Friday, October 12, 2007

A "Trotskyist" critique of Cuba

On October 10th the Socialist Party and its youth wing, Socialist Students, held a "joint meeting" on the life of Che Guevara at ULU. The SP's conduct at the meeting was very dishonest, presenting a demagogic case for appreciating Guevara's bravery, drive to action and "socialist" politics with little reference to what kind of society he envisaged and what Cuba is now.

The speaker from the platform, who delivered a near half-hour biography of Guevara's life, was clearly reluctant to "admit" in front of young contacts what the Trotskyist position on Cuba is. His only criticism of élitist petty-bourgeois guerrilla struggle was that it is militarily utopian and such tactics could not be adopted in Britain - he did however laud healthcare in Cuba and the "anti-capitalist" nature of its economy. The lack of working-class involvement in the revolution was unfortunate, but essentially a tactical question. They were not prepared to take power, "Che", as he was affectionately termed, was.

He furthermore implied that the Cuban régime was not Stalinist on the grounds that Guevara was an opponent of Popular Frontism (he did not deign to mention that this was only true in terms of Guevara's revolutionary Stalinist and Maoist Third Period politics) and that "according to rumour" the guerilla leader had a copy of Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed in his back pocket when captured in Bolivia in 1967.

When the chair called for questions from the floor, there was no response, despite the fact that 60-odd people were in the room. After around a minute a Socialist Party member got up, and launched into a speech about the postal strike, claiming that the CWU should "follow Che's example of not thinking and discussing, but taking action [sic!]". As if a strike is comparable to a guerrilla coup backed by the peasantry.

Given the apathy of the rest of the audience, I took the opportunity to intervene. The dishonesty and half-truths of the lead speaker were so transparent that I only made the most uncontroversial, basic Marxist points - that the question of agency of change affects the outcome and thus the society the revolution creates; the organised working class had no role in the Cuban revolution (which was not explicitly socialist) so did not consciously take power; workers had no control over the Cuban government or economy, which were organised along the lines of the Stalinist ruling class's structures in the USSR; nationalisation without workers' management simply hands power to the totalitarian bureaucracy; and that the continuing existence of Stalinism in Cuba is not as interesting as expressions of working-class power in society such as strikes in Bolivia or factory occupations in Argentina.

Although I had torn into everything the speaker said, the Socialist Party were a well-trained bunch and not to be drawn into an argument. While at an SWP meeting an intervention such as mine would have provoked them to angrily lay into my case, accusing me of having secret right-wing agendas and barking out their own line even more vehemently and unreasonably than before, the SP did not respond to my provocation at all. None of the others who intervened from the floor responded to what I had said, instead repeating the same mantra about the derring-do and bravery of Guevara and saying how we should learn from him. It was like everyone was talking past each other. (Curiously, many of these speeches doubled as announcements for upcoming Socialist Party events, one of them even including a call for comrades to draw up concrete contact lists).

The meeting lacked any real debate, unusual given that what I had said was clearly in contradiction to the other interventions. I sense that the Socialist Party were rather embarrassed - they wanted to jump on the Che Guevara t-shirt bandwagon, but the only way to do this is uncritical and impressionistic appreciation for a man who was, in truth, a Stalinist. His voluntarism and adventurism are criticised on tactical grounds - but that "ambition" of his was his only saving grace. His politics were much worse.

Summing up at the end of the meeting, the speaker reiterated what he had said before, but co-opted certain elements of my arguments into his, making vague references to the need to "enhance" workers' democracy in Cuba and more workers' control rather than bureaucracy - but he did not even say that a "political revolution" was necessary, which you might have thought central to the "degenerated workers' state" schema (which also went unmentioned). Indeed, some of the Socialist Party comrades had even referred to Cuba as a "socialist" alternative to imperialism.

That is not just unMarxist because of its accommodation to Stalinism and utopian petty-bourgeois politics, or its fetishisation of nationalisation. It is unMarxist because it is simply - and deliberately - dishonest.


Renegade Eye said...

Very interesting post.

What do you do when a young Latino militant is wearing a Che' t-shirt? Tell him Che' is a Stalinist?

I would ignore the Che' shirt, unless he is advocating guerillaism. Che' is exploited by everyone else, why not use him too?

I wouldn't argue with you about Che'. I wouldn't have a forum either, saying how great he's.

See this.

voltaires said...

Hmmm... good to see you back, young man! :)

Jason said...

Che the symbol matters much more than Che the actual human being at this point. All one can tell from people wearing Che tee shirts is that they oppose U.S. imperialism and that they support Latin American nations' right to self-determination. That's about it.

The Sanity Inspector said...

From more than 100 years ago comes this assessment of Che's groupies:

"Every villain is followed by a sophist with a sponge."
-- EM Forster, misquoting a Lord Acton lecture

blackstone said...

Che's line was wrong? Okay? So was alot of our heroes. Take it with a grain of salt.

David Broder said...

It's not just that he had the "wrong line" as if it were an academic debate or an argument about when to do the paper sale - he was the agent of a new ruling class for Cuba!

He is not a hero of mine, as the article indicates.