gómez, supreme military head of the second war of liberation in 1985 was not a Cuban but a Dominican. He was respected and accepted without ever having to show his passport even once.

But Cuba’s internationalist character has not had a higher projection than in the figure of José Martí. Revolutionaries all over the world still owe this man careful study of his work if we really want to understand the still controversial transition from the 19th to 20th centuries.

It wasn’t precisely Lenin or Trotsky who said in 1895:

“Every day I am faced with giving my life for my country and my duty, to prevent in time with Cuban independence the United States from spreading itself across the Antilles thereby falling with that additional strength on our lands of the Americas.”

That was José Martí. His duty went beyond the independence of the island.

Days before writing those words, he confessed: “But now, I can serve this single heart of our republics. The free Antilles will save the independence of our America, and the already doubtful and damaged honor of North America, and may, perhaps, accelerate and set the equilibrium of the world (...).”

Addressing a Dominican friend who wanted him to speak about Santo Domingo he says: “Of the Dominican Republic...why should I speak? Is it a different thing from Cuba? Aren’t you a Cuban? And what am I, what land ties me down?”

José Martí made his ideal of internationalism the ultimate goal of Cuban independence. He had the opportunity to get to know the United States well, and in his poetic and elevated language described nascent imperialism better than any other being. (That’s how I see it.)

That is why the second stage of the struggle, the revolution of the 1930s, where the young people, in addition to fighting the tyrant, Machado, had another front that was based on internationalist ideals: the Spanish republic. When the government of the moment did not allow a ship from the young soviet republic to dock, Julio Antonio Mella ( of whom Fidel said that this was the Cuban who had done the most in the least time and was the founder of the first Communist Party) took a boat and, representing the Cuban people, reached the ship and joined in brotherhood with all the crew. This young man, incidentally, was expelled from the party he founded. At the time, it was still possible to talk of the International and it restored his membership. He died murdered in Mexico. Dying, he did not mumble some jingoistic slogan but passed into immortality saying, “I die for the Revolution.”

Fidel Castro’s revolution also marched along the road of the world. In a letter written to Celia Sánchez in 1958, Fidel confessed: “When this war is over another longer and greater war is ahead: the war I am going to fight against them (the Yankees). I am aware of what is going to be my true fate. After 45 years, we are amazed to observe that he has kept his word.

And, of course, we still have the image of Che, the classic symbol of true internationalism. Che abandoned his family, responsibility, honors to fight in other lands that “call for the help of my modest efforts.”

I know a close friend of Che who commented to him the incredible acceptance of the independence fighters to accept Máximo Gómez, a Dominican, as head of the general staff. This comrade relates that Che looked at him with half a smile. Only then did the comrade realize he was talking to an Argentinean. Che did not have the same experience in Bolivia. On the other hand, I do not believe that there has been a better example of the rigorous application of the permanent revolution.

These are just a few examples.

Social Justice: the other cornerstone of the Cuban nation

Our war of independence was belated in comparison to the other American nations. This allowed, however, the leaders to mature in the experiences of European revolutions and put forth very advanced and radical principles in what was supposedly a mere war for independence. Contrary to what occurred with the Declaration of Independence of the United States in 1776, that omitted the principle of abolishing slavery, which would cost that country another war in the following century, the insurrection for the liberty of Cuba is proclaimed together with the abolition of slavery. They were two arms of the same body and neither was possible without the other. In fact, landowner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes frees his slaves and invites them to fight for liberty as equals.

When, after 10 years of war, the Spaniards manage to impose the signing of the Zanjón pact, Antonio Maceo reproaches the Spanish officer that is supposed to convince him to join the surrender even though the pact does not provide for the abolition of slavery, and that for that reason as well as others he would continue to fight. At the end of the meeting, Martinez Campos says, “Then we don’t understand each other” to which Maceo responds: “No, we do not.”

José Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892. I insist that his contribution to universal politics and philosophy are a continuing subject for those of us who try to understand the course of history. The basis of this Party goes beyond the mere independence of the island. Its projection, its internal organization put it in the category of a party of a new type. Its main recruiting ground was the working class! (Tobacco workers in exile). It was founded before Lenin’s Party. The differences between Europe and America will make the superficial reader see incompatible points between the two. For the careful and patient reader, absolute and common truths will be revealed mysteriously. This revolutionary Party would give birth to the Cuban Communist Party 30 years later. Carlos Baliño was a founder of both, and knew that they were one and the same thing.

It would be redundant to talk about the vocation for social justice of the revolution that Fidel Castro leads as simply one more detail. To be analyzed in greater depth is the manifesto, “History Will Absolve Me.” This is Fidel’s defense after the attack on the Moncada Garrison. I still cannot understand how imperialism failed to see that this was an authentically communist document. The social problems are highlighted and a class profile of the Cuban people made that would leave breathless the most orthodox socialist anywhere in the world. This document was written 50 years ago and still maintains its freshness and most demanding logical order. Six years later, against all predictions, joining in its spirit social justice and internationalism, a profoundly socialist revolution triumphs under the very noses of imperialism, as someone once said.

Final notes

In Che’s farewell letter to Fidel he points out that the most sacred duty was to fight imperialism where ever it may be. Imperialism is very close to us. That is why simply by existing Cuba makes its greatest contribution to the cause of universal socialism. Don’t be misled. I do not think that the Cuban revolution is immortal, per se. I believe we have made serious mistakes. In fact, in 1986, Fidel calls for a “Rectification of errors and negative tendencies,” against the bureaucracy and other problems, pushing society forward with more verve. This was before the cheap jargon of Gorbachev about perestroika and glasnost. You just have to see where these types have ended up. It would be interesting to analyze who they were heirs to.

As dialectics teaches us through unity and the clash of opposites, the counterrevolution is an entity that grows in the shadow and is waiting for the first misstep. I doubt that any country has such a hostile exile community as ours. Our only way is to be ever more radical, more consistent with our vitality, which has been internationalism and social justice. Any attempt at congruence with imperialism (note that I separate from this the noble people of the United States, with whom we must has an ever increasing relationship) would be a step back on our road. Because the revolution has no end; we already know what an old and forgotten comrade pointed out, the revolution is permanent.

On the world stage there is a new and unprecedented revolutionary situation. The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is just that: a Revolution. Chavez unceasingly talks about Latin American unity. Chavez’s revolution will be safe as long as it becomes ever more radical and does not compromise with the enemy.

Trotsky also dreamed of this unity while in Mexico. It is a shame that Stalin did not let him live. No matter. His breath (although many hold deep prejudices) will be in revolutions that will arise sooner or later. We will take him up from this silence and make him be seen, without considering him a terrorist. A strange thing, that: the imperialists and the Stalinists were in agreement in calling him a terrorist. A point in our favor.

The advantage Cuba may have had is that she carries in her marrow two of the most important bastions against socialism in one country. Fidel is not a biological accident. Fidel is, just like Martí, a product of all the elements that form us as a nation. The Cuban revolution can be eternal if it continues to be a revolution; projecting itself and living for the world and for the dispossessed. It will die out without pity in its history the day it decides to stop and to try to become a completed republic.

Workers of the World Unite!

Celia Hart is a long-time activist and leader of the Cuban Communist Party. She is daughter of Armando Hart and Haydee Santamaria, both of them historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution.

Translation by Ana Portela, from the edition in Spanish of TRIcontinental, May 2004.

Web preparation: Walter Lippmann. Walter Lippmann, first brought this report to our attention. It originally appeared on his website, (www.walterlippmann.com), on June 11, 2004

1 Mercader was the man Stalin sent to assassinate his most effective opponent, Leon Trotsky. Pretending to be a supporter of the Left Opposition, Mercader (or “Jackson,” his pseudonym) managed to be alone with the exiled leader of the Russian Revolution long enough to drive a pick-axe into his brain at his home in Coyoacan Mexico on August 20, 1940.





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