Cuba in revolution : a history since the fifties

All Havana Broke Loose: An Oral History of Tropicana
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A similar process occurred with housing. Meanwhile the increasing exodus of middle-class Cubans created a steady supply of available housing, as thousands of those previously homeless or living in shanty-towns were moved into the vacated properties, with several families often occupying one single house, a process which completely changed the social and racial character of whole residential neighbourhoods and further drove out the remaining middle class.

Gender equality was another area of social change, although this was initially approached empirically rather than systematically. When the new Federation of Cuban Women fmc was founded in it especially targeted the need for equality of wages and labour opportunities and treatment. Another was a drive to make birth-control and even abortion freely available, thus empowering women sexually as well. Although the Cuban leadership repeatedly entreated the population and Party members to correct this, progress was slow, and even by , women still only occupied 43 per cent of National Assembly seats, which, although high by world standards, was below the proportion of women in the population.

There were several other significant social reforms enacted in the first decade. This whole strategy was posited on the assumption of full employment, to prevent recourse to crime. While these measures attracted outside criticism seeming to confirm growing suspicions of inherent Stalinism , a more positive implication of the measure was ignored: that it implicitly guaranteed full employment. The attention paid to these more prohibitive measures also overlooked the other major area of significant social change: the countryside. Besides the fact that any of these reforms were bound to have a more 52 cuba in revolution direct effect on those sections of society that had been most marginalized, most backward or poorest, life in the countryside was profoundly affected by two policies in particular: by the shift of investment and by the successive land reforms.

However, one long-term effect of this policy was the inevitable downgrading of Havana itself, which, despite the social benefits, tended to fall into a deliberate and visible physical decay.


Whereas in , when the rebels made almost statutory references to the need for land distribution and security of tenure, by their radicalization, together with their actual contact with the Sierra peasantry, meant a more realistic platform. At one level this reform was much less radical than, for example, earlier similar processes in Mexico or Bolivia, especially in accepting the principle of private property.

In a new agrarian reform reduced the maximum landholding to 67 hectares, completely eliminating all vestiges of latifundismo. As a result, the state 54 cuba in revolution controlled some 70 per cent of all agricultural land, largely in collective farms, with former peasants now wage labourers, with guaranteed living standards; the remaining 30 per cent which gradually, through demographic rather than political pressure, declined further was concentrated in tobacco, coffee and vegetable cultivation, where the needs of economic efficiency and the nature of the terrain made large estates less effective than small farmers.

In addition central control was exercised through the obligation on farmers to sell produce to the state, thus also guaranteeing supplies for the rationing system. The s inevitably saw the main thrust of all these urgent reforms, given the conscious prioritization of the social revolution, even at the expense of economic efficiency and reform; while that decision probably postponed economic success, leading to a worrying dependence on the effective Soviet underwriting of it all, it undoubtedly also created a lasting and firm base of loyalty.

However, as a more stable and successful economy emerged in the s, this also benefited social provision, since the availability of better supplies through the cmea and the accumulation of more capital in the hands of the state meant more money to finance some of the more expensive reforms postponed in the austere s. This particularly meant greater investment in health. In the s the emphasis of the early reforms had necessarily been on the universal provision of basic healthcare and on prevention through inoculation, improved conditions and improved nutrition , but now new hospitals and a network of local polyclinics were constructed to spread medical care more widely.

While the early ad hoc resettlements had addressed the most urgent needs, taking advantage of the large number of vacated properties, the underlying shortage had never been tackled, and overcrowded urban housing, especially in parts of Central and Old Havana, remained a serious problem.

The scheme was ambitious and flawed, not least in producing some poor quality construction and in locating block housing in somewhat isolated places, lacking sufficient infrastructure or social centres; however, it did address the short-term problem, creating characteristic areas of new housing in Havana, most notably the whole stark eastern Havana development at Alamar, whose first buildings appeared in October In some senses, the ethos of the early years, which saw imaginative and acceptable emergency solutions to immediate problems, could not survive the rising expectations of new generations in the s.

Two other areas of social provision which had to await the s economic improvement were sport and culture. The results were dramatic: a rapid development of international success in athletics and boxing repeatedly evident in successive international tournaments , and the development of a world-leading baseball culture, the latter building on its existing importance and popularity. Once baseball was recognized as an Olympic event, Cuba was ideally placed, notching up repeated success and repeated opportunities to celebrate defeat of the United States.

A similar long-term investment was also possible in the world of culture. This was in essence a debate about making available the very best in world culture and educating Cubans to appreciate that, or, alternatively, developing a home-grown, supposedly authentic, culture. Certainly, most artists welcomed any resolution of the pre situation of few opportunities to publish, perform or exhibit, little public respect and a general neglect, benefiting from the revolution 57 a small market for their cultural products, and few resources, all of which led many to leave Cuba for long periods, seeking to make their living abroad.

Hence, when the Revolution came to power, many of the self-exiled returned, enthusiastic about the new environment and hopeful for some sort of cultural revival. They were not disappointed, for the leaders soon realized the need for a national printing press and then for a national publishing house created in and respectively. In fact this pole of the cultural debate argued that democratization was the issue and not just self-referential quality; moreover, at the grass roots there were already an increasing number of Cubans seeking access to the formerly enclosed cultural world.

This aroused many fears in some about possible censorship and Stalinism, especially as a 58 cuba in revolution number of former psp activists were prominent and influential within the new body responsible for culture the National Cultural Council , created in January When this was followed after a few weeks by the closure of Lunes and the creation of uneac, the Union of Artists and Writers — designed to give artists a protective organization and forum, but seen by many as a Soviet-style controlling mechanism — many fears seemed to be realized and a steady trickle of artists choosing to leave Cuba began.

In some respects, it was this development, rather than any censorship or inherent tension between politicians and artists, between socialism and cultural freedom, which most alarmed some of those who left; having just acquired the status previously denied them, they now saw that status threatened from below, by what some saw as a vulgar popularization. Moreover, all of this process of redefinition took place within a context of growing austerity and of shortages which, limiting the availability of resources and enforcing a hierarchy of cultural priorities, had inevitable implications for cultural production.

It was therefore no surprise that many of those who followed a traditionally pluralist view of art, even if once part of the —61 artistic vanguard, came into conflict with the cultural authorities. This whole episode began a period of sustained cultural austerity, the authorities now seeking to define art in strictly political and militant terms and in practice making life difficult for several artists who had fallen foul of the changing definitions and the new demands. Some homosexual writers in particular found it difficult to publish their work and, although few were detained, they were obliged to move to less rewarding jobs.

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However, in other respects the cultural world seemed to be booming, with ever more opportunities; some writers might be suffering for their ideas, orientation or behaviour, but in other genres, the mood was much more open and tolerant. In literature too, previously neglected by the instructores, a network of workshops talleres literarios for literary appreciation and production was developed, linked to a national competition whose winning entries were guaranteed publication.

Without doubt, in comparison with , Cuban society was more racially mixed and homogenous, with a high degree of equality and no evident extremes of wealth; there were few if any shanty areas, all Cubans could expect employment and no one went homeless. Unfortunately the picture was not as clear-cut as the leaders hoped and the publicity claimed.

There were questions about the quality of some of the educational practices deemed too passive or regimented by some , housing demand was rising, with much frustration at the slow pace of improvement, and the ration-book had deteriorated considerably partly because of the greater availability of goods, but also because of a certain complacency ; in fact, rising expectations, coupled with inherent inefficiencies in supply, led to a frustration with the continuing mediocrity of provision. While Cuba possessed neither rich nor poor, many Cubans were beginning to feel that three decades of revolution should have delivered more than austerity at worst or an equality of mediocrity at best; while the leaders might justifiably argue that the us embargo impeded faster progress, the credibility of those arguments declined with time.

A similar sense of stagnation seemed to slow progress in two other areas: the development of gender and racial equality. Even health provision seemed to suffer, with an outbreak of nutrition-related neuritis in the early s. Moreover, it was not just the crisis and the shortages, for the post reforms also had their deleterious effects. Indeed, the flourishing of the informal economy aggravated this inequality, for the growth of this sector was inevitably at the expense of the formal economy, since the supplies for the former were by definition siphoned illegally from the latter, with those who depended on the libreta finding a decreasing availability of basic goods.

What this also meant was a growing tendency for qualified professionals to leave their jobs in health or education or some other socially necessary sector and seek employment in the tourist economy, as waiters or taxi-drivers; while this problem never acquired the proportions which many journalistic accounts suggested, it was nonetheless a worrying development, not least for the effect on those public services. For now, it is sufficient to record that the edifice of social provision which had done so much to bolster and guarantee popular support for the Revolution over the years now threatened to collapse, taking that support with it.

At one level, that meant the removal of all the personnel and structures of the detested Batista regime, which happened with predictable speed, although Batista himself had escaped. This distaste even including the Ortodoxos, from whose ranks many rebels had emerged. There 64 was a general sense among many that the whole system had been to blame for Batista and, now that a genuinely popular revolution had come to power, the opportunity should be seized to change Cuba irrevocably, although there was, predictably, little consensus on the nature, extent and speed of those changes.

Initially, this was less a conscious strategy than an empirical response to the circumstances, to the need simultaneously to harness and channel the popular enthusiasm and solve urgent problems; in other words it began simply as practical mobilization. However, from this accidental start a whole structure, practice and culture of participation emerged that came to characterize the Revolution of the s and continued to be an inherent element of the political system and political culture for the next four decades.

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that since almost every Cuban has been regularly involved and mobilized for labour, defence, protest, social and health campaigns throughout their life, from the age of seven until old age. The early s were the seminal years for all of this, the period when there was the greatest demand for repeated mass mobilizations for the purposes of labour, social provision and defence; indeed, the fact that these were the immediate priorities naturally affected the nature and scale of the instruments of mobilization that were established.

Labour was of course in short supply from the outset, given the early need to build or increase productivity but also as the skilled and professional classes began to leave the country. This was especially true in areas like education and health; while medical personnel could not be replaced for some time until a whole new generation had been trained , educators were replaced by a small-scale version of the familiar mobilization, by intensively training and using volunteer living the revolution 65 teachers in the case of the Literacy Campaign or by enlisting older students to teach the newest intake.

Since the emancipation of women in the workplace was one clear priority, the fmc played, as we have seen, an important role in labour mobilization from its creation. Not only did the organization take charge of the campaign to re-educate and retrain former prostitutes, and campaign for reforms to ease the domestic burden of working women and free them for the labour market such as reforms to birth control, abortion and childcare provision , they also mobilized women for volunteer labour in all sorts of areas.

Indeed, both patterns — the annual mobilization of youth and the weekly mobilization of the cdrs — continue to characterize present-day Cuba. The epitome — but also the nadir — of voluntarismo came in — On 13 March the the Revolutionary Offensive, in which 55, enterprises were nationalized in one month, was declared; subsequently efficiency plummeted and absenteeism soared, weakening the volunteer ethos and practice. Indeed, the voluntary element, together with the misguided use of political criteria to drive an economically futile 66 cuba in revolution decision since Cuba lacked the infrastructure necessary to achieve the target without considerable collateral damage , ensured its failure.

Mobilization for defence was the other major need of the new Revolution, especially before when the impending invasion was expected and afterwards at other critical moments. Although the institution that logically bore the brunt of this responsibility was the Rebel Army and its successor, the Revolutionary Armed Forces far , this was deemed insufficient and as a result two organizations were soon set up to mobilize the citizenry for this collective task. The first was the National Revolutionary Militias mnr , set up in October By this was an armed citizenry of some ,, many of them teenagers who were immediately matured by the experience of being given responsibility for protecting the new Revolution.

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There is little doubt that this organization was a seminal experience for thousands of young Cubans, suddenly given a stake and an important role in the new process; like so many experiences of that time, it was something that stayed with them for the rest of their lives and ensured a lasting loyalty. The other organization, or rather network of organizations, the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution cdr , was however even more fundamental, not least because it affected a much larger proportion of the population.

Set up in September , cdr were initially created specifically to prepare for the coming invasion; established for each city block or village, they tried to involve all of the population in their area for which they had responsibility, and were given the task of identifying all those in their area who might be potential collaborators with the invaders — a task which they ultimately performed with impressive efficiency in April The cdr numbering , members helped to round up the 35, people detained in Havana alone,4 depriving the invasion of those sympathizers who living the revolution 67 might have provided logistical support — but also inevitably in the process detaining many more innocent Cubans, suspected because of their known politics or past declarations and affiliations.

In fact, as the cdrs proved so effective not just at this task but also at involving ordinary Cubans at the most local of levels and on a vast scale by , over 1. Hence, the cdr were subsequently used for education campaigns helping to identify illiterates in their area in , for medical campaigns especially mass inoculations , labour mobilization, urging attendance at rallies, and the simple task of keeping the streets and buildings clean.

Given the scale of the operation and the fact that the Communist Party did not emerge finally for another five years, these bodies were thus basic to the whole process of socialization and involvement, and were the entities in which most Cubans of that time cut their political teeth; indeed, for many women they became the means for developing a significant local political leadership role. Another mass organization of that period had little to do with defence or labour, but much to do with economic planning and control: this was the National Association of Small Farmers anap , set up in May Much weaker than the cdr or the fmc, the anap nonetheless wielded considerable power in decisions on the agricultural economy and rural social provision.

The final significant mass organizations of the s were the three bodies designed to mobilize and involve young people. The first of these was the Federation of University Students feu. Indeed, it was that potential which first worried the Cuban leaders, as the University of Havana, long a selective middle-class institution, began to become a base for those opposing the new Revolution. As the revolutionary process radicalized and as the middle class either left or opposed the radicalization, it was perhaps inevitably the university students who expressed some of that opposition.

It was thus logical that the feu would be seen by the leadership as a mechanism for mobilization rather than representation, as a means of tapping the support of such a critical constituency. However, as Havana University began to be used as a site for political battles, the feu too became a battleground, with liberal and more conservative students seeking to take it over and make it a mechanism for opposition.

In fact, in , the organization was disbanded and did not reappear until , by which time the authorities had ensured that the feu was under control and had become a less powerful organization, an institution largely for labour mobilization. The university students were only one youth group which the new leaders sought to mobilize after While the feu remained a problem organization occasionally difficult to control , the feem never presented those difficulties and, until late in the s, tended to remain simply a routine mass organization for inculcating revolutionary principles in pre-university youth — and also for providing would-be youth leaders of either the feu or the ujc with valuable training, experience and opportunity to shine.

Even further down the age hierarchy was the Union of Cuban Pioneers upc. Aware of the historic role of the organized young in, for example, the sieges of Stalingrad and Warsaw during the Second World War, this was initially a tentative organization, set up in early April These then were the main mass organizations of the first decade, which, in the absence of a single party, played a fundamental role in the necessary process of political socialization. In fact, their role was eventually formalized in the post electoral structure, defined as a privileged number of Mass Organizations, clearly understood to be different from the ruling Communist Party.

In contrast, membership of the popular Mass Organizations has always been open to all and thus has in theory given the whole population the opportunity to be involved and have a voice. In practice it was through the cdr that such people tended to become involved, but, even then, this was not a body formally designed to harness the activities and support of older people. How then does the Party fit into this picture?

As we have seen, the early talk of elections and a multi-party system soon gave way to a preference for a single overarching structure. Partly this reflected both existing and evolving political positions within the rebel alliance especially within the psp and the more radical elements of the 26 July Movement, most notably with people like Guevara , but it also reflected a growing concern about the divisive effect any contest for power which a multi-party system would necessarily involve could have on the potentially fragile unity. There was a growing instinctive rejection among the rebels of the notion of contested elections and a competitive democracy.

As us opposition hardened, it had become obvious that Washington might seek to fund and support actively any party which legally opposed the radical leadership — thus risking a destabilization of the fragile unity. In other words, an enforced unity was increasingly seen as a patriotic step while a living the revolution 71 division of that unity risked opening up the patria homeland to debilitating forces and the threat of imperialism and a loss of sovereignty.

Moreover, once it became clear that an invasion was being planned within the United States, the needs of defence and unity began to dominate, and the attraction of a single umbrella organization for all the trustworthy political groups began to grow. By late — with socialism declared — the leaders had developed a clear model for this unified party: the first step would be to integrate the revolutionary organizations into one body, but without destroying their identities i.

These three were the 26 July Movement, the psp and the much smaller Revolutionary Student Directorate dre. Indeed, the latter soon moved into opposition in , setting up one of the counter-revolutionary guerrillas in the Escambray.

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Daniel Lightfoot marked it as to-read Apr 29, When the new Federation of Cuban Women fmc was founded in it especially targeted the need for equality of wages and labour opportunities and treatment. French corsairs blockade Santiago de Cuba. He had never set foot on the island until last year. Loading comments

This preference also reflected the simple fact that, with 6, members, a tried and trusted national organization and a reputation for discipline, the psp structure and experience provided exactly the template for a new organization. Whether this was what actually drove Escalante in his decision to create a National Directorate with so many representatives of the psp, or whether it reflected other motives, is unclear, but the fact was that this was seen in precisely those terms by Castro and the other 26 July rebel leaders.

As Escalante was dealt with, ori was rapidly dismantled, and the next planned stage — towards a United Party of the Socialist Revolution purs — was accelerated, the Party appearing in Indeed, it was this local organization that allowed many rank and file rebels to learn their politics, helped by the new Schools of Revolutionary Education eir which — established in January , but reformed in as part of the fallout from the tensions with the psp who initially dominated the schools — sought to improve the education and political awareness of the rebel soldiers, until they were closed in Nonetheless, neither ori nor the purs were mass parties, with the basis of membership for both remaining selective and by invitation and testimonial.

Nonetheless, the ccp was no more of a living organic structure than its predecessor. Its failure to organize the requisite five-yearly Congress until indicated its relative weakness as an autonomous political organization, but also reflected another motive: not only did the leaders fear a repetition of the —2 ori experience, but they also now feared that a powerful party would engender, as it had done all over the Socialist Bloc, a bureaucracy that would, they felt, inevitably slow down the revolutionary process and create a structural inertia.

This was especially true of the cdrs, which, for all their local vibrancy and responsiveness, tended not to be coordinated at national level only, for example, celebrating their first national Congress in September , except at moments where national mobilization was needed; moreover, those political activists who preferred structure and organization to participation saw the cdrs as something of a problematic organization, lacking the discipline necessary for an effective consolidation of orderly power.

More importantly, they were replaced by two much more powerful, if less dynamic, structures. The first was the Party itself, which finally met nationally in , and thereupon proceeded to stabilize itself rapidly, not only rehabilitating those ex-psp elements nationally and locally who had been somewhat marginalized since , but also building up membership towards levels more commensurate with those seen in the Socialist Bloc.

Indeed, by it already had , members, rising to , by Not only did it now enjoy a legitimacy previously lacking, but it also now became a body worth joining, attracting the committed, as always, but also now beginning to attract the personally ambitious, who, as had become the pattern in much of eastern Europe, could see membership as a path to promotion, benefits and recognition. All of this, inevitably, weakened the local viability of the cdrs as mechanisms for political representation or involvement. Still, one underlying weakness of the Party was that, like its east European counterparts, it always remained a workplace-based organization; members joined the Party not where they lived as with western European or us parties but, rather, at work, nominated by colleagues.

However many problems the parent Party may have had in the s or the institutionalized s and s, these problems were nothing as compared to the various manifestations of the youth organization. Of the two, the latter was by far the larger, better developed and more organized body. Indeed, in some respects, the ajr had less real reason to exist, 76 cuba in revolution given the youthfulness of the parent organization. Throughout —60, however, the ajr seemed unclear on its role and politics, reflecting both the broader divisions and the tensions within the student movement.

Finally, in , the two forces merged, taking the name Union of Communist Youth ujc five years earlier than the parent Party adopted that epithet. One of the systemic problems of the ujc has always been its curious relationship with the Party and other organizations. After an experiment in Matanzas province in , this system was formally adopted in for the whole country, simultaneously with the creation of a new system of fourteen provinces instead of six and town councils municipios.

Above this body also stood the Council of Ministers effectively the Cabinet , chosen by the President and the Council of State, acting on its behalf between those meetings. This distance was compounded, furthermore, by the fact that the municipio now became the lowest unit of political representation; the cdr had operated weekly at the level of every block, street or village, with, for a while, a system of activism at barrio level coming through the Poder Local Local Power system that was tried briefly in the late s. Now, however, 78 cuba in revolution the closest that most Cubans came to political involvement was through a regular voting operation, which elected representatives to sit and decide at the much more distant seat of the municipio.

Theoretically, such a meeting could then decide to reject this delegate if it were dissatisfied; obviously, the more stultified and unresponsive the system was, the less this actually happened, but at times it did operate with some effect, allowing a higher degree of accountability to be attached to the opp than, for example, with the Soviet structure.

How democratic was the system? The answer, unfortunately, is a little like the proverbial piece of string, depending on a variety of perspectives, criteria and principles, and also several different periods. Most obviously, the whole electoral process has always involved only one party, the ccp, in accordance with the new Constitution approved by the newly elected National Assembly in which decreed one-party rule; but officially the opp existed beyond parties, with the Communist Party having no formal or permitted role at all within its structures and processes.

Candidates for opp office could not stand for election on the basis of being Party members but as individuals, and the Party was banned from formal involvement in the selection process; instead, this latter process was a system whereby the local Mass Organizations nominated candidates for a list, which an electoral commission then narrowed down to a list of the right number for each constituency. However, inevitably, the more powerful the Party became nationally and locally, the more likely it was that those selected would be Party members already or would soon be invited to join, especially as those in the electoral commissions were equally likely to be members.

This partly reflected the reality that, from the early s, there was less of an external threat to the Revolution, although in reality this threat had actually disappeared in terms of a us attack in , after which it was only the often real enough threat from exile groups that really concerned the leaders.

Indeed, the most hardline exile groups did continue their campaign of sabotage and terrorism for several years, supported clandestinely by us officials through the so-called Operation Mongoose. The mnr militias so expressive of the early years continued beyond the years of real threat, but, in reality, tended to be downgraded and become something of a civil defence force against natural disasters and the like rather than a genuinely military structure.

This became even more the case after , when Cuba became involved on a large scale in the defence of Angola and when the far for the first time in its history engaged in orthodox military warfare rather than preparing for guerrilla-style defence of Cuba. However, even then, Angola brought a dimension unfamiliar to students of Socialist Bloc military practice, for the whole Angolan operation, from to , largely operated on the basis of soldiers volunteering for service rather than being assigned.

The Angolan experience, with this unusual element, was in fact a reminder not just of the Cuba of the s but also of the continuing coexistence of the old and the new in the changing Revolution. One such was the continuation of the cdrs themselves. In the new institutionalized Cuba there seemed little purpose to these localized units of uncoordinated participation, but, interestingly, the establishment of the opp and the revival and consolidation of the Party did not do away with them all together, as one might have expected.

Another vestige of the s came in a new form of mobilization: the construction microbrigadas, volunteer units which constructed residential housing. As we have seen, these grew up in response to both a growing frustration with, and demand for, housing, and also a recognition of the existence of a pool of useable surplus labour. Hence, although the whole strategy did help alleviate the immediate housing shortage, it also provided thousands of otherwise underemployed Cubans with an opportunity to be socially useful, to belong to yet another empowering collective effort, and to gain satisfaction from having built their own homes.

These remnants of the old mobilization were, however, few and far between; generally the period of institutionalization saw a steady decline in the once so characteristic active participation, and, with it, a certain sense of distance between the grassroots and real power. Indeed, this sense living the revolution 81 helped contribute to the evidence of alienation or discontent among some, especially the young; while the average Cuban may well have been considerably better off materially in the more consumerist and consolidated culture, there was little doubt that the declining resort to the mechanisms of participation meant a reduced sense of belonging.

Even during the days of austerity and siege in the s, that hope had sustained many supporters; now, however, there was a real risk that this basis of loyalty was disappearing fast. Moreover, with even the most politically committed Cuban having to strive to make ends meet and to seek out food and other supplies, often on the burgeoning black market, there was little inclination to engage in the old patterns of participation.

No-one had time or transport to attend large mass rallies, to engage in collective debate or to work collectively for the greater good, especially in the first few years of the crisis, and those that did find the time and the means were in a minority, many of their compatriots going through processes of disenchantment or demoralization. The more that Cubans sought the solution to their problems in individual effort and searches for resources, the less they believed in or felt that they needed the old benefactor state, and the less relevant the old collectivism and spirit of solidarity seemed.

This meant voluntary labour tended to operate on a small scale except for the periodic drives to harvest crops or to rescue victims of the weather and was limited to the most committed or to the annual mobilization of student labour each summer, often declining to an almost token and peremptory tidying of the grassed verges of each street on every fourth Sunday, trabajo voluntario becoming almost a rite of belonging than a serious contribution to the economy or social improvement.

However, it was precisely during these years that the mechanisms of political involvement and representation were again overhauled, albeit not as fundamentally as the economic structure. With this focus on the formal mechanisms of political representation, participation or mobilization, it is important not to conclude that 82 cuba in revolution mass involvement in Cuba has been limited to the Mass Organizations alone, the Party or the ujc.

For so all-encompassing has the Cuban system been since the mids that a number of other agencies, less powerful but often more local, have also contributed to the collective experience. Thus, groups such as hobby clubs, the cultural aficionados movement, sporting bodies, and even many of the Protestant churches have all played their part, blurring the distinction between state and civil society. Equally, the s revival of the Casas de Cultura and the development of barrio-level cultural activities the latter often as a spontaneous response to the difficulties of travel, performance and resources posed by the Special Period ensured a greater involvement of people locally in essentially state-run activities of direct relevance to the locality and with often a greater effect on participants than some more political activities.

All of this leads naturally on to a consideration of two wider questions: the existence of a civil society in Cuba and the issue of inclusion and debate. Any examination of Cuban civil society since the s runs up against the difficulty of identifying clearly what has long been a fluid, amorphous and indefinable entity, fusing with clearly state-run bodies but also with those same bodies tolerating a high degree of informality at the edges. By the time institutionalization set in, this close interrelation was fixed, with emigration constantly siphoning off the would-be recruits to any such resistance pole and with continuing social change still challenging all preconceptions.

As the Revolution after became besieged and isolated, this demand returned, generating a greater intolerance of non-conformity, but, during longer periods of relative calm, it would often be translated into a tolerance within strict parameters. For the intellectual community, this was also true during the quinquenio gris of the early s, which coincided not so much with crisis apart from the demoralization and debates after the disastrous zafra as with the rehabilitation of many of the same perspectives that had caused such concern in Indeed, the Padilla affair of coincided with the Congress of Education and Culture which enshrined those perspectives.

However, in the debates of the three encuentros formal meetings with Castro and other leaders had been frank enough, but largely contained within the artistic and intellectual community, and even then among those who were invited to those meetings. Equally, the debates following remained unseen as intra-elite differences. The longest, most widespread, and most open debate though, was that which followed , once the economic and political threat to the Revolution was deemed to have receded.

In essence this was a reading of the Revolution according to the paradigm established in post Eastern Europe. As such, the idea that the Revolution had ideological, as well as political, roots in pre Cuba merits examination. The ideology which evolved in Cuba after , it could be argued, was not fundamentally different from that in existence and adopted by many Cubans in —61, or even from that followed by many Cubans in the preceding thirty or even fifty years.

Importantly, this tradition incorporated different interpretations into its overall reading of the world and Cuba. This was of course precisely when the Revolution began to gravitate towards more openly socialist, and eventually communist, models; as such it is worthwhile examining the extent, implications and contribution of those apparently new ideas to the evolving ideology. Before thinking the revolution 93 relatively few Movement rebels had any association or even familiarity with socialism or communism. Here three factors came into play: the empirical experience of empowerment, the radical implications of the increasingly nationalist positions adopted, and the conscious processes of political education.

On the former, the 26 July rebels inevitably shared the common experience of being radicalized through the experience of power, resistance, collective solidarity and struggle, and the social successes of the early Revolution; this led naturally into the second factor. As us opposition increased and became associated with the old regime, their underlying nationalism pushed them into uncompromising positions.

As an essentially moderate land reform generated resistance, they reacted by advocating more radical plans; as the us sanctions began, nationalism became nationalization, thinking the revolution 95 and then collectivization; as the United States isolated Cuba, and the Soviet Union lent ready economic — and eventually military — support, anti-Americanism naturally became sympathy with the Soviet and communist positions.

Finally, the processes of political education which Guevara had begun in the Sierra continued, within the Rebel Army, within the 26 July Movement and the ajr, within the Militias whose Manual was a fundamental weapon for political education ,6 and eventually through the Schools of Revolutionary Instruction eir , whose clearly socialist curriculum gave the cadres of the Revolution the ideological infrastructure for their politicization.

Meet the front-line Cuban photographers who captured Castro’s ragtag rebellion

This was evident in the Great Debate, when economists such as Ernest Mandel were invited to bring their thoughts to bear on the Cuban development strategy. That Debate reminds us to put this all in some perspective; just as it was a discussion between academics and political activists, so too was all this interest in the more maverick versions of Marxism limited to small groups of intellectuals or activists. Soviet Marxism had several aspects. One of these was his development of a theoretical justification of the emerging Cuban preference for a rapid move to communism. Guevara argued, however, that given its special circumstances Cuba could and should accelerate towards communism, moving rapidly from an underdeveloped capitalism through socialism.

As such his contribution was more than simply intellectual, helping shape the public discourse which dominated in the midto late s. By , then, there were two separate but already closely related strands to the emerging ideology of the Revolution: the nationalist tradition radical in implication, inclusive and martiano and the newer communist approach explicitly revolutionary, more exclusive in questions of class, and Leninist.

These two processes now combined increasingly, but not in a vacuum; instead, the process of ideological discovery and debate evolved within a very specific and radicalizing context of external siege, defensiveness, and rapid social change and popular empowerment — elements which all contributed to fusing the two strands more organically and to enhancing certain features of both. The processes of empowerment were especially significant, for most Cubans experienced these in the early months and years, through the many vehicles of unprecedented participation and mobilization, all within a context of perceived collective struggle; hence, rather than demanding satisfaction leading to moderation, the beneficiaries seem to have found an increased radicalism through this process, fuelling a desire for more.

The same could be said of women, where class analysis dominated over westernized paradigms of gender awareness or feminism. At the same time a defiantly atheistic approach to religion now developed. These, as we have seen, were battles against bureaucracy, private enterprise, imperialism or economic crisis, with the whole militant discourse of revolution borrowing from the ethos of guerrillerismo guerrilla ethos that now dominated.

From the Literacy Campaign experience of , the prioritizing of the countryside for investment and politicization, the desire to make all urban children experience rural life, the media coverage of each and every harvest, all enhanced the persuasive power of the code and its underlying beliefs. Already evident in, and reinforced by, the early drives against prostitution and gambling, and by the discourse of past betrayal and present dignity, this code was especially enhanced after —6 by two developments. The culmination was the March Revolutionary Offensive, presented as a bold, patriotic, revolutionary and essentially moral act.

The second was the departure — and then death — of Guevara. This of course also raises the critical issue of the means by which these new and old cuba in revolution forms of ideology were now inculcated or internalized. Fundamentally, there were four main mechanisms for this. The daily experience of a collective endeavour — to improve, change, educate, defend, produce, and so on — within a context of an external threat to the Patria and a historic justification through an already existing nationalism, helped persuaded Cubans of the correctness of these ideas and the old and developing codes and beliefs.

Secondly, the process of individual ideological identification was likely to be enhanced through education. Given that all Cubans were now exposed in different ways to the benefits of an education which liberated them to read or to work and changed their lives, educational texts, curricula and experiences were all bound to radicalize those who participated or benefited, especially when those texts were explicitly politicizing.

The third mechanism was the inherently persuasive discourse of a revolution under siege — especially one enhanced by isolation, experience and the sense of a clear historic mission. Fourthly, ideology was — as ever — internalized through the recourse to political-historical myths. As we have seen, the processes of institutionalization and increased consumerism from partly contributed to the partial stagnation of the Cuban system compared to the vibrancy of the s. It also again meant a new emphasis within historiography, which raises the question of the role of history within this process of ideological evolution.

This had, for example, justified the embarrassing historical curiosity of annexationism and the Platt Amendment. After , it was therefore inevitable that this process would continue, nationalist historiographical imperatives now fusing with Marxist readings of history as class struggle.

History as a subject in school textbooks, learned articles or the media thus now had a key role in the shaping of a new consciousness, explaining previous failure but also current success. It was in this milieu that the latest reassessment had to be accommodated by new readings of history. One result was a return to the ideological interests of the late s when unorthodox interpretations of Marxism had become attractive , while another was a revival of nationalist perspectives and concerns. His writings had been difficult to find since the early s — since they clearly contradicted the policies being followed, advocating a more orthodox interpretation of Soviet-linked communism.

However, the late s saw a revival of those ideas, a reprinting of his work and a re-examination of their validity. Finally, one further effect of this new approach was the reassessment of the question of religion. Given the importance of this external dimension, those who have made and executed Cuban foreign policy have often been key players. Certainly, Fidel Castro himself has long played a more decisive role than one might normally expect, his personal relationships with foreign leaders often determining overall policy towards that country, most notably regarding Nicaragua, Grenada, India and, most recently, Venezuela.

Inevitably, the starting point for all this must be the rapid unravelling of us—Cuban relations in —61, and then the continuing role played in Cuban politics by us policy towards Cuba and by Cuban attitudes towards Washington. As we have seen, the ending of a once close relationship was a crisis waiting to happen, developing a momentum of its own in the face of misunderstanding by the United States and resentment from Cuba, both reactions rooted deeply in the two political mindsets and both having long-term implications.

While the rebel movement displayed no visible anti-Americanism before , there were already signs of potential conflict in the post radicalization, as the guerrilla vanguard began to recall old suspicions of the us role in Cuba echoing the earlier anti-Plattism and, influenced by Guevara, feel their way towards a tentative anti-imperialism.

Guevara brought from his Guatemalan experience a wider awareness of the inevitability of conflict with what he saw as us imperialism, which few of his Cuban comrades shared. Hence, when rebel manifestos neglected the us, this was less from any caution than from the reality that most Cuban radicals saw Batista and underdevelopment as the real problem. As such the issues which then stimulated the breakdown of the relationship were all avoidable steps in a process which, in retrospect, spreading the revolution seemed historically inevitable.

Cuba Before 1959: An Advanced Country

Moreover, while us actions combined the old neo-colonialist mentality seeing Cuba as belonging to the us sphere of influence, and ignoring Cuban wishes and the newer anticommunism seeing any nationalization of us property as a dangerous and potentially communist challenge , Cuban attitudes and reactions were equally avoidable but caught up in their own momentum. Underlying all these specific issues was of course the reality which Guevara discerned that many of the reforms proposed — changes to land, property, markets and sugar dependency — had radical implications within the context of the old dependency relationship and the Cold War.

Quite simply, in Washington was not prepared to tolerate a small but geopolitically significant Cuba expropriating us property, and, once the Soviet Union entered the picture, conflict became inevitable. Seeing the last fifty years as a continuation of colonialism and dependency, they now sought to escape from the us shadow in two key areas: trade and culture the latter has been covered in chapter Two. Still, the link was of enormous psychological importance to Cubans generally, laying the foundations for a longlasting respect for these countries that survived different governments and led to a willingness to engage in intellectual exchange.

Hence, when the Soviet government taking advantage of the perceived weakness of a new Kennedy Administration offered Cuba the possibility of locating nuclear weapons on the island, the Cuban leaders readily accepted the offer, as a guarantee against further invasion plans and as a means of making Cuba a stronger player on the world stage. The realization which the October Missile Crisis brought was fundamental therefore, when it became clear that Cuba was once again simply the site for battles between the powers. The lessons were brutal but deep. The longer term effects of this agreement and of this realization were considerable.

Firstly the protocol meant that any external threat would come not from the us military but only from the exiles sheltering and sheltered within the United States. That threat was still significant; the cia-backed Operation Mongoose organizing subversion and sabotage lasted till , with Cuban fatalities and considerable economic damage, keeping the militias and far vigilant for years, and there was a continuing campaign of less coordinated sabotage until the early s.

Equally, the Cuban leadership could unleash a sustained campaign against us power without cuba in revolution fear of retaliation.

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The Cuban leaders now used this freedom to launch a sustained drive to redefine Cuba in the world. This explicit call for revolution gave the oas the pretext it needed to isolate Cuba. With the clarity that came after October , Havana now turned that decision into a conscious strategy. Knowing that, Mexico apart, Latin America was part of the encirclement and that the siege could not be broken diplomatically, the Cuban leaders now reasoned that Cuba had nothing to lose by confronting and seeking to overthrow those hostile governments; if any such assault succeeded, creating a regional ally, that was a bonus, but, if not, Cuba could still benefit by a warlike posture which increased the domestic sense of siege and unity, and the growing sense of national pride.

This also indicated change at a more philosophical level: that, for almost the first time since the s, Cuba was seeking to identify itself spreading the revolution as a Latin American nation. The fact that Casa continued to enjoy considerable autonomy in the cultural sphere, besides the international credibility which it afforded especially through its annual prize for Latin American writing from , all contributed to a growing sense that Latin America was now a priority in more than just politics, and that Cubans were discovering a wider community to which they belonged historically and culturally.

Beyond culture, the more practical Latin Americanism now meant a sustained strategy to foment and support armed rebellion throughout the continent. Based on his reading of the Cuban insurrection, where guerrillas had created a revolutionary situation out of the most unpromising circumstances in a relatively developed country, he urged the creation of the guerrilla foco, as the stimulant of a wider struggle, forcing an ideological clarity. As well as confronting the United States indirectly, in order not to challenge the protocol this whole strategy also represented a heretical challenge to the Soviet Union.

This position was then taken further in First cuba in revolution of all the Cuban authorities published Revolution in the Revolution? The inclusion of the peasants seemingly echoed Maoism, rejecting those communists who — since Stalin — saw them as inherently conservative, while the inclusion of the students, reflecting the Cuban reality from the s and the current reality elsewhere, was both new and attractive to increasing numbers of the new student radicals of the West and Latin America.

Kapcia, Antoni. Cuba in Revolution: A History since the Fifties. London: Reaktion, A highly readable historical survey of fifty years of the Cuban Revolution. The principal thematic highlights include the role of ideology; Fidel Castro; Cuban relations with the United States, the Soviet Union, and China; and the crisis of the post-Soviet years.

London: Zed Books, A welcome corrective to the attention that has centered on the leadership of Fidel Castro. Attention is given to the character of collective leadership in the realms of policy decision-making processes. Particularly useful is the chronological framework, in which changing political and economic environments are reflected in a corresponding change in the culture of leadership.

Karol, K. Translated by Arnold Pomerans. A critical study of the first ten years of the Cuban Revolution, paying particular attention to the early failure of Cuban development strategies, and specifically agriculture, industry, and manufacturing, within the context of expanding Cuba-Soviet relations. Revolutionary Cuba: A History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, DOI: A sweeping historical survey of the Cuban Revolution, spanning the s through s. Organized in chronological fashion, which allows for an assessment of the sequence of phases of the programs and policies—both domestic and foreign—that constitute the successes and the failures of the revolution.

Nelson, Lowry. Cuba: The Measure of a Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, An examination of the social conditions in prerevolutionary Cuba as the setting for the transition to socialism. The principal focus is on the impact of the revolution on a number of key aspects of Cuban life, including agriculture, economic diversification, labor, education, family, press, social class, and social services.

Virginia Quarterly Review

A critical overview of developments in revolutionary Cuba between and Attention is given to the role of nationalism, the vicissitudes of economic development strategies, political institutions, and Cuban relations with the Soviet Union. Sweig, Julia. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know.

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Presented in a question-and-answer format, this overview of earlyst-century Cuba addresses a wide variety of themes, including history, politics and government, the arts, US-Cuba relations, and Fidel Castro. Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login. Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here. Not a member? Sign up for My OBO. Already a member? Publications Pages Publications Pages.

Subscriber sign in. Forgot password? Don't have an account? Sign in via your Institution. Sign in with your library card. Related Articles about About Related Articles close popup. The Cuban Revolution by Louis A. General Narratives The titles in this section represent the scope of the scholarship on the Cuban Revolution, with a focus principally on the s and later.

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