Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution

Submitted by martin on 26 November, 2016 - 3:08 Author: Sam Farber

Cuban socialist Sam Farber surveyed the story of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution of 1959 in an interview a few years back.

The revolutionary struggle against Batista was very brief. And this is the remarkable thing about the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro landed in early December 1956 with his eighty-two people in the boat Granma–meaning grandmother–an American boat. Not much progress was made for the first six months or so. Then, after May 1957, the rebels began to make progress in the Sierra Maestra mountains. An important step in the evolution of the struggle was the failure of the general strike in April 1958. At that point, a sharp turn was made to subordinate the urban and working-class struggle to the guerrilla struggle in the hills. Ché Guevara had a lot to do with that turn. This is an aspect of Ché Guevara’s trajectory that has been, in my opinion, underestimated. And there are political issues of interest that could be explored regarding Ché. For example, his having been an uncritical supporter of the USSR, at least through the crucially important first two years of the Cuban Revolution, and then his turn against the USSR, but not on issues related to the questions of democracy and workers’ control.

Within a very short period of time, after the failure of the April 1958 strike, there was a turning point in the summer of that year, when Batista’s army organized a major offensive to defeat the rebels in the hills of eastern Cuba. The offensive failed, and it was downhill for the Batista regime after that. Batista fled on December 31, 1958, and the U.S. tried to organize a military coup, but the existing political relation of forces made that impossible. So the rebels came to power on January 1, 1959. Castro put a civilian government–more liberal than radical in composition–in office for a short period of time. This government never really had power; contrary to what some people claim, there was never dual power in Cuba. That’s a bad joke. That is just some Trotskyists trying to impose mechanically the model of the Russian Revolution in Cuba, which doesn’t fit at all.

So Castro always had the power. He chose to step back for tactical reasons. It didn’t last long. He became prime minister in February 1959. And in May 1959 the government took a very major step, the approval of the Agrarian Reform Law. That was a very important point in terms of internal dynamics and the hostile position of the upper class and some middle-class elements in Cuba, and their corresponding liberal elements in the revolutionary government, almost all of which were out of office by the end of 1959. The agrarian reform also marked a major turning point in terms of U.S. attitudes to the Cuban government. From January to May 1959 the attitude of the U.S. government could be described as "worried vigilance," putting pressure on the Cuban government.

After May 1959, it became open hostility, deciding that the Cuban government was not reformable and had to be replaced, although not yet by violent means. By the fall of 1959, the U.S. had begun to prepare for the armed overthrow of the Cuban government. The American Empire simply could not tolerate an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist government, least of all in the Western hemisphere, the U.S.’s "backyard." Of course, the ruling circles in the U.S. hypocritically spoke about the violation of civil liberties and democracy in Cuba, but that was ideological window dressing for the benefit of liberal opinion in the U.S., not their real concern, which was the "loss" of Cuba. How dare they challenge us, and right on our doorstep?

So there was a period of rapid radicalization, but under the influence of the "old" pro-Moscow Communist Party and, even more important, the influence of non-party Communists such as Ché Guevara and Raúl Castro. Soon, the prevailing model of what the "good society" should look like was that of the USSR and Eastern Europe, notwithstanding all the mostly stylistic innovations that the Cuban revolution introduced. When I talk about the Soviet model, I am referring to the one-party state reigning over an almost totally nationalized economy, state-controlled unions, secret police, and so on. Make no mistake, however, this was a government that had widespread popular support; but decisions were always made from the top. It was always top down. That, again, doesn’t mean it was unpopular.

Many people confuse popular support with democracy. One thing is when the the people support something. But that is distinct from when they support something that they also control–when they are making their own history. People in Cuba were not running institutions, taking initiatives, and so on. The system was very much of a caudillo-led system, where the leader knows best. Fidel Castro claims to be an expert in practically everything, whether it’s cattle and agricultural science, sports, or biotechnology and military strategy and tactics. In this system, "democracy" meant people applauding and cheering in the plaza at gigantic demonstrations. I think that is farcical to call that democracy in the absence of discussion, the right to independent organization, the threat of prison if you politically and ideologically stepped far out of line, and with a press totally controlled by the ruling party.

The radicalization toward an Eastern European model of socialism advanced quite rapidly. And by the summer of 1960, U.S.-owned industry had been nationalized. These U.S. investments were worth from $800 million to $1 billion in 1960 prices. Before the end of the year, most Cuban-owned industry had been nationalized, as well. In other words, by the end of 1960, two years after victory, the economy was essentially in the hands of the Cuban state. So, we are talking about a very rapid process.

The U.S. blockade of the Cuban economy actually began with the first measures against the importation of Cuban sugar in the summer of 1960. Diplomatic relations were severed in January 1961, a few days before John F. Kennedy took office. The U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion happened shortly after that in April of 1961. Kennedy could have stopped the invasion, but chose not to. In fact, during the presidential campaign in the fall of 1960, Kennedy was even more insistent in overthrowing Castro’s government than Nixon himself. All the current wishful thinking by Oliver Stone and others about Kennedy changing U.S. policy toward Cuba hides the reality that Kennedy as well as Nixon, Democrats as well as Republicans, all supported the same ugly imperialist policies toward Cuba. Even the great liberal hero Adlai Stevenson defended U.S. policy toward Cuba as Kennedy’s ambassador to the United Nations.

After the failed April 1961 invasion, you had the missile crisis of October 1962. In terms of the Cuban economy, there was the "revolutionary offensive" in 1968, when even the tiniest businesses were nationalized. I mean we are now talking about the nationalization of the small shops at the bus stops on the corners, what people in Cuba, the rest of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and New York City call bodegas. So by the late 1960s, we had an almost completely nationalized economy.

In terms of what is called the institutionalization of the revolution–the first Communist Party Congress and the adoption of a constitution did not happen until the mid—1970s. The Communist Party was not actually formed until the mid—1960s, after the major social and economic changes had already taken place. The period of the 1970s is probably when the greatest prosperity existed during the revolutionary period. I don’t think there is a causal relation here. It was just a coincidence that the price of sugar, given conditions in the world economy, was at an all time high. It rose to more than 60 cents a pound, whereas it is currently around eight cents a pound. And so the "fat cows," a term used in Cuba for good economic times, were in the 1970s.

By 1979, a bad year, economic problems began to surface. It is important to underline this, since serious economic problems began to appear before the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Thus, for example, Cuba stopped payment of its foreign debt in 1986, and has had to borrow money since then at exorbitant credit rates to finance the sugar crop and other activities. The 1970s and early 1980s were the time when Cuba adopted the Soviet methods of economic planning, after the earlier, highly centralized, "moral incentives," and Guevaraist methods had failed to achieve their grandiose ambitions and, in any case, were anathema to the Soviet planners.

By 1986, the Soviet model had also run into serious problems, so Fidel Castro got rid of it and tried to implement his neo-Guevaraist "rectification campaign." But that did not last very long, because, of course, there was the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the USSR, and the beginning of what the Cuban government called "the special period in times of peace," which is really the 1990s. I suppose we are still in the "special period in times of peace."

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Submitted by jayrothermel on Mon, 28/11/2016 - 01:03

What a snotty, snobbish, and arrogant dismissal.

The Cuban revolution has done more internationalist solidarity in the world than any other country. Not just medical aid. Internationalist missions like the one that helped defeat South Africa's apartheid army at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988.

Submitted by guenter on Mon, 28/11/2016 - 19:15

In reply to by jayrothermel

how did it really look like?
-cuba´s Napalm(!) Support for the ethiopian Military government in fighting eritrean Independence
-cuba´s horible role in supporting one faction inside the MPLA of angola, helping them in torturing and murdering of 20.000 comrades
-castro´s Support for the islamic dictatorship in Iran
and fine,that they brought so many medicaments somewhere- in Cuba there always was much to Little of it and the People couldnt afford them.

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