To what extent is our assessment of the early years of the Cuban Revolution still relevant to the Cuba of the late 0960s ans the 1970s? Have there been significant changes, not in minor respects, but in the general DIRECTION of the Revolution?
Between 1966 and 1970 the Cuban leaders attemted to steer the Revolution in another direction. In accordance with the ideas of Che Guevara, they decided to begin building the new communist society; gradually do azway with money and the money economy; distribute goods and services according to the essential principle of communism, “From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs,” and in the process, form the “New Man.” The “New Socialist Man” is a self-sacrificing idealist who willingly and gladly works not for his private gain, but for the welfare of society. Strongly animated by moral-ethical incentives, the “New Man” does not have to be compelled to fulfill his obligations by the authoritarian decrees of a dictatorial government.
Castro declared that: “ the great task of the Revolution is basically the task of forming the New Socialist Man the man of a truly revolutionary consciousness” (speech in Las Villas, July 26, 1968) The Cuban rulers even boasted that in respect to the building of comunism (distribution, revoutionary consciousness of the people, equalization of income, etc.) Cuba was far ahead of the Soviet Union.
But all attempts to institute socialism by decree, as Bakunin foresaw over a century ago, leads inevitably to the enslavement of the people by the authoritarian State. Their attempt to build communism failed because the “new socialist man” can be formed only within the context of a new and free society, based not upon compulsion, but upon voluntary cooperation. The attempt failed because it was not implemented by thoroughgoing libertarian changes in the authoritarian structure of Cuban society. Communization and forming “the new man” actually camouflaged the militarization of Cuba. Castro made this clear:
“today I can see an immense army, the army of a highly organized, disciplined and enthusiastic nation ready to fulfill whatever task is set” In his speech of August 23, 1968, Castro announced his decision to militarize the whole island and give absolute priority to the economic battle – and to achieve this, the absolute need for a dictatorship of the proletariat exercised by the Communist Party (see K.S. Karol; Guerillas in Power; New York, 1970, p. 447-448, 528).
The “communization” turned out to be a cruel hoax. It took on the familiar characteristics of typical totalitarian regimes. This stage of the Cuban Revolution has been correctly identified as the “Mini-Stalin Era.” Moulding the “New Man” according to totalitarian specifications connotes the process of training people to become obedient serfs ot the state: and moral incentives becomes a device to enlist the participation of the masses in their own enslavement. To their everlasting credit the workers resisted:
“a wave of sabotage beset the country’s economy. Saboteurs burned a tannery in l.as Villas Province, a leather store in Havana, a chicken-feed factory in Santiago, a chemical fertilizer depot in Manzanillo, a provincial store belonging to the Ministry of Internal Commerce in Camaguey, and so on Castro also gave a long list of acts of sabotage in schools and on building sites” (Karol; ibid. p 447
The resistance of the people in addition to the suicidal economic adventures of the dictatorship hastened the collapse of Guevara’s scheme.
Since 1968, when Castro endorsed the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the USSR has increasingly dominated Cuban affairs. The Cuban economy has been even more closely integrated into the Coviet orbit since Cuba in 1972 joined the Comecon (Council for Economic Assistance – eight-nation Russian controlled economic trading bloc).
The extent of Cuba’s absolute dependence on Russian economic support can be gauged by the increase of Cuba’”s trade with Russia which in 1972 reached 72% - about the same percentage of trade a with the United States in the 1950s. Assording to Vladimir Novikov, Vice-President of the UUSR Council of Ministers, trade between Russia and Cuba in 1970 amounted to three billion rubles a year or about three and a half million dollars a day; an increase of 60% in four yeras. (see Carmelo Meas-Lago; Cuba in the 1970s – University of New Mexico, 1974, pp.9-11)
Under the terms of the economic agreement between Russia and Cuba, “ the Cubans committed themselves to accepting Russian advice and planning of key industries for three years (1973 to 1975, inclusive) .. Russia agreed to construct two new textile plants, a new nickel and cobalt combine with a capacity of 30,000 tons a year, thermo-nuclear plants, a railroad line between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, a factory to rnake reinforced concrete, reconstruction of Cuban ports, a new television and radio factory, etc. etc. (Herbert Matthews, Revolution in Cuba; New York, 1975, p. 398, 399)
Russian military aid has turned Cuba into one of the most formidable military powers in Latin America. In 1970, Cuba reccivcd “ one and a half billion dollars of direct military aid from Russia - double the amount of United States military aid to the rest of Latin America. . . (Juan de Onis, report to the New York Times; May 10, 1970). Through a joint Soviet-Cuban Commission, the USSR not only supervises its military and economic shipments to Cuba, but also exercises de facto control of the Cuban economy.
It is this dependence which accounts for Castro’s conversion to Marxism-Leninism. His brazen hypocrisy transcends all respect for truth. Even Herbert Matthews, one of Castro s staunchest admirers, is outraged!
“openly critical of the Kremlin’s [policy of] ‘peaceful coexistence’ by 1973 he was brazenly asserting that even the attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba twenty years before (1953) was an example of Marxism-Leninism [Matthews quotes Castro] without the extraordinary scientific discoveries of Marx and Engels, and without the inspired interpretation of Lenin and his prodigious historic feat [conquest of power in Russian Revolution] a 26th of July could not have been conceived of [Speech on the 20th anniversary of the Moncada attack]
“this factually was pure nonsense. There was only one Communist in the 1953 attack and he is a political accident. None of the participants could have given a thought to Marx, Engels or Lenin, least of all Fidel. Castro was rewriting history to suit political needs (ibid. P. 390)
Castro's unrestrained flattery of his Russian saviors, rivals the praise heaped upon Stalin by his idolatrous sycophants. A front page featured report of Brezhnev's visit to a new vocational school under the headline: BREZHNEV INAUGURATES V I. LENIN VOCATIONAL SCHOOL, reads:
'Dear Comrade Brezhnev: During whole months the teachers, workers, students and students of this school and the construction workers were preparing for your visit.. .'
'WE WELCOME YOU WITH THE GREAT AFFECTION YOU DESERVE AS GENERAL-SECRETARY OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE GLORIOUS PARTY OF THE SOVIET UNION. . . ' APPLAUSE!
'It's a great honor and a reason for deep joy and satisfaction for all of us that this school bearing LENIN'S BRIGHT AND GLORIOUS NAME should be inaugurated by you, who now occupies his distinguished place in the Communist Party of The Soviet Union. (APPLAUSE)
'ETERNAL GLORY TO VLADIMIR ILYIICH LENIN!' (APPLAUSE!) 'LONG LIVE THE INDESTRUCTIBLE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN CUBA AND THE SOVIET UNION '' (APPLAUSE AND SHOUTS OF 'LONG MAY IT LIVE!)
PATRIA O MUERTE!
²VENCEREMOS! (SHOUTS OF: 'VENCEREMOS'')
(GRANMA February 10, 1974)
It is axiomatic that relations between states are not guided by ethical moral considerations. To promote their interests states do not hesitate to resort to the most revolting treachery and hypocricy. The conduct of the Cuban government confirms this universally acknowledged fact. Castro established friendly relations with Franco-fascist Spain. Maurice Halperin remarks that:
“in 1963 mutual economic benefits proved stronger than ideology ..and by the end of the year all references to 'fascist Spain' disappeared from the Cuban media trade between Cuba and Spail increased from eleven million dollars in 1962 to approximately one hundred and three million dollars in 1966 - making Spain Cuba's third most important trading partner' (ibid p. 304) Castro went so far as to agree in 1971 in a trade agreement with Spain to pay Spain for all expropriated Spanish owned property nationalized by Cuba. (see Matthews, p. 405)
The economic expert on Cuba, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, concludes that 'agriculture, especially sugar, the backbone of the Cuban economy, has had a discouragingly bad performance under the Revolution since 1961 according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) total agricultural output in 1969 was 7% below that of 1958 (before the Revolution). (Cuba in the 1970s; University of New Mexico, 1974, p.56)
Even Dumont, the distinguished agronomist, after recalling that Castro boasted that Oriente Province would be producing 1.3 million litres of milk daily by 1969 reversed this optimistic prediction and admitted in his 26th of July, 1970, speech that 'in the first half of 1970 milk production decreased by 25%. In 1968 beef deliveries were 154,000 tons -for 1970, deliveries decreased to 145,000 tons; and Castro declared that we may end up with a further decline in livestock. . . ' (Is Cuba Socialist? New York, 1972 pp. 90 - 142) (The economist Lowery Nelson calculates that yearly per-capita meat consumption fell from seventy pounds in 1958 to only 38 pounds in 1972. See Matthews, ibid p. 367.)
Cubans have been living on a severely restricted diet since rationing of foodstuffs and other necessities was introduced in 1962. Dumont severely castigates the Castro regime for this tragic situation. He deserves to be quoted at length:
'given its fertile land, its level of technique, its tractors, its fertilizers -all infinitely superior to China's resources“there is no reason for Cuba's failure to end shortages of fruits and vegetables that have been going on since 1961 neglect of people's needs for food amounts to contempt (ibid. p. 142)
'instead of the green belt for Havana, I had proposed in 1960 (to make the city practically self-sustaining in fruits, vegetables, etc.) in 1969, the peasants forced to plant only sugar cane or coffee, who had formerly suppled the city, now became consumers instead of providers of food the vegetable and fruit crop for Havana Province decreased from 90,000 tons in 1967 to 70,000 tons in 1970' (ibid. p. 67)
“in 1969 Castro promised: 'We'll have so many bananas, that we won’t sell them to you. We’ll GIVE them to you.’ But I saw mile upon mile of banana plantations where the trees were dying because they were platned in poorly drained soil the average peasant would have avoided this gross error there were only enough bananas for ill people and children no one could buy a single banana; and this in a land where bananas were not a luxury, but a daily staple preferred to bread (ibid. p. 90)
'. . . Everywhere, from Bayamo to Havana, vegetables, fruits and clothing disappeared from the stores shortages which had been bearable until then became shocking and dramatic' [Dumont attributes much of the shortages and lack of services to the abolition of small shops and severe curtailment of small peasant holdings] when the last small shops and various services went, an important supplementary food source disappeared, because State production [nationalization] was unable to replace it. That meant that food was in short supply' (ibid. p. 63)
According to Joe Nicholson, Jr., (Inside Cuba: New York, 1974, p. 33) the 1974 monthly ration for each person was 6 pounds of rice, 3 pounds of meat, 3 pounds of beans, 2 pounds of spaghetti, 1½ pounds of noodles, I pound of salt, 12 ounces of flour, 6 ounces of coffee, 15 eggs, 3 containers of canned milk (fresh milk only for children and the aged). Even sugar was rationed to only four pounds per month per person! (According to an announcement monitored on Miami Radio Dec. 1975, sugar is to be removed from the rationing list.)
There is no doubt that Castro together with his amateur economic adventurers are directly responsible for the continuing deterioration of the Cuban economy. Their grandiose and impossible 1970 ten million ton sugar goal turned out to be a major catastrophe. Almost the entire working population (including students and others not engaged directly in production) were mobilized in military fashion to work in the cane fields. ''many essential activities' (writes Maurice Halperin) 'were brought to a standstill this economic nightmare set back the entire economy to its lowest point since the Revolution (Jan. 1, 1959 the economy held up only because of massive Russian subsidies ' (Rise and Decline of Fidel Castro; University of California, 1972, p. 316)
Taking full responsibility for this debacle, Castro in a major speech (July 26, 1970) admitted that;
'our incapacity in the overall work of the Revolution -especially rnine our apprenticeship as directors of the Revolution was too costly. . . ' (quoted Rene'Dumont; ibid. p. 152)
On the extent of waste, inefficiency and mismanagement there is voluminous documentation - a few examples:
“50.000 tractors imported since 1959 were used for all sorts of non-productive purposes driving to baseball games visiting relatives, etc. Castro said, ‘the former owner of a private business had a tractor. It lasted twenty years. But later, when ownershipo passed to the state, a tractor lasted only two, three, or maybe four years”
imported equipment lay unutilized for years rusting on the docks because the building to house the equipment had not been constructed in 1971, 120 million cubic yards of water were lost in Havana alone because of a neglect of maintenance of the waterpipe system President of Cuba Dorticós reported in early 1972 that out of 3000 locomotives only 134 were working a time-loss study published in 1970 revealed that from ¼ to ½ of the workday were wasted in late 1973, Raul Castro said that it was common in state farms that labor costs alone exceeded value of production on one state farm the annual wage bill was $48,000 while the value of output was $8,000
(Mesa-lago; ibid. Pp.33, 34, 37
To illustrate the bureaucratic maze choking the Cuban economy, Rene Dumont reveals: “that in Cuba the exportation of a single case of vegetables involves authorizations for packing, refrigeration, as well as loading this requires the coordination of thirteen government bureas – none of them in a hurry” (Ibid. P. 90.)
Even the pro-Castro economists, Huberman and Sweezy, deplored the bureaucratic structure of the Cuban economy, citing the major agrarian economic agency INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Retorm) as an example:
coordination was difficult, often impossible the situation was no better industry. Having all industry under the centralized control of one agency in Havana could not be but an unwieldy and inefficient arrangement
(Socialism in Cuba; New York, 1969, pp. 82-83)
According to incomplete, scanty data gathered by Mesa-Lago, industrial production declined in 1969-1970. It improved in 1972: 48% in steel; 28% in beverages; 11% in fishing; 44% in building materials; 41% in salt; 200% in refrigeration, etc. There were also increases in the production of telephone wire, glass containers, plastics, cosmetics and great increases in nickel and copper production. Overall production increased 14% in 1972 and 15% in the first nine months of 1973.
Information about thc ecorlomic sittlation in Cuba is, as Mesa-Lago puts it, 'necessarily fragmentarythere are no accurate statistical data - and in many areas, none at all-' Claims by Castro and official Cuban sources concerning the extent of Cuba's economic progress cannot be verified and 'must be taken very cautiously' (All above data, Mesa-Lago; ibid. pp. 52-60) Rene'Dumont also complains that “the organization of Cuba's economy is such that it has become all but impossible to obtain reliable data' (Is Cuba Socialist?; p. 71)
Castro is not overly optimistic about the rate of Cuba’s future economic progress. He cautions the people not to expect spectacular increases in product ton:
the objectives of our people in the material field cannot be very ambitious we should work in the next ten years to advance our economy at an average annual rate of 6%. (quoted, Mesa Lago; ibid. p. 59).
In view of Castro's record of fantastically exaggerated claims and broken promises, the prospects for a significant betterment of the standard of living of the Cuban masses are indeed dim.
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