Monday, April 22, 2024

3641: The Political Thoughts of Fidel Castro

 By Kamran Nayeri, April 19, 2024

Preliminary Remarks

This essay is based on an installment in a series of articles I have been writing in Farsi for the socialist website Naghd-e Eghtesada-e Siasi (Critique of Political Economy) in Iran. The series offers a reassessment the Cuban revolution that weaves together my first-hand observations of social and political life in Cuba from my ten visits to the island from 1994 to 2006 with the relevant literature. 

My view of the Cuban revolution was formed by the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP). However, the SWP, which was an effective revolutionary socialist organization since its founding in January 1938, began to degenerate under Jack Barnes, its National Secretary, in the 1980s and has become a tiny pseudo-socialist cult of personality that currently takes pro-imperialist and pro-Zionist positions. 

In the 1960s and the 1970s, the SWP leadership characterized the Cuban revolution as the first health workers' state since the October 1917 Russian socialist revolution. However, in the 1920s, the revolution degenerated resulting in the Stalinist authoritarian regime. Whereas the Bolshevik Party was a proletarian revolutionary organization armed with a program for socialist revolution, the July 26th Movement in Cuba was organized around a national democratic program outlined in Castro's courtroom speech and subsequently published by his supporters as History Will Absolve Me (1953). After overthrowing the Batista dictatorship, Castro's leadership began implementing its national democratic program. However, given the hostility of landowners and capitalists, as well as U.S. imperialism and increased political activity of the working people, the Castro leadership undertook nationalization of the critical sectors of the economy, and on May Day 1961 Castro (1961) declared socialism as the goal of the revolution.

Analyzing the revolution through Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution, in the 1960s and the 1970s the SWP leadership characterized the Castro leadership as "revolutionaries of action." That is, they recognized that the Castro leadership was following the anticipated dynamics in that theory without being armed with such a theory. Trotsky's theory, first formulated for the Russian Revolution, predicted that the bourgeoisie in peripheral countries would fail to lead the national democratic revolution, and to be successful, it had to be led by the working class in alliance with the peasantry. However, the victorious proletariat will proceed to the socialist revolution, which will require solidarity and support from the proletariat of the industrial capitalist countries to succeed in the long run. 

In the 1980s, the Barnes leadership broke with the historical program and norms of the SWP by denouncing Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution, allegedly in favor of Lenin's theory of "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry." However, the two theories have much more in common than the differences that Barnes' grouping claimed, as shown by Trotsky and Lenin's mending fences and the former joining the Bolshevik Party in the summer of 1917 and becoming a central leader of it. At the same time, Barnes's leadership argued that the Cuban Communist Party was, in fact, the leading communist (revolutionary socialist) leadership in the world and predicted the formation of a New International centered on the Cuban revolution. That prediction never came true. Yet, a significant change in the SWP's attitude toward the Cuban Communist Party occurred. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s, the SWP leadership followed the revolutionary socialist program and the Leninist party norms of the Fourth International, the Barnes' SWP broke with them root-and-branch. Instead, it initially began following the Communist Party of Cuba policies even though it lacked a revolutionary socialist program and did not follow the norms of a Leninist Party or adhere to the principles of socialist democracy. Eventually, the Barnes leadership dropped pretending it was following Lenin or the Communist Party of Cuba as it continued its rightward shift. By 2006, it embraced Zionism without a discussion and currently supports the U.S. imperialist policy in Ukraine and Israeli genocidal war in Gaza. 

In October 1992, after political disagreements with Barnes's leadership, I resigned from the SWP. This made it possible for the first time for me to visit Cuba in June 1994. However, that visit shattered the conceptions imparted to me in the 1970s and the (Nayeri 2019). I decided to continue visiting Cuba and reassess my understanding of the Cuban revolution and its leadership. The series I am writing in Farsi is to share my reassessment with the readers. 


From 1962 to 1965, when the new Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) was established, there was a written and public debate between two views of socialism and transition to it in magazines of some ministries in Cuba. Later called the Great Debate, some critical contributions to it are collected in a volume by Bertram Silverman (1971). I have discuss these in my essay on the "Political Thought of Ernesto Che Guevara" which I will translate into English as soon as possible.

Guevara initiated the debate with a critique of the Soviet model supported by the leaders and cadres of the former Popular Socialist Party (PSP). Founded in 1925, the Communist Party of Cuba like other parties of the Communist International were taken over by the Stalinists and changed its name Popular Socialist Party in 1944. The Soviet model was copied with modifications in Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia, where it was appropriately called market socialism. 

The Cuban government invited noted Marxist economists to participate in the Great Debate (Kapcia 1988; Albert and Hahnel 1981), and Charles Bettelheim, a trained economist aligned with the French Communist Party, as well as Ernest Mandel, a leader of the Fourth International, contributed to the debate giving it an international scope. However, Fidel Castro kept silent during this debate. That seems odd as he was the undisputed leader of the revolution, who announced the socialist goal of the revolution and led the effort to forge the new Communist Party. His views mattered most given the critical theoretical debate with immediate practical application in Cuba. At the time, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, a central leader of the former PSP, was the head of the Agrarian Institute in charge of land reform, and Ernesto Che Guevara was the director of the National Bank of Cuba as well as Minister of Industry from 1961-65. They each implemented what they believed was the correct model of socialist development in their area of responsibility. There was a clear practical need to decide which course to follow for the transition to socialism in Cuba. 

There is rich literature dealing with the ideological aspects of the Cuban revolution, particularly Fidel Castro's political thought (see  Pérez Jr. 1988, pp. 438-39, for a helpful short list of readings). 

However, late in his life, Fidel Castro invited the Spanish Ignacio Ramont, Editor-in-Chief of Le Monde Diplomatique (1991-2008), to interview him about his life published as Fidel Castro: My Life, A Spoken Autobiography (Castro and Ramonet 2006). I use this as my primary source because it leaves out much of the guessing in the literature about the political evolution of Fidel Castro. My finding is that while it may be true, as Samuel Farber (1983) has argued, that the PSP was overtaken by Castro's radicalism, it is perhaps truer that Castro himself was won over to the essential elements of the PSP political views, that is, the Stalinist worldview. Before I document it, let us sketch out Fidel Castro's life. 

Childhood and Youth

Fidel Castro Ruz was born in Biran, in Oriente province, on  August 13, 1926. His father Angel Castro y Argiz was a poor peasant from Galicia, Spain, who migrated to Cuba and eventually became a landowner through hard work. He had a sugar cane farm and a comfortable life. Fidel's mother was Lina Ruz, a servant at his father's house. Of several brothers and sisters, some of whom were from other women, Fidel held a lifelong friendship with Raúl, who was five years younger.

When he was six, his father sent him to live with a teacher in Santiago de Cuba, the nearest city. In his autobiography, Fidel complains about inadequate food and poor teaching (Castro and Ramonet 2009, p. 44). He also relates hearing explosions at night, which he attributes to revolutionaries fighting the Machado government. Two years later, Fidel was sent to Colegio de La Salle, a Jesuit school, as a day student. He continued attending Jesuit schools until he went to the University of Havana at the end of 1945. Castro recalls that, at the time, the university was for the children of the middle class. Castro also volunteers that his best school was when he lived as a child on his father estate in the countryside, which he identifies with freedom.

University years

Castro says his high school teachers were all nationalists, and in 1947, he joined the populist Orthodox Party of Eduardo Chaibas that fought corruption. He joined its nationalist "Radical Action" committee that worked to achieve political and economic independence of Cuba. In the same year, Castro joined the Cayo Confites group that wanted to overthrow the long-standing dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. He was also the chairman of Federacion Estudiantil Universitaria (FEU, the Federation of University Students) Committee for Independence of Puerto Rico and the Committee Against Racism. Castro remained in the Orthodox Party until 1955.

It was during his university years that Castro became familiar with the names of the leaders of the pro-Moscow Popular Socialist Party (PSP), such as Juan Marinello, Raul Roa, and Blas Roca, whom he identified as "Marxist Leninists."

Castro says he became anti-capitalist after taking a course in political economy with Professor Portela, realizing the limits of capitalism. He had three majors at the university: law, diplomatic law, and social science.

During the same period, Castro says, "I was learning more and more about Marx and Lenin. I was also reading Engels and other authors' works on economics and philosophy, mainly political works, political ideas, and Marx's political theories (Castro and Ramonet 2006, p. 89)."

Ramonet asks Castro: "What works by Marx were you familiar with?" Castro responds: "What I liked most from Marx, apart from the Communist Manifesto, were The Civil Wars [sic] in FranceThe Eighteenth Brumaire, the Critique of the Gotha Programme and other works of a political nature (ibid. p. 90)." He adds: "I was very impressed by Engels's work on the history of the working class in England." He includes The Dialectics of Nature among the books he had read. As his reading of Lenin, he mentions The State and RevolutionImperialism: A Superior Phase of Capitalism [sic].


On September 10, 1952, Batista, who knew from the polls that he would not win in the presidential elections, staged a coup. Castro says he considered himself a "Marxist-Leninist " at the time (ibid. p. 103). As I noted earlier, Castro considered the Stalinist Popular Socialist Party as Marxist-Leninist. Castro adds: "I had a compass that I found in Marx and Lenin, and for ethics, I found it in Marti (ibid. p. 103)." "I decided to begin a revolutionary program and a people's uprising. From that time on, about the struggle that lay ahead and the basic revolutionary ideas to support it, I had a clear idea which is reflected in History Will Absolve Me (ibid.)." He continues: "[At that time,] there was no class consciousness except among the members of the Popular Socialist Party who were educated well politically. But there was class instinct (ibid.)."

Now, that is an odd statement. As I will show below, Castro also says at the same time in Cuba the easiest thing was to win over Cubans to the ideas of Marxism. Moreover, how did Castro, who was until 1955 still a member of the Orthodox Party, knew whether and how well the members of the PSP were politically educated, and by what standard? He also says the PSP was politically isolated at the time. Castro also knows that at the time the PSP was openly opposed to his political course, starting with the Moncada campaign, but reversed its position in 1958 as the July 26th Movement was on the cusp of victory. 

For his plan of armed attack on the Moncada military base, Castro says he recruited 1,200 young men, almost all from the ranks of the Orthodox Party, after personally holding a conversation with each one of them. To do this, he drove his car around Cuba for 50,000 kilometers. Of course, he did not tell them of his specific plans. "They were young guys—twenty, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four (ibid. p. 108)." 

Castro held classes with his close associates to study "Marxism." They read Franz Mehring's biography of Marx. "One thing I learned: the easiest thing in the world was to convince people of Marxism. I am not bad in speaking and preaching (ibid. p. 109)."

Together with his close associates like Jesus Montane and Abel Santa Maria, Castro trained these men militarily. 

"On July 26, 1953, a young Orthodox, Fidel Castro, led a suicidal attack on the second largest military installation of Moncada in Santiago de Cuba. The attack failed, but the dimensions of the failure distinguished it from all others: the plan was as daring as the failure was spectacular. It served to catapult Fidel Castro into contention for leadership over the anti-Batista forces and reaffirmed armed struggle as the principal means of opposition. Once again, Cubans responded to political crisis and filled the political vacuum (Perez Jr. 1988, p. 290)."

On October 16, 1953, Fidel Castro gave a two-hour defense speech in the courtroom, later published and distributed by his supporters, known as the July 26 Movement, as History Will Absolve Me (Castro 1953). In his speech, Castro argued the Batista coup had foreclosed any peaceful way to oppose his policies. He also said that if his forces were victorious, they would immediately implement the program outlined in his speech. Some highlights of it follow:

•  Giving non-mortgageable and non-transferable ownership of the land to all tenant and subtenant farmers, lessees, sharecroppers, and squatters who hold parcels of five caballerías of land or less, and the State would indemnify the former owners based on the rental which they would have received for these parcels over a period of ten years.

•  Granting workers and employees the right to share 30% of the profits of all the large industrial, mercantile, and mining enterprises, including the sugar mills. The strictly agricultural enterprises would be exempt in consideration of other agrarian laws which would be put into effect.

•  Granted all sugar planters the right to share 55% of sugar production and a minimum quota of forty thousand arrobas for all small tenant farmers established for three years or more.

•  Confiscation of all holdings and ill-gotten gains of those who had committed fraud during previous regimes, as well as the assets and ill-gotten gains of all their legates and heirs. To implement this, special courts with full powers would gain access to all records of all corporations registered or operating in this country to investigate concealed funds of illegal origin and request that foreign governments extradite persons and attach holdings rightfully belonging to the Cuban people. Half of the property recovered would be used to subsidize retirement funds for workers, and the other half would be used for hospitals, asylums, and charitable organizations.

•  It would be declared that the Cuban policy in the Americas would be one of close solidarity with the democratic peoples of this continent and that all those politically persecuted by bloody tyrannies oppressing our sister nations would find generous asylum, brotherhood, and bread in the land of Martí; not the persecution, hunger, and treason they see today. Cuba should be the bulwark of liberty and not a shameful link in the chain of despotism.

Castro also demanded solutions to social problems such as land, industrialization, housing, unemployment, education, and health care. He also demanded the return of civil rights and political democracy.

After two years in prison on the Isle of Youth, Castro was released together with other political prisoners after an extended campaign by mothers for their freedom. Soon after their freedom, Raul and then Fidel Castro learned their lives were in danger and left for Mexico. Meanwhile, the political mode had changed. Even large political parties and ordinary people had turned against Batista after the fraudulent 1954 elections. Students constituting the Revolutionary Directorate who protested against Batista were compelled to resort to guerrilla struggle.

In Mexico, Fidel Castro met Ernesto Guevara through Nico Lopez, who was part of the group that attacked the Bayamo garrison at the same time as the attack on Moncada. Raul Castro had already met Guevara. Castro says: "There was nothing surprising about our immediate sympathy with one another: he he'd been traveling around Latin America, he he'd visited Guatemala, he'd witnessed the American intervention there, and he knew how we thought. I arrived, we talked to each other, and right there he joined up, he immediately signed on (Castro and Ramonet 2006, p. 173)." 


Ernesto Guevara was assigned as the physician for the group, and Alberto Bayo, a former Spanish general, taught him how to use a gun and military skills. Castro says Guevara was a sharpshooter.

On November 25, 1956, 82 revolutionaries boarded Granma, an 18-meter boat, to sail for southeastern Cuba from Tuxapan in Mexico. On December 2, Granma reached Las Coloradas in Oriente province. Frank Pais had started an attack on Batista forces in Santiago de Cuba to divert attention from the landing of the Granma. However, Castro's group was discovered and surprised, and most revolutionaries were killed or wounded. Guevara was wounded. On December 20, two groups one headed by Fidel Castro, and another headed by Guevara found each other. At the time, the revolutionary army was fewer than two dozen men.

In July 1957, Castro organized a second column under the command of Guevara.

On January 1, 1959, Batista fled Cuba at 2 in the morning. The revolutionaries had won the war. A group of military officers staged a coup in Havana. Opposing them, Castro called for a continued military campaign. Santa Clara was under the command of forces led by Guevara. Two columns of revolutionaries, one headed by Guevara and another by Camilo Cienfuegos, moved toward Havana.

On January 2, Fidel Castro called for a general strike, which was honored nationwide. Guevara's column entered Havana and occupied La Cabana fortress, which was Batista's army's headquarters.


On January 5, Manuel Urrutia, who was designed as president by the July 26th Movement, took office.

On January 8, welcomed by hundreds of thousands, Fidel Castro entered Havana.

In July 1961, Fidel Castro proclaimed socialism as the goal of the Cuban revolution. At the same time, efforts were made to organize a new Communist Party from three currents: the July 26 Movement, the Popular Socialist Party, and the Revolutionary Directorate. In 1962, the Great Debate began about what socialism is and how to transition to it, and it lasted until the Communist Party was founded in October 1965. The debate centered on Guevara's critique of the Soviet model and defenders of it.

 Why did Fidel Castro not enter the debate? My best guess is that he favored the view advocated by leaders of the Popular Socialist Party. I will provide some evidence to support it below.

Castro and Stalinism

In discussing PSP's support for and participation in Batista's 1940-44 government, Castro 

tells Ramonet:

       "Batista had already launched a bloody suppression of that famous strike in April 1934—a strike that came after Batista's cunning coup against the provisional government of 1933, which was unquestionably revolutionary in nature, and the result of the heroic struggle of the labor movement and the Cuban Communist Party, led by Martinez Villena, formerly by Mella and Balino. Before that anti-fascist alliance, Batista had murdered I don't know how many people, had stolen I don't know how much money. He's always been, since his betrayal in 1933, a pawn of Yankee imperialism (ibid. p. 88)."

Ramonet responds: "So there were Communists in the Batista government."

Castro confirms: 

"That's right. The order came from the International, where there was not a true collective leadership. [The Communists in the government] were, however, as I've said, wonderful people. Some of them, like Carlos Rafael Rodriguez—A supremely honest man, whom I remember with great affection; he was with me in the Sierra Maestra when

Batista launched his last offensive (ibid.)."

It is also notable how Castro uncritically discusses the PSP's and Stalin's course to forge "anti-fascist" coalitions in which the working classes were subordinated to the capitalist class in each country.

Further, while Castro attributes Stalin's Communist International policy of ordering national parties to follow its policies to a lack of "collective leadership," he does not recognize any break in the politics of the Soviet Union after Lenin or in the revolutionary character of the Cuban Communist Party founded by Mella and Balino in the 1920s, that is, he entirely avoids the problem of Stalinism. 

Castro goes on to add that almost immediately after the Allies' victory in World War II "came the worldwide wave of repression of Communism. In the United States, you had the rise of McCarthyism…In Cuba itself, under the administration of that physiology teacher, honored Communist labor leaders were brutally murdered." He adds: "The historical lesson is that a revolutionary party can carry out tactical movements but must not commit strategic errors (ibid. p. 89)." It remains unclear what Castro means by "strategic errors" and "tactical movements." Nowhere did he criticize Stalin's popular front policy or PSP's participation in Batista's government. 

Castro, who had earlier expressed his interest in politics, displays no knowledge of the October 1917 socialist revolution in Russia and what happened to it and the Bolshevik Party in the 1920s. He does not show any interest in the question of whether the policies of Stalin and those who followed him had anything to do with those of Lenin and the Bolsheviks who inaugurated the Communist International in 1919 to advance the world revolution in cooperation with the newly formed communist parties inspired by the October revolution. It was Stalin who turned the Communist International into his tool of diplomacy to pursue "peaceful coexistence" with imperialism.


Even though Castro recalls the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, that is, between Hitler and Stalin, but does not mention it was to divide Europe. He does not even mention the Tehran conference between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in which Stalin agreed to the sphere 

of influence of imperialist powers in the hope of "peaceful coexistence" with them. Castro merely recalls the anti-communism campaign that followed. The "historical lesson" he draws is a military formula for strategy and tactics to explain away the Stalinist treachery in the Kremlin and Cuba. 

Ecological disasters in the Soviet Union

Ramonet asks about "enormous ecological disasters" in the Soviet Union (ibid. p. 354). Castro responds: "It [Soviet Union] did not work well. But it was ten times better than what there is now." Ramonet, who has not heard an answer to his question, persists: "The fact is that seventy years of Soviet socialism hadn't been able to build the 'new man.' All 

those revelations: first—did you have any suspicion of all that? And second, did it affect your own convictions? (ibid.)"

Castro responds with more apologies for Stalinism. 

"I am not interested in defending any of the bad things that the Soviets did. I should make it clear, I came to think, and I still think this way today, that without the accelerated industrialization that country was forced to engage in, largely because of the West, which blockaded them. Invaded them, and made war on them, the USSR would neverhave been saved from the Nazi onslaught; they would have been defeated (ibid. 357)."

Castro's apologetic claim that these problems are worse in capitalist societies is false on the face of it. It could not have been based on his own direct observations. And it is doubtful that any scientifically valid research was ever done to compare these problems in the Soviet Union with those in the capitalist West. Further, why did Castro not hold the "socialist" Soviet Union to a higher standard? Most importantly, Castro ignores the critical problem of transition to socialism, the focus of the Great Debate in Cuba in 1962-65, and Guevara's criticism of the Soviet Union and Eastern European "socialism." Finally, years after the historical verdict on the Soviet and Eastern European "socialism," why was Castro still trying to claim it was better than Western capitalism?


Castro's embrace of Stalinism as socialism explains why the Cuban Communist Party never held a public discussion of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European "socialisms." It also explains why, in Cuba, the conspiracy theory that the U.S. intelligence agencies were to blame for the collapse of the Soviet Union had currency. This is the same explanation offered by the U.S. Communist Party and other Stalinist parties around the world.

Ramonet asks about the environmental crises in the Soviet Union (ibid. 354-55). Castro again tried to explain them away: "The Soviets did not know about the dangers to the environment, and in a territory as huge as the USSR, it may have been hard to see it, but ecological disasters that have been discovered there are just like the United States and Europe (ibid. 355)." Can the vastness of Soviet territory be an excuse for the anti-environment policy of the Stalinist rulers? Why could not the Soviet scientists predict the environmental effects of its economic and industrial policies? Why did Castro not admit to Moscow's responsibility in the Chornobyl disaster? When he responds to Ramonet's direct question, he again tries to divert attention to ecological crises in the West. (ibid. p. 355) 


Ramonet asks Castro about the massive shrinkage of the Aral Sea. He responds: "I remember Khrushchev telling me about that plan, the conquest of new lands, hyperproduction. They were determined to do the same things the U.S. was doing. And, well, agriculture prospered there, crops with irrigations and so on, but the problems with the salt residue kept getting worse (ibid.)."


Castro continues: "…These are very complex and profound questions unresolved by mankind, and which can't be blamed, for goodness' sake, on the former USSR (ibid. p. 356)." Again, Castro wanted to deflect any criticism of the Stalinist policies by making it into the "complex" question facing humanity. He refuses to accept that policies adopted in the Soviet Union were environmentally harmful and that policymakers were responsible for the environmental crises. Castro also shows an appetite for genetic engineering. His approach to the rest of nature is similar to the bourgeois anthropocentric view that emerged from the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, which subjected nature to unending human wants. This approach to nature was also adopted by socialists (Nayeri October 2021).

Problems with the Soviet infrastructure 

Ramonet asks about the Soviet infrastructure: "The lamentable state of infrastructure, means of transport—trains, highways—telephones, electricity, all in very bad shape (ibid. p. 357)." Castro responds: "I'm not interested in defending any of the bad things that the Soviets did." But he goes on to defend Stalin's forced industrialization policies: 

"I should make it clear, I came to think, and I still think this way today, that without the accelerated industrialization that that country was forced to engage in, largely because of the West, which blockaded them. Invaded them, and made war on them, the USSR would never have been saved from the Nazi onslaught; they would have been defeated (ibid. 357)."

Here, Castro justifies Stalin's forced industrialization without considering his counterrevolution against the October 1917 socialist revolution. 

However, he almost immediately adds that despite the economic blockade, military attack, and even a possible nuclear war, the leadership of the Cuban revolution never resorted to suppressing the Cuban people: "Here there has never been a forced collectivization. We respect a principle: socialism will be made by free human beings who want to build a new society (ibid.)." 

Of course, Castro is correct about agriculture and peasants and farmers. However, he forgot that in 1968, they nationalized even beauty shops and barbershops.

Castro attempts to explain the authoritarian character of Soviet rulers:

"So yes, in the Soviet Union, because of its traditions of absolutist government, hierarchical mentality, and feudal or whatever culture, a tendency towards the abuse of power emerged, and especially the habit of imposing one country's, one hegemonic party's, authority on all the other countries and parties." (ibid. p. 361) 

He adds: "At a certain point we became convinced that if we were directly attacked by the United States the Soviets would never fight for us, nor could we ask them to (ibid. p. 365)."

Ramonet never asked Castro's opinion about whatever happened to the October 1917 socialist revolution. Was the Soviet Union, as Castro explains it, "socialist?" In what sense? In Castro's opinion, was there any qualitative difference between Lenin and the Bolshevik Party on the one hand and Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev and their Communist Party? Was Castro familiar with Trotsky's analysis of the degeneration of the October 1917 socialist revolution due to the rise of a massive counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, also known as Stalinism? If not, why not? 

What would he have thought of it if Castro was familiar with Trotsky's analysis? Why did the masses of working people not resist the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European "socialism" and, in some countries, actively participate in it?

The Communist Party adopts the Soviet Model

On the first of April 1965, Fidel Castro read Ernesto Che Guevara's farewell letter to the public in which he resigned from all his official positions in Cuba before leaving to join the revolutionary struggle in Africa. On 14 March 1966, Guevara clandestinely returned to Cuba after he found factionalism among the fighters in Congo. In December, he clandestinely left for Bolivia to start a guerilla campaign. 

On 8 October 1967, Guevara and seventeen of his co-fighters were ambushed, and he was injured and captured. On the orders from Washington and the Bolivian government, he was murdered. 

On October 15, Castro confirmed Guevara's death. On October 18, a memorial meeting with hundreds of thousands of Cubans was held in his honor. 

In 1972, Cuba joined the Comecon and signed trade relations with the Soviet Union. The first five-year plan was developed and implemented based on the Soviet model from 1976 to 1980.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Raul Castro had noticed widespread demoralization among Cuban workers. The third Congress of the Communist Party in 1986 focused on rectifying these errors. In his speech to Congress, Fidel Castro discussed the monetization of the production sectors of the Cuban economy, stating that every problem was assumed to be "solved" by throwing money at it and spreading corruption (Castro, December 1, 1986). The next day, Castro said: 

"We really went from one extreme to another, from a complete rejection of material incentives -- we had this problem at one time -- to a fetishism with money. There was a belief that all problems could be solved with money. There was also a belief that mechanisms could solve problems. This was another false belief. There was also the belief that in a socialist society, problems could be solved with mechanisms. The political work was neglected. We began to experience a number of negative tendencies. I believe that our party, the people who compose the political vanguard of our country, militants and party cadres, are undoubtedly being chosen among this country's best citizens.


"I ask if the problems experienced by hospitals, health service centers, and everything we want to do related to that field could be solved with economic mechanisms, economic estimates, economic incentives, payment according to work, and things of that sort, we could end up understanding what socialist ideology is and how socialism is built. I believe that those who think that socialism can be built only with economic mechanisms and economic estimates are making a terrible ideological mistake even if they knew by heart Karl Marx's entire three or four volumes of Das Kapital.  (Castro, December 2, 1986)."

The last sentence appears to me to have been directed at the leaders of the Communist Party who had favored the adoption of the Soviet model, the former leaders of the PSP. I will discuss these issues in my essay on the political thoughts of Ernesto Che Guevara centered on the Great Debate in Cuba (1962-65). 

Returning to tensions in Castro's political thought, if in 1986 he knew that using the Soviet model in Cuba for only 14 years had resulted in a "system worse than capitalism," why in 2006 he still defended the Soviet Union's "socialism" and refused to consider that using the same model of development for 70 years might have had something to do with its collapse? 

The Third Congress voted for a Rectification Process to correct the earlier errors and to turn toward Che Guevara's theory of transition to socialism. The following year, Carlos Tablada's book on Guevara's theory of transition to socialism was published and won the Casa de Las Americas prize. Remarking about the book on the twentieth anniversary of Guevara's death, Castro said: "What I for modestly ask for at this twentieth anniversary is that Che's economic thought be made known; that it be made known here, in Latin America, in the world (Castro October 8, 1987)." 

While a campaign for voluntary labor began to get organized on a large scale, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and so did COMECON. Cuba sank into an economic depression combined with the intensification of the U.S. embargo, which Cuba called the Special Period in the time of peace. The PCC and the Cuban government embarked on economic liberalization as it could not provide Cubans with necessities. 

On 31 July 2006, Fidel Castro delegated his duties in the Council of Ministers to Raul Castro. On 24 February 2008, in a letter to the National Popular Assembly, Fidel Castro, citing illness, resigned his positions as the head of the Council of Ministers and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Raul Castro was elected in his place and was also elected as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Under Raul Castro, Cuba embraced market socialism. He used market socialist methods in sections of the Cuban economy run by the armed forces under his command. Let's note that the Soviet model Che Guevara in the Great Debate and the model led Cuba to a "system worse than capitalism." In a future article, I will discuss some of the effects of these changes on the Cuban working people.

Fidel Castro's "Marxism-Leninism" 

As we know Castro considered himself a "Marxist-Leninist" when he was planning the Moncada attack and that is what he considered the Popular Socialist Party and its leaders to be. As Castro himself explains PSP leaders faithfully followed Stalinist policies in Cuba, including politically supporting Batista and joining his government in 1940 as part of the popular front policy of the Kremlin. Castro also supported Stalin's economic and industrialization policies and at least some of his international policies. In effect, Castro subscribes to the essence of Khrushchev's criticism of Stalin in the twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 as a cult of personality. With Stalin's death and criticism of his dictatorial rule, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was sanitized as the leader of the "socialist camp." Castro continued to view the Soviet Union as socialist. Castro offers no criticism of Stalinist theories of "socialism in one country," political support for the so-called national bourgeoisie and the two-stage theory of the revolution in the peripheral countries, and his policy of "peaceful coexistence" with imperialism.

In February 1961 before he declared socialism as goal of the Cuban revolution, Castro offered his view of the Popular Socialist Party in an interview with L'Unita, the official newspaper of the Italian Communist Party—a mass party at the time.

"Q. Comandante, what do you think about the Popular Socialist Party, which is the party of "Castro communists?

"A. It is the only Cuban party which has consistently called for a radical change of social structures and relations. It is true that at the beginning, the communists distrusted me and us rebels. Their distrust was justified, their position was absolutely correct both ideologically and politically. They were right in being distrustful because we of the Sierra who were conducting the guerrilla war were still full of petit bourgeois prejudices and defects, in spite of our Marxist readings. Our ideas were not clear, although we wished to destroy tyranny and privileges with all our strength. Then, we met with each other, we understood one another, and started to work together. The communists have shed much blood and heroism for the Cuban cause. At present, we continue to work together in a loyal and brotherly way (Savioli 1961)."

Thus, while it is true that the PSP "radicalized" to join Castro in the 1965 Communist Party, Castro himself admits it was he who was won over by the worldview of the PSP when he announced that the Cuban revolution had socialism as its goal. What kind of socialism? The "socialism" of the PSP and, by extension, the Kremlin.

That may explain why Castro kept silent in the Great Debate of 1962-65, in which Guevara, by then a hero of the Cuban revolution, criticized Soviet Union socialism. 

It must also be added that the leaders of the Cuban revolution, including Castro and Guevara, have been supportive of the Dependency School theories, such as terms of trade and monopoly capitalism. These theories are not Marxist (see Nayeri 2024 chapters 2 and 3) and coincide well with a Stalinist approach to the periphery of world capitalism. 

Together, these explain Cuba's "anti-imperialist" foreign policy, which has included political support for "anti-imperialist" capitalist leaders in the periphery and military interventions in other countries by Moscow. Castro supported Soviet-led Warsaw Pact suppression the Prague Spring in 1968. It is important to distinguish "internationalism" of the Cuban Communist Party from the internationalism of Marx, and Lenin that were centered on working-class solidarity to advance the world socialist revolution. (For a brief discussion of Castro's view on the Iranian revolution of 1979 see, Nayeri 2010) 

When the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg who is Jewish asked Castro, "Do you think that Israel as the Jewish state has a right to exist," he answered: "Yes, undoubtedly (Goldberg 2010)." What was Castro's reason for this position? The same as those offered by Zionists, imperialists, and Stalinists: antisemitism in Europe and Hitler's holocaust. Castro did not reflect on the dispassion of the Palestinian people and the ongoing ethnic cleansing and annexation of ever more of Palestine by the Zionist State. As I have explained elsewhere (Nayeri 2017), to recognize Israel as a colonial settler state is to deny the right of Palestinian people to self-determination. Israel is also Western imperialism outpost in the Middle East. Castro's position on Israel carries a political cost. The rightwing pseudo-socialist Socialist Workers Party of the United States which I briefly discussed earlier used Castro's pro-Zionist position to justify its own support for Zionism (Galinsky, 2023). As the genocidal Israeli war against 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza raged on, a SWP spokesperson in Oakland, California, appeared at the public hearing of the City Council to argue against a resolution it was about to vote on after public comment to demand a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. She spoke against a ceasefire to allow Israel to continue "to uproot Hamas," which the SWP considers a terrorist organization. That position turns out to be precisely like what Netanyahu's rightist Zionist government. Due to popular pressure, even the Biden administration and the European Union leaders claim to favor a cease-fire. 

In his 724-page autobiography, Castro never speaks of the working class as the subject of history. Thus, he shows no knowledge of historical materialism of Marx and Engels where classes and not parties and individuals no matter how talented are the agents of history. The extent of his familiarity with the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin appears to be limited, as he admits. 

Castro also admits that the Cuban revolution and other revolutions in the twentieth century have shown that the conquest of state power by vanguard parties and guerrilla movements have proven easier than transitioning to socialism. Yet, there has been no significant contribution to the theory and practice of transition to socialism by Castro or anyone else in the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba since Guevara's contributions in the 1960s.

Castro asks himself: "…What is Marxism? What is socialism?" He then replies: "They have no clear definition (Castro and Ramonet 2006, p. 389)." In response to a question by Ramonet about the ideological confusion after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he responds: 

"In the ideological realm, there is a lot of confusion." On the same page, he demonstrated his own: "People struggle against underdevelopment, disease, illiteracy, but what we might call global solution to humanity's problems cannot be solved based on individual nations, because today more than ever before, domination is achieved on a global basis (ibid.)."

But then, where is his criticism of "socialism in one country," an excuse for the Stalinist betrayal of the world revolution? Are not the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and Che Guevara all about the need to extend the world socialist revolution and how it relates to developing socialism in any country? 

Given Fidel Castro's political thoughts as outlined by himself, the question that remains is how to reassess the Communist Party of Cuba and the character of the Cuban revolution. 



Albert, Michael and Robin Hahnel. Socialism Today and Tomorrow. 1981.

Farber, Samuel. “The Cuban Communists in the Early Stages of the Cuban Revolution: Revolutionaries or Reformists?” Latin American Research Review XVIII,1983, pp. 59-84,.

Castro Ruz, Fidel. "Cuba is a Socialist Nation." May 1, 1961. 

____________. “Speech at the Third Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba,” December 1, 1986.

____________. "Speech at the Closing of the Third Congress of the Cuban Cumminist Party of Cuba." December 2, 1986. 

____________. "Speech on the Ocassion of the Twenteith Anniversary of Ernesto Che Guevara's Death," in Carlos Tabalada's Che Guevara: Econmics and Politics of Transition to Socialism.

Nayeri, Kamran. " The Iranian Revolution, Imperialism, and Fidel Castro." Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. October 12, 2010. 


_____________. " Is Palestinian Right to Self-Determination Compatible with the Israel's "Right to Exist?" Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. March 1, 2017. 

___________.  Between Dream and Reality. My First Visit to Cuba,” May 21, 2019. 

___________. Toward a Theory of Uneven and Combined Capitalist Development. 2024. 

Savioli, Arminio. “The Nature of Cuban Socialism,” L’Unita, February 1, 1961.

Silverman, Bertram. Man and Socialism in Cuba: The Great Debate. 1971. 

Pèrez, Jr. Louis A. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. 1988.

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