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By: Samuel Farber, April 3, 2021


Author’s Note – This article originally appeared
in Spanish in
La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), one of the most important
critical blogs in the island, where the Internet remains the principal vehicle
for critical opinion because the government has not yet succeeded in
controlling it. The article elicited some strong reactions including that of a
former government minister who called it a provocation.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by the revolutionary government in
1921 was in fact an attempt to reduce the widespread discontent among the
Russian people with measures designed to increase production and popular access
to consumer goods. Even though the Civil War (1918-1920) caused great hardship
among the rural and urban populations, it was the politics of War Communism,
introduced by the Bolshevik government during that period, that significantly
worsened the situation. This led to a profound alienation among those who had
been the pillars of the October Revolution in 1917: the industrial workers, and
the peasantry that constituted 80 percent of the population.

In the countryside, the urban detachments, organized to confiscate from the
peasantry their agricultural surplus to feed the cities, ended up also
confiscating part of the already modest peasant diet in addition to the grain
needed to sow the next crop. The situation worsened when under the same policy
the government, based on an assumed class stratification in the countryside
that had no basis in reality, created the poor peasant committees (kombedy)
to reinforce the functions of the urban detachments. Given the arbitrary
informal and formal methods that characterized the operations of the kombedy,
these ended up being a source of corruption and abuse, frequently at the hands
of criminal elements active in them, who ended up appropriating for their own
use the grain and other kinds of goods they arbitrarily confiscated from the

Moreover, during the fall of 1920, symptoms of famine began to appear in the
Volga region. The situation became worse in 1921 after a severe drought ruined
the crops, which also affected the southern Urals. Leon Trotsky had proposed in
February 1920, to substitute the arbitrary confiscations of War Communism with
a tax in kind paid by the peasantry as an incentive to have them grow more
surplus grain. However, the party leadership rejected his proposal at that

The politics of War Communism was also applied to the urban and industrial
economy through its total nationalization, although without the democratic
control by the workers and the soviets, which the government abolished when the
civil war began and replaced with the exclusive control from above by state
administrators. Meantime, the workers were subjected to a regime of militarized
compulsory labor. For the majority of the Communist leaders, including Lenin,
the centralized and nationalized economy represented a great advance towards
socialism. That is why for Lenin, the NEP was a significant step back.
Apparently, in his conception of socialism, total nationalization played a more
important role than the democratic control of production from below.

The elimination of workplace democracy was only one aspect of the more general
clampdown on soviet democracy that the Bolshevik government launched in
response to the bloody and destructive civil war. Based on the objective
circumstances created by the war, and on the urgent need to resolve the
problems they were facing, like economic and political sabotage, the Bolshevik
leadership not only eliminated multiparty soviets of workers and peasants, but
also union democracy and independence, and introduced very serious restrictions
of   other political freedoms established at the beginning of the




The Situation in Cuba

Since the
decade of the nineties, and especially since Raúl Castro assumed the maximum
leadership of the country in 2006–formally in 2008 – economic reform has been
one of the  central concerns of  the government. The logic of that
economic reform points to the Sino-Vietnamese model–which combines an
anti-democratic one-party state with a state capitalist system in the
economy–and not to the compulsory collectivization of agriculture and the
five-year plans brutally imposed on the USSR by Stalinist totalitarianism after
the NEP. The Cuban government’s decision to authorize the creation of the PYMES
(small and medium private enterprises), a decision frequently promised but not
yet implemented, would constitute a very important step towards the establishment
of state capitalism in the island. This state capitalism will very probably be
headed by the current powerful political, and especially military, leaders who
would become private capitalists.

now, the Cuban government has not specified the size that would define the
small and especially the mid-size enterprises under the PYMES concept. But we
know that several Latin American countries (like Chile and Costa Rica) have
defined the size in terms of the number of workers. Chile, for example, defines
the micro enterprises as those with less than 9 workers, the small-size with 10
to 25 workers, the medium-size with 25 to 200 workers, and the big size with
more than 200 workers. Should Cuba adopt similar criteria, its mid-size
enterprises would end up as capitalist firms ran by their corresponding
administrative hierarchies. If that happens, it is certain that the official
unions will end up “organizing” the workers in those medium size enterprises
and, as in the case of Chinese state capitalism, do nothing to defend them from
the new private owners.

political reform, there has been much less talk and nothing of great importance
has been done. As in the case of the Russian NEP, the social and economic
liberalization in Cuba has not been accompanied by political democratization
but, instead, by the intensification of the regime’s political control over the
island. Even when the government has adopted liberalizing measures in the
economy, like the new rules increasing the number of work activities permitted
in the self-employed sector, it continues to ban private activities such as the
publication of books that could be used to develop criticism or opposition to
the regime. This is how the government has consolidated its control over the
major means of communication –radio, television, newspapers and magazines –
although it has only partially accomplished that with the Internet.

government is also using its own socially liberalizing measures to reinforce
its political control. For example, at the same time that it liberalized the
rules to travel abroad, it developed a list of “regulated” people who are
forbidden to travel outside of the island based on arbitrary administrative
decisions, without even allowing for the right of appeal to the judicial system
it controls. Similar administrative practices lacking in means for judicial
review control have been applied to other areas such as the missions organized
to provide services abroad. Thus, the Cuban doctors who have decided not to
return to the island once their service abroad has concluded, have been victims
of administrative sanctions – eight years of compulsory exile – without any
possibility of lodging a judicial appeal.

pending is the implementation of the arbitrary rules and the censorship of
artistic activities of Decree 349, that allows the state to grant licenses and
censor the activities of self-employed artists. The implementation of the
decree has been postponed due to the numerous and strong protests that it
provoked. All of these administrative practices highlight the fact that the
much discussed rule of law proclaimed by the Constitution is but a lie. Let us
not forget that the Soviet constitution that Stalin introduced in 1936 was very
democratic … on the paper it was written. Even so, Cubans in the island should
appeal to their constitutionally defined rights to support their protests and
claims against the Cuban state whenever it is legally and politically

At the
beginning of the Cuban revolutionary government there was a variety of
political voices heard within the revolutionary camp. But that disappeared in
the process of forming the united party of the revolution that established the
basis for what Raúl Castro later called the “monolithic unity” of the party and
country. That is the party and state model that emulates, along with China and
Vietnam, the Stalinist system that was consolidated in the USSR at the end of
the twenties, consecrating the “unanimity” dictated from above by the maximum
leaders, and the so-called “democratic centralism”, which in reality is a
bureaucratic centralism.

The Cuban
Communist Party (CCP) is a single party that does not allow the internal
organization of tendencies or factions, and that extends its control over the
whole society through its transmission belts with the so-called mass
organizations (trade unions, women’s organization), institutions such as the
universities, as well as with the mass media that follow the “orientations”
they receive from the Department of Ideology of the Central Committee of the
CCP. These are the ways in which the one-party state controls, not necessarily
everything, but everything it considers important.

ideological defenders of the Cuban regime insist in its autochthonous origins
independent from Soviet Communism. It is true that Fidel Castro’s political
origin is different, for example, from that of Raúl Castro, who was originally
a member of the Socialist Youth associated with the PSP (Partido Socialista
Popular), the party of the pro-Moscow orthodox Communists. But  Fidel
Castro developed his “caudillo” conceptions since very early on, perhaps as a
reaction to the disorder and chaos he encountered in the Cayo Confites
expedition in which he participated against the Trujillo dictatorship in the
Dominican Republic in 1947, and with the so-called Bogotazo in Colombia in

In 1954,
in a letter he wrote to his then good friend Luis Conte Aguero, Fidel Castro
proclaimed three principles as necessary for the integration of a true civic
movement: ideology, discipline and especially the power of the leadership. He
also insisted in the necessity for a powerful and implacable propaganda and
organizational apparatus to destroy the people involved in the creation of
tendencies, splits and cliques or who rise against the movement. This was the
ideological basis of the “elective affinity” (to paraphrase Goethe) that Fidel
Castro showed later on for Soviet Communism.

So, what
can we do? The recent demonstration of hundreds of Cubans in front of the
Ministry of Culture to protest the abuses against the members of the San Isidro
Movement and to advocate for artistic and civil liberties, marked a milestone
in the history of the Cuban Revolution. There is plenty of room to reproduce
this type of peaceful protest in the streets against police racism, against the
tolerance of domestic violence, against the growing social inequality and
against the absence of a politically transparent democracy open to all, without
the privileges sanctioned by the Constitution for the CCP. At present, this
seems to be the road to struggle for the democratization of Cuba from below,
from the inside of society itself, and not from above or from the outside.

lesson of the Russian NEP is that economic liberalization does not necessarily
signify the democratization of a country, and that it may be accompanied by the
elimination of democracy. In Cuba there has been economic and social
liberalization but without any advance on the democratic front.