The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Cuba and the Problems of Underdevelopment

Sep 30, 1980

Since last spring, about 150,000 Cubans have emigrated to the United States. This flow of emigration began at the end of April. At that time, Carter demagogically once again put himself forward as the champion of human rights. He said that the Cuban people were prevented from leaving Cuba by the Castro regime.

To Carter’s surprise and chagrin, Castro called his bluff. Castro was quick to announce that anyone who wanted to leave Cuba was free to do so. Castro also made it clear that it was the United States that had been the one to prevent immigration from Cuba. From 1973, when the United States stopped Cuban immigration, to 1980, the United States government had enforced an extremely restrictive immigration policy toward Cuba.

Carter and the bourgeoisie media would have us believe that this emigration is proof that the people of Cuba are dissatisfied with the Castro regime. 150,000 people is a considerable emigration, out of a population of ten million people. But it should be compared, for example, to the estimated one and a half million Puerto Rican people living in the U.S., while less than three million live in Puerto Rico itself. Carter doesn’t use these statistics as a proof that the people are dissatisfied with the ruling regime in Puerto Rico (even though they are more convinced on this score) because he doesn’t want to draw attention to the role the U.S. plays in Puerto Rico.

While the current immigration does not represent what Carter says, it is still of some significance. Unlike the immigration that occurred in the years after the Cuban Revolution, the people who make up the immigrants this time are not from the old bourgeois class and they are not all professional or petty-bourgeois elements. Many immigrants are young people born since the revolution, many are from the working class.

From interviews with the immigrants themselves it becomes clear that most came to the United States with the hope of improving their lives. Many say that they only wanted a job; others talk about the problems of not having enough food to eat. Very few talk about the problems of being denied political rights in Cuba and few mentioned their desire for more political freedom – contrary to what the U.S. government would have us believe.

Today, locked into so-called refugee camps, which in reality, are concentration camps, many are having second thoughts about their decision to come to the U.S. By the middle of August, there had been a number of rebellions in these camps, through which the immigrants’ frustration and anger became known. The reality is that the dream the Cuban immigrants had for a better life has become for many a nightmare.

If the recent emigration from Cuba says anything about Cuba, it is that Cuba is still an underdeveloped country – poor in comparison to the advanced industrial countries like the U.S. Should it be surprising that 100,000 people wanted to improve their lives in a rich country? No, the only surprise is that more people didn’t respond when Carter pretended to open the door to this country. The U.S. government knows this and it is why they have set up a restrictive immigration policy against the poor people of the world, whether they are from Mexico, Haiti or Cuba.

Nonetheless, this emigration poses certain questions about Cuba today, 20 years after the revolution: Does it mean that the Cuban revolution was, finally, a failure? This question is posed, particularly in relation to the goal that Cuba set for itself of developing its own national economy, and moreover, of building a socialist society.

Cuba Before the Revolution

The situation in Cuba before the revolution on January 1, 1959 was common to many underdeveloped countries. In a country of only 6 million people, three million had no electricity, and three and a half million were forced to live in huts without the slightest sanitary facilities. Thirty-seven percent of the population was illiterate. Many Cuban people were forced to live off prostitution, gambling, the drug trade - all of which were geared toward serving the U.S. tourist trade. This degeneration and abuse of the Cuban people for the pleasure of the “rich Yankees” was one of the hated aspects of imperialist domination.

U.S. capitalists and monopolies dominated life in Cuba. U.S. capitalists owned 25 percent of Cuba’s best land, and 60 percent of Cuba’s exports went to the U.S. Public service, electricity and telephone services, all belonged to the U.S. monopolies. The balance of payments in the years from 1950 to 1960 had been favorable for the U.S. vis-a-vis Cuba to the extent of one billion dollars.

In order to ensure its continued domination of Cuba, the U.S. needed a regime that would carry out and enforce upon the Cuban people policies that benefitted the interests of the U.S. In 1952, the U.S. engineered Fulgencio Batista’s return to power to ensure this. This regime was so hated by the Cuban people that it was only able to stay in power with the assistance of weapons, financial aid and political support supplied by the United States government.

The Break With the U.S.

The revolution, which was led by Fidel Castro and his followers, brought an end to the repressive regime of Batista, the puppet of the U.S. imperialism. For the first time in many generations, the Cuban people were forcing the U.S. to recognize and deal with their country on an equal basis, one country to another. The revolution gave the people of Cuba a feeling of dignity and respect for themselves. It was Castro who reflected the Cuban people’s aspirations.

After the revolution, it was not Castro who chose to break with the United States, but the U.S. who made the break. U.S. imperialism tried to prevent Castro and Cuba from making important changes in the country. But the Castroists had taken power precisely to solve certain problems, to end some of the grossest injustices in Cuba.

They put forward several modest proposals; they instituted a 50 percent reduction in rents, they passed a law requiring the U.S. owned telephone company to pay taxes for the first time, and they reduced the cost of electricity. Then they began to take over some of the land of the big estates. With this measure, the Castroists hoped to address the problems of the landless peasants, the poorest section of the population, and that section which had supported the Castroists from the beginning.

U.S. imperialism tried to prevent any encroachment on American corporate investment and interests in Cuba. Moreover, it wanted to prevent the Cuban revolution from serving as an encouragement to the other underdeveloped countries. After the first measures taken by Castro’s regime, the U.S. retaliated. In 1960, President Eisenhower said that the U.S. was declaring “economic war on Fidel Castro’s Cuba.”

The policies of U.S. imperialism left Castro with little choice – either give in completely to threats made by imperialism; or find a way to survive without imperialism’s help, even if need be in opposition to imperialism.

Castro chose the latter road. In order to survive, he established close relations with the USSR. This reinforced the opposition of the U.S. to Cuba. Castro’s regime gave the Soviet Union an ally in the Western hemisphere, an ally only 90 miles off the coast of the Unites States.

U.S. imperialism stepped up its attacks on Cuba. In 1961, the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. And in October of that year, with the goal of bringing Cuba’s economy to its knees, the U.S. declared a total embargo on trade with Cuba.

The Struggle to Develop Cuba

But the Castroists were unwilling to accept imperialist domination. Castro refused to give in to each new pressure imperialism put to bear on Cuba. In fact, each time, he responded by taking steps away from imperialist control: nationalization of industry, an appeal for help to the USSR against the U.S. From this point on, Castro proclaimed socialism as a goal for Cuba.

At the same time, the Castro regime continued to focus on the goal of developing a national economy and keeping Cuba independent.

In order to try to increase sugar production for export, and gain money to invest in industrialization, the Castro regime set up target goals for sugar. But since they had no access to modern agricultural technology or machinery to produce sugar, they asked the Cuban people to produce more and consume less. They asked them to see the sacrifices they were making as an investment in the future. At first the Cuban people responded to the demands put on them with enthusiasm and dedication. Between 1962 and 1970, Cuba saved, with great sacrifice in consumption and extreme dedication in production, an increasingly large proportion of its GNP (as much as 31 per cent in 1968) for investment purposes.

But Cuba’s GNP was so small to begin with that even a 31 per cent share does not create much capital. However, to take such a large share of the nation’s economy and direct it toward investment, meant that in those years the Cuban people were forced to make sacrifices. Castro himself publicly recognized the severity of the shortages during those years.

But even this degree of sacrifice wasn’t enough to turn around the Cuban economy. The policy of accumulating capital from agricultural production and re-investing it in industry or machinery simply was not sufficient to enable Cuba to develop a strong national economy. This failure was not the fault of Cuba, certainly all the energies of the people and the regime were directed at this goal.

The more they pushed to increase sugar production for the world market and to obtain capital, the more the Cuban economy became distorted. In 1970, the sugar crop set a record of 8.5 million tons which still didn’t meet the goal of ten million tons. Even so, this record was set only by taking large numbers of workers out of production in other industries and putting them to work in the sugar fields. As a result, there was a sharp decline in production in the non-sugar related sector of the economy. The push for a 10 million ton sugar crop did not produce a stronger economy, but it did increase problems for years to come.

The Impasse for the Underdeveloped Countries

In fact, no country developed in this way. Even countries like the U.S., France and England did not develop their national economies solely within their own national borders nor did they accumulate capital solely on agricultural production. A large percentage of the capital they accumulated and on which they began to develop their manufacturing forces came directly from the capital they raised on the basis of the slave trade.

Later the capital they used to build their industrial strength came from the wealth and resources they stole from the countries they turned into their colonies. It was on the backs of the peoples of the world that today’s advanced industrial countries, the imperialist powers built their national economies.

Today no underdeveloped country has the possibility to develop an industrial national economy – an economy that could truly be competitive in the world market. For example, the amount of capital necessary to build a steel mill today compared to what it took to build a weaving mill in the 1800s is much larger. And when you add to this all the types of industry that are necessary for a modern economy, the difficulties are overwhelming. Moreover the problems of Cuba are even more extreme in that it is a tiny island country that has only sugar and some nickel.

Even the Soviet Union (which in 1917 was an underdeveloped country), a much larger country with a huge amount of resources, has not been able after more than 60 years of trying, to develop its economy to become truly competitive with U.S. imperialism.

Each of the underdeveloped countries remains at an extreme disadvantage with the imperialist countries. This stems from the way the international division of labor breaks down. Between an advanced industrial country and an underdeveloped country there is a difference in the productivity of labor. In 1965, Che Guevara asked, “How can ‘mutual benefit’ mean selling at world market prices raw material which cost unlimited sweat and suffering to the backward countries and buying at world market prices the machines produced in large automated factories of today?”

There is no mutual benefit – there is only the advantage imperialist countries have over the underdeveloped countries. World market prices are set by the most advanced countries. The pricing mechanism always works in their favor. This means that the advanced countries always take back in trade more than the equivalent of what it took them to produce what they give. It is precisely this advantage which not only prevents the underdeveloped countries from developing their economies but which increase the gap between them and the advanced industrial countries.

All these problems are aggravated for Cuba by the obstacles U.S. imperialism put in its way; economic boycott, sanctions and constant harassment. Everything became more difficult for Cuba. For example, the embargo made it difficult for Cuba to purchase the necessary machinery and supplies it needed for its economy. If the USSR. was not able to provide certain equipment that Cuba needed, Cuba was forced to deal with countries that were hostile to it (if they would deal at all) and usually this meant dealing on terms that were extremely disadvantageous for Cuba.

For all these reasons, it is perfectly understandable that Castro has not been able to accomplish what he set out to do in Cuba. The goal that was set was an impossible one.

It was for this reason that the problem of housing, transportation, clothing, electrical power and food all remain. It’s for this reason that food is still rationed. As late as March of this year, each adult was entitled to only 3 large cans of evaporated milk a month. Two people were entitled to a pound of butter a month between them. And the total monthly ration per person for meat was 2½ pounds of beef or pork or 3¼ pounds of chicken.

Yet, Cuba has been able almost totally to abolish illiteracy, there is very little unemployment, libraries and cultural centers have been built, and health care is provided for everyone. None of these improvements require a great deal of investment; it was simply the dedication and the will of the regime and of the Cuban people which made them possible. These are the measures that helped maintain the support the regime still has.

Today it is true, there is more equality in Cuba than in most countries but it is still a poor country. Its people have consciously sacrificed for over 20 years and yet their lives have not improved greatly. For those young people born since the revolution, life must seem hard, especially when they compare it to what they think life is like in a country like the U.S.

The Necessity to Get Rid of Imperialism

The problems of the people of the underdeveloped countries of the world come from the way the world’s resources have been divided and used. They come from the fact that a few countries, the imperialist powers, expropriate the world’s wealth for themselves. The only solution is to put these resources and the wealth of the whole world at the disposal of the world’s population. The only solution is a world-wide planned economy. Such an economy however can only be created on an international level. And for that you need an international power which has an interest to put that economy in place. The only power which has the possibility to do that is the working class. It is why socialists take their stand with the working class.

There is no way for the Cuban people alone to overcome the underdevelopment. The only hope for the people of Cuba as well as the rest of the world to escape the trap of underdevelopment lies with the proletarian socialist revolution – an international solution.

Castro never represented the proletariat of the world. He has never had a policy to propose to the international working class. Actually he has never been in favor of the power of the proletariat in Cuba itself. Castro has been a nationalist who has only the goal to develop the political and economic independence of Cuba. And each stance of foreign policy was taken in relation to this goal: whether supporting the Russian bureaucracy when it sent troops into Czechoslovakia in 1968 or more recently into Afghanistan, or whether it was sending Cuban troops to support the struggle in Angola. These decisions were made based solely on the aim of furthering the national interests of Cuba. Castro also has not had the goal of building an International Communist organization, that is, the organization able to lead the international socialist revolution.

To have such a goal would have required sacrifices from the Cuban people certainly. But so did Castro’s aim. Today we can look at Cuba and see the extreme level of sacrifice that has been made over the last 20 years. If the aim of the Cuban Revolution had been different, if it had been to spread the revolution to other countries, it would not have required more sacrifices from the Cuban people; but it could have changed something in the international relationship of forces between imperialism and the rest of the world. And this could have meant the possibility of changing something for the underdeveloped countries of the world.

For the past 20 years, Cuba has tried to solve the problems of its underdevelopment with a nationalist policy. But Cuba still today has most of the problems of the other underdeveloped countries of the world. They stem from the continued imperialist domination of the world. Only socialism, made possible by the international proletarian revolution, holds the solution to the problems of underdevelopment, because only the international proletarian revolution can get rid of imperialism.