the cuban revolution – raya dunayevskaya (1960)

Introduction by Chris Kane

Many on the Left consider Cuba a socialist country, its defiant stand against U.S. imperialism is widely admired, and the idea that there is at least one country in the world where a classless society is being built has a powerful appeal to wishful thinking. Indeed, for those who consider that the essence of socialism consists of state planning, Cuba does meet their concept of socialism.

What this ignores are the actual power relations in Cuban society. Power to decide upon economic strategy or foreign policy – or to repress dissent – is tightly held by the bureaucracy of this single party state. Capital is accumulated as state property. The mass organisations that exist are controlled from above; they do not express the free opinions of the workers, still less do they enable the workers to control production.

Here we reprint an article written by Raya Dunayevskaya in 1960, just one year after Castro’s guerrilla movement swept to power. Dunayevskaya reveals the new forms of class domination that were already being established in that unfinished revolution, and sharply criticises the “old radicals” who (then as now) cast themselves as cheerleaders for state-capitalism in Cuba. This article was originally published in the U.S. Marxist-Humanist paper, News & Letters, in December 1960.

The Cuban Revolution (1960)

In a few weeks the Cuban Revolution will mark the first year of its victory. It is no accident that its enthusiastic and uncritical alliance with the Russian orbit of power is almost as old. Contrary to the claims of the old radicals, who can no longer remember what constitutes principled working-class politics, this was not the only path open to it when it shook off the American imperialist yoke. The revolutions that preceded it – in the Middle East and in Africa – took advantage of the global division into two nuclearly-armed blocs fighting for world power to play off one against the other to its own national advantage. If Cuba chose to disregard this precedent and align itself with but one of these power blocs, the answer cannot lie outside of itself.


Forget Russia for a moment – it was nowhere around when Fidel Castro marched into Havana at the head of the July 26th guerrilla movement. Neither it nor the native Cuban Communists supported that movement during the seven years it hid out in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The revolutionary petty-bourgeois lawyer who led this movement had been so little concerned with Communist theory that he gained financial help from many a Cuban, and even some American, liberal bourgeois who had had their fill of the corrupt Batista.

The guerrilla fighters from the mountains, the peasants in the Oriente province, the proletariat and students of Havana merged to bring the greatest revolution Latin America had ever witnessed. There is no doubt that with the overthrow of the bloody Batista dictatorship, the revolution broke decisively with United States imperialism, which had plundered the Cuban economy. In expropriating the American capitalistic owners, it achieved an agricultural revolution and put an end to the feudal relations between the Cuban peasants and the Cuban-American plantation owners. At the same time, however, the power lay not in peasant committees, but in the state who was the new owner.


As for Castro’s attitude to the industrial workers, from the very start his bossist, administrative mentality stuck out from the very first day of victorious entry into Havana when he demanded that the revolutionary students and workers there put down their arms. He proclaimed his movement alone to be the government, his army alone the army. Nevertheless, the overwhelming enthusiasm for the revolution made the proletariat, despite its reservations, lay down its arms and willingly tighten its belt even as the unemployed continued to be silent. When it did, in due course, at the first trade union congress question some economic policies of the new government, Castro ran out of the convention, calling it a “madhouse”.

It is at this point that a kinship was established between the new regime and the native Communists, for it is they who used their leadership of the trade unions to transform them into a pliant tool of the new armed state. Together with world communism Fidel Castro shared the conception of the “backwardness of the masses” who had to be led. The state would henceforward give the orders, the workers and peasants would continue to work harder while the leaders continued to lead and set foreign policy.

Just as the peasant found that, in tilling the soil, he was responsible, not to a committee elected by himself and subject to his recall, but to the state, so the worker found that he too had no organisation responsible to him. Despite the lower rents, there has been no change, except for the worse, in the workers’ conditions of life and labour. Unemployment continues, as do poor wages. Worst of all, there are no Workers’ Councils or any other form of free expression whether in their own organisation or in the press. Those who had hailed the revolution had by now as little freedom to criticise any action of the government, least of all its total embrace of all things Russian, Chinese, East European, including the bloody regime of Kadar’s Hungary.

The stream of refugees is by no means restricted to “Batista’s supporters” or “agents of American imperialism”. Every one from the editor of “Bohemia” to militant trade unionists has attempted to escape, and if the price isn’t always the firing squad, it is always silence. When only a Castro – Fidel or Raul – or a Che Guevara have endless voice here and abroad and the masses are made voiceless; when all spontaneity becomes hypostatised into state grooves; when relations with the outside world are not as people-to-people but through armed state powers; and when all this occurs in a world whose division into two nuclearly-armed powers threatens humanity’s very existence – isn’t it time for a new realistic balance sheet to be drawn up? Least helpful in this regard are the old radicals.

Old Radicals

Trotskyists, who have spent years in exposing Russia as “a degenerated workers’ state” headed by a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, now feel that it is necessary to whitewash that regime “in order to fight the main enemy, Yankee imperialism”. Even some radicals who have spent many years exposing Russian Communism as just another form of state capitalism feel that it is their “revolutionary duty” to spend all their time attacking American imperialism, and none exposing the other pole of world imperialism – Russian totalitarianism.

What is it that impels such self-imposed blindness to the tragedy of the Cuban Revolution, which still has a chance to compel its leaders to follow an independent road?

Why should the workers and peasants in Cuba be allowed to think that in the Chinese “commune” the Chinese peasants are any less oppressed than the Cubans were by the American plantation owners? Why should the Cuban workers be kept in ignorance of conditions of labour in state capitalistic Russia? Why should the Cuban people know that the Guantanamo base is a threat to their existence and not know that the Russian tanks rolled over the Hungarian freedom fighters? Why should they only know of the discrimination against the Negroes in the South but not know of the extermination of nationalities opposed to Stalinism in Russia?

Why should literacy be equated to illiteracy of the realities of a world divided into two, and only two, nuclearly armed powers out for conquest of the world. Why not allow your new hero, Castro, to know some things about Russia – its cynicism in foreign policy – which might easily result in its dropping of Cuba the minute it could get a “peaceful co-existence alliance” with America? Why, for that matter, not make yourself aware that this petty bourgeois lawyer is just as cynical and could as easily slide into alliance with the American State Department if it came to face the only truly independent third force – the masses wishing to mould their own destiny in their own minds sans Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the newly-arisen state bureaucracy?

There is one reason, and one reason only, behind all this self-imposed blindness to the realities of our state capitalistic world. One and all are Planners who fear the spontaneity of the revolutionary masses more than anything else on earth, including state-capitalism.

Fidelistas, like Communists, Trotskyists, like other radicals who thirst for power, share the capitalistic mentality of the “backwardness of the masses”. All are ready “to lead”, none to listen.

It has been said of Jesus: “He could save all others, Himself he could not save”. It needs now to be said of the old radicals: They could save no one, and now they do not even want to save themselves. The one consoling feature is their impotence. Far from being capable of dooming the revolution, history will show them to be the doomed ones.

2 thoughts on “the cuban revolution – raya dunayevskaya (1960)

  1. Perhaps, but better than the usual uncritical leftist cheerleading for the Castro regime


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