"How many years must a People exist?" --Bob Dylan
On Dec. 7, 1989 Fidel said: "In Cuba, the Revolution, socialism and independence are indissolubly linked." He was contrasting the Cuban situation with Eastern Europe when he pointed out that "Cuba is not a country in which socialism came in the wake of the victorious divisions of the Red Army."
I want to focus on this linkage: Revolution <‑‑> socialism <‑‑> independence. We must understand how that linkage has been forged through a long history of struggle for independence that has tempered a strong sense of national identity.
DEPENDENCY AND REVOLUTION
Historically, Cuba had an island economy that was underdeveloped long ago to be part of the dependent periphery in the world economic system. As a result Cuba has not been able to develop an integrated national economy that could give it the material basis for independence. This dependency fueled a quest for national independence that has lasted for well over a century.
The Cuban Revolution and its socialist turn represented the culmination of this struggle for national independence and dignity. Cuba was the most highly neo-colonized country to have a revolution in the twentieth century. Therein lies its historical importance. It was precisely because Cuba was a neo-colony -- a virtual U.S. plantation -- that it had a socialist revolution. The only way it could achieve political independence and economic development was by breaking away from the capitalist world market.
Cuba's struggle for national independence started in 1860's when Carlos Manuel de Cespedes freed his slaves and led them into Cuba's first decade‑long war for independence from Spain (the "Ten Year's War" 1868‑1878). Cuba has been struggling for its independence ever since. Cuba's second war for independence (1895‑1898) was inspired by Jose Marti and led until his death in 1895 by him and the Dominican General Maximo Gomez and the Afro‑Cuban General Antonio Maceo. This time Cuba was defeating Spain only to have independence snatched from it by the US intervention in 1898 ‑‑ thus beginning another sordid chapter in the history of imperialism.
US Marines occupied Cuba for several years, the US set up a government of its own liking, forced Cuba to accept the establishment of a US naval base at Guantanamo (without any termination date) and imposed the infamous Platt amendment to Cuba's constitution, which granted the US the right to intervene in Cuba whenever the US decided Cuba's sovereignty was threatened ‑‑ a strange kind of sovereignty indeed, more hypocritical than the Breznev doctrine in Eastern Europe. Thus under US tutelage until 1959, Cuba became a US plantation, virtually a wholly owned subsidiary of North American businesses. As a neo‑colony of the US, Cuba underwent a process of underdevelopment that in many ways modernized it into a dependent satellite of the US economy. Cuba became a US plantation producing sugar and tobacco with cheap labor and a Mafia dominated playground for North Americans who came for the beaches, the gambling casinos and often the prostitutes as well.
Reoccuring efforts by the Cuban people to reform this system in the name of social justice and to gain national dignity faltered in the face of the fundamental reality of any neo‑colony, viz. while nominally independent, no Cuban government could survive against hostile US pressure and any serious effort to reform would inevitably bring such hostility down on Cuba. Reform was not possible without real independence and independence was not possible without revolution.
Add to this the lesson Cuba learned in the early 1960's ‑‑ viz., revolution (and independence) is not possible without socialism ‑‑ and then you can understand why "in Cuba, the Revolution, socialism and independence are indissolubly linked."
What the leadership of Cuba's revolution quickly learned after coming to power in 1959 was that the only way to break the economic and political stranglehold US business had over Cuba was by socializing the economy. Fortunately, this time when the US responded by expelling Cuba from the world capitalist market, there were the beginnings of an alternative economic system in the world. So Cuba was able to shift its trade to the socialist nations and find vital military and political protection there from the angry colossus of the North, especially vital during this early, vulnerable period of its newly found independence.
It was thus that Cuba's century‑long struggle for national independence ‑‑ a struggle that of course had to be anti‑imperialist ‑‑ came to its necessary culmination in socialism. That's why the Cuban national identity forged through this struggle is today indissolubly socialist.
CUBA IN THE SOCIALIST WORLD SYSTEM
But the very same geographical and historical factors that led it to opt for a socialist revolution, also make its independence precarious. As an island Cuba needs to trade to live. As long as there was a community of socialist nations with whom it could enjoy favorable terms of trade, it was able to develop economically and raise its standard of living to a level that made it the envy of the rest of the Third World -- indeed, a level that in areas such as health care and public education rivals industrialized countries like the United States. While its place in the international division of labor within the emerging socialist world system continued its role as an exporter of agricultural goods and minerals, the prices of these exports were indexed to those of imported industrial goods so that the labor value content of each were more nearly equal than you usually find. It was this unique equivalent exchange that has made economic development possible in Cuba since the revolution.
Now with the collapse of the socialist world system, Cuba faces the prospect of the same kind of unfavorable terms of trade that have so impoverished most of the rest of the Third World. While a few sectors of its economy such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals and its highly educated and technically trained workforce set it apart from other Third World nations, still its primary foreign exchange earnings are from sugar and tourism and it needs to import increasingly expensive industrial goods and oil. It is these external conditions that now threaten Cuban socialism and with it Cuba's independence.
Cuba is a country now under siege by the capitalist world system. Boldly put, its alternatives are either to strengthen its socialism or to become a subsidiary of Miami. As such, Cuba's predicament sharply illustrates that faced by the underdeveloped countries of the Third World as a whole. Without the political, military and economic power of the Second (socialist) World to restrain it any longer, the capitalist First World can now be expected to expand and strengthen its hegemony everywhere. The North-South contradiction now becomes the primary contradiction on the stage of world history. Had it not been for the war in the Persian Gulf, by now Cuba might once again be on the front lines of an expansionary US imperialism.
It is under these conditions of intensified siege that threatens not only socialism but the Cuban nation itself, that we now hear a resurgence of nationalist themes in Cuba asserting that Cuba's national identity is irrevocably socialist. Is that just propaganda or is it really true? Let me reflect for a moment in general terms on how a nation is invented. Yes, I say 'invented', because a nation doesn't just come into being by some natural process but is created through a deliberate project.
What is a nation? A nation is a kind of imagined community -- it is an identification with others who one has never met but who one thinks of as fellow countrymen, others who may in fact be very different but who are thought of as being like me. How does this image get fixed in the imagination of so many people so as to constitute a nation?
This imagined community comes about through participation in a common project. And, I submit, such a project is put out (projected) by a particular class or group and becomes a national project if it is able to win support from other classes or groups who come to think of it as also their project because either it serves their interests as well or would realize common values. Thus nationalism is a class project, invented by that class whose interest is a universal interest (or can be made to appear as such) at a particular moment in history.
If we next look at nationalism specifically in the Third World, what has become increasingly clear through the 20th century is that in the era of neo-colonialism a national bourgeoisie (so-called) is not able to define a national project because its interests tie it to foreign capital and makes it a link in the mechanism by which wealth is syphoned out of the country and its people. That is why Andre Gunder Frank has renamed the national bourgeoisies of the underdeveloped world 'lumpen bourgeoisies'. They end up playing a comprador role and thus are not able to unite the other classes of society behind a common national project.
Cuban nationalism is a class project. At different points in its century and a quarter struggle for independence, different classes have projected their own vision of the Cuban nation. Since the early 1960's Cuba's revolutionary leadership has put forth a socialist project based on the class interests of Cuba's working people as the definitive national project. It has won broad support from various sectors of Cuban society for this socialist project as the means to achieve national independence with social justice.
Social justice has long been a primary component of the Cuban struggle for independence. Under conditions of neo-colonialism the root of social injustices came to be seen as foreign. The Cuban constitution of 1940 expressed the ideal of social justice and charged the state with the responsibility for achieving this ideal. When a new revolutionary government came to power in 1959 and took this responsibility seriously, it inevitably came into conflict with not only Cuba's lumpen bourgeoisie but their North American sponsors as well. Thus the socialist project came to the Cuban people not only as the outcome of the struggle for and the means to ensure independence, but also as the outcome of the struggle for and means to ensure social justice. This socialist project is an expression of the working class as a universal class, i.e. one able to unite society behind its agenda because it is in the common interest of the Cuban nation as a whole.
In the current crisis the leadership of the Revolution has become more conscious of this unique convergence of nationalism and socialism. This is reflected, for instance, in the reconceptualization of the Party that seems to be underway in Cuba now. The Cuban Communist Party remains a Marxist-Leninist party of the proletariat with a socialist program. But it is also being conceived of as a popular national party (of the sort that Samir Amin has spoken of as most appropriate in the Third World) that represents the entire Cuban nation regardless of class or ideology. Consequently at the 4th Party Congress it was decided to admit Christians into membership even though they are not Marxist-Leninists so long as they are patriotic Cubans. In this broadening of the Party they are consciously drawing on Jose Marti's ideas in the 1890s. Marti, the father of Cuban independence, had argued that to defeat Spanish colonialism there had to be a single political party that united all the Cuban people in a common national struggle. Multiple parties would only open the door to divisive meddling by Spain or the U.S. Similarly today, it is being argued that Cuba faces a common threat from U.S. imperialism and thus needs a single party (within which there can be political pluralism) that is at once socialist and a party of all the Cuban people. Only with that kind of party can Cuba survive this, the most difficult period in the history of its Revolution.
One of the slogans you hear a lot in Cuba today is "Socialism or Death!" It has a number of meanings. Most obviously it is a fighting slogan expressing the determination to defend socialism to the death if need be. But there is another meaning that is not usually understood by outsiders. It expresses a recognition that the Cuban nation has only two alternatives: through socialism it can maintain its independence and social justice, but if it gives up socialism (as Geoge Bush demands) it will become a colony of Miami and that would be the death of the Cuban nation. It is with that understanding of the New World Order (an order that is very old and familiar to them) that the Cuban people proclaim their determination to defend socialism to the death.
(1) Presented at Socialist Scholars Conference in New York, April 26, 1992. An earlier version was presented at the American Philosophical Association meetings in Boston, December 28, 1990. Copyright reserved, 1992 by Cliff DuRand.
(2) The Peruvian Marxist Jose Carlos Mariategui (1895-1930) had been the first to recognize that only by becoming socialist would a Latin American country be able to attain its national identity because in an economically backward country bourgeois values stand in awe of foreign capital.
(3) Cf. E.J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge University Press, 1990).
(4) Cf. William Appleman Williams, The United States, Cuba and Castro (Monthly Review Press, 1962).
(5) Samir Amin, “The Social Movements in the Periphery: An End to National Liberation?” in Amin, et. al. Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World-System (Monthly Review Press, 1990), pp. 96-138.