Cuba Essay, Research Paper
The idea that the Cuban Revolution of 1959 was a peasant revolution or had a peasant character is awidely held misconception, one which has been dispersed by the rebels post-revolutionary rhetoric and the wealth ofsympathetic knowledge which based its interpretation of the revolution upon this propaganda. To assign an event ascomplex as the Cuban Revolution any particular nature is a drastic simplification and confuses the many factorswhich led to the revolution and its victory. Being the protagonists in the uprising the revolutionaries themselvesunderstood very clearly that their revolution was not the result of just the peasants support, so they must have hadcertain reasons for reconstructing the revolution the way they did. The first element to look over is the reconstructionitself, through the post-revolutionary propaganda, and to determine exactly what kind of a vision the rebels wanted topromote as the uprising. Next the actual revolution will be studied and compared to the rebels imagined revolution.Finally, some of the possible reasons for the rebels deviation will be stated and the revolution itself will bereexamined considering the ideas brought forward. When Castro and his group reached Cuba on the Granma December 2, 1956, their strategy, as they stated atthe time and admitted later, was to take Santiago with the help of Frank Pais urban insurrectionary organization, andthen attack the rest of Cuba from there in coordination with a huge general strike (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974).This part anarcho-syndicalist, part Blanquist strategy was quickly delayed, however, as the attack on Santiago failedon all sides and the guerrillas were forced to flee to the Sierra Maestra. The rebels in the mountains quickly cameinto contact with the peasants there and a cooperative relationship began to develop between the two after initialmistrust by the peasants. The peasants who had to endure the persecution of Batista s military units gradually beganto change their attitude toward us. They fled to us for refuge to participate in our guerrilla units. In this way our rankand file changed from city people to peasants (Lavan, 1967, p.10). Out of this practical relationship, which CheGuevara explained in April 1959, grew the mythology that became the revolution s legacy. Guevara later said theguerrilla and the peasant became joined into a single mass, so that… we became part of the peasants (Thomas, 1977,p.154). It was this mysterious bond that gave the revolution as a whole its peasant nature. By living with the peasants,the rebels explained, they had come to feel for their needs, the principle need being land reform. Thus, as Guevaraexplained, the rebels adopted their land reform slogan which mobilized the oppressed Cuban masses to comeforward to fight and seize the land. From this time on the first great social plan was determined, and it later becamethe banner and primary spearhead of our movement (Lavan, 1967, p.11). The post-revolutionary vision was one in which land reform was the spearhead, and the intellectuals werethe spearbearer, for, as Castro explained in February 1962, the peasantry is a class which, because of the unculturedstate in which it is kept needs the revolutionary and political leadership of the revolutionary intellectuals, for withoutthem it would not by itself be able to plunge into the struggle and achieve victory (Kenner, Martin, & Petras, 1969,p.113). From the mountains, this united peasant-rebel force would sweep down into the plain and capture the citiesfrom the countryside. The rebels wanted the world to believe that the entire revolution had only succeeded throughvast campesino participation. The other revolutionary element that the rebels aggressively reconstructed, after they took power, was therole of the urban resistance. As theirs was a peasant revolution , the cities had to have played a secondary roll, somuch time was spent downplaying the role of the cities in the revolution. The rebels anti-city propaganda took twoforms theoretical and practical. Theoretically, Castro stated in 1966, It is absurd and almost criminal to try and directguerrillas from the city (Kenner et al, 1969, p.132). The urban rebels were too ready to compromise and maketruces, they could not understand the guerrilla and would most likely work against them. Several instances of therebels disclaiming their urban counterparts help to fulfill this theoretical consideration. It was after the failure of thegeneral strike of 9 April, 1958, Guevara claimed, that the rebels realized that the urban movement could not succeed(Lavan, 1967, p.11). The urban revolution can all too easily be smothered by the government (AlRoy, 1972, p.9)and thus the countryside was the necessary site for the revolution. The revolution that these men created was one ofbasic peasant base and character, led by a small group of intellectuals which had gained the peasant class awarenessthrough sympathetic contact, and that swept over the counterrevolutionary cities on its way to starting a governmentwhich would be the best friend of the peasants (Kenner et al, 1969, p.58). The authenticity of this image isobviously doubtful. Although it has its supporters, the earliest perhaps being Huberman and Sweezy in their book,Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution, most of the facts on which they base their findings are clouded, in this case, gottenduring a short visit to Cuba with interviews from only high ranking leaders. What is important however, is to obtainwhat of the rebels post-facto vision is grounded in fact and what is a well constructed fiction. From there aconclusion may be reached as to the reason for their historical deception. The best way to analyze the revolution is chronologically, beginning with the inauspicious landing of theGranma and following the development of the revolution from there. This brings up the first distortion of history, thatbecause the rebel party consisted of only eighty-two guerrillas, quickly cut down to eighteen before they reached theSierra Maestra, it is assumed that it was the extraordinary heroism of this small group that finally defeated thegovernment. This ignores the fact that there was already a well-founded urban insurrection movement, on which theguerrilla band would depend on entirely. The urban M-26-7 group, under the direction of Frank Pais, was awaitingCastro s arrival to take Santiago. In addition there was also the Directorio Revolucionario, led by Echevarria,dedicated to violent urban revolt. These two groups, along with many other organizations and individuals, wouldprovide much needed support to Castro when it was most essential. Quickly after the Granma disaster, Castro and his compatriots regrouped in the Sierra Maestra, the area towhich they were to retreat in case of failure (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.78). They did so with the assistance ofthe local peasantry, who led them through the dense forests to find each other (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.89).The rebels set up a base to run their operations. These operations however, soon involved much more than singleencounters with rural guard barracks; as they lived in the midst of peasants, they depended on them, not only forguides or purchasing supplies, but on their loyalty. The peasants had no sympathy for the rural guard, but neither didthey for the rebels, thus, they would often turn informer on Castro and his men (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974,p.90). In order to counteract this, Castro set up a system of brutal but fair revolutionary justice. All informers wereexecuted immediately, and the executions were advertised widely in the peasant population. At the same time,however, the rebels were very fair in their commercial dealings with the peasants, and Castro established a strictrevolutionary code to keep his soldiers in line, including provisions defining rape and other crimes against thepeasantry as a capital offense. Although the revolutionary law was harsh, at least it was not elective, and the peasantsgradually came to see the revolutionaries as the law of the Sierra. The Sierras peasants were aware that theirsurvival and security depended mainly on whether they helped the guerrillas or not (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974,p.91), one scholar wrote. Thus the peasants were half terrorized, half encouraged to support the guerrillas over thebatistianos. The role of the peasants within the movement was not as heroic as it was later made out to be. Of the troopsthemselves, figures differ as to the proportion of peasants to urban recruits. Bonachea & San Martin, for example,states that a majority of the rebel forces were city people, mostly young, educated, and male (1974, p. 95). Tosupport this statement is the March 3, 1957, movement of fifty-two armed and supplied men from Santiago to theSierra. According to Bonachea & San Martin, the number of guerrillas continued to grow due to these regular urbaninflows, despite regular peasant desertions, who would rather return to their small, unproductive plots of land (1974, p.95). Huberman and Sweezy on the other hand, claim that from three-quarters to four-fifths of the rebelforces were peasants (1961, p.78). However, the idea that peasant support in the forces, at any level, would give therevolution a peasant character is disputed by two facts. First, the peasants were not promoted to officers and, in fact,most were not even soldiers; they were mainly used for transportation and communication. Since there were nopeasants in leadership, it is hard to believe that the movement had any true peasant nature. Second, as late as May1958, even the most Revolutionary sympathetic writers only put the total number of guerrillas at three hundred(Huberman & Sweezy, 1961, p.63). Even if they were all peasants, three hundred peasants scarcely seems like amassive popular movement. As Castro s movement in the hills began to bring together his hold on the land and the people, Pais beganplanning seriously for a general strike, which was to coincide with Castro s emergence from the Sierra and attackupon cities (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.142). Bonachea & San Martin make a point here that Pais was still thereal leader of the M-26-7, and that Castro was still subordinate to him(1974, p.146). The general strike was the realweapon, Castro was just there to take over once the strike had immobilized Cuba. However, Echevarria, who hadalso been involved in planning the strike, was killed in March, and Pais was killed in July, so the only revolutionaryleader left was Castro. Desiring to make his base even firmer before the strike began, Castro instructed all otherrevolutionary movements to keep him well supplied in the Sierra (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.146). Since hewas the only popular leader remaining, Castro s power, support, and resources grew immensely. In September, there was an uprising at the Cayo Loco Naval Base in Cienfuegos which involved planningbetween the M-26-7 and naval officers. Being a plot begun mainly by the military, it did not need Castro s help. Therevolt ended in full urban warfare between the M-26-7 forces and the sailors against Batista s army troops. The lack
of coordination between the cities prevented the movement from growing, and the revolt was soon stopped by Batistaand was followed by very brutal repression (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p. 147). But what this event truly shows,is that there was already contention in the military due simply to disgust with Batista. At this time also, the Directorio Revolucionario sent eight hundred guerrillas to the Sierra Escambray inorder to establish an urban and rural guerrilla struggle (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.184). A few months later,Raul Castro was sent to the Sierra Cristal to establish the second front, Frank Pais. Once again the development of the second front in Oriente was largely the result of the urban underground efforts of Mayari, Gauntanamo, andSantiago de Cuba (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.191). It is interesting to compare Raul Castro s treatment of thepeasants with his brothers. Raul had a much more democratic attitude, he let peasants rise up as far in the rebel officerranks as they could, where Fidel had no officer peasants. However this democratic attitude was not only for thepeasants, Raul also encouraged agricultural workers and miners in the area to join his forces. This resulted in muchpopular support for Raul in the surrounding area. Thus, during the summer of 1957 up to April 1958 the revolutionwas growing in the Sierra Maestra, in military numbers, and on two new fronts. However, as Che Guevara stated inNovember 1957, they were still awaiting the general strike. The Sierra Maestra is arriving at the end of its fortresscommitment, and is getting ready to launch its legions of combatants across the plains (Lavan, 1967, p.37). Victorywas professed on two things, Che stated, the burning of canefields and the general strike which will be the finalblow. The general strike is the definitive weapon (Lavan, 1967, p.37). At this point the insurrection was still no more of a peasant revolution then it was when the Granma wentashore. The revolution still consisted of rural guerrillas dependent on the urban underground for troops, supplies, andultimately, a general strike among the workers and organized by the urban underground made it possible for them tomove from the hills. The peasants had influence only in the lesser of the two fronts, and even there, it was shared withthe working class. The general strike was finally planned by Castro for April 1958. The reasons for its dramatic failure arecontroversial, but a few facts which emerge point toward a reasonable explanation. Fidel called the strike and, againstthe advice of the M-26-7 who felt they were not ready, forced the revolutionary leaders to comply. Then he did notdeliver the arms he had promised them and without which the strike was impossible. It was such a disaster that anyplan for future strikes was hopeless. It appears that Castro intended for the strike to be a failure in order tocompletely consolidate his power at the head of the revolution. His power had grown to the point that he felt hecould defeat Batista, and he needed to eliminate the chance that the urban revolutionaries would steal his power. Thiswas later confirmed at the May third meeting, which Guevara claimed as the official shifting of all power to thecountryside, that is, to Castro (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.215). The other strategic benefit which Castro obtained from the strikes failure was to force Batista intoconfrontation. Castro had firm control over the Sierra Maestra, but he could not fight Batista s army away fromthere. He needed Batista to send his troops up to the Sierra Maestra, where his guerrilla tactics could win. This planworked, as Batista s officers, encouraged by the failed strike, forced Batista to attack the Sierra Maestra and bring anend to the revolution. On June 28, after heavy recruiting, Batista s summer offensive began. The ironic element of thiswas that most of his recruits were peasants, many from the Oriente province (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p.29).However, the Sierra was not the only place where battles had begun, on April 16, Batista declared a state ofemergency, and began the most brutal crackdown of his regime. Partly in protest of this and partly in support ofCastro, the urban revolution escalated, turning the cities into virtual battlegrounds. Due to the very efficient organization which he had developed, Castro was victorious against Batista scampaign. This was a morale boost to the revolutionaries everywhere. Units grew in all sectors, the five to sixthousand urban revolutionaries fighting during the summer grew more numerous, and opposition in the armed forcesincreased (Bonachea & San Martin, 1974, p. 263). Castro s rebels then left the Sierra and headed west, capturing cityafter city and culminating with Santa Clara. During this time, the urban revolutionaries was essential to the rebelvictories. The rebels numbered no more than two hundred and fifty, and Batista s army was still in the tens ofthousands (Huberman & Sweezy, 1961, p.69). However, in each town, the Batistian army s morale had beenlowered so much by the urban revolutionaries that the rebels rarely needed to fire a shot to obtain victory. Anotherprobable cause of the army s lack of motivation was Batista s cruelty. The soldiers had no desire to fight for a manthat persecuted their friends and families. One last reason could be the reputation of Castro and his rebels, their great,bloody victory over the regular army was well-known, and few of the poorly trained troops wanted to challengethem. Although the rebels succeeded without the general strike itself, through the urban revolutionaries and thetroops lack of morale, the same ending was reached and the rebels took over urban Cuba despite their lesser numbers. So the guerrillas took over Cuba and declared it a peasant revolution. However, it seems clear that, nomatter how it is judged, the revolution was certainly not characterized by the peasantry. The guerrilla-peasant unionwas one of convenience, the peasants were simply the instrument in which the guerrillas were forced to operate. Theynever spoke of any special connection with the peasants until well after the revolution, let alone assist or trust themany more then they needed to reach their own goals. And in return, the guerrillas never received mass support fromthe peasants; they would still join Batista s army with the same enthusiasm as they always had. Even the spearhead ofthe revolution, agrarian reform, was begun by the guerrillas, and there is much debate as to whether the peasantsactually cared about getting land at all. The beginning of the Land Reform Law stated that its purpose was to diversify the Cuban economy and help the industrialization of the country (Goldenberg, 1966, p.218). Beyond theirexcellent service as watchmen the peasants had almost no role in the revolution. The urban revolutionaries, however,did play a major, yet forgotten role. At every step of the revolution, their help was vital to the guerrillas, and at thetime, up until April of 1958, the guerrillas recognized this. Afterwards, the assistance continued to be necessary, but itwas taken in under Castro s peasant revolution. The question can now be asked: why did the revolutionaries, after their victory, try so hard to establish theirrevolution as a peasant revolution? This answer is found in Cuba s unusual class structure at the time of therevolution. Cuba was not a typical Latin American nation; first, its population was 57% urban and 43% rural, asopposed to the rural nature of the rest of Latin America (Draper, 1962, p.21). It had one of the highest standards ofliving in Latin America, and it was also one of the most middle class: figures range from 22% up to 33% of thepopulation being middle class (Thomas, 1977, p.328). This middle class was also strange because it was a frustratedclass repressed by the economic stagnation that hindered their professional and financial advancement. AlthoughHuberman and Sweezy claim that the peasantry was the most revolutionary of classes, as it was the most marginalized(1961, p.80), by other standards the middle class would seem the most revolutionary, as it was a clear candidate for arebellion of rising anticipation. This seems to be the case, since most of the urban revolutionaries were and guerrillaswere of this middle class. Batista s power was founded with these people, hence he could have handled a true peasantrevolt because the peasantry was not strong enough. However, a middle class revolution could have been hisdownfall. The constituency of the Cuban revolution was made up of the middle class, it derived its support from themiddle class by promising to honor the constitution of 1940 with its liberal reforms, and it succeeded without thesignificant worker or peasant support. After the strike of April 1958 the revolution, previously a revolt of the middle-class intellectuals, becameCastro s own revolution. He made the strike fail to consolidate his power, regardless of the bloodshed it caused hisfellow revolutionaries. This would appear to be one of the reasons why he termed it a peasant revolution. He reversedcause and effect to justify what happened. He claimed that the victory was the victory of a peasants revolution, ofwhich he was merely a figurehead, swept into the class consciousness of the peasantry. Instead he had swept theurban leaders off the stage, and in order to hide the fact that it was actually he and his own officers who had seizedthe government, he created the peasant nature of the revolution. Then, following up on this lead, once he was inpower he changed the agrarian reform law by adding socialist co-operatives before it was signed, thus driving awayliberal middle class in the name of the peasant revolution (Draper, 1962,p.24). He was so popular at that point that hecould pull such a maneuver without a struggle, so he consolidated his power and based it, unlike his revolution, onthe peasantry and the workers. The final reason why it seems that he constructed the peasant nature of the revolution was to give therevolution the popular support it needed to be accepted in the rest of Latin America. Our revolution has set anexample for the every other country in Latin America (Lavan, 1967, p.13), said Che Guevara. As mentioned before,Cuba was far ahead of most of Latin America economically, and so most of the rest of the continent had the potentialfor a genuine peasant revolt. The success of this strategy is evident in the massive popularity of Castro among peasantmovements in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru (Goldenberg, 1966, p.313). When he finally took power, Castro did effect many social changes to improve the peasant conditions.Indeed, it does not seem that he went through so many transformations just to achieve total personal power, but thathe was looking ultimately to effect radical social change as well. That the way to these two goals, along with thedistress of foreign policy, all coincided was advantageous. That his fellow middle class urban revolutionaries had tobe removed was merely a clever necessity But no matter what the country may look like now, or what the leadershave said concerning the revolution, it still remains that while the urban revolutionaries probably could not havedefeated Batista without Castro, it is certain that Castro could not have defeated Batista without the urbanrevolutionaries.