Cuba: Two Short Years

by C. Desmond Greaves

Labour Monthly, December 1960

AT the end of this month Cuban freedom will be two years old. Batista’s flight took place on New Year’s Day, 1959, and next morning Fidel Castro entered Santiago at the head of what was now the army of the Republic. Since then two years have brought Cuba greater changes than the preceding sixty. It is therefore of great interest to trace the causes of the revolution’s extraordinary tempo. 

The defeated Batista regime would have polled well as the ‘world’s most hated Government’. It was also one of the most unstable, resting on a narrow base of semi-feudal plantation owners, compradore capitalists, and a corrupt officialdom which included the trade union leadership. The sole reason for its existence was to protect against popular opposition a system of total economic subordination to foreign monopoly interests—a subordination surely well nigh unparalleled in any nominally sovereign state. 

While the American military mission sat making policy in Havana, the monopolies glutted themselves on the produce of the people. A thousand million dollars of American investment included not only all big industry but thousands of acres of land—in an island the size of England with a population of six and a half million. So far had the balance of rural life been sacrificed to the one crop (sugar) the monopolists were most interested in, that a great part of the peasantry, completely landless, worked only during the sugar harvest and spent the rest of the year in enforced idleness and semistarvation. Illiteracy, lack of elementary sanitation, infantile mortality, and disease went alongside rent and electricity rates which were among the highest in the world. The fact of American domination was written on the face of the country, and into every aspect of the lives of the people. The political domination (under the Platt Amendment providing for the intervention of U.S. troops) was set up in 1901, and maintained by a series of corrupted despotic puppets. For this reason the struggle against the Batista tyranny had the character of a national-liberation struggle from the start. The regime lacked any vestige of moral authority. Its visible record damned it. Its anti-Cuban character was plain. One of the outstanding features of the revolution was therefore quite naturally its clean sweep of the Batista State apparatus. The democratic constitution of 1940 had been destroyed by Batista: the constitution of 1940 was restored. The military mission was expelled; the army disbanded; the police agencies dissolved; the municipal and provincial administrations dismissed; the corrupt trade union bureaucracy removed. In their place were established the institutions of the people, the Council of Ministers, the revolutionary army (including workers’ militia) the National Institute for Agrarian Reform, and the two State banks. The Communist party was restored to legality, and trade union democracy re-established. The new regime had enthusiastic mass support.

The programme of the Castro Government was national independence, agrarian reform and industrialisation. On the human side this meant an improved standard of living, and vastly expanded education, health and housing services. Its centre was the agrarian reform which began in January, 1960, when powers were used to confiscate all estates of above one thousand acres.* 

This measure was essential. Without it there could be no full employment in the countryside, no diversification of agriculture, no raising of living standards or expansion of the internal market. It was not discriminatory. Foreign and Cuban landowners were treated alike. Nor did it affect the bulk of foreign investment which was industrial. Nevertheless the first confiscations of American property under the reform were the signal for a crescendo of economic reprisal from the U.S.A., with military provocation. 

A possible explanation of American intransigence, which cost them every dollar of their Cuban investments within nine months, is that Agrarian reform corresponds to the centuries old aspirations of the entire South American continent. This dangerous beacon must be dowsed at once, whatever the risk. One by one American owned industries were thrown into the economic sabotage of the Cuban revolution, and one by one they were ‘intervened’ or nationalised outright by the revolutionary State. Such firmness on the part of the new national Government was only possible because at each stage in the struggle assistance was immediately forthcoming from countries of the socialist world, which supplied oil, machinery and equipment, accepting in return the sugar and fruit which Americans now refused to touch. The economic strength of the Socialist world, as well as its own internal vigour, preserved the Cuban revolution from one of the most thorough-going Trade Wars of modern times. In the course of nine months, the entire pattern of external trade was revolutionised, but Cuba ended with greater foreign currency reserves than when she started.

American pressure, instead of slowing up the revolution, under the existing conditions, forced it to move with constant acceleration. With the realisation of defeat, came the attempt to produce a figurehead who might lead an intervention from among the mutually feuding emigres of Florida. Just as in the trade war the economic strength of world democracy was shown, so at the United Nations appeared its diplomatic strength. The U.S.A. has been compelled to disclaim any desire of military intervention, while taking its marines to and from the Guantanamo base like the brave old Duke of York. The danger is not yet over but the world peace forces have been strong enough to prevent intervention. 

Attempts to isolate Cuba by badgering the members of the Organisation of American States to condemn the Castro regime, have already proved a failure, and incidentally made the attitude to Cuba the touchstone for progress throughout Latin America. 

The Cuban revolution heralds the liberation of Latin America from imperialism. Internally its strength has been the alliance of workers and peasants. Externally, it has enjoyed the solidarity of world democracy, from the American progressives (and especially the Negro people) to the Soviet Union itself. What then is its present character? The Cuban Communists, who support the Castro Government unconditionally, but have no minister within it, declare: 

The present stage of the revolution is the stage of national liberation, agrarian reform, and the smashing of the fetters of colonialism and the elimination of the remnants of feudalism, a stage preceding the one in which the relations of production based on collective ownership of the means of production will be fundamentally and decisively established. Speech of Anibal Escalante at 8th National Congress of the Popular Socialist Party, August 18, 1960.

The forces which are carrying out the programme of ‘national liberation and agrarian revolution’ are the ‘proletariat as a whole, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and even the national bourgeoisie’ despite vacillations among important sections of the last. The Communists are striving to retain the national bourgeoisie within the revolutionary camp, for the preservation of the alliance of the classes against imperialism and its agents in Cuba. According to Escalante, ‘the programme today is not a socialist programme, but we, adherents of socialism, tell the masses that the logical development of the revolution leads to socialism’.

*CUBA : Anatomy of a Revolution, by Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy (Monthly Review Press, New York, 176 pp. $3.50), is full of interesting and useful material, particularly on Fidel Castro’s background and experiences and on the Movement of July Twenty Six (the day in 1953 when Castro first headed a rising). Under-estimation of the development of the Cuban working class led the authors to some mistaken conclusions.