Cuba’s system fits in with Leon Trotsky’s analysis of a degenerate workers’ state: a society in which the private property of the means of production has been abolished (a precondition for the transition to socialism) but in which a privileged bureaucracy controls all political and economic institutions and suppresses all independent activity by the masses. Therefore, the transition to socialism – the withering away of the state as the working population increasingly takes over all tasks of administration – is blocked. And as a result, the whole system tends to slide back to capitalism.
Trotskyists in the 1980s defined the degenerate workers’ state in Russia in the following way: “the dictatorship of the proletariat had taken the paradoxical form of a political dictatorship of ‘a bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie’ over the proletariat. It had taken the form of the rule of a politically counter-revolutionary bonapartist state machine which still rested upon the post- capitalist social foundations established by the October Revolution. That state machine was still the organ of a workers’ state because it defended those revolutionary property relations. But it defended them in its own way and in its own material interests, in order to maintain its caste privileges against the working class.” The Cuban workers’ state was based on bureaucratic rule and thus degenerate from its inception.
The Cuban Revolution has never even seen discussions about workers’ democracy. In the early days of the revolution, there were debates about how to increase workers’ productivity. The regime employed a mixture of material incentives, “moral incentives” and repression. Che Guevara was for moral incentives (calling on workers to work harder in order to advance the cause of socialism) as part of his concept a “new man”. However, this debate saw no mention of workers’ democracy as a way to increase productivity by reducing bureaucratic waste and mismanagement. In fact, Guevara himself responded to criticisms of bureaucratism by the Cuban Trotskyist organization by suppressing their party!
The Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky, in contrast, explained the essential character of workers’ democracy in a planned economy: “The interests of the producers and the needs of the consumers (…) can find their expression only through the medium of a full-flowering democracy of producers and consumers. Democracy, in this particular case, is not some sort of abstract principle. It is the one and only conceivable mechanism for preparing the Socialist system of economy, and realizing it in life.” Therefore, workers’ democracy for Cuba is not a question of making the political system more “friendly” but essentially of making the planned economy function.
Capitalism uses the market as a very imprecise mechanism to measure the needs of the population (imprecise because the market does not measure needs per se but only those needs which can be paid for). But under a planned economy, the only equivalent mechanism is democratic discussion. Bureaucratic planning, which suppresses all discussion and criticism, is necessarily inefficient because the needs of the population cannot be known – besides the fact that the bureaucrats fake their own statistics!
17. Workers Power: Degenerate Revolution. P. 130.
18. “The clamp-down [on the Trotskyists ]had also been given the green light after Guevara sharply criticised the April 1961 edition of Voz Proletaria on national television. The particular article in question argued that the Technical Advisory Councils set up in the workplaces ostensibly to give the workers control over the production process in individual units had a bureaucratic character.” Gary Tennant: Dissident Cuban Communism. The Case of Trotskyism. Bradford 1999.
19. Leon Trotsky: “The Soviet Economy in Danger”. Eigene Hevorhebung.