Orthodox Communism in Cuba

by Nick T., Jon DH., and Gizelle B.
1. Introduction- Orthodox Communism
2. Marx, Engels, and the Communist Manifesto
3. Soviet Russia 1917-1991
4. Cuban Economy
5. Cuban Government Structure and Political Party System
6. Cuban Society
7. Foreign Policy
8. Conclusion
9. Bibliography

1. Introduction- Orthodox Communism

The 2009 Random House dictionary has two definitions for communism. The first is: a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state. The second is: a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party. Therefore, an analysis of what an orthodox communist state is must take into account not only the social ideology behind it, but also the way it has been applied politically in self-declared communist states, most notably the Soviet Union.

2. Marx, Engels, and the Communist Manifesto
Statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of the Communist Manifesto, in Berlin

In 1847 the Communist League, an international organization, commissioned two of its most prominent members to draft a manuscript outlining the League's philosophy and political platform. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist philosophers and writing partners, released Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei in February 1848. The work was intended to combat the the attacks that derided Communism as a universal threat to stability in Europe, what Marx called the "nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism" (Marx 218).
The Communist Manifesto is organized in three sections, in addition to an introduction and a conclusion. The first section, "Proletarians and Bourgeois," presents Marx's view that the history of the world is essentially the history of a struggle between classes. Marx, the primary author of the manifesto, connects the lord/serf, master/slave, and patrician/plebian relationships into a larger narrative of history as the oppressor against the oppressed. He continues by analyzing in more detail the emergence of the bourgeois class, and how they are able to oppress the proletariat by the forces of commerce, the market economy, and modern industry.
In the second section, Marx details the relationship between the Communist Party and the proletariat, claiming the party has "no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole." Here Marx defines the single most important tenet of Communist ideology: the abolition of private property. Later in the section, Marx compiles the measures needed for the transition to a Communist state:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.

In the third and final substantive section, Marx compares Communism to other parties and social movements in Europe at the time, and asserts Communism's differences and superiority.

Marx's ten points can be considered the basis of a communist state. Few states, if any, have ever fully adhered to Marx's vision, despite claiming to be Marxist states. Lenin viewed himself as a Marxist but recognized several key differences in his approach to communism. Lenin believed that the people could not create a communist state by themselves, and a power from "without" was required to free the working class. Lenin thus advocated for stronger state control than did Marx.

In the final line of the Communist Manifesto, Marx pronounces the now famous call: "Working men of all countries, unite!"

3. Soviet Russia: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin 1917-1953

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Josef Stalin, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky
Josef Stalin, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a declared "Marxist," is credited with further developing Marx's ideas, especially those on political organization. Lenin differed with Marx in his approach to political structure in Russia. Lenin created the idea of "democratic centralism," which advocated for a one-party state. The party could have disagreeing factions, but after a decision was made all party members should give it their full support (Todd 5). Leon Trotsky, another prominent Russian Marxist, disagreed with Lenin. He argued that democratic centralism would create the opportunity for a party dictator to come to power (Todd5). Both Marxists, however, agreed that Russia could not conduct a worker's revolution without economic help from other European states, and fully expected socialist revolutions to occur there as well. When this did not happen, Lenin was forced to make "temporary adaptations" to his communist goals, such as banning even factions within his party, in hopes of later returning to "socialist norms" (Todd 6).

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin recognized that a rapid transition to socialist policies could cause an economic collapse. Instead, the first years after the revolution were characterized by "State capitalism" (Todd 29). State capitalism describes the partnership between state and private owners. One of the main problems was that the state held almost no control over the peasants who actually produced the food. Thus the Party released the Decree on Land of November 1917 that took land from the elite landlords and gave it to the peasants. The decree also dealt with the abolition of private property, but this part was ignored because the Party could not risk losing support of the peasants. A similar problem was faced with industry. The Party chose to nationalize the railways and banks, but did not nationalize factories because the economic risk was too great (Todd 30).

The economic strategy of "War Communism" followed State capitalism. After 1918, with Russia torn in a Civil War, the Party nationalized all industry, ended private ownership of factories, centralized the government, appropriated grain from the peasants, and formed armies to fight against the counter-revolution (Todd 30). War Communism consolidated the Party's hold on power but wrecked Russia economically. Because of hyperinflation, money was replaced by the barter system. Because of food shortages, 7.5 million Russians died of starvation. Because of the emigration of 2 million educated people and technical experts, Russia was less urbanized in 1921 than in 1897 (Todd 30).

Lenin ended the failed War Communism with the New Economic Policy in 1921. The NEP was closer to capitalism than War Communism was, and thus some viewed it as a betrayal of Marx's ideas. It was similar to State capitalism, in that banks and railways remained nationalized but the Party again permitted private businesses (Todd 33). Through the next several years, Russia did indeed see economic gains.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks were at first not interested in creating a dictatorship. In State and revolution, Lenin wrote that in the ideal communist society, the state would "wither away." Wartime pressures and the economic collapse led the Party to develop authoritarian methods (Todd 35).

During the 17th Communist Party Congress in 1927, Stalin took control of the Party on a platform of rapid industrialization. In 1928 he repealed the NEP in favor of a five-year plan that called for mass collectivization. Police and soldiers set up agricultural collectives, often forcefully and violently. The collectives were around 70 households and were led by a farm manager appointed by the state who controlled the harvest and paid the taxes (Todd 65). Stalin began three 5-year plans before the Second World War. The result was an increase in nearly all industrial output, but drastically reduced living standards (Todd 70).

4. Cuban Economy

When Castro gave his famous speech in 1953, he named the problems of industrialization and of unemployment as two of the six major problems Cuba faced (Castro 31). The problems were tied together by the sugar monoculture on the island. Up to 26% of Cuba's national income came from the yearly sugar harvest. Because sugar cultivation requires labor for only four months out of the year, it results in massive underemployment. The sugar monoculture also led to one of Cuba's other great problems: its economic dependence on the United States. The US, as part of the Reciprical Trade Agreement, bought 50% of the sugar crop and set the quotas for production. Due largely to falling sugar prices, the Cuban economy declined under Batista in the years leading up to Castro's revolution.

The revolutionary leaders, although they had not declared the revolution as "socialist," had antimarket and anticapitalist views (Mesa-Lago 67). The leadership almost immediately moved toward centralizing the means of production, a tenant of a socialist economy (Mesa-Lago 67). Just 4 months after coming to power in 1959, Castro initiated the First Law of Agrarian Reform. The First Law of Agrarian Reform, supervised by the government agency INRA, was a clear step toward a communist economic system. The Law nationalized all large farms, many of which were US-owned, and also divided some of the expropriated land among peasants. In the first year, the government acquired half the land in Cuba (Marshall, 93).

Other communist policies soon followed, accelerated by US opposition and Castro's new partnership with the USSR (Mesa-Lago 67). Cuba not only nationalized agricultural means of production, but industry as well. At the end of 1960, all of the US owned sugar mills, banks, telephone services, and electrical corporations, as well as all domestic trade and most foreign trade and other industry were nationalized (Mesa-Lago 67,68) Castro tried to rapidly liquidate the capitalist system through collectivization, apparently without heed to the economic collapse the policies would cause. The first stage of Cuba's post-revolution economic policy could be compared to Lenin's "War Communism" (Todd 30). Both policies focused on collectivization of industry and agriculture, and both led to economic downturns. In both cases, the economy could simply not handle such a rapid transition to socialism.

After Cuba's first economic policy failed, Castro adopted a model based on the Soviet Pre-Economic-Reform Model, referred to by Todd as "State capitalism" (Mesa-Lago 69). The policy entailed highly centralized economic planning, with quotas for both production and consumption. Castro established JUCEPLAN to create these quotas. This policy, however, was not suited for Cuba, which lacked the infrastructure to enforce a command economy (Mesa-Lago 70). The economic policy from 1961-1963 caused a recession that restricted the goals of the leadership.

In 1966, Cuba fully adopted a thoroughly communist Mao-Guevarist economic model. Collectivization increased again, and moral incentives were favored over material ones (Mesa-Lago 78). The Mao-Guevarist model was based on Ernesto Guevara's concept of the New Man, who achieves "spiritual recreation in the presence of his own work" (Guevara 86).
The Mao-Guevarist policy was a complete failure, exemplified by the failed 1970 10 million ton sugar harvest.

In speeches during the 1970s, Castro acknowledged the failures of the idealistic Mao-Guevarist model and accepted that Cuba needed to undergo a transitional stage between capitalism and communism (Mesa-Lago 80). Later economic policies retained the communist model of a command economy, but loosened some of the restriction put in place in the 1960s. Private farmers, for example, were again allowed to sell produce to individuals. The government also decentralized many state enterprises (Mesa-Lago 81). This period is known as the "Institutionalization of the Revolution."

5. Cuban Government Structure and Political Party System

Fidel Castro

The Cuban Constitution declares that the Cuban Communist Party be “the highest leading force of society and the State,” and that all executive authority placed in a Council of Ministers, who along with the National Assembly of Popular Power, comprise the decision-making bodies in the Cuban government. The National Assembly elects 31 members to a Council of State, which meets during the full year to act as the main administrative body in the Cuban government. The National Assembly is composed of 609 regionally-elected deputies, who together control the budget, Supreme Court members, as well as lawmaking on regional and municipal levels. National Assembly members are elected every 5 years through municipal elections (voters given a choice between CPP nominee or a blank ballot).

Below the National Assembly are the Cuban Supreme Court and the regional Courts. Written law plays more of a role in the Cuban inquisitorial legal system, rather than precedent or juries, which increases the power of state prosecution due to its arbitrary advantages. Half of all Cuban judges are members of the CPP, as are all Supreme Court members. All media outlets are monitored and censored, and any unfavorable government coverage or propaganda carries a heavy prison penalty. (LOC 23)
Fidel Castro, from 1959 to 1976, acted as President of the Council of State, then as the Prime Minister from 1976 to 2008, which afforded him both chief of state and head of government responsibilities. A sub-committee of the Council of Ministers composed of the President and five Vice-Presidents operates the day-to-day government business and is largely in charge of economic oversight.

Many aspects of the Cuban revolution in respect to its political struggles are unorthodox and unusual in comparison with other Communist rises to power throughout history. For Cuba, revolutionaries led by Castro were driven by socialist aims not accompanied by the political support of a recognized Leninist party, and in Cuba’s case, there was no political party system at all to support the revolution. Instead, Fidel Castro and the recognized Cuban military offered the only institutional structure around the new revolutionary government. To fill the void of Communist political institutions of power, Fidel Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist to strengthen the combination of The July 26 Movement, The Popular Socialist Party, and the Revolutionary Directorate into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI).

The ORI held considerable control over the most essential government positions, even directing daily operations of some state agencies, but the leaders of the three former factions continued to battle over new political power. In 1962, Castro believed that the ORI had become tyrannical and completely unfit for economic coordination and planning due to the presence of warring factions and incompetent personnel. Castro effectively destroyed the ORI in 1962 when he used an ORI-censored Echevarria speech to publicly criticize the ORI’s despotic, sectarian, anti-revolutionary tendencies. Through significant “reorganization and purification” heralded by President Dorticos, the ORI slowly became the United Party of the Socialist Revolution (PURS).

Compared to other ruling and non-ruling Communist Parties globally, PURS had remarkably low membership during the 1960s. PURS grew from 0.03% of the Cuban population in 1962 to 2.2% in 1975. Additionally, the island-wide shortage of professionals damaged party organization, as administrative and general skills were largely unavailable. Due to the sectarian clashes, low registered members and candidates, and a significant lack of qualified personnel, the Communist party system in Cuba through the 1960’s remained “nominally Marxist-Leninist.” (LeoGrande 162)

The PCC was delegated the task of managing bureaucratic oversight Commissions for the entire Cuban government in 1965, when Castro led an assault on inefficient bureaucracy in the Cuban government. The “Commissions for the Fight Against Bureaucracy” eventually reassigned almost 21,000 administrative employees to another government post or school, but most remained in similar jobs even after the transfer. One thousand posts within the PCC alone were reassigned to agricultural development. There was an awkward political phase of governmental non-compliance and a powerlessly supervisory party system until the end of the 1960’s. The new assemblies present in PCC Cuba parallel those in Soviet USSR, in which party leadership nominates the executive committees for each assembly, but cannot interfere with operations once committees are elected.

Since 1970, the PCC has greatly expanded, and coordination, cohesion, and balances of power have been set along with specific leadership roles, and boundaries for foundational functions. The once administrative miliarty became separated from all government function outdide of issues of national security. In 1975, ten years after its creation, the PCC held its first Congress, which gave it official policy and operational structure. This first Congress was significant because it signaled party self-sufficiency, and offered legitimacy to the institution that only a decade earlier had completely relied on Castro. Castro himself began respecting the new political power of the PCC, and said “men die, but the party is immortal.” (LeoGrande, 170)

6. Cuban Society

Vilma Espin and Fidel Castro

Cuba displays many similarities with Soviet Russia in terms of the pursuit of social justice and equality. Russia placed a strong importance on women’s rights as well as the rights of children. To show support of women's rights, Russia set up departments to organize and educate women in their role of independence (Todd 40).

One of Cuba’s achievements in social justice and equality was the creation of the Cuban Women’s Federation, FMC, organized under Vilma Espin in 1960. The FMC was significant in the early stages of developing revolutionary services, including national child-care systems, literacy crusades, and educational programs that taught peasant women vocational skills (Keen, Haynes 446). These social services empowered women, who made a dramatic impact on Cuban society. Through education programs, working class women had better jobs. Before the revolution, one third of women were domestic servants. By 1990, they constituted 63% of service workers, 58% of technicians, and 85% of administrative workers (Keen, Haynes 446). The FMC, the largest Latin American women’s organization, has more than 3 million members who have continued to influence Cuban policy regarding healthcare, women employment, sexual discrimination and family life.

The emphasis on the value of education in Cuba for children and the general population increased after Castro came to power. Education is considered a right of every citizen, and is free of charge at every level. In 1959, the average Cuban had an education level of third grade, and 23% of the population over the age of 10 years old was illiterate (Uriarte 6-12). This became a major problem in Cuba especially after the revolution when there was a mass migration of educated professionals and technicians. Due to the the literacy crusades, by 1960 illiteracy had been eradicated to 4% and was no longer a major problem (Uriarte 6-12). As Cuba constructed more schools in the 1960s and 1970s, Cuba launched a system of scholarships that would allow more children regardless of their economic situation or where they lived, to attend schools. As children enrollment increased due to the availability of schools, the children labor force decreased and eventually dropped to zero (Uriarte 6-12). According to the UN Development Programme Report 2007/2008, Cuba currently has the highest rate of literacy in the world. Both a strong public education system and the abolition of child factory labor are key principles of Marx's communist philosophy.

7. Foreign Policy

The relationship between the U.S. and Cuba ended with the Embargo Act of 1962 because of the United States’ fear that Cuba would become a Communist state, this however had only propelled the relationship between Russia and Cuba closer (Balfour 63). Cuba’s foreign policy shared similar ideas to Soviet Russia in that Cuba wanted to assist other countries in their revolutions, particularly Latin American and Third World Countries. Soviet Russia had this concept because they believed that an international revolution would be imminent because of the contradictions that lay in the foundations of capitalism that would lead to a collapse (Todd 42). The idea that the instability of capitalism would lead to an eventual collapse is a key concept present in The Communist Manifesto. However, for Russia, Third World politics were only of great importance when it concerned the balance between capitalist and socialist states (Balfour 121).
Castro thought the main issue instead, was the problem of underdeveloped countries and imperialism (Balfour 121). In the early years of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba had sent out foreign aid to Third World countries. They helped with the Algerian Independence movement as well as the sent guerilla groups to Zaire (Keen, Haynes 444). Cuba was not limited only to guerilla aid, they had sent out civilians as well including: doctors, teachers, construction engineers and economists to 22 Third World Countries. They had based the fees on the country’s ability to pay, those that could not afford had been given free aid, despite this policy, foreign construction had bocame a major income producer (Keen, Haynes 445). Castro’s strategy was to change the unfavorable balance between developed states and those undeveloped, particularly the division between the North and south hemisphere (Balfour 114).

Despite having a greater control of autonomy in domestic affairs after the end of the hegemonic relationship between Cuba and United States, Cuba still could not control their economy on their own. Instead the relationship had transfered to Russia. By 1962, about 83% of Cuba’s trade were with socialist countries, half of which was with Russia who also held 80% of the island’s trade deficit (Mesa-Lago 71). Even with Cuba’s aid abroad, their influence was not as strong as it could have been because of the perception that Cuba was a Soviet surrogate(Balfour 132). This along with internal problems in Cuba discouraged other countries from following the Cuban Model (Balfour 133).

8. Conclusion

To evaluate Cuba as a communist state, not only must social ideology be considered, but its political implementation and economic policy as well. The most profound difference between Communist Cuba and other prominent Communist countries like the Soviet Union is that the social organization of Communism in Cuba was the result of a revolution, and not a driving force behind it. Communism was attractive for Cuban revolutionaries because it offered support to their anti-imperialist, anti-US, and Cuban nationalist ideologies. Furthermore, Communist control over the Cuban economy has been structurally different from other Communist countries, in that Cuba lacked the professional and knowledgeable workforce, commercially industrial infrastructure, and faced a sugar monoculture that forced slow economic growth, heavy dependence on the US, and massive illiteracy and unemployment. Government structure was largely similar to Soviet Russia, with the exception that the Russian Communist Party was considerably larger and more powerful and cohesive in its government control than in Cuba. More parallels can be drawn between Cuba and Soviet Russia in terms of concern for social justice and a priority of spreading the Communist ideology, as well as the abolition of private ownership of profitable resources by government seizure.

9. Bibliography

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Castro, Fidel. "History Will Absolve Me." The Cuba Reader. Ed. Brenner, Philip; LeoGrande, William; Rich, Donna; and Siegel, Daniel. New York, NY: Grove Press. 1st Edition, 1989.

Mesa-Lago, Carmelo. "Revolutionary Economic Policies in Cuba." The Cuba Reader. Ed. Brenner, Philip; LeoGrande, William; Rich, Donna; and Siegel, Daniel. New York, NY: Grove Press. 1st Edition, 1989.

Keen, Benjamin, and Keith Haynes. A History of Latin America. 7th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

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LeoGrande, William. Party Development in Revolutionary Cuba. “The Cuba Reader.” Edited by Brenner, Philip; LeoGrande, William; Rich, Donna; and Seigel, Daniel.
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Uriarte, Miren. Cuba: Social Policy at the Crossroads: Maintaining Priorities, Transforming Practice. An Oxfam America Report. 2002, pp. 6-12. December 2004. 16 Sept. 2009
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Balfour, Sebastian. Castro (Profiles In Power). 3rd ed. New York: Pearson Longham, 2009.