Victory of Cuban Revolution dealt
major blow to racist discrimination
Dictatorship of the proletariat is ‘most powerful
instrument’ toilers can wield to eradicate all forms
of oppression inherited from class society
The following is the 12th in a series of excerpts the Militant is running from Pathfinder Press’s latest book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. We encourage our readers to study and discuss the book. This excerpt is from the chapter “Black Liberation and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” and is based on reports presented to international leadership conferences organized by the Socialist Workers Party in January and March 2006.
BY JACK BARNES
Last week, when a Cuban American supporter of the revolution in Cuba who lives in South Florida first saw Our History Is Still Being Written, she asked why we had singled out three Chinese-Cuban generals to interview. “And why call them Chinese-Cubans?” Cubans of Chinese descent, she added, consider themselves Cuban, not Chinese-Cuban. For blacks it’s the same. “They think of themselves as Cubans, not African-Cubans.”
She went on to say, however, that when she started reading the book, she liked it a lot and became convinced how politically useful it is both in the United States and Cuba. Her response to the book itself seemed to contradict her first reaction to the title, as well as the political prejudices that underlay that reaction. Good!
That reader was expressing a view widely held in Cuba. It reflects a particular, and unusual, political insularity in the broad revolutionary cadre there, a slowness in recognizing the social and political legacy among blacks—and the impact on capitalist society as a whole—of the historical consequences worldwide of the African slave trade, chattel slavery, lynch-mob violence, and anti-black racism and discrimination.
At the same time, there is also an enduring legacy of black-led resistance to this oppression and exploitation— in the United States, in Cuba, and in other parts of the Americas where, under the slave owners’ lash, fields were tilled and products were manufactured by labor in a black skin. There is a history of slave revolts, efforts to press abolitionist movements onto a more militant course, and alliances with other toilers in the fight for land and in labor battles. Blacks have fought as soldiers in the U.S. Civil War (some 10 percent of the ranks of the Union army by the time of the victory in 1865); provided leadership during Radical Reconstruction in the states of the defeated Confederacy; engaged in organizing efforts of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and industrial workers in the 1920s and 1930s; and led mass political struggles for Black rights during and after World War II, which reached new levels of radicalism within the ranks of the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War.
Here in the United States, the vanguard place of workers who are African American in the broad class struggle is a product of this record of political leadership in plebeian and proletarian struggles, combined with the greater working-class composition of the Black nationality in comparison to other sections of the population.
A legacy of resistance has shaped the class struggle in Cuba over the past century and a half, as well. The three wars for independence from Spain between 1868 and 1898 were integrally combined with the struggle to abolish slavery, peonage, and other forms of indentured servitude. Combatants who were black, as well as thousands of Chinese toilers, participated in Cuba’s independence army and acquitted themselves at every level, both rank-and-file soldiers and officers up to Lieutenant Colonel José Bu and General Antonio Maceo. From the 1953 Moncada rebellion and 1956-58 revolutionary war until today, the movement led by Fidel Castro has acted decisively against racist actions and bigotry, in word and deed. And black Cubans have been surpassed by none in their support and sacrifice in advancing the socialist revolution.
None of that, however, erases the fact that there are millions of very dark-skinned Cubans of African descent, and that they continue to confront the social and political consequences of past discrimination. Close to half a century after the victory of the Cuban Revolution, this legacy is still registered in housing and employment patterns, composition of the prison population, and other social markers.
While the concrete history of Chinese-Cubans is different from that of black Cubans, some of the same political considerations apply. Among Cubans with Chinese forebears, there continues to be a social awareness of their roots that is very much alive. And there continues to be pride in those roots and in their rich cultural heritage. In fact, the proposal for the interviews that eventually became the book Our History Is Still Being Written came not from us but from Gustavo Chui.
Our understanding of where the Cuban Revolution came from, and where it’s going, is enriched by Chui’s description of his youth. It’s enriched by his explanation of the complexities of the “Chinese consciousness” that he, as the son of a father who was Chinese and a mother who was black, was surrounded with as he grew up—including the antiblack racism that existed among many of Chinese origin in Cuba. Our understanding of the contradictory dynamics of the Cuban Revolution is enriched by Chui’s story of how he was won to the revolutionary struggle in the 1950s. The same is true for the accounts by Armando Choy and Moisés Sío Wong. Each of them from a Chinese-Cuban family of shopkeepers, but at the same time each from a slightly different social stratum.
Throughout the book, working people can see how each of these young Cubans, in the course of revolutionary combat, discovered what he and others like him are really capable of—how they discovered their own worth. Working people can see the communist conclusions Chui, Choy, and Sío Wong were led to by their experiences in the clandestine struggle and revolutionary war, as well as in the building of a new Cuba.
What does the victory of the Cuban Revolution open up for all those who are victims of long-standing discrimination institutionalized under capitalism? For oppressed nations and nationalities? For women, the oppressed and majority sex? What does any socialist revolution open up for the oppressed and exploited? Above all, it opens the possibility of using the state power of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is far and away the most powerful instrument fighting toilers can ever wield, to advance the battle to eradicate racism, national oppression, women’s second-class status.
These forms of oppression, which are maintained and perpetuated as part of the daily reproduction of capitalist social relations worldwide, are carried over and reshaped from modes of production that dominated earlier periods in the history of class society. While they warp and come into conflict with the “most efficient” workings of the laws of capitalism, the bourgeoisie finds ways to incorporate them, and then politically use them, to deepen divisions among working people and reap the profits of superexploitation. Far from being quickly eradicated by the revolutionary seizure of state power by the working class, the consequences of all these degrading social relations inherited from class-divided society are more persistent and long-lasting than had generally been anticipated by earlier generations of socialist and of revolutionary proletarian militants.
What the conquest of workers power does is make available to a mass vanguard of the proletariat the most effective political weapon in history—one we can use to battle all forms of oppression and lay the basis to establish human solidarity on new, communist foundations. That’s the challenge and the promise of the dictatorship of the proletariat: Win it, then wield it—to finish the job. And acting to help advance revolutionary struggle worldwide is the way to finish the job.
If the young founding leaders of the modern communist movement, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, recognized that classes, the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois family, religion, and the state could not be abolished but would wither away as socialism is developed, how could it be otherwise for the historic forms of oppression—reflecting the deepest prejudices— carried over from class society?
What’s most important, the withering away is not a passive process. These legacies of class-divided society don’t just “wither”; their foundations have to be withered. There’s nothing automatic about it. Like everything else in human history, the disappearance and replacement of these institutions is the product of practical social activity, of the struggles of the revolutionary toiling masses in countryside and city—their mobilization, leadership, and transformation. It is a product of the extension of the socialist revolution worldwide. The pace and thoroughness of this struggle determines not only whether the proletarian dictatorship advances, but whether or not inevitable pauses and retreats lead to its weakening and corrosion, to its becoming vulnerable over time to corruptions from within, and ultimately to defeat and destruction.
There are no guarantees beforehand. When the dictatorship of the propertied classes is overturned, however, and power is conquered by the toilers, the relationship of forces is qualitatively transformed to the advantage of all those fighting to eradicate capitalist exploitation and oppression root and branch.
If vanguard workers in the United States who are Black cannot be won to recognizing that the proletarian dictatorship is the most powerful instrument to open up the final and lasting battle for Black freedom, then how can communists expect them to fight heart and soul to make a socialist revolution in this country?
And why should they?
Yes, they will fight as part of the working class to free the toiling majority of humanity from capitalist exploitation. But they and their allies don’t expect to find ongoing racial discrimination at the end of the road! Otherwise they’d be living and fighting in denial of who they are. And socialism— a society without discrimination, a society of freely associated producers—would be a hopeless goal.
The same is true for women and all oppressed layers, who are at the same time allies of the working class.