The Critical Left in Cuba

Frank García Hernández discusses the political and economic situation in Cuba and the path out of the current crisis.

In late December, two members of the Trotskyist Fraction — Milton D’León and Pablo Oprinari — interviewed Frank García Hernández, a Cuban sociologist, Marxist historian, specialist in Cuban Trotskyism, militant of the so-called critical Left, and member of the editorial board of the digital magazine Comunistas. He was arrested in Havana during the demonstrations of last July 11 and accused of “disturbing the public order,” despite no evidence supporting the charge; he was subsequently released but was later accused of having “counterrevolutionary political positions.” There have been efforts to expel him from the Cuban Communist Party.

In this interview, García Hernández discusses the debates and positions being developed in Cuba’s critical Left, as well as what is happening on the island and the path out of the current Cuban crisis. While the interviewees do not share all his views, making his views known is of the utmost importance.

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First, what would you say is the meaning of the demonstrations last July 11 in Cuba? Comunistas and your own elaborations state that the mobilizations that day revealed significant discontent among broad sectors of workers and youth over the measures enacted by the government of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, fundamentally based on the Tarea Ordenamiento [the “Ordering Task,” a monetary unification of the island’s currencies]. You have called that a shock policy that worsened the suffering of the masses in an already difficult situation for the Cuban people, who face both the criminal imperialist blockade and the policies of the bureaucracy. To what extent has July 11 changed the political and social situation in Cuba, and from the point of view of Comunistas, what does it mean for the future?

Mainly, July 11 has left behind new challenges for the Cuban critical Left, the alternative Left, the new Left, call it what you will. I opt for the critical Left — a political sector I will try to define later. We were overcome by this situation and, to a certain extent, even demobilized.

I also believe, and this was actually the case, that the critical Left should consider the July 11 protests as having a popular character, but not a specifically anti-capitalist one, because there was no such program from those who came out to demonstrate. The protests were completely spontaneous; no opposition group can claim to have mobilized the thousands of people who came out. In Havana, there were 3,000 to 5,000 people in what was initially a peaceful march that stretched about four or five kilometers. The only acts of violence were the arrests and the violent way that the demonstration ended up being repressed when it got close to the Plaza de la Revolución.

This is one of the main legacies left by the July 11 protest: what the critical Left has to do in the face of another possible demonstration and whether it should defend the July 11 protests and make them its own. I believe we should make them our own, at least to give them a Marxist analysis based on an understanding that they were protests of a popular character. Otherwise, they will fall into the hands of the right-wing opposition and the Miami counterrevolution — the Cuban counterrevolution hosted by the United States and imperialism itself, which has tried to claim for itself the leadership of those July 11 protests, which is completely untrue. The strongest fact exposing that the July 11 protests were not managed by the counterrevolution, not called, not organized, much less controlled by the counterrevolution, is the failure of the November 15 march.

While it is true that the Cuban government unleashed strong repression on November 15, it is also the case that the right wing did not at all understand the motives of the masses that came out on July 11. They cannot understand it precisely because of their own right-wing and counterrevolutionary class and political limitations. In the end, they are counterrevolutionary and they will oppose the masses and their demands. And that is the big mistake. It is the very political character of those who called for the November 15 march.

In what sense do you see the call to mobilize on November 15 as being different from the demonstrations of July 11?

As I was saying about the November 15 call and its failure, in reality it was not a mistake, but it showed the true political character of those who called for that protest. The main characteristic of the conveners is that they did not understand that the mobilization of July 11 had a popular character, putting on the agenda the basic needs of the working class. The main slogans of July could be summarized as that the people, the masses, wanted more food and more medicine. We could delve into what radicalized the protest, but it wasn’t civil rights that mobilized people, that provoked the July 11 explosion — which was how the counterrevolutionaries and other right-wing oppositions tried to understand and explain it.

As for the group Archipiélago, which organized November 15, and which initially pretended to appear as a kind of broad front, it showed that these social democratic sectors, when they go to the center, end up drifting completely to the right.

Yunior García [Archipiélago’s main spokesperson] had already been claiming in his speeches that he was neither left nor right. Without drawing any distinctions between himself and them, he accepted the explicit support of groups that were openly calling for capitalist restoration and that were directly supported by the United States. I am talking about the Council for the Democratic Transition of Cuba, made up of openly right-wing organizations, such as the Cuban Patriotic Union. Just look at the economic program of this famous Council for the Transition; it’s completely neoliberal. Personally, I’m grateful that they’ve been so clear in exposing their political program, instead of trying to cover it up.

Even when Yunior García accepts the support of the Council for the Democratic Transition of Cuba, he does not dissociate himself from its policies, which shows that he has lost all perspective, if he ever had any, with respect to the interests, origins, and motives of July 11. The second in command of Archipiélago, Leonardo Fernandez Otaño, recently made public this slogan: “Down with communism! Long live Christ the King!” Yunior García traveled abroad, met with the right wing in Spain, and with Venezuelan right-winger Leopoldo López, and has had no qualms about keeping in touch with Juan Guaidó.

As for contact with the Left, the best he did was to talk with Más País (MP), a centrist grouping — to put it nicely — of Podemos in Spain, which itself couldn’t be more centrist. So they have all those same class limitations, their own class analysis, their own class background, all of which must be taken into account. And there was a sector of the bourgeoisie that expressly supported Archipiélago. All this is what prevented the November 15 demonstration from being successful, in addition to the great pressure and repression unleashed by the Cuban government. If November 15 had been spontaneous, if its call had been revolutionary, the demonstration would have been huge. Those political limitations are what made November 15 nothing even close to what we saw on July 11.

You have been very clear about what July 11 called attention to in Cuba: the most pressing needs of the people, which highlights social inequality. In this framework, how do you link the increase in social inequality in Cuba with the measures that have been taken to advance capitalist restoration? And how do you see the role of the bureaucracy on that restorationist path?

I want to make it very clear that there is not a homogeneous bureaucracy, but rather that there are two well-defined policy lines. On the one hand, there is the fidelista bureaucracy, which emphasizes social policies, and on the other hand there is a dengxiaopingist bureaucracy, a pro-Chinese or pro-Doi Moi bureaucracy in the style of the Vietnamese reformers, which is closer to our Cuban reality than what China has done, even with some overlaps. There remains a broad debate within the Cuban government, a broad struggle to see which line will prevail. So far, the evidence seems to point to the fidelista line having delayed the advance of the dengxiaopingist line.

When in January it was announced that the private-sector economy would be expanded with new permits in new areas — it should be noted that the private sector is essentially services, mainly restaurants and hotels and catering — and when it was announced that the law allowing small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) was going to be applied, that is, the private sector was going to be increased considerably, which would strengthen the bourgeoisie, we expected to see a Chinese-style opening, beginning with the main resources, minerals, and so on, until the monopoly on foreign trade was broken. We expected larger factories, large maquilas, under the private control of the bourgeoisie. But when the authorizations were granted, it turned out that this big step to a private-sector economy did not materialize. It was a big setback for the dengxiaopingist line.

In his opening speech to the Eighth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), held last April, Raúl Castro emphasized and warned of a possible capitalist restoration and, without naming names, said that some leaders, some bureaucrats, want to go further and privatize the main means of production. The fact that Raúl, the figure who promoted the pro-China reforms, took this step at the Eighth Congress, shows that in the highest leadership of the country there is — if not an outright confrontation — sectors settling in, oppositions settling in, and policies being clarified. This could delay the kind of capitalist restoration that happened brutally in China in the 1990s, primarily after the Tiananmen rebellion and its abrupt end.

At this point, something very important — something every Marxist, every communist, should bear in mind — is the fundamental role of the world revolution and of a socialist country when it becomes isolated. The facts show today that what we are experiencing today is more irrefutable proof that every attempt to build socialism, without world revolution, ends up retreating little by little and sometimes with giant steps. I always remember what Che said in his speech in Algiers in 1965. I’m paraphrasing. Essentially, he said, socialism is achieved only when all types of exploitation of human beings by other human beings is eliminated, that socialism is being built when progress is made in eliminating such exploitation, and one cannot even speak of socialism being built when measures are taken that favor the exploitation of human beings by other human beings.

So, clearly we can’t say that the 2021 measures of the Tarea Ordenamiento were socialist measures. They were not socialist in that they supported the expansion of the private sector. They were not socialist measures; they raised the prices of public services, in some cases very sharply — like public transportation, which increased by 500 percent in Havana. And though a wage increase was calculated to be equivalent to the price increases and the possible inflation that the Tarea Ordenamiento might trigger, the very errors implied in those measures have created inflation at levels we haven’t seen since the “special period” crisis of the 1990s.

Would you say more about the situation of the Cuban economy?

I want to draw a necessary comparison with the 1990s crisis in Cuba, which was driven by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the so-called socialist camp in Eastern Europe, when Cuba lost 85 percent of its trading partners. At the time, Cuba’s economic relations with the countries of Latin American and Caribbean region were very poor.

In a certain way, it was easier for the government to undertake the Special Period because it was nothing more than reorienting the market and looking for new partners. But today’s economic crisis is much more difficult because Cuba ended up being a country that depends almost exclusively, or at least severely, on the tourism industry — which collapsed internationally in 2020, with the pandemic. In December 2019, Minister of Economy Alejandro Gil announced that for Cuba’s GDP to grow 1 percent, the island would have to receive 4.5 million tourists in 2020 and that prices in the international market would have to remain stable. According to the World Bank, the crisis of 2020 was worse than the crash of 1929, and Cuba had only a little more than 1.3 million tourists. The figures for 2021 were worse. By the end of November, there had been only about 200,000 tourists. If an economy that needs 4.5 million tourists to grow its GDP by 1 percent gets only 200,000, what kind of economy are we talking about? We’re talking about an almost collapsed economy.

When we talk about U.S. sanctions, we must talk about the new sanctions that Trump put in place, which have increased the impact of the blockade. Let me mention just one critical aspect of this. Only two shipping companies are doing business with Cuba. Recently, we’ve had tons of powdered milk and chicken stranded in other countries because no shipping companies are willing to risk bringing these basic foodstuffs here for the Cuban population. October’s GDP, according to Gil at the CP’s second plenary session, had fallen to 13 percent, the worst figure in the history of the Cuban Revolution. From 1959 until now, the worst figure had been in 1992, at a little more than 11 percent.

At the end of last year the minister of tourism said that since lifting the restrictions on foreign tourists on November 15, the country had received 50,000 tourists through December 15. He presented this figure as an optimistic, positive one, so we can only imagine what the numbers must have been like before that.

The Cuban economy is in crisis, and it is a crisis mediated by international capitalism. Unless tourism picks up internationally, we cannot speak of an improvement in the Cuban economy. Here again, it’s what I was talking about earlier: without the triumph of a world revolution, even with a revolution at the local level, any attempt to build socialism ends up suffocating.

In this framework, how has this crisis affected the masses? Have the bureaucracy’s policies, with the Tarea Ordenamiento, increased social and economic inequality?

Yes, this has clearly increased the levels of inequality, because the Tarea Ordenamiento — by stimulating the private economy sector, which means stimulating the bourgeoisie — helps concentrate wealth in a small, minuscule sector of society. It’s a serious matter: the Cuban bourgeoisie, as a sector of the private economy — again, concentrated in the service sector, mainly restaurants and hotels — produces nothing but consumes food and hygiene products. In other words, it has a negative impact — economically speaking — on the Cuban working class, on the most vulnerable.

At the same time, we’re seeing a worrying political phenomenon unfold — most of the Cuban working class does not blame the bourgeoisie for the shortages they are experiencing. The majority does not see the bourgeoisie as one of the factors in scarcity and the shortages. They see it only as a function of the blockade, or government mismanagement of the so-called freely convertible currency stores, which were set up as a way to collect foreign currency, given the disappearance of tourism and the need to bring this currency in. The thing about these stores is that you can buy from them only with foreign currency, using a card that you must purchase.

The blockade itself has further complicated the Cuban economy because the United States persecutes companies and countries that aim to do business with Cuba. Companies do not want to accept the U.S. dollar. As a result, the Cuban government found itself, rather suddenly, with a surplus of dollars last March. It seems almost illogical, but it’s true. Just look at the extent to which the U.S. blockade has deformed the Cuban economy. Because Cuba’s trading partners don’t want to accept dollars, because the Paris Club — one of our main financiers — doesn’t want to accept our dollars, and because Russia and China are completely dismantling their use of dollars, what did the Cuban government have to do? It established that no one would be allowed to deposit dollars in the banks. This provoked something like the birth of a new digital currency controlled only by the black market.

In the terms of Marxist political economy, the use value was separated from the exchange value. Since dollars in cash are no longer useful for getting food, the price of the dollar plummeted, and a digital dollar was born with a different price. The working class needs those dollars to buy in those stores, and the sale of those digital dollars, which are called MLCs [moneda libremente convertible, freely convertible currency] is now itself another transaction. We are facing the failure of the Tarea Ordenamiento because the government was unable to unify the exchange rate. When there were two currencies in circulation, the convertible peso and the national peso, at least they were currencies controlled by the government. But now the government faces the crisis of there being a currency it does not control — and the only way it can be controlled is if the freely convertible currency stores disappear. But the government needs those stores as a way to get the foreign currency income it needs, which isn’t coming from tourism. All these factors contribute to the Cuban economic crisis.

I don’t have the Gini index in front of me, which tracks social differentiation, so I can only talk empirically about the impact of inflation on the shortage of food on the table of Cuban working families.

I want to clarify that when I refer to the bourgeoisie, I’m talking about the one that arose when the private economic sector was resumed in 1993. Then, it was a class in itself that had not yet developed its own culture, its own politics. In other words, it wasn’t yet a class for itself. It was a tactical measure announced by Fidel Castro himself, who said that there was no choice but to implement that change and that he would soon reverse it. And just as with the Bolivarian Revolution of Chávez, when it triumphed in Venezuela and after that a number of left-wing nationalist governments took over in some Latin America countries, there was a process of some positive economics in Cuba — a better correlation between power and economics. Then, beginning in 2002, Fidel stunted the expansion of the private economic sector and even reversed it. The current government, though, is not doing that. It is not only considering going backward, but it has even given legal and constitutional power to the private economic sector. So that’s the bourgeoisie I mean. From a more global analysis, we could understand that this bourgeoisie is a product of the measures taken by the bureaucracy.

You spoke about the lack of homogeneity in the Cuban bureaucracy, about there being a fidelista wing and a dengxiaopingist wing. Could you expand on that a little more, and point to some important government figures who are in each wing?

The best way to see this situation in practice is to look at the Constitution of the Politburo of the CCP. There you can see perfectly well that there is no hegemony of any group over the other. What you can see is the power of the generals over the party’s civilian body. There is the group of generals that support the Chinese line, headed by General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, who wasn’t always well known. He was leading the conglomerate that coordinates the Revolutionary Armed Forces, but he hadn’t held a political position until the Eighth Congress last April. Now he has become a deputy in the National Assembly, and he’s also thought of as a potential future president.

In López-Callejas, in the generals, in the deposed minister of economy, Marino Murillo, who applied the Tarea Ordenamiento and was in charge of the CCP’s implementation committee, in the prime minister who was close ties with López-Callejas — that is where we find the pro-China wing, the ties with López-Callejas. There we can see the pro-China wing, the pro-Doi Moi wing. We understand the fidelista wing to be found in the Central Committee’s ideology department. These are just a few rough strokes; further analysis is necessary. But it is completely the case that there is no figure like Fidel or even, in a certain way, Raúl Castro.

Raúl is no Fidel, of course, but Raúl did have political power that President Díaz-Canel does not currently hold, neither constitutionally nor by virtue of his political legitimacy. When Raúl took over the government, first in a transitional way and then in a judicial way, he assumed all the positions — Fidel remained commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, a position he was never going to lose, but Raúl was actually in charge of the army. Raúl became first secretary general of the Communist Party and president of the Council of State and Ministers — a position established in 1976 when the Soviet-inspired socialist Constitution merged the figure of prime minister into president of the government, and the figure of president of the republic into the figure of president of the Council of State. Fidel had held that post from 1976 until 2008. Today, under the new 2019 constitution, this political position has disappeared, and the positions of president of the republic and prime minister have returned in a sort of semi-parliamentary system. This speaks to the division of powers. With a prime minister, a president, and a first secretary general of the party, the troika was divided up, but it’s now unified with Díaz-Canel at the head of the government, at the head of the Council of State as president of the republic, and as first secretary general of the party.

Meanwhile, Alejandro Marrero remains prime minister, the only one of Fidel’s ministers still in office. He survived Raúl’s term, and Díaz-Canel’s first term in office under the old constitution, and now continues under the new Constitution. Marrero is a man who had Raúl’s absolute confidence, and who today serves as a sort of arbiter in the government between the fidelista and dengxiaopingist wings. Díaz-Canel seems to have a position like the one that Lenin attributed to Bukharin in the controversy with Trotsky over trade unions — serving as a “buffer” with respect to the measures being taken, to create a sort of balance of power.

There is also Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, a very interesting political figure who is emerging publicly. He’s one of the five heroes of La Red Avispa (Wasp Network).1Translator’s note: In 1998, Hernández was one of the Miami Five group of Cuban intelligence officers jailed in the United States on espionage charges; they had gone to Miami to disrupt counterrevolutionary Cuban groups that were planning attacks against the island. The men were released in 2014 after a global solidarity campaign. He’s very popular and, with his interesting charisma, he’s been gaining political strength; some analysts think he could be the one to replace Díaz-Canel, who they expect will not have another term even if Raúl dies before his current term is up. This is only a very general, first analysis.

You characterize Díaz-Canel as a “buffer” figure, but can you say which sector he leans toward?

That’s still not very clear to me. Looking just at what he says, he seems more inclined to support the fidelista wing, but his statements are also marked by pro-Chinese things at the same time. I always give the example of how the pandemic was treated. In the first months, there was a total quarantine. This put the health of the Cuban working class ahead of everything else. But then, in November 2020, things opened up. There was a tremendous flexibilization that seems to point to the pro-Chinese line making strides forward. Where Díaz-Canel’s leanings can be best seen are in this: he announces again that drastic measures are going to be taken, and then a few days after the drastic closures, he retracts and says no, the flexible situation will continue as it was. That move showed that there is a struggle, or at least there is no hegemony of one line over the other, or that hegemony of the pro-China wing over the pro-Fidel wing is still being built, slowly. I think the death of Raúl Castro will accelerate the advance of the Chinese line, which he originally introduced, but then he stopped at the Eighth Congress. The deaths of Raúl, Machado Ventura, and Ramiro Valdés — the last three top exponents of the old revolutionary guard — catalyze the advance of the Chinese line.

So in this dispute between the two wings, the dynamic you’ve been noticing is that the pro-Chinese wing is making the greater advances?

The pro-Chinese wing advances, evidently, with the law allowing SMEs, but the fidelista wing keeps it in check, as it has done with the limitation of more than 200 activities the government doesn’t allow. It’s a public list that spells out a series of activities that are not authorized. In essence, it prevents the transfer of the main means of production and the banks to the private sector, and prevents the monopoly of foreign trade from being broken. Those advances are what many of us believed the pro-Chinese wing was going to make, just as Deng Xiaoping himself did when after he had left the secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party but was given the power to promote and carry forward the reforms, and they are what we saw beginning in 1986 with Doi Moi in Vietnam, which were steps toward reprivatization.

We had expected that private companies would be allowed, based on the strength the Chinese state capitalist economy has shown, with China becoming one of the countries with the largest number of billionaires. Jacobin magazine recently published a bit of information that I haven’t been able to confirm — that a Chinese socialist analyst affirms that China is the country with the second-largest number of billionaires. To reach that level of wealth accumulation requires privatization of the means of production. That is not what we are experiencing in Cuba; here, we are experiencing the application of a law allowing SMEs and, therefore, the expansion of the private economic sector, but not at the speed of China and Vietnam. This makes us understand that the fidelista sector is delaying, hindering the expansion of the private economy, perhaps thinking it’s possible to reconcile a system where there is a private economy but without the strength of China or Vietnam.

It’s interesting to note that in Granma, the official national newspaper of the CCP, there are always officials — and not just a few — trying to distance themselves, respectfully, from China and Vietnam when comparisons are made. They try to publicly disassociate the Cuban model from the Chinese model or the Vietnamese model. But every time a party Congress is held in Cuba, the preceding months feature meetings at the highest level with the Vietnamese Communist Party.

This explanation of the situation inside the Cuban bureaucracy is really interesting, and broad. Indeed, there are elements of granular analysis that are little known beyond the island. Another subject, linked to what we’ve been talking about with respect to the increase in social inequality and the Tarea Ordenamiento, is the repression and authoritarianism that has been seen in the period since July 11. The Comunistas editorial has published some pronouncements and calls for solidarity with different activists who are being persecuted, and we wonder about the situation faced by those being repressed, some of whom have been imprisoned. Also, what relationship do you see between the pro-capitalist measures and the increasingly direct repression and oppressive policies?

This is a complicated issue for us. One of the main controversies within the critical Left concerns whether the repression is or isn’t ideological. Those who say that repression is not ideological seem to be lacking in Marxist analysis and the reading of Marxist texts. I’m thinking mainly of Lenin’s The State and Revolution, one of his most revolutionary texts.

In Comunistas, we do not raise the slogan “Freedom for political prisoners” in a generic way, because we know that among those arrested there are counterrevolutionaries and members of the very clear right-wing opposition that supports the Venezuelan Juan Guaidó and gets funding from the United States. That’s the case with the top representatives and the most visible figure of the right-wing San Isidro Movement, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. So our slogan is “Stop the repression.” We do not speak of freedom for political prisoners in the abstract, because that would be a serious political error. It’s not the same thing to say no to repression as it is to demand the release of political prisoners in general, given that some of them are from openly counterrevolutionary sectors financed by the United States. I think this is very clear.

It is important to keep in mind that the critical Left runs the gamut from those with social democratic inclinations; to us revolutionary Marxists, where there is a close philosophical affinity with Trotskyist analysis, although it is not considered Trotskyist per se; to some Maoism; and even recently to some who subscribe to Cliffism,2Translator’s note: Tony Cliff was a British Trotskyist activist and founder of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain — the parent organization of the former International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the United States — who articulated and promoted a theory to describe the Soviet Union as “state capitalist,” that is, a capitalist country that has nationalized the means of production as state-owned enterprises. The importance of this theory is that it eradicated in Cliff’s organizations the Trotskyist view that revolutionary Marxists should defend the Soviet Union because such defense was aimed at the gains of the 1917 Russian Revolution, despite the bureaucratic caste that Stalin had solidified and with it subverted the country into a degenerated workers’ state. although most Comunistas do not agree with the theses regarding state capitalism.

It should also be noted that this critical Left has advanced and expanded since July 11, in the midst of this general, economic, and political crisis. This is something both surprising and expected. It is almost obvious that, in the middle of an economic and political crisis like the current one, positions will radicalize. Marxism offers a response to the needs of the working class, and perhaps the best example is that greatest growth among the critical Left has been by Comunistas who adhere to a Marxist line — while those inclined to social democracy swing more and more toward the center. These are positions that will sharpen as the radicalization process progresses.

The government’s repression still makes a certain difference, though. It did not hesitate to repress the July 11 protests and then punish representatives of the critical Left. This is contradictory in a government that claims to be socialist. It is the fruit of this contradiction of the class struggle that is growing. As long as it supports the private economic sector, the government will be supporting the class enemy. I always emphasize that the statutes of the Chinese Communist Party warn that deviation to the left is more dangerous than deviation to the right. While this isn’t yet the position of the CCP, we need to pay attention to what may be unfolding.

The critical Left faced no repression on November 15, but that’s because we didn’t join the protests. We had a clear position against joining a united bloc with the center-right. But if the critical Left called for a march, with socialist slogans, would it be repressed? That would be a turning point for the CCP, given the needs of the working class.

In the context of this discussion about repression and political oppression in Cuba, what do you think about the struggle for legalization of parties that defend the revolution and its achievements?

That’s a very interesting question. First, I always say that the guarantee of workers’ democracy is not simply a matter of whether there is a single party or multiple parties. It’s always forgotten that in China, and even in North Korea, and in most of the governments of the so-called European socialist camp, there was not a single party but several parties. It worked like that in the German Democratic Republic, and we know that it was far from being a workers’ democracy.

So rather than a constitution that allows one party or several parties, the call should be for workers’ democracy. In my understanding, and also among part of the editorial board of Comunistas, the creation of other parties can reinforce the very existence of the state. But what is necessary is the strengthening of a civil society of socialist Leftists and the strengthening of workers’ power, of workers’ control over the means of production.

Strengthening, stimulating, and allowing the building of different social collectives that do not have to share that party logic would help gradually reduce the power of the bureaucracy. In our program, we understand it this way: it could even ultimately help the single party to disappear, giving way to a broader workers’ democracy, like what existed in the soviets at first.

To reach that point, we fall back into the dynamics of the world revolution. What do we do in the event of the bureaucratic government falling, through a revolution? First of all, I always want to make it very clear that if the government and the state were to fall — because the current government can be removed and be replaced by other representatives of the bureaucracy in different ways, this could happen — the critical Left does not at present have the forces to transform that process into a revolutionary one.

It is unmistakable that it is the right wing that is more organized. It has more organic support at the international level. Were there a counterrevolution, the United States would land in Cuba as quickly as possible. I don’t necessarily mean with a military invasion, although that cannot be ruled out. We would move from the critical Left perhaps to a more stark, more visceral resistance, perhaps more persecuted. Therefore, right now the slogan cannot be “Down with the bureaucracy,” but “Workers to power.” These may seem similar, but they are not: “Workers to power” means taking over this state, which is now difficult to characterize as a workers’ state, and which is easier to see as a solidly bourgeois state that directly represses the working class — and here I return to the point that the repression is ideological.

It makes no sense to take down a bureaucratically deformed state, a state I characterize as a bureaucratically deformed noncapitalist economy, and replace it with a market dictatorship. In the best of cases, they would try to impose a bourgeois democracy that would leave no chance of the working class returning to power.

These counterrevolutionary right-wing groups speak of power for all, but once they were in power, would they allow the return of the working class to power even if it was with a program of workers’ democracy that is completely different from what exists now? Would these counterrevolutionary groups allow this to happen, even through bourgeois democracy? No, they would not.

We in the critical Left, in the socialist Left, don’t have a model right now. We’re in an embryonic process. Until now, we haven’t experienced a political crisis like the one happening here at the moment.

Perhaps nothing says more about what is happening in Cuba today than what happened at the beginning of the July 11 protest in San Antonio de los Baños, when Díaz-Canel tried to speak with demonstrators and they booed him and even threw plastic bottles at him. Something similar happened with Ramiro Valdés, who was one of the commanders during the revolution, when he went to the eastern town of Palma Soriano, which was also taken over by the protests. When he got out of the car to talk with the demonstrators, they practically forced him back into the car, and he left.

Nothing like this had ever happened before. Compare it with August 5, 1995, when nearly a thousand people took to the streets to protest, and Fidel came to the scene. His mere presence ended the protest. Many of the demonstrators who had been shouting “Down with Fidel” began to shout, “This street belongs to Fidel.” It’s the complete opposite of what happened now. This is an unprecedented political crisis in the attempt to build socialism in Cuba, which makes this critical Left an unprecedented Left in the history of the attempt to build socialism in Cuba.

The scenario today is completely different. What makes this scenario even more difficult is the fact that this critical Left, as I mentioned, has a wide spectrum ranging from centrist social democrats to Comunistas. It is a situation unique in history. We have to know what to do in these situations. I always call for international solidarity, both with Cuba and with the Cuban Marxist Left in general.

Finally, what are the conditions in which you’re having to carry out this political activity, amid such burning times in Cuba?

You used the word “burning,” and Lenin’s book came to mind, What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement. As I was saying before, the critical Left is very broad. We have to think about what would unite the entire Left. For us, there are two fundamental factors: to maintain the conquests of socialism and to build socialism and the struggle for workers’ democracy — essentially “workers to power,” the slogan we’ve adopted recently. What makes this so complex is how — not only what needs to be done, which I would say is much simpler to figure out than how to do it.

The situations we face, the difficulties we have doing this work, are very complex. We cannot go to the factories to hand out flyers. We cannot set up a table at the university to distribute leaflets and sell our publications. We do have the strength of a web page, the strength of social media for our propaganda, but even that has a limited reach. We cannot have a physical place for several reasons, not only finances, but because we are almost certain that having a physical space would invite direct repression. We have thought about maybe creating a Marxist library. We’ve thought about calling it the Rosa Luxemburg Library or the Mary Low Library, the latter after the Cuban Trotskyist fighter and Anglo-Australian internationalist who went to Barcelona to fight in the Spanish Civil War with Juan Rámon Breá, the founder of Cuban Trotskyism.

So as you can see, the concrete conditions of our daily struggle are extremely difficult. That is why it is impossible for me to spell out how to reach the goal, which is to build democratic socialism.

First published in Spanish on January 16 in Ideas de Izquierda.

Translation and slight abbreviation by Scott Cooper

Notes[+]

Pablo is a sociologist from Mexico City and a leader of the Socialist Workers Movement (MTS).