Raul Castro and the ruins of the Cuban state capitalist national project

18 April, 2021

Raul Castro at the opening yesterday of the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.
Raul Castro at the opening yesterday of the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Raúl Castro has announced his upcoming retirement at the age of 89, 62 years after the M26J guerrillas entered Havana and 60 years after Fidel Castro proclaimed Cuba’s entry into the Russian bloc. The retirement of the last active commander of Sierra Maestra from the political leadership of the Cuban ruling class occurs in the midst of the latest acceleration of the agonizing and perennial crisis of a national capital in ruins.

In this article

What was the Cuban revolution

General Strike of April 9, 1958.
General Strike of April 9, 1958.

At the end of the 1950s Cuba shows all the signs of crisis characteristic of a semi-colonial country. There are massive worker movements and a growing agitation of the petty bourgeoisie which adopts a nationalist discourse in continuity with that of the recent independence. Among these nationalist petty bourgeois groups is the M26J (Movimiento 26 de Julio) of the Fidel and Raúl Castro brothers, which initiated an attempt of conquest in the highlands.

Militarily they have little or nothing to do – at their peak they have barely 800 armed members – but hidden in the mountains and more or less supported by the guajiros (smallholders in subsistence agriculture), they become a symbol of the impotence of the government. Especially after Paris Match magazine publishes a photographic report and the US press begins to recount their wanderings as a romantic legend.

The workers’ movements are shepherded and disoriented by the unions and the left-wing parties, but nevertheless, on several occasions they overflow the framing and manage to occupy refineries, factories and sugar mills… A workers’ movement without its own goals or mass organization had no immediate options, but it was equally threatening to capital. So, from the spring of 1958, in view of the incompetence of the traditional political opposition, the idea of giving an opportunity to the M26J of the brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro will win over most of the Cuban bourgeoisie. Even the Bacardí family supported the M26J at the moment.

Castroism in the Cuban revolution

Castro proclaimed victory on January 1, 1959, the founding moment of the regime created by Fidel and Raúl Castro
Castro proclaimed victory on January 1, 1959, the founding moment of the regime created by Fidel and Raúl Castro

Fidel Castro will not disappoint. In the midst of the political collapse of the regime during Christmas ’58, he takes advantage of the disbandment of government and army cadres and his forces take Santiago and Santa Clara, leaving open the road to Havana.

As soon as he takes power, Fidel sends his troops to disarm the workers who keep occupying refineries and sugar mills and put them, by means of bayonet, back to work. In order to take control, he formally nationalizes them. From then on a tug-of-war with the affected part of the national bourgeoisie and its partners in the U.S. begins.

This tug-of-war will be resolved two years later with the incorporation into the Russian bloc and the adoption of the structures and rituals of stalinist state capitalism. The M26J will absorb other similar groups and official stalinism to re-found the Cuban Communist Party (Stalinist) as aParty-State and militarize production from top to bottom.

The powerlessness of the semi-colonial countries’ nationalist petty bourgeoisie to make its own national capital independent -the much touted national liberation – of one bloc without joining another one was once again proven. But there is also the hackneyed recourse of calling socialism what is nothing more than the nationalization of the productive apparatus in a context of political totalitarianism.

Where the ideology of the Fidel and Raúl Castro brothers was at least half sincere was in their patriotism, that is, in openly and constantly defending that their mission was to revive and rescue, on the basis of state concentration and centralization, a failed national capital.

For this national project, certainly in line with the Cuban independence fighters of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the old bourgeoisie was to be expropriated and replaced by a petty bourgeoisie reconverted into a managerial bureaucracy through the party-nation -which is how the Castroist PCC literally defines itself. And of course, the workers had to sacrifice themselves -quite often literally- in all fields, from daily meals to the imperialist adventures in Angola or Ethiopia.

The truth? Cuba never ceased to be a semi-colonial capitalism whose main international demand, to which it called on the internationalists of the world to support, was that… the U.S. should open its market and buy sugar, rum, tobacco and nickel from Cuba. Odd slogan not only for a non-existent socialism but even for a national capital which proudly proclaimed its capacity for independent development. Confession in reality that this assertion of independence was false and in fact utopian because impossible.

The castristas love to portray themselves as the culmination of a historical series opened by Martí and Maceo which adds Fidel Castro as its latest figurehead. In coherence they recount the Cuban Revolution as a single nationalist movement of which they would be the last installment. They are right. They are the last installment of a long and increasingly anti-human and anti-historical failure: that of Cuban national capital.

Read also: The Cuban Revolution and Castroism (in Spanish), 7/11/2019

The Cuban slippery slope today

Historical Cuban sugar production from 1900 to 2011.
Historical Cuban sugar production from 1900 to 2011.

In 2018 with the passing of powers to Díaz-Canel and the launching of the process of drafting a new constitution, the Cuban bureaucracy began a shift that prepared the search for new imperialist patrons in China and Europe of that concentrated economic power in the military. But in 2019 the Venezuelan collapse had already eaten up the deadlines sketched by the castroist bureaucracy, food and fuel shortages became dramatic. By the end of 2020, the situation was unsustainable and the regime opted to make the currency convertible effectively entering a new special period in which shortages multiplied to widespread hunger.

And in the midst of that came the Covid and with restrictions spreading around the world, the fall of the few exports that were still standing and the collapse of the tourist business.

Raúl Castro’s farewell 62 years later

Image of Raúl Castro announcing his retirement at the 8th PCC Congress.
Image of Raúl Castro announcing his retirement at the 8th PCC Congress

The announcement of Raúl Castro’s retirement comes as part of the self-styled Congress of Historical Continuity. Raúl Castro, last of the Sierra Maestra commanders at the top of the state opened the congress with a report in which the most important thing was to remark that the three commissions of the congress would be led by three men of the new generation: the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero -economic situation-; Castro’s next successor at the head of the Central Committee, José Ramón Machado -social control and capacity to frame the party-; and the President, Miguel Díaz-Canel -cohesion, co-optation and discipline of the cadres.

The three axes and how they are distributed are significant: economy for the prime minister, social control for the head of the party and cohesion of the ruling class for the President of the Republic. Especially because this Congress is insisting more than any other before that the PCC is the party-nation, the party outside whose limits the consequences would be irreversible and would lead to strategic errors and to the very destruction of socialism and therefore of national sovereignty and independence.

The Cuban ruling class with Raúl Castro at its head is more defensive than it had been since the special period that followed the collapse of aid received from COMECON in the early 1990s. So, in the midst of a situation of economic collapse and productive devastation, it rehearses a new entrenchment by moving to the front line the generation of bureaucrats who have the most to lose. The goal: to embark with redoubled fury to seek imperialist alliances by selling… labor at Bangladeshi-level wages.

Raúl Castro and Díaz Canel visit a Vietnamese-owned diaper factory in the "special zone" of Mariel.
Raúl Castro and Díaz Canel visit a Vietnamese-owned diaper factory in the “special zone” of Mariel.

Raúl Castro was explicit: the new model is that of the special economic zones like the one in Mariel.

It is time to erase from our minds past prejudices associated with foreign investment and ensure a correct preparation and design of new businesses with the participation of foreign capital. Proof of this are the results achieved in the Mariel Special Development Zone, which has become an important pole of attraction for foreign and domestic investors who enjoy impressive infrastructures.

We don’t know what those prejudices are supposed to be, because neither Fidel nor Raúl Castro nor the Cuban bureaucracy ever hesitated when it came to repressing the workers nor when it came to tightening their grip on exploitation. It is not for nothing that today their speeches are less believable than the patriotic videos of the millionaires disguised as lumpen coming from abroad.

The fact is that international capital is called to participate in the celebration of aggravated conditions of exploitation of labor. Raúl Castro made it quite clear amidst the swamp of bureaucratic expressions in his speech. For Castro there are…

…structural problems of the economic model that fails to provide sufficient incentives for work and innovation. […So] we have to get used to living with what we have and not pretend to spend more than what we are able to generate in income. […And give] a real turnaround in mentality in order to defend the increase of national production, especially of food, banish the harmful habit of importing it, and generate diversified and competitive exports.

Let’s translate. Complaining about the lack of incentives to work means forgetting about pensions – which became less than nothing with convertibility – and the few labor protections still in place. The scolding for spending more than we have means that a new almost total restriction of imports is coming… in a country that imports a good part of the basic necessities and in which basic consumption only arrive sometimes and thanks to foreign trade.

What is the reformist message so much liked by the same European press which compliments Raúl Castro? Directing even more productive resources to exports – from state-owned enterprises or foreign capital in special zones – and giving a resurgent petty bourgeoisie the opportunity to organize small businesses in over 2000 different new fields to take advantage of surplus labor.

Anything goes to revive an agonizing semi-colonial capitalism… except loosening control of most of the national capital secured by the bureaucracy through state ownership. Therein lies its limit.

As far as we are concerned, however, there is no limit. For the workers Raúl Castro and his epigones, standing on the ruins of a razed productive apparatus, repeat once again their favorite slogan, the global anthem of a bourgeoisie against human needs: work more, consume even less.