“What does ‘unconditional’ defense of the USSR mean? It means that we do not lay any conditions upon the bureaucracy. It means that independently of the motive and causes of the war we defend the social basis of the USSR, if it is menaced by danger on the part of imperialism.” –Leon Trotsky, Again and Once More Again on the Nature of the USSR.
The demonstrations in Cuba present a strategic challenge for the left, especially the Latin American left. The defense of Cuba against imperialism is a question of principles. The project of overturning the Cuban government is counterrevolutionary. The restoration of capitalism would be brutal, Cuba would be recolonized and transformed, in practice, into a U.S. protectorate, like Puerto Rico.
Even as Cuba struggles against the times, it has excited the world with scientific achievements such as the independent development of vaccines against the coronavirus. A favorable shift in the Latin American context would lessen its isolation. And this will depend, to a large extent, on the outcome of the fight against Bolsonaro and the possibility of a left government here in Brazil.
Social misery has increased and is making life ever more difficult on the island. But the reasons compelling people into the streets, even when they are legitimate and comprehensible, are not a sufficient factor for characterizing mobilizations as progressive. Being on the left does not mean we have to support any and all mobilization.
There are four criteria used in the Marxist tradition to judge the character of a protest, revolt, or uprising: what are its demands or program, what is the social agent, who forms its political subject, and what are the probable outcomes.
The very popular and, nevertheless, one-sided idea that a mobilization must be progressive if its demands are just and the social agents are from the popular sector (that is, they form part of the people) even if the leadership is reactionary does have, at times, a kernel of truth, but ignoring the probable outcomes is mistaken. This is simply objectivism. Objectivism is the devaluing of the role of leadership and dismissal of the results or related outcomes.
The demonstrations in Cuba cannot be understood without reference to the nucleus of social networks linked to the bourgeois diaspora and its satellites in Florida. Although the protests appear, on the surface, leaderless, they follow a plan to ignite a popular explosion and overthrow the government.
More than a year of pandemic has produced an estimated 10% decline in the GDP and the health crisis has reduced tourism to nil, aggravating scarcity of real currency (dollars and Euros) essential for the financing of imports and control of inflation.
The economic package (Tarea Ordenamiento) announced by the Cuban government in December of last year carried out a monetary reform that unified the two currencies in circulation, strengthened incentives for small businesses (of which a half a million micro-enterprises are already operating), reduced popular consumption subsidies, promoted more favorable conditions for opening up to foreign investment, and increased the price of basic necessities. It also included wage increases of up to 500% to contain rising social inequality. All this must be analyzed and criticized in the context of the historic blockade imposed by the US embargo.
Defending Cuba against interference and pressure from imperialism does not mean defending, uncritically, the positions and actions of the government of the Communist Party led by Diaz-Canal. On the contrary, an attitude of honest socialist internationalism must be critical, both in strategic and tactical terms. Which means that those who defend the revolution must be able to exercise the democratic right of expression. There exists a generational fracture in Cuba. The imprisonment of Frank Garcia and his three young comrades, all publicly well-known revolutionary Trotstkyist militants, exemplifies this divide and is unacceptable.
The Cuban bourgeoisie in the United States is much stronger today that it was during the epoch of the revolution 1959-1961. It now forms a fraction of the Yankee ruling class, the most powerful in the world. Unlike, for instance, the diaspora of Chinese capitalists, it has rejected any negotiations with Cuba and unreservedly supports continuing the blockade. Having ruled out a military strategy aimed at civil war, it has opted for a cruel, slow, and inflexible economic strangulation designed to foment a social crisis with no way out.
This, too, is Washington’s strategy. The recent vote against the embargo in the UN General Assembly confirmed that the US, while not backing down, is isolated and can count only on the pathetic support of Israel… and now Brazil and the Ukraine. The world order has been structured, at least during the last hundred years, as an imperialist order; however, it does not follow that there is a “world government.” There are cracks, gaps, and tensions.
Capitalism has not managed to overcome the national borders of its imperialist states and, therefore, there remain rivalries between the bourgeoisies of the most powerful countries over economic zones and the arbitration of political conflicts. Europe and Japan do not unconditionally follow Washington with respect to Cuba because they are aware that the danger of civil war in Cuba carries with it the risk of a worldwide wave of solidarity, even including possibility of internationalist brigades joining the fight as they did during the Spanish civil war.
The hypothesis of a super-imperialism, discussed at the time of the Second International, that is, a fusion of the imperialist interests uniting the dominant states, has not come to pass. It is true that we are fighting against an imperialist order. But disputes remain between the bourgeoisies of each of the powers as well as conflicts between capitalist fractions within each country. Ultra-imperialism, at least until today, has never been more than a reactionary utopia.
This was so even during the post-war political-historical stage in the context of the so-called Cold War between 1945/1991. Then, capitalism suffered the shock wave of a powerful revolutionary wave that subverted the old colonial empires. The United States emerged with unequivocal political leadership, but even this supremacy did not negate the need for negotiation.
Conflicts between the US, Japan, and Western Europe led Washington, for example, to partially break with Bretton Woods in 1971 and suspend the fixed conversion of the dollar to gold, devaluing its currency to defend its domestic market and lower its exports. Competition between corporations and competition between core states has not been undone, although the degree to which they are manifested has fluctuated.
But it would be obtuse not to recognize that the bourgeoisies of the main imperialist countries managed to build a center in the international system of states after the almost total destruction of the Second World War. And that structure is still being expressed institutionally, thirty years after the end of the USSR, by the organizations established by the UN and the Bretton Woods system: the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, and, finally, the G7. The counterrevolution has learned from history.
At the center of power is the triad of the United States, the European Union, and Japan. The European Union and Japan have associated and complementary relationships with Washington, and they have accepted its superiority since the end of World War II. The change in the international historical scene in 1989/91 did not alter the triad’s role and, in particular, the place of the United States.
Although US leadership has waned, it still prevails based on the size of its economy, the weight of its domestic market, the attractiveness of the dollar as a reserve currency, its financial dominance, and its military superiority. Furthermore, more active political initiatives (compared to the Japan or the European Union) have allowed it, despite a tendency towards decline, to maintain its supremacy in the state system.
No state from the periphery has been accepted into the center of the state system in the last twenty-five years. Russia and China have preserved their political independence, although capitalism has been restored and they exercise a sub-imperialist role in their zones of influence. And now, China’s dynamics threatens North American hegemony.
But there have been changes in the insertion into the global system of various peripheral states. There are many “transitional forms of state dependence” in Lenin’s words. Some are more dependent and others less so. A process of recolonization prevailed after the 1980s, albeit with oscillations allowing us to identify a socio-historical dynamic in place since the 1990s. A dynamic running in the opposite direction from the one that prevailed after the defeat of Nazi-fascism when most of the former colonies on the periphery partially conquered political independence, although in the context of a semi-colonial condition.
The majority of states that gained their political independence in the anti-imperial wave of revolutions (in the 1960s and 1970s) after the Chinese and Cuban revolutions have since lost it: Algeria and Egypt in Africa and Nicaragua in Central America are two, among other, examples of the post-1991 historical regression.
There remain, however, a few independent governments. Venezuela, North Korea, Vietnam, and Iran, for instance, each with their own specificities.
But no other independent nation awakens solidarity like Cuba does. The next revolutionary wave on the continent will rescue the island from its isolation. Internationalism is the most beautiful of all banners.