The Cuban revolution revisited: Part V – the role of the USSR

Submitted by PaulHampton on Fri, 09/06/2006 - 22:05

Farber tries to explain the evolution of the Cuban regime by grounding his interpretation in the context of the period. By the late 1950s, many people had the perception that the USSR was catching up and even surpassing the US – symbolised by the first Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile and the Sputnik launch in 1957.

As Farber puts it, “The prevailing perception [was] that the international balance of power was shifting in favour of the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s.” (2006 p.142)

However the attraction for Castro was not simply magnetic – his group actively sought the support of the USSR from their early days in power. Early in 1959 Moscow began providing secret assistance to Cuba’s armed forces.

As Farber explains: “In March 1959 a PSP representative met with the chief of staff of the Soviet armed forces, Marshal V. Sokolovsky, to discuss future relations between the two armed services… in April 1959… Raúl Castro sent Lázaro Peña, a top PSP official, to Moscow to request a few Spanish Communists who had graduated from the Soviet military academy to help the Cuban army with general matters and with organising intelligence work.” (2006 p.146)

On 30 September 1959 the Soviet presidium voted secretly to send Warsaw Pact weapons to Cuba. On 1 October 1959, Soviet intelligence agent Aleksandr Alekseev arrived in Havana, to establish the first direct political kink between Moscow and the top Cuban leadership. (2006 pp.147-48)

Farber highlights some of the channels through which links were made. He writes: “In January 1960, Guevara’s military aide, Major Emilio Aragonés, travelled to Mexico City to report to the Soviet embassy and KGB station on what the Communists around Fidel Castro were planning to do to obtain control of the revolution. Among other changes, Aragonés predicted a purge of non-Communist wing of the July 26 Movement, the creation of a new political party, and Fidel Castro’s full participation in the coming ‘socialist revolution’.” (2006 p.149)

Soviet premier Anastas Mikoyan visited Cuba in February 1960. The significance of Cuba to the USSR at this point was well summed up by Mikoyan, who told Dean Rusk, “You Americans must realise what Cuba means to us old Bolsheviks. We have been waiting all our lives for a country to go communist without the Red Army. It has happened in Cuba, and it makes us feel like boys again.” (2006 p.147)

Formal diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USSR were established in May 1960. In July 1960, after the US cut Cuba’s sugar quota, the Soviet Union announced that it would buy the sugar the US had just refused to buy. The Soviet Union began to engage in a substantial programme of military assistance shortly after Raúl Castro’s July 1960 visit to Moscow. (2006 p.150)

The role of the PSP
The PSP has played a terrible role in Cuban politics. In 1942 two of its members, including Carlos Rafael Rodríguez (later a leading figure in Castro’s regime) joined Batista’s government. In the mid-1950s it dismissed the M26J and other oppositional movements in the 1950s as “putschist”.

However as it became clear that the M26J was growing, the PSP moved to establish relations with it. In the summer of 1957, the PSP sent a young but experienced Communist cadre Pablo Ribalta to join Guevara in the Sierra Maestra and take charge of political indoctrination among the rebel troops under his command. (2006 p.162)

As Farber describes it: “In late 1957, the PSP decided to fully support the armed struggle, and by the middle of the following year the party had reached an agreement with Fidel Castro, although it had much greater success in operating inside the guerrilla columns headed by Raúl Castro and Guevara than those under Fidel’s direct control… An indicator of the PSP’s new turn was the October 1957 meeting between Ursinio Rojas, a PSP leader and former official of the sugar workers’ union, and Fidel Castro at which the two men explored the advantages and difficulties of an alliance between the PSP and Castro’s movement.” (2006 p.156)

Although in the early months of the regime, at least publicly, the PSP was kept at arms length, its influence as the only well-organised political group in Cuba grew throughout 1959.

For one thing, it was a crucial link between the M26J and the USSR. As Farber puts it: “The PSP also played an important role at the beginning of the revolutionary process as a kind of Cuban government lobbyist in Moscow. The PSP’s analyses, programmes, and plans… significantly contributed to the creation of a political climate that facilitated and may have influenced Castro’s choice of Communism.” (2006 p.4)

It was also a useful instrument to help Castro gain control of the labour movement from November 1959 (see below).

As is well known, the M26J merged with the PSP and the Revolutionary Directorate in July 1961 to form the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI). In March 1962 the ORI became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURS), finally taking the name, Communist Party of Cuba in October 1965.

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