From the September 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
Home and Abroad is a news review programme which the B.B.C. regularly stages after the 9 o'clock news. A recent edition of this programme chose as an item for airing the seizure of the oil refineries in Cuba by Dr. Fidel Castro's government.
On one side, Mr. Patrick O'Donovan, for the B.B.C. On the other, Mrs. Lee Hall, an American ready to stick up for her country. It was a very brief interview, with only three points to make up the gist of the discussion. Mr. O'Donovan led by asking Mrs. Hall, was not America too ready to answer back all the charges which Castro's government were making against it ? Mrs. Hall conceded that this may be true, but came back by saying that Americans had to be vociferous, at least, about having their property taken away from them. She followed up by thinking aloud that Cuba may be considering building up a Socialist state—like China, she said, and that the Cubans may find it difficult to operate the oil refineries without help. And things might get tough in Cuba if the U.S.A. were to stop buying all their sugar from them. (Which has, in fact, happened.)
Mr. O’Donovan’s counter was to remind Mrs. Hall that, when Nasser’s government seized the Suez Canal, quite a number of people were convinced that the Egyptians would not be able to work it without British or French help. As it happened, the Egyptians succeeded. Without a doubt, Mrs. Hall was sharp to pick up O'Donovan on his first question: and he was equally fast in clinching the last point. But what about the middle point, which went unchallenged, that Cuba may be building a Socialist state?
In fact, to talk of a Socialist state is to talk in contradictions. For the state is a machine designed to maintain the subjection and exploitation of the large mass of the people by a few. It developed when the production of wealth surplus to the needs of the producer became possible. Its function was to protect the system of the expropriation of that surplus wealth. Thus, it is a very old institution—and now that we live under capitalism, with its exploitation of the working class under modern industrial conditions, it still carries out the same function. Today, as ever, the state is there to preserve and protect the private ownership of the wealth, power and privilege of the relatively small dominant class in society.
Part of the state’s work is in the organisation of the military machine. This is a world in which wealth is produced with the object of a profitable sale. This means that nations are always in keen competition for markets and so forth. In continually seeking to outdo their foreign competitors, they land themselves into all manner of risky situations. These in turn cause the perpetual crises, diplomatic wrangles and international tensions which we all know so well. The armed forces, run by the State, are there to push each nation's interests in these disputes.
And that is the sort of situation which Cuba, Russia and the U.S.A. are in at the moment. Russia has surplus crude oil which she is willing to exchange for Cuba’s surplus sugar. Doubtless, the deal could go on as long as both found it profitable. But the U.S.A. had a lot of interest in Cuban oil refining for a long time and had been buying their sugar at more than the world price. So it seems that the deal between the two powers was done at the expense of a third. A typical capitalist set up, whatever the form of the competing governments—monarchies, republics, autocracies, democracies, dictatorships or any others.
Capitalism is a social set up which produces goods for sale. Socialism will be a society which makes things because people need them. Capitalism has competition, the wages system, the state. Socialism will have cooperation, open access to wealth, democratic freedom. Remember this, the next time somebody airily holds forth on the so-called Socialist state.