Riots in Cuba : Neither with the “democratic opposition” nor with the Castro regime. The Cuban proletariat has only one way out: the class struggle!
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 18; Winter 2021-2022)
For several days, the main cities of Cuba, especially Havana, have been experiencing incessant clashes between demonstrators and the police. According to information provided by the international press, which should always be taken with caution given its usual bias about Cuba, the Diaz-Canel government has responded to the demonstrations that have been taking place on the island since July 11 by militarizing the cities, as the police have been unable to contain the tide of rioters. The same press reports that the Cuban government was forced to acknowledge that at least one person died in the riots, while demonstrating in front of a police station in the suburbs of Havana. While the crackdown, which President Díaz-Canel himself called for on his social networks, attempts to calm the tension with batons, tear gas and gunfire, the government has begun a series of food distributions in the poorest neighborhoods of Havana and Santiago, and has also ended the power cuts that sparked the protests.
Beyond these facts, the reality for the majority of the Cuban population is that their living conditions have deteriorated considerably in recent years. The effects of the embargo that the United States maintains against all commercial activity with Cuba have worsened with the arrival of Donald Trump as president, as he has reversed all the measures of openness that his predecessor, Obama, had put in place. Nothing changed after Biden’s election victory last November, and the consequences of the policy of restrictions are being felt in the form of shortages of practically all types of basic necessities.
But the American embargo is only one of the causes of the situation that the Cuban economy is going through. It is well known that Cuba depends almost entirely on tourism to survive. The Covid 19 crisis put an end to tourist trips to the island, resulting in the loss of a vital source of income, as the foreign currency from these trips is used to finance the purchase of a large part of the capital goods, especially agricultural, that the country needs.
Finally, traditional Venezuelan support, which provided oil and other basic commodities at low prices, has also been drastically reduced, exacerbating the lack of energy sources that have caused electricity prices to rise and the power outages that major cities have experienced in recent months.
In January 2021, the Cuban government responded to the economic crisis with a series of financial measures that only succeeded in worsening the situation of the proletarian class: the traditional two-currency system (the Cuban peso, in normal use on the island, and the convertible peso, used for international trade) disappeared, leaving only the Cuban peso set at a convertibility rate of 24 to the dollar. This led to a devaluation of the currency for the state economic sector, which was the only one able to import the goods necessary for daily life in Cuba, and thus to a drastic increase in the prices of these goods. Thus, the “socialist” government of Díaz-Canel has proceeded to eliminate subsidies on almost all basic products. As compensation, the government has increased salaries and pensions by up to 450%... a totally useless measure when there is a fundamental problem of shortage of goods and services, and which therefore does not improve the purchasing power of the Cuban proletariat.
Some international commentators compare this catastrophic situation to what happened in economic terms during the so-called “special period,” the long decade following the collapse of the Eastern bloc, leaving Cuba without its main source of supply and its main buyer in the international market. The unrest known as the “maleconazo” in 1994 (1) and the “balseros” crisis (2) in the following years were the response of the Cuban proletariat to the economic and social crisis that the country was experiencing. A desperate response that resulted in the deaths of dozens of Cubans drowned in the Caribbean Sea, and which was quickly suppressed inside the country by a classic combination of repressive force and persuasion on the part of the government’s top leadership.
Today’s reality is completely different from that of then. First, because the years that have passed since the Castro revolution of 1959 and the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1991 have contributed to weakening the heavy illusion in the supposed “Cuban socialism”: the economic, political and social measures that resulted from the crisis of the “special period” have greatly weakened the conviction that the Cuban government and proletariat are marching together towards socialism or, at least, towards the defeat of US imperialism.
Second, these measures, which were accelerated after Raúl Castro came to power and which aimed to “open” the Cuban economy both to international markets (mainly tourism) and to small local businesses through the liberalization of certain commercial activities, have led precisely to an increase in social polarization:
On the one hand, the caste composed of the military leadership and the leaders of the “Communist” Party that controls the national enterprises has constantly reaffirmed the “irremovability” of a power that, as it loses its ascendancy over the masses, is forced to react more violently against them.
Secondly, a small but consistent layer of middle class, petty bourgeoisie enriched by the opening of trade which it has been able to use to improve its economic position through establishments that buy and sell only in dollars, etc.
Finally, a proletarian mass in the countryside and the cities, traditionally employed by one or another branch of the public sector, which suffers the economic ups and downs with no prospect of improvement, with no possibility of union or political organization and, of course, without being able to access the “advantages” of the spaces of free trade opened up in the last six years.
The revolts of the last few days have set in motion both this proletarian class and the petty bourgeoisie. The latter was also hit hard by the financial measures of last January, which contributed to a slow maturation of the confrontation with the government through artistic groups, opinion groups, etc. as the so-called “San Isidro movement” (created since 2018 against the censorship of artists). It is this middle class that shouts the slogans of “democracy” and “freedom” or “homeland and life” (as opposed to the famous “homeland or death!”), heard in the demonstrations. It is in their interest to capitalize on social discontent, to succeed in getting the upper hand over the proletarians who spontaneously take to the streets, in order to impose their own demands, which obviously differ, both politically and economically, from those of the working class. This petty bourgeoisie, which only aspires to have its economic status recognized by a partial integration into state structures, which in turn allows it to reinforce this status, is also the alibi of all the European and American imperialist powers that have an interest in pushing for a change of government in Cuba.
For its part, the proletarian class presents itself barehanded in the struggle. Not only because it has found itself disarmed in the face of the police and the army, but above all because the myth of Cuban “national socialism” still weighs heavily on it. The pressure of more than sixty years of power of the Castro brothers, once leaders of the revolution, and of alignment with this government and against the pressure of U.S. imperialism, is still capable of preventing Cuban proletarians from recognizing in this capitalist regime disguised as “socialism” and in this false “communist” party in which their class enemy is organized, the real enemy to be defeated.
This is why, beyond the spontaneous revolts, the difficulties faced by the Cuban proletariat in breaking with the policy of collaboration between classes that the defense of the “socialist state” means are immense: neither in the field of the immediate economic struggle, where the state controls all the existing trade union organizations, nor in the field of the political struggle, is it yet able to advance.
But each one of these social explosions, and there will be many more, each one of these revolts, contribute to show the hard reality: capitalism exists in Cuba; therefore, there is a proletarian class and its class enemies: the Cuban dominant bourgeois class, however weak it may be, and the layers of the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie; the latter, which played the function of social glue during the falsely socialist political domination of Castro, once the help of Russia and the Eastern countries disappeared, as well as that of chavismo, are turning more and more to another protector, American imperialism, one of the greatest enemies of the proletarians of all countries. As this reality becomes more visible, the myth of “Cuban socialism” erodes and the ideological and material pressure it exerted on the proletarians weakens.
The importance of this development is not only national: the myth of “socialist” Cuba extends far beyond its borders. First, in Latin America, where the Cuban state itself has, in one way or another, propagated this myth to defend its national interests, and where it has always found support among the proletarian class and the popular masses. Secondly, to the rest of the world, starting with Spain, where adherence, albeit in “humanitarian” terms and against the U.S. blockade, continues to be a major point of reference for the local forces of political and trade union opportunism.
The value of the riots of the last few days lies, therefore, in the fact that they are the expression of a social force which inevitably tends to show that the class struggle of the proletariat, in all countries and in all circumstances, remains the great question of the bourgeois world. Even where the bourgeoisie has had to veil its power under the cover of a false socialism, it tends to fall as the demands of bourgeois society, causing periodic crises and increasingly frequent phases of misery for the proletariat, bring the class struggle back to the forefront.
Against the false national “socialism”!
Against the democratic demands of the petty bourgeoisie!
For the return of the class struggle of the proletariat!
For the reconstitution of the international and internationalist communist party!
July, 15th 2021
(1) Maleconazo. Comes from the 8 km long El Malecon avenue along the coast of Havana, where a big anti-government demonstration took place on August 5, 1994
(2) Balseros: this is what Cubans fleeing the island in August 1994 (and the following years, including 2014) to the United States were called. The “balsa” was a makeshift boat, constructed from any object that could float in some way, rigged with sheets imitating sails and propelled by oars also made of odds and ends.
International Communist Party