Perhaps no other revolution has been more distorted and purposefully misrepresented as the Cuban Revolution. Even the Russian revolution, which experienced its share of defamation by its domestic and foreign enemies, was never defined as a middle class or peasant revolt. The many enemies of the Cuban revolution, the ultraleft as well as the most prominent bourgeois historians, have employed the most sophisticated technological methods of mass information as well as the awsome power of the US media to confuse the working class and draw misguided revolutionists into certain defeat.
Regardless of background (professional, political, gender and socio-economic), the experts concur in their mistake of ignoring the vanguard role played by the Cuban working class in their revolution. Many lack an inkling of Cuban history, political economy, sociology, etc. gathered from reading the works of Cuban social scientists or some one with a Marxist education. Instead, the story-tellers invariably present us with observations shaped to fit the rigid conceptions of bourgeois historians with a political agenda of their own. If the events happen to contradict the tale, then the inconsistency is explained contending that the “US pushed Castro into communism” or that “Castro betrayed the revolution”.
The most important of ideological questions regarding the Cuban revolution remain obscured. Some activists in the Cuba solidarity movement have defended their support of Cuba on the basis of being supporters of Castroism; not socialism. Even a greater number of participants in the movement express the view that the revolution was essentially a struggle led by the Cuban middle and upper classes and fought in battle by the Cuban peasantry. Naturally, middle class radicals and liberals in the US would feel confortable defending a revolution which they believe to have been carried out by their class counterparts in Cuba. After all, if Washington had not erred in pushing the revolution into the communist camp, the Cuban democratic revolution would have been quite capable of producing social justice within capitalism, without the dreaded intervention of the working class.
The following, constitutes Part I of this document to be followed by:
Was the Cuban Revolution a Peasant Revolt?
The development of class consciousness in Cuba
The Role of the Cuban Working Class
The parenthesis shown herein as () are points of bibliography references which, at this point in time, need major and painstaking reorganization. A complete bibliographical reference will be shown with the conclusion of Part II.
February 20, 2000
THE MANY FACES OF THE COUNTERREVOLUTION
The enemies of Cuba and its revolution are well-publicized and known. They include imperialism, its agencies, the Cuban counterrevolution and a handy assortment of political stooges worldwide. Less known are those infiltrated in Cuba solidarity activity for personal gain such as Liberal Democrats and “moderate” Cubans whom I have on occasion exposed politically,but not without raising some eye brows.
But it would surprise many to know that socialists of the ultra-left variety and petty bourgeois revolutionists are also found in the same enemy camp, sharing the same ideological attacks against Cuba as the most vociferous and reactionary right wingers.
One organization in particular, the Intenational Committee of the Fouth International, has sought to make a name for itself as the most pure of all Marxist-Leninists by concentrating a good portion of its political work on ideological attacks on the Cuban revolution and its leadership. Although the International Socialist Organization also shares this feature, the arguments of the ICFI are the best organized body of slander among the enemies of Cuba in general. According to a lecture on Cuba given at a university in Australia, the ICFI claims the following:
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were petty-bourgeois nationalists who believed that socialism could be achieved without the participation of the working class, a political program or a party. They argued that the Latifundia in Latin-America was the essential foundation of repression, as opposed to the relations of capitalist wage labor and profit. Therefore, the peasantry is the only revolutionary class in society and they alone, organized into armed guerrillas, can carry out a successful struggle to overthrow the capitalist state and create a socialist society. Thus the term “Castroism”, meaning a separate road to socialism, distinct from Marxist-Leninist theory.
Unable to square the true facts with their fabrications, these ideological enemies of Cuba have so shamelessly falsified the history of the Cuban revolution that many contradictions remain conspicuosly exposed at the seams. According to their version of the events, Castro’s struggle was just one of many separate struggles conducted against Batista by several petty-bourgeois factions in Cuba. These uprisings, outside of the control and participation of the 26 of July movement, were the real factors causing the fall of the Batista government. Thus, Castro was “suddenly and unexpectedly catapulted into power” without any ties to the Cuban working class, a political program, an army, nor even a major decisive battle.
As the author shall demonstrate here, these seemingly Puritanical “Marxist-Leninists” can not even claim credit for these clever fabrications. Ironically, they are based on the arguments and conclusions of bourgeois intellectuals rather than the scientific, historical-materialist method developed by Karl Marx and expanded by Lenin.
BOURGEOIS DISTORTIONS OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION
The basis of the anti-Marxist conceptions of the Cuban Revolution is 1) the distortion of its class character, 2) the denial of the role played by the working class, 3) Attempts to describe the Cuban workers as a privileged middle class devoid of class consciousness.
The anti-Marxist historiography on the Cuban revolution is organized into 3 main camps. There are openly anticommunist historians who express their biased hostility toward the revolution. There are prominent intellectuals who, despite apparent impartial methods, are not exempt from their bourgeois training and outlook on society. And there are the ultra-left petty bourgeois revolutionists in search of an alternative to Marxism-Leninism. The typical characteristic that identifies all anti-Marxist authors is the misrepresentation of the forces that drove the Cuban revolution. By negating the role of the Cuban working class in the revolution, they attempt to create a conflict between the Cuban revolution and Marxist-Leninist theory.
Bourgeois and radical left schemes concerning the social structure and the class nature of the Cuban revolution are the central theme of the ideological attacks upon said revolution. The literature of bourgeois intellectuals portrays the Cuban revolution as living proof that Marxist-Leninist theory on revolution is an effete doctrine inapplicable to Latin America. Their ideological attacks are founded on the casual character of the Cuban revolution and its departure from Marxist-Leninist theory. They argue that conditions on the island were not conducive to a socialist revolution. Prior to 1959, Cuba was one of the wealthiest nations of Latin America and its workers enjoyed a privileged economic position that was even superior to workers in Europe, let alone Latin America. The Cuban revolution, they declare, was merely a democratic revolution lead by the middle and upper classes.
The American politologist historian Theodore Draper is among the most virulent ideological attackers of the Cuban revolution. Dogmatists who hide behind pseudo-revolutionary phrases based themselves on Draper’s postulates in order to deny Cuba the status of a worker’s state. Other ultra-left revolutionists use the same contentions. Draper contends that the premises for a Marxist-Leninist style revolution simply did not exist in Cuba. He cites that economic conditions in Cuba in 1957 and 1958 for the working class were among the best in the world. Consequently, Cuban workers lacked the necessary class consciousness to become the vanguard of the insurrection.
According to Draper, none who participated in the Granma expedition were either workers or peasants. Instead, the character of the revolution was defined by the young intellectuals of the rural and urban middle classes whose participation dominated the insurrection. The bourgeoisie directed the revolt and incorporated from its ranks all the leaders of the movement.
Noting the contradiction between the socialist orientation of the revolution and his thesis of the bourgeois leadership, Draper concludes that the revolution was betrayed by Castro. “Fidel Castro promised a revolution but made another.” According to Draper, the Cuban revolution was the “revolution of the middle classes later used against it”. He also coined the term “Castroism” to establish that the Cuban revolution is proof that a revolution may be conducted without a traditional Marxist-Leninist party and the participation of the working class.
THE FALLACY OF THE “PRIVILEGED CONDITION OF THE CUBAN WORKING CLASS”
The theoretical support for Draper’s mislabeling of the Cuban revolution is found in the erroneous social democratic arguments of British historian Hugh Thomas. According to Thomas, the Cuban working class enjoyed a “privileged situation equal to the working classes of the entire third world”. (Thomas, H., The Cuban Revolution, p.397, NY, 1977). Since it could not have been guided by a contented working class, Theodore Draper concluded that the Cuban revolution was a peasant revolution led by the middle class.
The argument of the “privileged class” also finds its basis in the pseudo-theories “modernization” and “internal colonialism” concocted by petty bourgeois intellectuals of the radical left. Internal colonialism is based on a comparison of the incomes of workers, the peasantry and the lower levels of the urban population. As applied to Cuba, the proponents claim that the Cuban insurgents merely attempted to correct the disparities of wealth between the countryside and the cities but not to overthrow capitalism. Their intent is to disprove the role of the working class in revolution and advance their theory of the peasantry as the only revolutionary class.
WAS CUBA A COUNTRY OF PRIVILEGED WORKERS?
The most outstanding characteristic of the all counterrevolutionary tendencies is their description of Cuba as a shining model of capitalist development and wealth decimated by the socialist revolution. This claim is supported by assertions that, as a result of its association with the US, in 1958 Cuba ranked as one of the most advanced nations of Latin America,. They point out that in 1956 Cubans enjoyed a per capita income of 336 US$ the second largest in Latin America. They say that the sugar industry was highly mechanized and the island counted on one of the 3 most highly developed railroad networks in Latin America and a modern system of highways and ports. Cuba’s industrial production ranked only behind Mexico, Brazil and Chile. One of every 5 Cuban workers was skilled and 2/3 of the population was literate an achievement second only to Argentina. They go on to say that, prior to the revolution, Cuba ranked third in number of physicians, first in number of television stations and sets and that only North Americans attended movies more than Cubans.
Indeed, by 1958 Cuba had virtually become a state of the US as a result of unfettered and unprecedented capital investments, domination of industry and foreign trade. US investments dramatically increased from 200 million US$ in 1914 to 1.2 billion US$ in 1923, half of it on sugar. US Refineries acquired Cuban mills and millions of acres of fertile lands. By 1920 US corporations in Cuba were producing more than half of all the island’s sugar and over 13% of the world supply.
While life in Cuba depended almost exclusively on the export of sugar, most of the business was owned by US corporations and most of the product was sold in the US. American corporations dictated decisions, they owned the major mills, American banks underwrote the expense of cutting and milling cane and the market was American. In turn, the US government decreed the price of sugar (in order to protect US producers) and mandated that Cuba must purchase US agricultural products and machinery in exchange. Eventually US businesses purchased most of the tobacco production and vegetables and fruits for export. They transformed Cuba into a vast plantation exploited for the benefit of Americans.
During the key period of the 1950’s American interests penetrated the island in the form of development banks and other financial institutions. From control of sugar, cattle, commerce, banking and utilities the mperialists extended their economic grip into the areas of manufacturing, mineral production and processing.
Unable to compete with the superior quality of US technological enterprising, the Cuban bourgeoisie incorporated itself into the alien structure of capital, becoming subservient to it. As a partner of imperialism, the Cuban bourgeoisie lacked a progressive, optimistic, and creative ideology of their own. In time, it acquired an identity, distinct and increasingly isolated from the national character and the ideals that gave rise to the Cuban nation.
THE REAL CONDITIONS OF CUBAN WORKERS PRIOR TO THE REVOLUTION
Did the Cuban people benefit as a result of unfettered US capital investments and development on the island?
Counterrevolutionary propagandists boast that Cuba held the highest per capita income in Latin America, often citing the figure of 336 pesos (336 US$) for 1956. The problem with this figure is that it does not constitute a realistic comparison of economic relations on the island with the rest of the Latin continent (except, perhaps, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica). First of all, Cubans were forced to import nearly all consumer products from the US in exchange for the guarantee of selling all sugar in the American market. They imported most of their food. To name a few basic items, nearly all rice, eggs, poultry came from abroad and half of all beans and meat (though much of the land on the island is grass and pasture). The sole utility providers (telephone and electricity) were US-owned companies. Nearly all medicines, clothing, automobiles, and all other motorized means of land sea and air transportation came from the US. Nearly all motion pictures were also imported from the US as well as radio, TV, and all electronic equipment. The Cuban baseball teams were in essence winter farm teams of the US major leagues were Cuban players were paid to play at a rate comparable to their American counterparts. In short Cuban workers were forced to lead a life consuming US products at higher prices than most Americans paid for them.
Given that economic life in Cuba in the 50’s was an exact replica of the US model (with the exception of restraints and guarantees imposed upon it by the American working class), the per capita income of $336 can not be compared to Latin America. Instead, a more accurate comparison is the US, specifically the state of Mississippi which reported a per capita income of $829 in 1956, the lowest in the country. The per capita income of Cubans in 1956 represented 18% of the per capita income of American workers, or roughly one third of the income in the state of Mississippi. While the incomes of Cuban workers were far inferior to the incomes of American workers, most prices in Cuba during the 50’s were double US prices and hours worked by Cuban workers were less than half of their American counterparts.
Secondly, the per capita income brought on by the US economic model in Cuba did not produce what is most important for the working class: a measure of social justice. Instead, (and as some American scholars are willing to concede) the figures concealed shocking disparities in the distribution of wealth between the upper classes and the working class, between Havana and the countryside and between whites and blacks. Furthermore, the per capita income only represents a average of income among the population. Thus, only a small fraction of the population in 1956 earned $540 while most rural families survived on $7 per month.
Third, as the table below shows, Cuba became proof of Engel’s observation
that as capitalism develops the condition of the proletariat worsens. From
1945 to the 50’s, the per capita real income of Cuban workers decreased
by half. ().
Per Capita income Per capita income
Year at current prices at 1945 prices
1945 228 228.0
1951 344 134.7
1952 354 159.5
1953 301 161.8
1954 304 107.1
1955 312 112.4
1956 336 120.9
During the dictatorship of Batista the pay of blue collar and white collar workers declined by 2/3 and after the record sugar crop of 1952, the pay of agricultural workers was reduced by 6% -along with railroad workers and henequeros.
Although the income of urban workers in pre-Revolutionary Cuba met the minimum legal wage guidelines and exceeded the income of agricultural workers, it was not enough to meet the demands of life in urban centers of Cuba. (). In fact, it was not enough to sustain life anywhere and double minimum wage earnings were incapable of sustaining a family. Yet, it was not enforced by the government. In 1953 half the workforce -workers between the ages of 14 and 24- earned the lowest wages ().
A 1955 study of 1365 families in Havana revealed that most workers in that city lived in abject poverty. This was evident even to those residents who didn’t read statistics. It was a constant reminder to all who witnessed the horror of the enormous and ever increasing shanty town of Las Yaguas in the midst of metropolitan Havana.
The majority lacked land or a permanent job during the year. A survey conducted in 1956-57 revealed that in 126 municipalities, where 400,000 agricultural workers lived, biweekly earnings were half the minimum wage.
Working families spent 69.3% of their earnings on food. Earnings were partly paid with coupons redeemable at company stores. Eleven percent of working families consumed milk, 4% meat, 2% eggs. In 1957 the deficiency of calories in diets was 1000. One survey of more than 2,000 working class children across 18 municipalities showed that they were suffering from insufficient calories, vitamins A and D, slow development and an elevated mortality rate ().
Another source reported: “Only 4% of all rural families consumed meat regularly; rice furnished 24% of the average diet, kidney beans 23% and root crops, 22%.” ().
Before the revolution, chronic, seasonal and cyclical unemployment was the whip of the Cuban working class. 25% of the adult population and 20% of working-age workers were consistently unemployed ().
The nature of sugar production involving 100 days of harvest and 23% of the work force shaped the employment figures. Since the majority of sugar workers were only employed during the harvest, up to 2/3 of the Cuban working class were fully and partially unemployed during the year.
Prior to 1920 the sugar harvest would last for four months. US investments introduced mechanization in the harvest, yielding record crops in half the time. As sugar production increased to the exclusion of any other products, chronic unemployment became a fixed characteristic of Cuban society. Climatic factors also contributed to worsen the unemployment problem. The Zafra (sugar harvest) coincided with the coffee, potato, yucca and lima bean harvests. Even the tourist season in April coincided with the same schedule.
As a virtually exclusive source of income for the island, sugar dominated almost all economic activity and employment in Cuba. Unemployment affected low paid as well as high paid workers. Similarly, but distinctly affected by unemployment, were women, youth and blacks. Among young workers who annually entered the ranks of the workforce, over 100,000 were unemployed (RR). In nearly every respect, Cuba was a vast, foreign-owned, sugar latifundia where life depended on the sale of sugar to the US, offering no political independence for the country nor economic security to the Cuban worker.
During the relatively prosperous year of 1953, one out of four Cubans were unemployed and only 8.4% of the workforce was fully unemployed. In that year Fidel Castro noted that Cuba had more unemployed workers than Italy or France. Some 600,000 Cuban workers lacked employment, 500,000 agricultural workers worked four months out of the year and 400,000 industrial workers and laborers lived under the permanent threat of unemployment. The population of Cuba during that period was under 8 million.
In 1956-57 there were 738,000 full and partially unemployed workers (). In 1958 it was 700,000 (1/3 of the economically active population), 45% of which lived in the rural areas. During the same periods, bi-annual employment in Oriente province was 29% ().
A survey conducted in 1956-57 extended to 12 months -in comparison to the Census of 1953 conducted during the harvest- showed the tendency of employment to decrease, as in Cuba “it was easier to find a new wife than new work” ().
The higher levels of employment were found among the groups that
made up the repressive state apparatus, businessmen and white collar workers.
A Cuban researcher found that “the highest levels of employment involved
those who watched the unemployed population. In order to maintain order
in a badly structured country, a strong armed force is needed, so that
it’s no surprise that a peasant would leave the countryside with dreams
of getting a job in the army or the police. It is better to be a hammer
than an anvil, strike rather than receive blows. In Cuba, chronic or temporary
unemployment guaranteed the blows of a rifle butt. Both the lazy and the
honest unemployed worker received the same treatment. No one believed in
forced inactivity”. ().
In 1953, the year of Cuba’s last Census before the revolution, the distribution of unemployment among the island’s workforce was documented as follows ():
Underemployment % of employed
<10 weeks: 51.4
10-49 weeks: 11.4
Full year: 37.2
(Oficina Nacional de los Censos Demográficos y Electoral,
Censos de Población, Viviendas y Electoral, 1953, Habana, 1955).
(year of reported highest per capita income for Cuban workers)
Unpaid workers 154,000
Cuba, Consejo Nacional de Economía, El Empleo, el Sub-empleo, y el desempleo en Cuba, Habana, 1958.
Unemployment 1957 1958
Full 12.6% 11.8%
Harvest 10.8% 8.4%
Non harvest 15.1% 18%
Full time workers
Part time workers 7.6% 7.2%
Economically Active Population
1958 Distribution % of total workforce
Wage/salary, public/private: 50
Small farm owners/tenants 10
Vendors, agricultural bourgeoisie, 18
uninterprising upper class landowners,
stockholders, large ranchers,
(2-3 days in the week)
As a total, the 3 groups above made up 33.5% of the active population
Underemployment comparison for pre-Revolutionary Cuba among different types of occupations ():
6 months 7-9 months
General 32% 9% 5%
Agricultural: 70% 30% 0
Sugar Mill Workers 59% 12% 29%
Urban 25% 9% 67%
Tobacco 33% 7% 60%.
Textiles 33% 11% 56%.
Petro-chemical 25% 10% 65%.
Leather 40% 60%
Electrical energy 27% 73%
Author’s note: For a comprehensive description of the poor state of education, health care services and housing in Cuba prior to the revolution, request this writer’s research documents published in the summer of 1999.
In 1953, 41.7% of the rural and 11.6% of the urban population were illiterate(). 23% of persons above 10 years of age were illiterate; 25% did not attend school and 50% did not complete the sixth grade.
84% of children between 6 and 9 years could not recognize the letters of the alphabet. The percentage of illiterate children between 10-14 years of age was 31.8% (49% in the countryside).
44% of children 6-14 could not attend school. This percentage was particularly high in the rural zones of Oriente (73.1%). Yet, 35.5% of all children in the cities of that province did not attend school.
The number of illiterates were higher in the countryside than in the cities. In the province of Havana, the rate of illiteracy among children between 6 and 9 was 44.5%, but in Oriente it was 81.2%. Only 10% of urban workers and 3% of sugar workers completed high school or vocational school (). The children of city workers attended school for 120 days to only receive only 2 hours of classes. As a rule, they did not complete primary schooling.
Children in the countryside were outside the reach of education and in the rare cases in where schools were accessible, 6 grades were taught in a single area. There were simply not enough schools, teachers or textbooks ().
Medical attention was practically non-existent for workers. According to a 1957 survey, only 8% of the population received free health services.
Housing conditions of working class families were extraordinarily shameful. In 1953, only 58.2% of dwellings had electric lighting (9.1% in the countryside). About 3 million persons in the cities and surrounding areas had electric lighting (). 40% of urban and 87.6% of rural dwellings used kerosene lamps for lighting.
Only 32.5% of dwellings (54.6% urban and 2.3% rural) had running water. Almost half of the population used wells, rivers or springs (43% of all dwellings had no other source of potable water; 85% in the countryside and 18.2% in the cities). Fifty-five and six tenths percent of all dwellings lacked showers or baths (35.1% in the cities; 90.5% in the rural zones).
According to a 1956 survey by Catholic University: “In the mid-1950’, 60% of the island’s rural families lived in dwellings with earth floors and roofs of palm leaves. In nearly 2/3 of Cuban rural houses there were no water closets or latrines; only 1 out of 14 houses was wired for electricity.” ().
CONCLUSION: WERE CUBAN WORKERS A PRIVILEGED CLASS?
The postulate of the “privileged class” is unscientific and primitive. It is founded on the criteria advanced by E. Bernstein that magnitude of income alone determines class and social conditions. However, income or its comparisons can not be the identifying characteristic of social class or levels of classes. They do not reveal the social position of individuals within the system, the nature of the source of income, the part used by workers for consumption, the degree of exploitation of the worker, their socio-economic needs nor the periods of unemployment which further reduces the incomes of workers and their living standard. It does not take into account the growing disparity of the value of labor power and real income, the costs of employment and the varying intensity of occupations. Similarly, a comparison of incomes between the countryside and the cities ignores the higher costs of life in the urban centers, including the higher value of the reproductive power of work in industry in contrast to agriculture.
Instead, class is correctly defined by the distinct social relations within a given mode of production. Discovering the disparities within each class requires an examination of all the above factors. It is not uncommon for a skilled worker in a given industry to hold an equal standard of living to counterparts in other branches of industry earning substantially lower pay. Furthermore, despite substantial increases in pay and productivity, due to technological advances, the living standards of workers in industry have remained equally stagnant over two decades.
The folly of the “privileged” worker is the inevitable result of filtering reality through the lenses of capitalist ideology. It reflects the arrogant rationalizations of the capitalist class instead of presenting an accurate description of the objective conditions, necessities and innate aspirations of workers. Imbued with the prejudices of the ruling class, bourgeois intellectuals have difficulty acknowledging the existence of classes, let alone comprehend the working class. “The working class is distinguishable from any other class by another way of life, by different familial relationships, by greater material as well as spiritual demands.” (Lenin, V.I. Complete Works, Vol 3, p. 544).
Hugh Thomas and Theodore Draper present their theories of the purported privileges of Cuban workers as a Southern land owner once invited television networks on a tour of the shabby homes of his share croppers to compare their superior living conditions to the squalor of workers in the northern cities. What compels a worker to revolution has less to do with a feeling of superiority to other workers than the necessity to overcome the objective conditions of his miserable existence.
The widespread abject poverty in the major cities of Cuba prior to the revolution, homelessness, hunger, crime, beggars, disease, prostitution, vice, etc. were graphic testimony of the fiction of the “privileged position of the working class”.
Yet, the same principle applies to groupings at the higher economic levels. The crisis of capitalism permeates every level of class society eroding its economic base and driving its members to more desperate measures of survival. Corruption silently spreads like a cancer throughout the whole of capitalist society, ultimately paralyzing its institutions and disintegrating its moral fiber.
In conclusion, the bourgeois theory of the privileged class is pure intellectual babble. Revolutions arise from the direct conflict of classes with irreconcilable interests. The question of unequal incomes among sectors of the same class is irrelevant and does not deprive either of their revolutionary nature and potential to rise against a common exploiter.
End of Part I