The Economic and Political Thoughts of Ernesto Che Guevara

The early years of the Cuban revolution leading up to the formation of the Communist Party in 1965 and the departure of Ernesto Che Guevara for international missions witnessed rapid social progress with popular participation and widespread interest in socialist ideas. Ernest Mandel, a leader of the Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938, who was visiting Cuba in 1964, had “an occasion for exchanging ideas with Cuban leaders, and these exchanges convinced him completely that Cuba ‘constitutes… the most advanced bastion in the liberation of labour and of humanity…’” Mandel reported that “Marxist classics were widely studied in cadre schools, in the ministries and beyond… The class I took part in had just finished volume one of Capital, with a minister and three deputies present… And it was serious study, even Talmudic, studying page by page…” (Stutje 2009, pp. 149-150.)

Initially, the Castro leadership confiscated the properties of Batista’s supporters, who had fled the revolution, expropriating the biggest firms and rented houses, and other properties abandoned. After the bourgeois ministers in the coalition government left in protest, workers and peasants became more militant, and U.S. pressure grew, Castro’s leadership took more radical measures, resulting in sweeping nationalizations in June-October 1960. By the year’s end, trade with the U.S., which was its main export and import market, virtually ended. Che Guevara headed a delegation to the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries, and China to find new markets for its main export crop, sugar, and begin new trade and finance relationship. Almost all forms of payments of dividends, rent, and interest were eliminated while housing rents and electricity fees were reduced, and free health care and education expanded. One million Cubans were organized and mobilized to stamp out illiteracy in Cuba in a two-year, three-stage campaign in 1960.

Ernesto Che Guevara doing voluntary work.

On May Day, 1961, Fidel Castor (1961) declared the socialist goal of the Cuban revolution. A political effort was underway to unify the Popular Socialist Party and Revolutionary Directorate and the July 26 Movement to advance towards socialism. Advisors from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia arrived to help reorganize ministries and establish new agencies. A central planning board (JUCEPLAN) was created and modeled after the Soviet GOSPLAN to oversee the nationalized sectors of the economy. In 1962, essential consumer goods were rationed.

In 1962, the Cuban government invited internationally known leftist economists to Cuba to join a discussion about the problem of transition to socialism that had just begun in the leadership circles of the Cuban revolution (Kapcia 1988; Abert and Hahnel 19811). Two opposing points of view were those of Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, who advocated the Soviet Union’s model, and Ernesto Che Guevara, who provided a critical view of it.

A central participant was Che Guevara who was the president of the National Bank and from 1961-65 the head of the Department of Industrialization and Minister of Industries. Guevara opened the debate with a critique of the Soviet Union’s view of socialist development by publishing an article in the first issue of Our Industry, the magazine of Ministry of Industries. In opposition to the Soviet Auto-Finance System (AFS) in which firms financed their investments by borrowing from banks with interest, Guevara proposed what he later named the Budgetary Finance System (BFS), where enterprises are financed by the state budget. Alberto Mora, minister of foreign trade, wrote a reply without naming Guevara in Foreign Trade, the magazine of his ministry, by noting that “some comrades suggest that Marx’s surplus value theory does not work in the state sector of the Cuban economy.” (Mora 1963 in Silverman 1973, p. 219.)

In response to the debate sparked by his proposal, Guevara penned a detailed rebuttal in the third issue of Our Industry, titled “On the Concept of Value, and a Reply to Some Statements on the Issue (Silverman 1973, chapter 10).” He argued that the law of value is distorted by heavy inroads into the market, necessitating state intervention to guide the economy through economic planning. This put him in alignment with the minister of treasury, Luis Alvarez, while Rolando Diaz and Marcelo Fernandez shared Mora’s position. Although none of the advocates of the Soviet model were former PSP leaders or members, they were all relying on advisors from the Soviet Union (Taibo II 1997, pp. 366-68).

On the Law of Value

The question of the law of value in transition to socialism has a long history. For Marx, the two key sources of social alienation in capitalist society are the market and the state. Socialism presupposed the withering away of both.

To be clear, by the “law of value” it is meant Marx’s labour theory of value, which he developed the basis of critical appropriation of earlier labour theories of value in the classical political economy beginning with William Petty (1623-1687) and cumulating with David Ricardo (1772-1823), and at the same time is a radical critique of that intellectual tradition.

Marx’s labour theory of value has been subject to controversy and differing interpretations. Still, Marxists refer to it as the “law of value.”

For Marx, the value of a commodity in the capitalist mode of production expresses the historical form that the expenditure of social labour power assumes. Thus, value is not a technical but a social relation between people, which assumes a particular material form that appears to be a property form (Mohun 1983). Rubin puts it this way:

“Value is a ‘social relation taken as a thing,’ a production relation among people which takes the form of a property of things. Work relations among commodity producers or social labour are ‘materialized’ and ‘crystallized’ in the value of a product of labour. This means that a determined social form of organization of labour is consistent with a particular social form of product of labour (Rubin 1928/1972).”

In a fundamental revision of Marx’s theory, Stalin (1951) asserted that the law of value can and must be used in the transition to socialism. This position mirrors Eduard Bernstein’s (1899) revisionism that claimed the law of value would provide for a peaceful transition to socialism through reforms of the capitalist system.

We must also dispose of Engels’s (1894) misguided view in his “Supplement” to the third volume of Capital Volume that extends Marx’s law of value to simple commodity production going back thousands of years!1 As explained above, Marx’s labour theory of value is specific to the capitalist mode of production, and Marx’s concept of value is specific to this historical context. In Chapter 1 of Volume One of Capital, Marx explains that the exchange value of a commodity depends on the socially necessary labour time expanded to produce a unit of it. As Marx explains, “socially necessary labour time is defined as the labour time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of production normal for any society and with the average degree of skill and intensity of labour prevalent for that society” (Marx, Capital Volume 1, chapter 1). But that is equivalent to abstract labour which is formed through the exchange of commodities in the capitalist market. As Steedman (1983) put it: “It being understood that the object of discussion is a capitalist, commodity producing economy, ‘coordinated’ through socially necessary, abstract social labour… (Steedman 1983),” Thus, Marx’s labour theory of value is limited to the capitalist mode of production and Engels’ attempt to give it a universal applicability is misguided.

Marx’s Conception of Socialism

It is also useful to recall how Marx envisioned socialism and the problem of transition to it. In Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels 1848), written when Marx was only 30 years old, they envisioned it as a process in which the proletariat as a class will “wrest by degrees all capital from the bourgeoisie” to “centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the [workers’] state,” which it controls and use them to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” The workers’ state will abolish property on land property and nationalize the property of those who flee the revolution or revolt against it. Other enterprises will be gradually transferred to the workers’ state. The goal is a producers’ association in which “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

Marx also supported steps taken in the capitalist society such as progressive taxation, nationalization of enterprises and industries preferably under workers’ control, social welfare, socialized health care, free universal education, free cultural venues, humanization of work through labour legislation and workers’ control, that help prepare for the transition to socialism. In the workers’ state, the professional army will be replaced by a working peoples’ militia; measures will be taken to achieve equality for the underprivileged and eventually equality of conditions of life for everyone.

Key to this process will be the self-organization and self-activity of the working people to wither away all forms of alienation, subordination, and exploitation (Marx 1844, 1864; Fromm 1961; Draper 1971).

In Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), the 57 year old Marx envisions a lower and a higher phase of communism. The lower phase begins with the conquest of state power by the proletariat (not by a vanguard such as the party or a guerrilla movement). At the same time, the emerging society still lacks its economic foundation. The higher stage of communism begins with the disappearance of the “enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour.” In this stage, goods and services are distributed according to the bourgeois principle of “to each according to his/her contribution.” When such division of labour and “the anti-thesis between mental and physical labour” disappear, then goods and services will be distributed according to socialist principle of “to each according to his/her need.” Most socialists have identified the first stage of communism as “socialism.”2

That is, how Marx envisioned the transitional society that is born out of a successful socialist revolution led by the proletariat and how it will proceed to socialism.

As we know, Marx’s and Engels’s prediction that the socialist revolution would triumph in the most advanced industrialized capitalist countries was not realized. Instead, the newly formed and relatively small proletariat in a predominantly peasant society in Russia came to power in the October 1917 revolution. The seizure of power by the soviets of workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ deputies led by the Bolshevik Party opened the way to the socialist revolution.

Alas, the counter-revolutionary civil war that started in 1918 not only destroyed much of the remaining productive capacity left from the horrors of World War I but also decimated much of the working-class vanguard. Also, the anticipated socialist revolutions in Western Europe did not materialize.3 As the working-class organizations and power declined, Lenin and the Bolsheviks took extreme measures to centralize the state power in the hands of the party. They also temporarily banned opposition leftist parties and the formation of political tendencies and factions inside the Bolshevik party, which, according to Lenin’s conception of the vanguard party, are essential to its health.

Although the Bolsheviks won the war, they lost the socialist revolution because of the rise of bureaucracy in the state and the party, leading to the triumph of Stalinist counter-revolution. After the death of Lenin in January 1924, Stalin, acting for the rising counter-revolutionary bureaucratic caste, destroyed the Bolshevik Party’s program and norms, physically eliminated its leaders and revolutionary cadre, and turned the Communist International launched in 1919 to advance the world socialist revolution into the diplomatic tools of “socialism in one country” and “peaceful coexistence” by purging Communist Parties of revolutionary and independent-minded leaders and cadres.

The revolutions that followed in North Korea, north Vietnam, China, and Yugoslavia, and the overturn of property relations in Eastern European countries occupied by the Red Army at the end of World War II were led by Stalinist parties that did not follow the teachings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.

In Cuba, the July 26 Movement and the Revolutionary Directorate were inspired by the Cuban and Latin American revolutionary heritage. Unfortunately, as I documented earlier (Nayeri April 19, 2024), Fidel Castro, the undisputed leader of the revolution, mistook the Stalinist Popular Revolutionary Party as “Marxist-Leninist” and, by extension, the Soviet Union as the standard bearer of socialism since 1917. After he managed the fusion of the July 26th Movement and Revolutionary Directorate with the PSP in the new Communist Party in 1965, it fell under the heavy influence of Stalinism.

The Great Debate

The Great Debate 1962-65, initiated by Ernesto Che Guevara, has been the only public political discussion about socialism and how to transition to it in Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

The Auto-Financing System (AFS) used in the Soviet Union gave material incentives to managers and workers enterprises to encourage high capacity utilization, hence fostering faster economic growth. This view was supported by Charles Bettelheim, a trained economist who was aligned with the French Communist Party and an advisor to the Cuban government. Bettelheim wrote:

“…[I]n theory, the behavior of men – both as they relate to each other and as they function in their respective roles – should not be analyzed according to appearances. This would imply that altering such appearances, especially through education, would alter behavior itself; this is an idealist outlook. Rather, behavior should be viewed as a consequence of the actual introduction of men into the technical and social division of labour and into a given process of production and reproduction (which also reproduces, progressively changing men’s needs), the process itself being determined by the level of productive forces. An analysis of this type brings one to understand, especially, that the decisive factor in changing men’s behavior lies in the changes rendered to production and its organization. Education has as its principal mission the eradication of inherited attitudes and patterns of behavior, and the teaching of new standards of conduct imposed by the development of the productive forces.” (Bettelheim in Silverman 1971, pp. 32-33, emphasis in original.)

According to this view, the new socialist men and women can only emerge through developing productive forces induced by using the law of value (the market).

In “The Meaning of Socialist Planning, 1964/1971 chapter 3), Guevara rebutted Bettelheim’s argument point by point. Like Marx, Guevara placed the withering away of alienation at the center of his theory of transition to socialism:

“I am not interested in dry economic socialism. We are fighting against misery, but we are also fighting against alienation. One of the fundamental objectives of Marxism is to remove interest, the factor of individual interest, and gain from men’s psychological motivations. Marx was preoccupied both with economic factors and with their repercussion on the spirit. If communism isn’t interested in this, too, it may be a method of distributing goods, but it will never be a revolutionary way of life.” (Quoted in Hollander 1983, p. 224.)

After publishing his Marxist Economic Theory (1962), Ernest Mandel sent a copy to Guevara through the Cuban embassy in Brussel. Mandel was in informal contact with the Cuban revolutionaries through Nelson Zayas Pazos, a Cuban Trotskyist and a French teacher working in Cuba’s foreign ministry, and through Hilda Gadea, Guevara’s Peruvian former wife who was a Trotskyist sympathizer. In October 1963, Zayas informed Mandel about the debate between what he called the Stalino-Khrushchevists and the circle around Che (Stuje 2009). In early 1964, Mandel was invited to Cuba. Che had read Marxist Economic Theory and had large sections of it translated into Spanish. Other Cuban leaders, including Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, the president, also read it. Mandel and Guevara held a four-hour meeting. Guevara asked Mandel to write an article on the law of value in the period of transition to socialism and published it in the magazine of the Ministry of Industries (Mandel 1963 in Silverman 1971, Chapter 2).

Guevara wrote several articles discussing the meaning of central planning (Silverman 1971, chapter 3), on the Budgetary Finance System (ibid. chapter 5 and chapter 4), and on banking and credit system (ibid. chapter 14). These are discussed in detail in Tablada (1987) and Yaffe (2009). I limit myself to Guevara’s summary of the BFS to highlight its central point.

In capitalist economies, the law of value influences investment decisions and the allocation of labour power across industries and enterprises through the formation of the average profit rate, an ongoing process of equilibrium and disequilibrium. Capital flows out of industries and firms that provide lower than average rate of profit while it flows to those with a higher-than-average rate of profit. This movement of capital in search of a higher profit rate also determines supply and demand for goods and services. It shapes individual consumption decisions, hence their notion of “need,” which is not theorized sufficiently in the literature on the transition to socialism.

However, once most industries and enterprises are in the hands of the state, it will be possible to decide investment and employment in a way to direct socioeconomic development according to a plan. Even some industrial capitalist economies, to a certain degree, follow economic planning. In BFS, the socioeconomic plan is formulated on three levels. It begins with political decisions that motivate the overall economic plan of JUCEPLAN. This overall plan is shared with miniseries and through them with enterprises and production units. Their considerations are summarized and communicated by miniseries to JUCEPLAN which will adjust the economywide plan accordingly. The miniseries will then develop plans for specific enterprises and supervise their implementation. JUCEPLAN would oversee the economy’s central controls, assisted by the Treasury Ministry in matters of financial control and by the Labour Ministry in matters of planning for labour power allocation.

The basic idea in the BFS is that during the entire production process, value is added successively by labour power used while mercantile relations among enterprises are avoided. This is so because the exchange of money does not happen between enterprises. Supply contracts and purchase orders correspond to them in the form of documents drawn to ensure enterprises fulfill them. Acceptance of a product by a purchasing enterprise validates its quality. Producing enterprises will receive an equivalent order from other enterprises for raw materials, machinery, etc. Consumer goods become a commodity when they undergo a legal change of ownership to individual consumers. Means of production used are not commodities as an accounting value is assigned to them in accordance with the indices proposed for their replacement cost. That cost is calculated by the necessary labour contained in them. A similar procedure will be applied to raw materials.

Guevara prefaces his BFS with a long quotation from Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, which squarely places withering away of alienation as the goal of socialism. In this, Guevara is unique among the twentieth-century leaders of revolutions who claimed socialism as their goal. Another distinctive feature of Guevara’s idea of socialism is his view that the goal of self-realization and human development is mainly cultural and not material:

“It is not a matter of how many kilograms of meat one has to eat, how many times a year someone can go to the beach, or how many pretty things from abroad you might be able to buy in present-day wages. It is a matter of making the individual feel more complete, with much more inner wealth and much more responsibility.” (Guevara 1965.)

Thus, the goal of BFS is the development of socialist women and men, and not the ever more consumption of goods and services as promised in the capitalist civilization.

In contrast, the AFS, as practiced in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and promoted in the Great Debate, was based on establishing broad financial control over enterprises’ activities, with banks being the principal control agencies. Material incentives management and individual workers or the factory collective are then used to promote maximum utilization of productive capacity to generate greater growth. Loans are repaid to banks with interest to accelerate turnover. Guevara notes that in this system there is no mechanism for developing socialist consciousness.

Socialist Democracy

A key issue with Guevara’s BFS in particular and central planning in general is the question of socialist democracy. In his trip to Cuba, “Mandel pleads for socialist democracy and tries to convince his Cuban interlocutors that the question is of vital importance (Toussain 2024).”

“Mandel begins by asking: ‘But doesn’t the possibility of complete centralization of the means of investment at the state level create the danger of the economic policy as a whole favoring bureaucracy, as was the case in Stalinist Russia?’

“And immediately answers: ‘Obviously. But then the cause does not reside in the centralization itself; it lies in the absence of workers’ democracy on the national political level.’” (ibid.)

He then quotes Trotsky for the second time in the article:

“Only the co-ordination of three elements, state planning, the market and Soviet democracy, can assure correct guidance of the economy of the epoch of transition and assure, not the removal of the imbalances in a few years (this is utopian), but their diminution and by that the simplification of the bases of the dictatorship of the proletariat until the time when new victories of the revolution will widen the arena of socialist planning and reconstruct its system.” (ibid.)

However, there is no sign that Guevara was convinced. Yaffe (2009) devotes chapter 6 to “collectivizing production and workers’ participation.” She demonstrates that Guevara was concerned with the problem of workers’ participation in the workplace and the economy overall. “Guevara introduced numerous policies within MININD [Ministry of Industries] to ‘establish direct contact with the masses’” to achieve “creative energy to find solutions to daily production problems and to develop the productive forces…” Etc. However, there is no evidence of any ideas or actions to facilitate it.

Attempting to gain workers’ participation in production and society is not the same as socialist democracy. There has never been institutionalized socialist democracy in Cuba, or has anyone in the Communist Party ever proposed it? Socialist democracy starts with the working people holding power directly through their organizations at every level of society.

The Cuban revolution was initiated and led by the July 26 Movement. It was largely a peasant-supported guerrilla movement pursuing a national democratic program, even though it was crowned by a general stake on the eve of the conquest of power by the July 26th Movement. The fact that Fidel Castro declared socialism as the goal of the revolution on May 1, 1961, did not make it a socialist revolution in Marx’s sense. Similarly, although revolutions in China, Vietnam, north Korea, and Yugoslavia, and property overturns in Eastern Europe have been called “socialist,” the proletariat has never led any, and the proletariat has never been in power in any of them.

Socialist democracy is baked into Marx’s theory of socialism. Still, it poses a problem for the leaders of the Communist Party of Cuba, who favor a one-party state within which there is not even the right to tendency or faction formation. Guevara at no point took up this problem. Socialists who have supported the Cuban revolution routinely ignore this problem as well.

Guevara, in his last contribution to the Great Debate, Socialism and Man in Cuba (1965), in a section entitled “mass participation,” writes: “His [Fidel Castro’s] own special way of fusing himself with the people can be appreciated only by seeing him in action. At the great public mass meetings one can observe something like the dialogue of two tuning forks whose vibrations interact, producing new sounds.” He calls this “dialectical unity between the individual and the mass.”

However, he concedes that “[c]learly this mechanism is not enough to ensure a succession of sensible measures. A more structured connection with the mass is needed, and we must improve it in the course of the coming years.” Like his other ideas, this suggestion was never followed by the Cuban leadership.

On Limits to the Law of Value

Guevara and perhaps Mandel overstate the limits that can be put on the law of value by nationalizing industries and enterprises. Yaffe (2009, p. 54) also seems unaware of this problem as she repeats Guevara’s position. As noted earlier, Marx favored nationalization as a necessary step in the long socialist development process. However, the nationalization of enterprises or industries does not limit the realm of operation of the law of value. Consider this: Under Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalist military rule (1954-1970), much of the economy was nationalized. In fact, at its high point, 75% of the GDP was produced by the nationalized sectors of the Egyptian economy. Could it be true that the law of value largely ceased to operate in Egypt during that time? I know of no Marxist who has claimed it. Would this change if the country’s leadership were a socialist government?

The problem is evident in Guevara’s own BFS argument. He wants to replace bourgeois consciousness with socialist consciousness because he believes that unless that is accomplished, the law of value continues to influence society. Thus, nationalization per se does not erode the influence of the law of value unless combined with workers’ control and workers’ management as part of the development of socialist democracy. Because even the BFS, without workers’ control and management, merely replaces bureaucrats and technocrats for capitalists and their managers. Thus, it will undermine Guevara’s goal of new socialist women and men. Therefore, Trotsky’s motto quoted above is correct: “Only the co-ordination of three elements, state planning, the market, and Soviet democracy, can assure correct guidance of the economy” in the transition to socialism (emphasis added).

Socialist democracy is not an option but the bedrock of transition to socialism.

Capitalist Technologies and Socialism

Another weakness in Guevara’s BSF is his uncritical acceptance of the nationalized U.S. corporations’ advanced technologies in production and management. Guevara considers them a significant part of his BFS.

To illustrate the problem, it is helpful to briefly discuss Lenin’s attitude toward Scientific Management (also called Taylorism). In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Fredrick Taylor developed a series of managerial techniques collectively called Scientific Management to increase the efficiencies of capitalist firms by giving management more control over the labour process. Lenin (1914) was initially critical of Scientific Management because of its subordination of the labour force to management control. In 1918, however, Lenin urged its use in the enterprises of Soviet Russia. Those who defend this decision argue that (1) Lenin had characterized Soviet Russia as “state capitalist” at the time and (2) the enterprises were run by socialists and for socialist development (Scoville 2002; Wren and Bedeian 2024). However, as we have just discussed, socialist democracy and workers’ control and management of enterprises and the economy are key for socialist development. Subordinating workers to the management appointed by the state, even the state run by the Bolsheviks, does not change this fact. The same problem appears in Guevara’s attempt to marry techniques developed by capitalist multinationals and the BSF. Did not Guevara criticize the AFS of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for their use of capitalist tools?

Even Mandel displays a similar mistake. In the second volume of his Marxist Economic Theory, he writes: “The third industrial revolution is based on the release of nuclear energy and the use of electronic machinery (Mandel 1962/1968 volume 2 p. 605).” Of course, Mandel knew about the dangers of nuclear power. What he found positive in its widespread use was that it would strengthen the argument for workers’ control over industry.

In every case, Lenin’s, Guevara’s, and Mandel’s, the problem lies in their lack of a fundamental break with the capitalist conception of development in terms of its technological infrastructure (for a detailed discussion, see Nayeri 2023, chapter 19) combined with their belief in the vanguard party that with “supported by the masses” can bring about the needed safeguard to advance to socialism.

However, this view of the transition to socialism is at sharp variance with Marx’s historical materialism, where classes are subjects of history, especially the socialist revolution, which requires a self-conscious, self-organized, and self-mobilized working class.

The history of the Russian revolution of 1917 and its destruction supports Marx’s vision (see Trotsky 1930; Miéville 2017 for validation of Marx’s view of the revolutionary role of the proletariat in a successful socialist seizure of power; see Trotsky 1936 for the causes its destruction).

Nothing in Che’s BFS discusses getting rid of the bureaucracy and the state. In fact, in Guevara’s theory and the Stalinist development model, there is explicit or implicit acceptance of the one-party state. Let’s recall what Lenin wrote in August-September of 1917 in The State and Revolution. “The proletariat needs a state – this all the opportunists can tell you, but they, the opportunists, forget to add that the proletariat needs only a dying state – that is, a state constructed in such a way that it immediately begins to die away and cannot help dying away (Lenin 1917).”

However, the dying of the state is directly related to the working people’s degree of control and management of the economy and society. Thus, there is an absolute need for expanding the realm of socialist democracy. As we know, neither in the Russian Revolution nor in the Cuban Revolution did the state ever begin to “die away.” On the contrary, it became ever more pervasive. One-party states have been falsely identified as “socialism,” contradicting Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky.

Volunteer Labour and Transition to Socialism

Tablada (1989) devotes an entire chapter to volunteer work as a key component of BSF. Yaffe writes that in October 1963, Guevara created the Red Battalion within Ministry of Industries, initially consisting of ten brigades, each with ten ministry workers committed to a minimum of 80 hours of volunteer labour in six months. By January 1964, the number of brigades doubled to 20. Guevara himself was the head of the Red Battalion. Tablada quotes from Guevara:

“Socialism, in this stage of building socialism and communism, is not being built simply to have wonderful factories. It is being built for the sake of the whole man. Man must transform himself as production advances. We will not do an adequate job if we become simply producers of goods, raw materials, without becoming at the same time producers of men.” (Quoted in Tablada 1989, p. 170.)

This quote from Tablada (1989) encapsulates Guevara’s view of the transformative power of volunteer labour in the building of socialism. It underscores the notion that the true goal of socialism is not just the creation of material wealth, but the development of the individual. Volunteer labour, in this context, is not just a means of production, but a catalyst for personal growth and the advancement of socialist consciousness.

In this, Guevara was following Lenin’s (1919) example, who attached such value to volunteer labour. Guevara writes: “Our goal is that the individual feels the need to perform volunteer labour out of internal motivation, as well as because of social atmosphere that exists (ibid. p. 173).”

Mandel (1964) writes that for thousands of years humans have lived in socioeconomic systems where we have been cultured to wage an individual struggle to live. These habits would not die with the opening of the process of socialist revolution. Educational work is needed; in that context, volunteer labour will play an important role.

In its Third Congress in 1986, the Communist Party of Cuba placed the return to volunteer work at the center of its effort to correct the errors of 14 years of following the Soviet development model. The most prominent aspect of this campaign was to help implement the family doctor program. The basic idea of the family doctor program was simple and revolutionary: to place a primary care doctor, a nurse, and later an assistant to live with and care for about 150 families (about 600 to 700 people) in a neighborhood. Volunteers from the neighborhood were recruited to build the residence for the doctor, nurse, and, when applicable, an assistant and an office for them to see patients. The government gave the team of volunteers building materials and tools and architectural and engineering assistance. When a sufficiently large team of volunteers was assembled, their coworkers in their places of work, in turn, volunteered to do the tasks of coworkers absent working on the construction project. This freed up the construction crew of their daily duties to build the family doctor teams, living quarters, and office.

Guevara Critique of the Soviet Union and Eastern European “Socialism”

In discussing Fidel Castro’s political thoughts, I showed how in 2006 he still believed that the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were socialist and superior to the capitalist West. Guevara had a very different view of them. In a November 1960 he led a two-month trade mission to the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and China and North Korea. While in the Soviet Union he visited a model factory. He remarked to the members of his delegation: “This is a capitalist factory like those in Cuba before nationalization (Thaibo II 1997, p. 387).” He also told them “Soviet Union was going down a blind alley economically and was dominated by bureaucracy (ibid.).” At the same time, Guevara believed that the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc were socialist. However, despite the Cuban position of neutrality in the dispute between Moscow and Beijing, unlike Castro who favored the Soviet Union, Guevara was more at home with the Chinese.

In May 1961, Guevara was interviewed by the journalist K. S. Karol. Karol asked him about Soviet “doctrinaire” manuals. Guevara responded he did not know anything about them (ibid. p. 332). Yet, in 1965 Guevara wrote an outline of a critique of the Soviet Manual of Political Economy which I will discuss below. Guevara also told Karol that there was no danger of Stalinism in Cuba, and that Cuba can learn from the Soviet Bloc’s experience in building socialism. Still, Karol adds:

“Che’s hypercritical style bothered some cadres of the old PSP bureaucracy, like Anibal Escalante, and Blas Roca, as he was uncontrollable. there was a subdued campaign against Che on the grounds that he was a ‘leftwinger.’ … A year later Che was to confess that we blindly trusted PSP’s organizational authority and … swept our criticism [of the PSP] aside… a bleak time was beginning.” (ibid. pp. 333-334.)

The Critique of the Soviet Manual of Political Economy

Yaffe (2009, chapter 9) discusses Guevara’s critique of the Soviet Union’s Manual of Political Economy (1954). Although in 1965, Guevara made an “ostensible and public break with the Cuban revolution” by resigning his positions in the Cuban government and going to Congo to help advance the revolution in Africa, “remained intimately tied to the Cuban Revolution and the theoretical challenge it embodied (Yaffe 2009, p. 233).”

She also writes that before Guevara left Cuba in 1965, he wrote a letter to Fidel Castro “outlining his concerns and discrepancies with the Soviet political economy (ibid. p. 236).” Between 1965-67, Guevara “made his most important contribution to socialist theory with his critical notes on the Soviet Manual of Political Economy (ibid. p. 233).”

Yaffe also adds:

“[T]hese notes were smuggled back into Cuba by Aleida March, Gevara’s wife …and who passed them on to Orlando Borrego Diaz, Guevara’s young deputy since La Cabana in January 1959. For 40 years, Borrego kept them under lock and key, out of sight of scholars, political leaders, historians and campaneros alike.” (ibid.)

In her view, these notes were the start of a theoretical project that would “challenge the very status of the Soviet Union’s authority, offering an alternative model of transition to socialism (ibid.).”

Oddly, Yaffe does not discuss why Guevara’s critical notes had to be smuggled into Cuba and why they were kept under lock and key for 40 years. Why were they not sent to Fidel Castro? Could it be the influence of Stalinism on the Cuban government?

There are two related and important problems in Yaffe’s book. First, although she uses the keywords “socialism” and “Marxism,” she never defines what “Marxism” is or offers a discussion of Marx’s view of socialism and the broad outline of how to get there. She refers to the Soviet Bloc countries as “socialist” without making it clear what makes them “socialist?” There is no discussion of the history of “socialism” in the Soviet Union, including the rise of Stalinism, except through a fragment of ideas offered by Guevara, which, as I will show, are insufficient.

She also offers no discussion of the influence of Stalinism in Cuba either in the original Communist Party which fell to Stalinism and was renamed Popular Socialist Party in 1944, , or the Communist Party Fidel Castro helped establish in 1965, which as we now know (Nayeri April 19, 2024) was under the influence of Stalinism. Why was Guevara “most irritated” with “the absence of a forum for international debate on the political economy of the transition to socialism (Yaffe 2009, p. 234)? In Chapter 10, devoted to Guevara’s legacy in Cuba, Yaffe suggests that some of Guevara’s ideas got some traction in Cuba. Still, she admits: “Guevara’s proposals have never met consensus within Cuba. While most Cuban leaders agree in theory with his approach to socialist construction, many have argued that conditions were not ripe for its implementation. (ibid. p. 263).”

Guevara’s critique as outlined by Yaffe begins with his misunderstandings, which Yaffe does not point out about Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program. According to Yaffe, Guevara believed that Marx “described socialism as a period in which a series of commodity categories were suppressed (ibid.) However, Marx’s view of transition is a withering away of alienation process, in particular in regards to the market and the state.

Here is the gist of Guevara’s critique:

“While the Soviets and the Czechs claimed to have passed this first stage [socialism], in Guevara’s view, that was objectively false because of the continued existence of private property in both countries. The mistake, said Guevara, was that a new political economy had not yet been completed, nor had the process been studied. Consequently, the workings of the USSR had been presented as the presumed laws of socialist society.” (Yaffe 2009, p. 236)

While Guevara is perceptive to criticize the Soviet bloc countries’ “socialisms,” his confuses the ideological reflection with the actual process of degeneration of the socialist revolution in the young Soviet Russia. For Guevara the problem lies in the Manual of Political Economy (Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. 1954) which he argues theorized the New Economic Policy (NEP).

As we know, the Manual was written on orders from Stalin to theorize the Soviet Union under his rule as a socialist. That would not make the Manual reason why the Soviet Union was not socialist. Instead, it should suggest that the Soviet Union was not socialist because the Manual was ordered by the Stalinist authoritarian regime that ruled the Soviet Union that had consolidated power by the working peoples’ power long ago! A Marxist analysis begs the question of how Stalin became the absolute ruler of the Soviet Union after Lenin died in 1924.

How the Bolsheviks Lost the Socialist Revolution

In “The immediate tasks of the Soviet Government” (Lenin March-April 1918), Lenin writes:

“In every socialist revolution, however – and consequently in the socialist revolution in Russia which we began on October 25, 1917 – the principal task of the proletariat, and of the poor peasants which it leads, is the positive or constructive work of setting up an extremely intricate and delicate system of new organizational relationships extending to the planned production and distribution of the goods required for the existence of tens of millions of people. Such a revolution can be successfully carried out only if the majority of the population, and primarily the majority of the working people, engage in independent creative work as makers of history. Only if the proletariat and the poor peasants display sufficient class-consciousness, devotion to principle, self-sacrifice and perseverance, will the victory of the socialist revolution be assured. By creating a new, Soviet type of state, which gives the working and oppressed people the chance to take an active part in the independent building up of a new society, we solved only a small part of this difficult problem. The principal difficulty lies in the economic sphere, namely, the introduction of the strictest and universal accounting and control of the production and distribution of goods, raising the productivity of labour and socializing production in practice.” (Lenin March-April 1918.)

Thus, Lenin was not favoring immediate “suppression” of commodities relations” but consistent with Marx’s view favored a gradual process in line with the development of power of working people to take over the economy and manage it themselves. Thus, he emphasizes socialist democracy:

“The socialist character of Soviet, i.e., proletarian, democracy, as concretely applied today, lies first in the fact that the electors are the working and exploited people; the bourgeoisie is excluded. Secondly, it lies in the fact that all bureaucratic formalities and restrictions of elections are abolished; the people themselves determine the order and time of elections and are completely free to recall any elected person. Thirdly, it lies in the creation of the best mass organization of the vanguard of the working people, i.e., the proletariat engaged in large-scale industry, which enables it to lead the vast mass of the exploited, to draw them into independent political life, to educate them politically by their own experience; therefore for the first time a start is made by the entire population in learning the art of administration, and in beginning to administer.” (Lenin March-April 1918.)

Alas, the civil war intervened and the Bolsheviks were forced to adopt War Communism policies that lasted from June 1918 to March 1921. The policy’s chief features were the expropriation of private business and the nationalization of industry throughout Soviet Russia and the forced requisition of surplus grain and other food products from the peasantry by the state.

In Lenin’s own opinion the problem was not the NEP but the mistaken assessment of the political situation that barred “peaceful construction” of socialism.

“At the beginning of 1918 we expected a period in which peaceful construction would be possible. When the Brest peace was signed it seemed that danger had subsided for a time and that it would be possible to start peaceful construction. But we were mistaken, because in 1918 a real military danger overtook us in the shape of the Czechoslovak mutiny and the outbreak of civil war, which dragged on until 1920. Partly owing to the war problems that overwhelmed us and partly owing to the desperate position in which the Republic found itself when the imperialist war ended – owing to these circumstances, and a number of others, we made the mistake of deciding to go over directly to communist production and distribution.” (Lenin 1921.)

War Communism resulted in the narrowing of mass support for the Bolsheviks as the left parties gradually went into opposition. At the same time socialist democracy was limited due to centralization of power in the Bolshevik Party.

Initially, political power was shared after the October 1917 revolution between the Bolshevik party and the Left Social Revolutionaries who obtained most delegates in the Soviets which allowed the seizure of political power. At the same time, Bolshevik Central Committee voted to bar the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries from the government. Yet, disagreements in the Bolshevik Party itself emerged as it undertook governmental duties about the scope of state intervention in the economy, attitude towards self-determination of oppressed nationalities, attitude towards the use of “bourgeois” specialists, and wage differentials. At the height of the Brest-Litovsk dispute, the critics of Lenin known as Left Communists led by Bukharin decided not to participate in the Central Committee and Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom) after their political arguments did not gain traction. In July 1918, Left Social Revolutionaries that had participated in Sovnarkom organized an armed against the Bolsheviks after some disagreements. War Communism began with decision to adopt “food dictatorship” after Ukraine became independent as part of Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Lenin himself signaled a change in his earlier decision at moderate pace of economic policy to support large-scale nationalizations. In practice, Soviet Russia was becoming a one-party state. The civil war made that a necessity. Initially, Bolshevik leaders conceived of their party’s role to set policy in broad outline and have their representatives in the government institutions work to adopt and implement them. In the second half of 1918 and early 1919, the Bolsheviks leadership decided that a supreme state agency to make such decisions was necessary and that the party itself should be such an institution. For all practical purposes, the government (the Council of People’s Commissars) was led by the Bolsheviks.

The party’s class composition also changed (Service 1997). After the February 1917 revolution recruitment to the party speeded up mostly from the working class. In the October revolution, three-fifths of the Bolshevik Party were from the industrial labour force. After taking power, the party membership ballooned to 300,000 members by the end of 1917. However, the proletarian composition of the party suffered. After 1921, only 44 percent of the party was from a working-class background.

As a ruling party, some joined it to defend Mother Russia against foreign aggression. Others joined it to help shape the future of Russia. Still, others for personal advancement as party membership offered social advantages. In 1919-20, most Bolsheviks were in the armed forces. The non-party Revolutionary-Military Council headed by Trotsky replaced elective party hierarchy. There were objections to these changes made by a series of internal party opposition groups. Stalin who criticized Trotsky’s management of the Red Army run the Military Opposition from the sidelines. A stronger opposition was the Democratic Centralists led by T. V. Sapronov and N. Osinskii who argued centralization of the party must be balanced with more broad collective discussions. The Workers’ Opposition headed by Alexsandr Sliapnikov, Alexandra Kollentai, and S. P. Medvdev demanded involvement of workers and peasants in governmental policy making now made by the party. They demanded that the party share power with the Soviets and trade unions.

Despite occasional acknowledgement of their grievances, the central party apparatus remained confident that it was acting in the best interest of the revolution in the circumstances.

Even Lenin and Trotsky at times faced opposition from the central apparatus of the party as Trotsky’s suggestion to modify the official agricultural policies in February 1920 was rejected by the Politburo. In December 1920, Lenin’s proposal to the Eight Congress of the Soviets to provide material incentives to peasant agriculture was rejected. Finally, the Politburo of February 2021 and then the Tenth Party Congress in March approved his graduated tax in kind at a lower level of state procurement.

In March 2021, Lenin submitted a resolution to the Tenth Congress entitled “On the Syndicalist and Anarchist Deviation in Our Party” followed by another entitled “On Party Unity” that banned factions. In the earlier resolution he asserts the following:

“Marxism teaches – and this tenet has not only been formally endorsed by the whole of the Communist International in the decisions of the Second (1920) Congress of the Comintern on the role of the political party of the proletariat, but has also been confirmed in practice by our revolution – that only the political party of the working class, i.e., the Communist Party, is capable of uniting, training and organizing a vanguard of the proletariat and of the whole mass of the working people that alone will be capable of withstanding the inevitable petty-bourgeois vacillations of this mass and the inevitable traditions and relapses of narrow craft unionism or craft prejudices among the proletariat, and of guiding all the united activities of the whole of the proletariat, i.e., of leading it politically, and through it, the whole mass of the working people. Without this the dictatorship of the proletariat is impossible.” (Lenin March 13, 1921.)

In his assertion that the vanguard party is essential for the formation of the vanguard of the working class and the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” Lenin was merely repeating the revision he made to Marx’s theory of the proletariat and socialist revolution in What Is to Be Done? (Lenin 1902) by claiming the need for the vanguard party to lead the proletariat to socialism. In this resolution, Lenin presents his revision as “Marxism” as certified by the Second Congress of the Communist International!

He followed this resolution that branded his opponents as syndicalists and anarchists and asserted the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party as the guardian of health of the socialist revolution with a resolution to ban factions.

“The Congress orders the immediate dissolution, without exception, of all groups that have been formed on the basis of some platform or other and instructs all organizations to be very strict in ensuring that no manifestations of factionalism of any sort be tolerated. Failure to comply with this resolution of the Congress is to entail unconditional and immediate expulsion from the party.” (Lenin March 16, 1921.)

Lenin led much of the work of the Tenth Congress: he delivered the opening and closing speeches and gave reports on the political activity of the Central Committee, the substitution of a tax in kind for the surplus appropriation system, the Party’s unity and the anarcho-syndicalist deviation, the trade unions and the fuel crisis. He drafted the main resolutions. He gave a theoretical and political substantiation of the necessity of transition from War Communism to the New Economic Policy (NEP). The Congress adopted on the substitution of a tax in kind for the surplus appropriation system, and the transition to NEP, which was designed to draw millions of peasants into the organization of the planned socialist economy.

Thus, by 1921 the workers’ state that arose on the basis of the power of soviets on workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ deputies had become the state ruled by the Bolshevik Party headed by Central Committee dominated by Lenin. Lenin who in 1917 believed the workers’ state must be so designed that it will begin to wither away in 1921 believed that only the state run by Bolshevik Party can develop the socialist revolution.

In January 1924 Lenin died and Stalin began to consolidate his own power over the Communist Party (the Bolshevik Party was renamed the Communist Party on March 8, 1918) while destroying the program, norms, and leadership of Lenin’s party. Trotsky proved to be the only leader of the party that waged a fight to maintain the Bolshevik Party’s and Russian socialist revolution’s legacies, in particular Lenin’s theory of the vanguard party that became the cornerstone of the Fourth International he established in 1938 (Trotsky 1938). Trotsky also provided an explanation of the degeneration of the Russian socialist revolution and the rise of Stalinism as the ideological representation of the bureaucratic caste that arose in the young Soviet Russia (Trotsky 1936). He wrote:

“The present doctrine that Bolshevism does not tolerate factions is a myth of epoch decline. In reality the history of Bolshevism is a history of the struggle of factions. And, indeed, how could a genuinely revolutionary organization, setting itself the task of overthrowing the world and uniting under its banner the most audacious iconoclasts, fighters and insurgents, live and develop without intellectual conflicts, without groupings and temporary factional formations? The farsightedness of the Bolshevik leadership often made it possible to soften conflicts and shorten the duration of factional struggle, but no more than that. The Central Committee relied upon this seething democratic support. From this it derived the audacity to make decisions and give orders. The obvious correctness of the leadership at all critical stages gave it that high authority which is the priceless moral capital of centralism.” (Trotsky 1936.)

He added:

“The very center of Lenin’s attention and that of his colleagues was occupied by a continual concern to protect the Bolshevik ranks from the vices of those in power. However, the extraordinary closeness and at times actual merging of the party with the state apparatus had already in those first years done indubitable harm to the freedom and elasticity of the party regime. Democracy had been narrowed in proportion as difficulties increased. In the beginning, the party had wished and hoped to preserve freedom of political struggle within the framework of the Soviets. The civil war introduced stern amendments into this calculation. The opposition parties were forbidden one after the other. This measure, obviously in conflict with the spirit of Soviet democracy, the leaders of Bolshevism regarded not as a principle, but as an episodic act of self-defense.” (ibid.)

Trotsky explained how these temporary anti-democratic decisions were used by Stalin as the leader of the rising bureaucratic caste as “Leninism” as a compliment to his “theory” of socialism in one country. “Together with the theory of socialism in one country, there was put into circulation by the bureaucracy a theory that in Bolshevism the Central Committee is everything and the party nothing. This second theory was in any case realized with more success than the first.” (ibid.)

Thus, the parties of the Communist International became bureaucratic hierarchies and wherever the Stalinists came to power they created one-party states that kept the political life of the country under its control.

In Cuba, the Stalinist view of the monolithic ruling party coincided with Fidel Castro’s appreciation for Jose Marti’s united single party to fight colonialism in the nineteenth century. There is no evidence that Che Guevara ever questioned this model of the “workers’ state.”

Yaffe without criticism writes that even though Guevara knew of ideological differences among Cubans, he believed they will be resolved as the revolution develops “until everyone understood that socialism was a new stage for humanity… There are two options for workers: to integrate themselves into the Revolution, or to leave and continue as they were outside of the country,” (Yaffe 2009, p. 133).

If Guevara were alive today, he would know that “slightly fewer than 425,000 Cubans were encountered at U.S. ports of entry in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, according to CBP [Customs and Border Protection], and 200,287 of those arrived in fiscal year 2023, which ended in September.” (Bazail-Eimil 2023.)

Socialism of Che Guevara

Ernesto Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina, on June 14, 1928. He was the first of five children of Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna y Llosa. From childhood, he suffered from a severe form of asthma. Yet, he never let that get in his way in life. As a youth, he played rugby, a physically demanding sport. From 1945-1951, he studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. From January to July 1952, he and his schoolmate Alberto Granado visited Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. In Peru, the two young physicians volunteered at a leprosy colony located in a small island in the middle of the Amazon River, to segregate the patients (although we now know the disease caused by a bacterium does not spread easily). Some of Guevara’s personality characteristics that contributed to his views of socialism were apparent there. While the medical staff were required to wear gloves when contacting patients, Guevara refused. He disliked anything that segregated or isolated the patients and developed amicable relations with them. When in Congo, Guevara realized the rebels there were barefooted. He ordered his Cuban group of fighters to take off their booths. In Latin America, the young Guevara witnessed native Americans who were pushed off their land into dire poverty, forcing them to beg for hard work in mines. Thus, he realized the impact of colonialism on the natives and capitalist firms in plundering Latin America.

In January-June 1954, Guevara was in Guatemala. Unable to work as a physician, Guevara took menial jobs to support himself. At the same time, he began to study Marxist literature and became involved in leftist politics. On June 17, 1954, the CIA overthrew the nationalist government of Jacobo Arbens. Guevara, who faced possible arrest, left for Mexico.

He met with Fidel Castro in Mexico and joined his small group of fighters who planned to begin a guerrilla war against the Batista government. Initially, he was assigned as the physician for the group of fighters. He received military. After landing in Cuba, Guevara distinguished himself as a guerrilla leader and was assigned as the commander of a newly formed column. It was there that Cuban fighters nicknamed him “Che,” which is Argentinian Spanish and is a welcome slang.

In July 1967, Guevara met with Cuban co-fighters in Pinar del Rio in Cuba to plan a guerilla campaign in Bolivia. In November of the same year, he entered Bolivia under a different identity. On April 16, 1967, Guevara’s message was read at the Three Continent Conference, where he called for “One, Two, Many Vietnams!”

In October and November 1967, his guerilla group became isolated. Thousands of troops aided by U.S. advisors surrounded them. Guevara and 17 of his fighters were ambushed, many killed, and he was wounded. On October 9, 1967, on a signal from Washington and order from the Bolivian government, Guevara was murdered. On October 15, Fidel Castro confirmed the death of Ernesto Che Guevara. On October 18, hundreds of thousands of Cubans gathered to celebrate his life. The slogan “We will be like Che” was born. In 1997, Guevara’s remains were discovered in Bolivia and transported to Cuba. In Santa Clara, an elegant memorial for him was built. In Santa Clara, Che’s column defeated a much bigger armed battalion of Batista’s army in December 1958. That victory contributed to Batista’s decision to flee Cuba on January 1, 1959.

Guevara’s socialism is deeply humanist. He contributed two key elements to the theory of socialism. First, he rejuvenated Marx’s view of socialism as the process of de-alienation of humanity. Second, contrary to Marx or at least the standard reading of Marx, Guevara viewed socialism not as a society of plenty but as a society in which human development and self-realization take place. That is why volunteer labour was central to his theory and life. Guevara was also exemplary as he practiced what he preached.

Guevera made his contributions to the theory and practice of socialism in a brief period of 13 years – from when he radicalized politically in Guatemala in 1954 to his death at the hands of the agents of capitalism and imperialism at age 39 in 1967. Undoubtedly, he would have attended to the tensions in his theoretical contributions had he lived a longer life.

Several times when I visited Cuba, I saw schoolchildren who chanted “We Will Be Like Che.” Perhaps a new generation will rise to learn from his example and will be like Che.

The future of humanity will depend on it. •



  1. “In a word: the Marxian law of value holds generally, as far as economic laws are valid at all, for the whole period of simple commodity production – that is, up to the time when the latter suffers a modification through the appearance of the capitalist form of production. Up to that time, prices gravitate towards the values fixed according to the Marxian law and oscillate around those values, so that the more fully simple commodity production develops, the more the average prices over long periods uninterrupted by external violent disturbances coincide with values within a negligible margin. Thus, the Marxian law of value has general economic validity for a period lasting from the beginning of exchange, which transforms products into commodities, down to the 15th century of the present era. But the exchange of commodities dates from a time before all written history – which in Egypt goes back to at least 2500 B.C., and perhaps 5000 B.C., and in Babylon to 4000 B.C., perhaps to 6000 B.C.; thus, the law of value has prevailed during a period of from five to seven thousand years (Engels 1894).”
  2. Unlike Marx, I use socialism instead of communism. I do not use his lower and upper distinction in discussing the transition to an unalienated society, which he calls communist. There are multiple reasons for this. First, the lower stage of communism in Marx is still a class society. The term communism tends to mask this fact. Second, in the Great Debate, the focus was on the transition to the final state, often called socialism. Third, communism written with capital “C” has been identified in literature and public discourse with Stalinism. So, the use of the term workers’ state as the instrument for the transition from post-capitalist society to socialism is more accurate and more prevalent in literature.
  3. An estimated 3 million Russian peasants, workers, and soldiers died in World War I and much of the productive capacity was damaged.

Kamran Nayeri is a long-time activist and writer on ecological socialism, and maintains the blog Our Place in the World: An Ecosocialist Journal at