History of the Cuban Revolution


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by Trevor Rayne

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* Cuba’s revolution has its origins in the struggle against Spanish colonialism, which intensified in the second half of the 19th century. An uprising in 1895 sealed the fate of Spanish colonialism, but victory was snatched from the people by a US expeditionary force in 1898.

* Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti, who had travelled in the USA, wrote of the occupiers: ‘I have lived inside the monster and I know its entrails…Shall we bring the country dear to our hearts, virgin and fruitful, to this frenzied pack of rich against poor,…white against black…. Shall we deliver it into this oven of wrath, into these sharp-toothed jaws, into this smoking crater?’

* The English poet Rudyard Kipling celebrated the event in a poem inviting the USA to ‘Take up the white man’s burden’. But Mark Twain wrote of the US imperialist expedition that the stripes of the US flag should be painted over in black and the stars replaced by a skull and crossbones.

* Cuba became an economic colony of the USA, with US troops returning to suppress revolts. By 1920, US investors owned two thirds of the arable land. The Mafia moved into Havana’s gambling and tourist business in the 1930s. After the Second World War, Cuba became a transshipment stage for ‘French Connection’ heroin into the USA, and a degenerate playground, brothel and casino for US imperialism.

The Attack on the Moncada Barracks

* On 26 July 1953, 160 young militants attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago. Half of them died, most after torture. Many went to prison. Fidel Castro’s brother Raul explained the event: ‘It was not a putsch designed to score an easy victory without the masses. It was a surprise action to disarm the enemy and arm the people, with the aim of beginning armed revolutionary action% it marked the start of an action to transform Cuba’s political, economic and social system and put an end to the foreign oppression, poverty, unemployment, ill health and ignorance that weighed upon our country and our people.’|

* Fidel Castro was among those captured and imprisoned. In his defence speech, immortalised as ‘History will absolve me’, Castro identified three social forces that would determined his revolutionary strategy and alliances.

‘The big landowners, reactionary clergy and transnational corporations represented by Batista.’

‘The national bourgeoisie, capitalists in contradiction with imperialism, but among whom only the most progressive would support a revolution.’

The masses, ‘the 600,000 Cubans without work%. The 500,000 farm labourers who live in miserable shacks,% the 100,000 small farmers who live and die working land that is not theirs,% the 30,000 teachers and professors,% so badly treated and paid; the 20,000 small businessmen weighed down by debts; the 10,000 young professional people who find themselves at a dead end% These are the people, the ones who know misfortune, and are therefore capable of fighting with limitless courage.’

* Following protests and in an attempt to court legitimacy, Batista released Castro and the other survivors of Moncada in May 1955. Castro left for Mexico amid rising repression and there met the Argentinian doctor Che Guevara.

The Revolution begins

* On 25 November 1956, the tiny yacht Granma set sail for Cuba. Castro said, ‘We will be free, or we will be martyrs.’ 82 waded ashore to do battle with Batista’s thousands of US-equipped troops. They were immediately strafed by Batista’s planes. Tramping through swamps, sucking sugar cane for moisture and nutrition, they were betrayed by their guide and ambushed.

* 12 partisans regrouped and began guerrilla warfare in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. On 21 August 1958, Castro ordered Che and Camilo Cienfuegos to lead two columns down from the Sierra Maestra.

* Batista fled Havana at 2am on 1 January 1959. A military junta replaced him. Camilo and Che continued to lead their guerrilla columns into Havana. Workers and peasants all over Cuba responded to Castro’s call for a general strike. The Revolution triumphed.

* 20,000 people had been killed in the liberation war. As he entered Havana on 8 January, 32-year-old Castro reportedly ordered 50,000 rifles and machine guns to be imported to defend the Revolution.

* At the time of the Revolution, the largely rural population had an average annual income per person of $91.25 – an eight of that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the USA. Only 11% of Cuba drank milk, 4% ate meat, 2-3% had running water, and 9.1% had electricity. 36% had intestinal parasites, 14% had tuberculosis, and 43% were illiterate.

* On 2 January 1959, the government announced that 50-60% of casino profits would be directed to welfare programmes. The first of a series of land reforms was enacted on 17 May. Large estates were expropriated and turned into state farms. The US United Fruit Company was dispossessed without compensation. Land was turned over to small farmers, sugar cane farms were made into cooperatives.

* The Cuban government offered to discuss compensation for US-owned farms and mineral properties. The US Secretary of State declined the offer.

Defence of the Revolution

* During 1959, the CIA began monitoring the telephone conversations of Cuban leaders. Subversive radio stations transmitted to Cuba from Miami, the Bahamas and Central America.

* At the end of the year, the CIA began to land saboteurs in Cuba.

* On 6 July, the US sugar quota from Cuba was cut off. Castro nationalised US-owned sugar mills.

* In July, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended the President authorise a full invasion.

* As the invasion force approached on 16 April, Fidel Castro announced the socialist character of the Revolution. At 2am on 17 April a force of 1,500 Cuban counterrevolutionaries landed at the Bay of Pigs. Castro personally directed the counterattack, using Soviet-supplied weapons, while the workers and peasants of the Committes for the Defence of the Revolution rounded up thousands of counterrevolutionary sympathisers in the cities.

* The invasion force was destroyed in less than 72 hours. US imperialism was humiliated.

* The gains of the national democratic revolution had been preserved only by taking it forward to the socialist revolution. Later that year, Castro explained: ‘The anti-imperialist, socialist revolution could only be one single revolution, because there is only one revolution. That is the great dialectic truth of humanity: imperialism, and, standing against it, socialism.’ He thumped the table in front of him and shouted, ‘I am a Marxist-Leninist and I shall be a Marxist-Leninist until the last days of my life.’

* The US imperialists have used every means at their disposal short of all-out war to strangle the Revolution: economic sabotage, bacteriological warfare, the economic blockade (which has cost Cuba an estimated £40bn) and repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. In the face of this relentless pressure, still the Cuban people resist to defend the dignity of life socialism has achieved.

History of the Cuban Revolution