The accession of Castro to power in Cuba in January 1959 became a vehicle for the growing opportunist faction within the SWP to reorient the party back toward the petty-bourgeois milieu of American radicalism. The Castro government had come to power with a bourgeois nationalist program through guerrilla warfare based on the peasantry. The nationalist character of the movement, and its initial efforts to implement social reforms, brought it into conflict with American imperialism. Castro, in response to US threats, sought support from the Soviet Union. Only at this point did the regime declare itself to be “Communist.”
Though it had initially defined the Castro regime as bourgeois nationalist, the SWP, now led by Joseph Hansen, shifted its position in the course of 1960. A key role in the implementation of this change was the SWP’s intense and politically unexplained involvement with the dubious “Fair Play for Cuba Committee.” By December 1960, the SWP was declaring that Cuba had become a workers’ state. Hansen defended this position on the crudely empiricist basis that nationalized property had been established, apparently unaware that land nationalization—as Lenin had frequently noted in his voluminous writings on the agrarian question in Russia—is, in essence, a bourgeois democratic measure. Nor did Hansen reference the analysis of Cuban developments to the historical and theoretical problems—including the class basis of the regime and the absence of independent organizations of working class power—that had preoccupied the SWP in the discussions over Eastern Europe and China. Moreover, the developments in Cuba were treated in isolation from the international situation and all questions of global perspective. The “fact” that Castro had carried out nationalizations was proof, the SWP argued, that a revolution could be accomplished with a “blunted instrument” led by “unconscious Marxists,” who would implement socialism due to the pressure of objective necessity and without the active participation of the working class itself.
The SWP’s position, which closely paralleled the argument of the Pabloites, repudiated the principles outlined by Cannon in his Open Letter. If workers’ states could be established through the actions of petty-bourgeois guerrilla leaders based on the peasantry, and under conditions in which there existed no identifiable organs of working class rule, then what was the purpose of the Fourth International? What need was there to organize the working class politically on the basis of a socialist program? The SWP’s adulation of Castroism and guerrilla warfare in Latin America was a rejection of a revolutionary perspective for the American and international working class. Its position on Cuba went hand in hand with the party’s increasing adaptation to middle class protest politics in the US.