Che's anti-Stalinism

Issue 

By Zanny Begg

Che Guevara was made head of the National Bank of Cuba in 1960. As head of the bank, and later director of industry, Che wrote a lot about the planning of a socialist economy. Implicit in Che's writings on human socialisation and moral incentives is a criticism of the Soviet Union and of Stalinist methods of social control.

Che was critical of the Soviet method of relying too heavily on material incentives and coercion to increase production. He felt this drove socialist society further away from its goal of removing alienation and cemented capitalist methods of work. Che argued that moral incentives had to be used as well as material ones during the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Of course, moral incentives require political conviction and a dialogue between workers and the revolutionary party. In an undemocratic society such as the Soviet Union, where the leadership was removed from the masses by bureaucratic privilege and where the political freedom of the masses was kept in check by the fear of persecution, moral incentives had little effect. Why should people work hard for such a system?

In revolutionary Cuba, however, moral incentives were emphasised in attempts to help development. In contrast to the Soviet Union, the workers would enjoy the fruits of their efforts and would control how they would benefit society, rather than have them taken away.

Che was an enthusiastic advocate of voluntary work and regularly set a personal example, taking to the countryside and participating in these schemes. There are photos of Che cutting cane, working as a stevedore, driving a farm tractor and working in the mines. Unlike Australia's treasurer Peter Costello, who would probably regard physical labour with disdain, Cuba's treasurer worked side by side with other workers down a mine or in the fields.

In the 1970s the Cuban government moved away from the moral incentives promoted by Che and copied more closely the Soviet economic model. But in 1986 Cuba reconsidered and embarked on a "return to Che". Strengthening workers' democracy and voluntary work were again seen as an essential element in economic development.

It was not only in the sphere of economic planning that Che challenged Stalinism; it was also in his spirit of revolutionary internationalism. Che's genuine commitment to humanity made him an opponent of Stalinism and all its treacherous methods.

The 1960s were a period of deep tensions between the US and the USSR. The wars in Korea and then Vietnam had shown the lengths to which the USA would go to contain the threat of revolution. In 1961 Cuba faced its own onslaught — a US-sponsored invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The USSR, meanwhile, pursued a policy of "peaceful co-existence": the survival of new revolutions was to be traded for the security of the USSR.

Che and the Cubans rejected this insular, and counter-revolutionary, view. For Che, the revolution did not belong to any one country; it was an international movement. Taking great inspiration from the Vietnamese revolutionaries, Che called for "one, two, many Vietnams", a call which echoed throughout Latin America and the world.