The Role of the Working Class in the Cuban Revolution

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By MORGANA MOURA ROMÃO & MARCIO LAURIA MONTEIRO*

It is impossible to erase the importance of Cuba's working class in having decisively shaped the revolution.

The first day of January 1959 wrote a new and important chapter for the history of Latin America and for international socialism. On that day, a popular army led by Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement (M26J) came to power on the small island in the Caribbean, located so close to US borders, overthrowing the dictatorship of Fulgêncio Batista. This event not only inspired new processes of popular struggle in the peripheral countries of Latin America, but also promoted theoretical and practical questions about how a socialist revolution would take place in these locations, leading to the popularization of the guerrilla focus in many countries.

Its most prominent characteristics at first, such as its petty-bourgeois leaderships, its guerrilla movements and the significant weight of the rural workforce, contributed to the peasant character of the revolution becoming almost a consensus among the world's lefts. The regime's own official discourse encouraged this by presenting the revolution as the result of a small and heroic group of young guerrillas who gained support from the poor peasantry in a struggle for democracy and national liberation.

This attribution, however, takes second place to, and even erases, the important role played by the Cuban proletariat in the overthrow of the Batista regime, in taking more radical directions for the revolution and in its transformation into an anti-capitalist process. Even from a Marxist point of view, an anti-capitalist social revolution would be unthinkable without the participation of the proletariat, since the large-scale socialization of the means of production is not carried out merely by decree, with a peaceful acceptance by the bourgeoisie of its own expropriation. .

First, it is worth mentioning that the original program of Castro and the M26J did not have a socialist character. Both sought the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship, the return of the 1940 Constitution, the liberation of the country from the yoke of US imperialism and the establishment of a limited agrarian reform. These objectives, which were within the framework of minimally democratic tasks, guided the Cuban Revolution in its first phase. It was not by chance that sectors of the US government initially supported Batista's fall, given his growing unpopularity and instability, and sought conciliation with the new Cuban government, which was initially composed of a coalition of liberal democrats, with the M26J limited to the control of the armed forces.

Still, the M26J's strategy was not out of place in the struggle of the masses. Unlike the attempt to take over the Moncada barracks in 1953, which was a purely military operation, the arrival of the grass Cuba in 1956 should have taken place alongside a general strike in and around Santiago as a way to destabilize the regime and allow the rebels to take power. It was a direct inspiration from the way in which the dictatorship of Gerdado Machado was overthrown, in 1933, with a general strike by the working class. The strike did take place; however, a storm prevented the rebels from reaching the coast of Santiago on the agreed day, which led to the confrontation that reduced them to 22 people and forced them to take refuge in the Sierra Maestra, where, since 1955, fighting on the part of of newly expropriated peasants.

At that point, the Batista regime was already facing great wear and tear among the popular masses and important strikes were taking place, such as that of bank workers, in 1955, and of workers in the sugar sector, in 1956 – which had both economic agendas and also demanded the end of the dictatorship. This wear and tear increased even more with the growing police repression from 1955 onwards, which also led to the distancing of middle-class sectors; for example, the elections of November 3, 1958 were marked by the abstinence of more than 80% of the population, even though voting was compulsory. Around 1957-58, even sectors of the Cuban business community and CIA operatives working with the US Embassy were against Batista. small rural guerrilla to a Rebel Army, and it would have been impossible for such an army to defeat Batista's 26.

Aware that the military fight would not be enough, the M26J never stopped having a performance in the cities, which was originally coordinated by Frank País. This urban action involved negotiations with sectors of the liberal opposition for a unified action against the regime, expropriations to supply the Rebel Army and terrorist actions to destabilize the regime. However, it was not limited to “urban guerrilla warfare”. Early on, the M26J organized an underground union force, its Worker Section, coordinated by País and Antonio Torres (Ñico), which was present in almost all unionized categories, organizing around 15 workers at the time of Batista's fall. His action was guided both by economic causes and the end of the regime, as well as by opposition to the conciliation of the leadership of the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) with the bosses and the dictatorship.

the strength of Worker Section expressed itself with a popular reaction to the assassination of Pais, in July 1957, which led to the outbreak of a general strike in Santiago against Batista that lasted five days and spread to Oriente, Camaguey and Las Villas. This strike had the support of many merchants and with some cases of factories occupied by their workers. In April 1958, once again betting on a general strike as a way to overthrow the regime, the M26J organized the National Workers' Front along with other opposition sectors, but left out the Stalinist Popular Socialist Party (PSP, the Cuban “Communist Party”), which was the main opposition force in the trade union movement. There was an enormous distrust of the members of the M26J with the PSP, due to its history of collaboration with the first Batista government, when it controlled the CTC. The strike was strong in Santiago and other cities, but failed nationally. As a result, the PSP was included in the Front, which became the United National Workers Front (FONU).

In addition to the April general strike, 1958 was also a year of important union meetings organized by the M26J and other opposition forces in the territories already liberated by the Rebel Army, such as the national meeting of the Worker Section and the First National Conference of Sugar Workers in Free Territory. Among these meetings, it is also worth mentioning the Congress of Workers in Arms, promoted by the sectors that made up the FONU, with 110 delegates elected from the base among different categories, including the most strategic ones, such as agricultural and industrial workers in the sugar sectors, and workers in the railway, port, electricity, mining, civil construction sectors, etc.

This Congress of Armed Workers played a key role in pushing forward the December 31 – January 1, 1959 general strike, which ensured that the armed forces did not establish a regime of continuity after Batista's escape. Along with this strike, the population in general was called to take to the streets and occupy public offices, army barracks and police stations, which allowed the Rebel Army to reach the capital. Popular hatred of Batista was so great that his own troops refused to fight and deserted in several places, with many joining the Rebel Army, which grew from about 400 soldiers in early 1958 to a few tens of thousands by the end of the XNUMXs. year. Batista's downfall was, therefore, the result of much more than the mere action of a few guerrillas, as the official discourse propagates.

The dissolution of the army and the police is not only a classic element of a proletarian revolution, but a crucial step towards its success. From the moment the armed wing of the bourgeois state was replaced by the rebel army and the people's militias, the backbone of the bourgeois state was destroyed. As much as the liberal opposition dominated the new revolutionary government, power was in the hands of the M26J, and it was based on a broad popular mass, interested in radical agrarian reform in the countryside and substantial improvement of working conditions in factories and companies. .

The subsequent economic siege imposed by the US on Cuba and the radicalism of this popular mass pushed the process beyond the initial objectives of the M26J, of re-establishing the bourgeois constitution of 1940, which had to rely on such radicalism to prevent the counterrevolution driven by imperialism from triumphing . Faced with the counterrevolutionary threat, which showed itself with greater force in 1961 in the invasion of Giron Beach, a wide purge of the state apparatus was carried out (armed forces, politics, judiciary, administrative apparatus) and nationalized and increasing numbers of native and foreign companies that were sabotaging the new government.

In the fight against the counter-revolution, the proletariat played a fundamental role by striking for better working conditions and the readmission of colleagues dismissed in previous mobilizations; when occupying companies; and in demanding its nationalization under the control of the strike committees; in addition to taking to the streets in massive demonstrations. Small and medium peasants, especially those who had been expropriated by landowners throughout the 1950s, also played an important role in occupying land and imposing a broad agrarian reform. With that, the bourgeois order was destroyed in Cuba, and the regime controlled by the M26J assumed the defense of socialized property as a way of survival. The fact that democratic demands and national liberation could only have been achieved in Cuba through the expropriation of native and imperialist capital is an important proof of Leon Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution, which had already been confirmed in Russia in 1917, with the Soviet Revolution.

Despite having used the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and peasants to its advantage, the M26J was not willing to let these sectors take control of the regime. Its alliance with the PSP, therefore, not only aimed at obtaining economic and political support from the USSR, but also aimed to contain and protect proletarian action by sharing control of the CTC and the unions with the PSP. In this way, the strike committees and militias that emerged from this struggle were quickly reduced to consultative bodies, if not dissolved, and autonomous struggle was discouraged. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, created in 1960, helped channel the plebeian rebellion towards state control and legitimize the new regime with a pseudo-democratic facet, while the more radical sectors were persecuted. The formation of Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, in 1961 (predecessor of the current PCC), was the first step to block the existence of other political organizations by imposing the current one-party regime.

With that, the Cuban Trotskyists of the Revolutionary Workers' Party (POR), for example, for defending the international expansion of the revolution and a regime of proletarian democracy based on a government of workers' councils, were harshly persecuted and forced to dissolve their organization. Even the M26J, especially its Worker Section, was purged of its most radical sectors. In this way, until today the Cuban working class is prevented from defining the direction of the country, despite the important social conquests it obtained, which need to be defended against capitalist restoration. It is instructive to point out that Guevara himself eventually distanced himself from the regime due to its increasingly bureaucratic and authoritarian course, and also due to the abandonment of the perspective of international expansion of the revolution.

Based on these elements, it is not possible to state that the Cuban Revolution was a “peasant revolution” and that the protagonism fell to a small group of guerrillas. The revolution only triumphed thanks to the organization of powerful general strikes, factory occupations and the formation of a popularly based Rebel Army. It is impossible, therefore, to erase the importance of the working class in having decisively shaped this revolution. The still prevailing discourse that the working class did not play a role in the Cuban Revolution, or that this role was secondary, only serves the purposes of the bureaucratic clique that remains in power, that takes advantage of countless privileges and that prevents the self-government of workers . There is no such thing as “socialism on one island”. Cuba's effective transition to socialism will only be possible with the outbreak of new proletarian revolutions around the world and with the seizure of power by workers' councils; otherwise, Castroist bureaucracy will pave the way for the restoration of capitalism, as it happened in the USSR between 1989 and 1991, in order to lead millions of workers to hunger and misery. Long live the Cuban revolution and the working class! Socialism or barbarism!

*Morgana Moura Romão is a history major at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

*Marcio Lauria Monteiro is a doctoral student in history at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

 

References


ALEXANDER, Robert J. A History of Organized Labor in Cuba. Westport: Praeger, 2002.

CUSHION, Steve. A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution. How the Working Class Shaped the Guerilla's Victory. New York: Monthly Review, 2016.

JUST, Stephane. The proletarian revolution and bureaucratic workers' states. São Paulo: Word Publisher, 1980.

LISTER, John. Cuba. Radical Face of Stalinism. London: Left View Books, 1985.

MONTEIRO, Marcio Lauria. Post-war social revolutions: some reflections on their dynamics, political and social subjects. Final course work (specialization in History of Revolutions and Social Movements). State University of Maringá, Graduate Program in History. Maringá, 2017.

PEREZ-STABLE, Marifeli. The Cuban Revolution. Origins, Course, and Legacy. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

WINOCUR, Marcos. Social history of the Cuban Revolution (1952-1959). Las clases forgotten in the historical analysis. Mexico City: UNAM, 1989.

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