Joseph Hansen

Ideology of the Cuban Revolution

(Summer 1960)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.3, Summer 1960, pp.74-78.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Jean Paul Sartre believes it was a “blind” revolution; while Che Guevara holds that it has revealed a new road to power. What is its meaning in light of Marxist theory?

JEAN Paul Sartre relates that at the beginning of the year some Cuban friends came to see him.

“They talked at length, with fire, of the Revolution, but I tried in vain to get them to tell me whether the new regime was socialist or not.”

Sartre was prevailed on to visit Cuba and determine for himself. Upon leaving, he offered his impressions in an essay of unusual interest, Ideologia y Revolution (Ideology and Revolution), which was published in the March 21 issue of Lunes de Revolucion,

“What first surprises one in Cuba – above all if you have visited the countries of the East –” he wrote; “is the apparent absence of ideology. Yet it is not ideologies that are lacking in this century; here too, they have representatives who from all sides offer us their services. Your leaders are not ignorant of them; they simply don’t employ them. Their adversaries formulate the most contradictory reproaches: for some, this absence of ideas is nothing more than a trick; it hides the most rigorous Marxism which does not yet dare name itself; some day the Cubans will remove the mask and communism will be installed in the Caribbean, a few miles from Miami. Other enemies – or, on occasion, the same – accuse them of thinking of absolutely nothing: ‘They are improvising,’ I have been told, ‘and after having done something they elaborate a theory.’ Someone adds politely: ‘Try to speak with the members of the government; perhaps they know what they are doing. As for us, I must confess that we know absolutely nothing.’ And a few days ago at the University, a student declared, ‘Autonomy becomes all the more indispensable since the Revolution has not defined its objectives’.”

In reply to all this, Sartre continued, he had heard a thousand times: “The Revolution is a praxis which forges its ideas in action.” This reply, the French Existentialist philosopher and playwright held, was logically unassailable, but a little abstract. Citing a practical interest in clearing up the question of the theory of the Cuban revolution, he declared:

“It is necessary to understand, certainly, the uneasiness – sincere or feigned – of those who say that they don’t know anything or who reproach the revolutionary movement with not having defined its aims.”

Mentioning his first query – is the Cuban revolution socialist or not? – Sartre recognized that the question was not well put, due to the fact that from a distance one tends to be a “little abstract, falling into those big words that today constitute symbols rather than programs.” Nevertheless, “Socialism? Liberal economy? Many intellects ask; they are convinced in good faith that a Revolution ought to know where it is going.”

Sartre believes they are wrong. The French Revolution of 1789 was “totally blind.” The same ones “who voted for the Republic were monarchists two years before. Everything terminated in a military dictatorship that saved the rich and reinstituted the monarchy. And, through the mirages of an inflexible rigidity, how many vacillations, how many errors, how many slips backward the Russian Revolution experienced during its first years!” A NEP imposed by circumstances “failure to foresee” the wreck of the revolutionary movements in Europe or even its own isolation.

“The new ideas were expressed within the framework of an ideology without flexibility, becoming converted into hernias: Socialism in one country, the permanent revolution; inventions which it was believed could be justified through quotations.”

Sartre, presenting his credentials in this field, is clearly not to be taken as a serious theoretician of revolution. From his brief remarks about Europe’s two greatest revolutions, it would be hard to escape the conclusion that revolutionary theory is of little use. Nevertheless, he finds it scarcely satisfying to reply in response to the question in Cuba, “Are you going to build Socialism?” that “praxis will define its own ideology.”

Sartre found among the leaders of the Cuban Revolution two conceptions which he at first thought were contradictory. One of the leaders told him that the Revolution is unable to take a long-range objective “because it is a re-action, or if you wish, something that rebounds.”

“He meant by this that your people, placed before a too powerful neighbor, never had the absolute initiative and saw themselves obliged to employ every recourse of intelligence and energy to invent a counterblow. And he added: ‘How can we make long-range plans when we can find ourselves invaded tomorrow, or suffer the most intense economic pressure? Guerrilla war, resistance to economic blockade, would necessarily change the structure of our society. All we know is this: we will not be defeated. But the conditions of our struggle would change us: it will be another Cuba that sees the victory.’ I understood that he meant that your ‘improvisations’ are not, in fact, anything but a defensive technique: the Cuban Revolution must adapt itself constantly to the enemy maneuvers. Perhaps the measures of counterblow will give birth to a counter-ideology?”

Leaders Became Radicalized

However, other leaders talked about themselves.

I asked them questions about their lives, about the evolution of their thought. All of them told me that the Revolution had dragged them far beyond their first positions. Violent clashes had occurred and they had to confront severe realities: some of their old friends had not followed the movement; others, reluctantly in the beginning, had become radicalized.”

The two concepts at first seemed incompatible to Sartre.

“In the first case, I thought, one adapts himself, one temporizes, everything must remain fluid and principles must not constitute a hindrance. In the second, the revolutionary movement becomes more profound, in a sure and, as a whole, regular manner; there exist then an order of march, points of reference, a direction. Perhaps it would be too ambitious to call the discovery of an orientation an ‘ideology,’ but it must be admitted that the demands of praxis have changed the ideas of these revolutionary leaders.”

Observing the reciprocal relation between Havana’s rhasses and Castro, during the Cuban leader’s speech following the blowing up of the freighter La Coubre as it was unloading munitions for the defense of the country, Sartre came to the conclusion that the two concepts “counterblow” and “radicalization” were actually interrelated and that they marked the entire course of the Cuban Revolution. In the rest of his essay he sketches this interrelation, beginning with the appearance of bourgeois-democratic patriots who had to find a class base in the “agricultural workers” in order to build an effective movement, then take up the agrarian cause to carry through the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship, and finally undertake radical economic measures to consolidate the victory and defend the country against imperialism. Sartre sees as the possible end point of this development, should the foreign pressure prove sufficient, “self-radicalization” of the Cuban Revolution and, as its economic counterpart, “radical socialization.”

IN APRIL, a few weeks after the appearance of Sartre’s observations, a book by Ernesto “Che” Guevara was published in Havana. [1] As one of the top figures of the Cuban government, anything that Guevara writes is, of course, to be studied. In the particular field covered in the book, guerrilla warfare, he is an undoubted authority, having proved this by his military leadership in the civil war. At present, as head of the National Bank, he is in charge of Cuba’s foreign trade, a post of key importance in the defense of the country and in the development of economic planning. La Guerra de Guerrillas will undoubtedly be widely discussed in revolutionary circles throughout Latin America where Cuba is now pre-eminent as a source of inspiration.

Largely a handbook, the author deals in considerable detail with the practical side of guerrilla warfare in a country like Cuba under the conditions of a dictatorship like Batista’s. As Guevara stresses, virtually everything he presents is taken from the Cuban experience and may not be applicable in every instance to other countries even those having much in common in the way of climate, topography and socio-economic inheritance. I shall not deal with this aspect of the book save to note the striking portrait that emerges of the average Cuban guerrilla fighter.

Recruited from the countryside, chances were that he came to the Sierra Maestra barefoot and unable to read or write. He had gone through a period of testing, not least of which was to obtain his own gun and ammunition, most likely by a raid on a contingent of Batista’s armed forces. He did not come with blind faith. Observing the guerrilla leadership in action he had become convinced of its honesty and fairness, the sincerity of its program of agrarian reform and its will to carry the struggle through to the end.

The guerrilla’s life was not easy – under constant threat of death, he was often like a hunted animal, scurrying from cover to cover. He had to make lightning marches by night, attack, and flee. Sometimes as much as three days went without food. Sleeping in a hammock at best, under a strip of nylon to keep off rain and insects, tension was never absent. A bath, a shave were luxuries to dream of. (Guevara notes that each man could be told by his individual odor and the whole force by its acrid smell, “repelling strangers.”)

The firmest ascetism prevailed; the fighters living like monks or Spartans. An iron principle of the leaders was to lead by example: “... the chiefs must constantly offer the example of a crystal clear and self-sacrificing life.” All, leaders and ranks, shared and shared alike – no exceptions. This included not only the occasional handouts of tobacco but the rugged fare, the hunger, the risks and the worst hardships. As the guerrilla fighter’s horizon widened under indoctrination, he became a revolutionary, charged with the conviction and fervor so characteristic of forces dedicated to a great cause.

The small guerrilla bands grew until they were able to hold considerable territory where, as a power dual to that of Batista, they were able to give a demonstration of what their government would be like. The guerrilla forces developed into a full-fledged army of such force, hardness and skill that nothing in the country could stand against it. Batista’s forces melted away. The barbudos, the bearded ones, marched in triumph into Havana, many of them seeing the wonders of the nation’s capital for the first time.

Guevara’s Conclusions

Is it possible to draw more general lessons from this experience than the best practical way to organize guerrilla forces and later convert them into an army? Guevara thinks so. He presents some rather far-reaching conclusions. It is these, of considerable ideological interest, rather than such items as a good recipe for making a Molotov cocktail, or how to trap a Sherman tank, that will undoubtedly arouse most interest. Here is how Guevara begins:

“The armed victory of the Cuban people over the Batista dictatorship has been, in addition to the epic triumph recognized in the news of the entire world, a modifier of old dogmas on leading the popular masses of Latin America, demonstrating palpably the capacity of the people to liberate themselves from a suffocating government through guerrilla struggle.

“We hold that the Cuban revolution made three fundamental contributions to the mechanics of the revolutionary movements in America. They are:

“(1) The popular forces can win a war against the army.

“(2) It is not always necessary to wait until all the conditions are ripe for the revolution; the insurrectional center can create them.

“(3) In underdeveloped America, the terrain of the armed struggle must be fundamentally the countryside.”

Explaining his first two conclusions, the Cuban revolutionary leader says that they speak against

“... the quietist attitude of revolutionaries or pseudo revolutionaries who take cover, and cover for their inactivity, under the pretext that against a professional army nothing can be done, and some others who feel that they have to wait until, in a mechanical form, all the necessary objective and subjective conditions are ready, without preoccupying themselves about accelerating them.”

Guevara recognizes, of course, that certain minimum objective conditions must ripen before the “first insurrectional center” can be set up.

“Where a government has come to power through any form of popular consultation, fraudulent or not, and maintains at least an appearance of constitutional legality, it is impossible to precipitate guerrilla warfare since the possibilities of civic struggle have not been exhausted.”

On the third point, which is of greater interest, both in itself and as indication of how at least this top leader views the Cuban revolution in its wider aspects, Guevara declares:

“The third contribution is fundamentally of strategic import and must be a call to attention for those who attempt with dogmatic criteria to center the struggle of the masses in the movements of the cities, completely forgetting the immense participation of those in the countryside in the life of all the underdeveloped countries of the Americas. Not that struggles of the masses of organized workers are to be depreciated, the analysis simply chooses a realistic criterion to estimate the possibilities under the difficult conditions of armed struggle, where the guarantees that customarily adorn our Constitutions are suspended or ignored. Under these conditions, the workers’ movements must be clandestine, without arms, in illegality and running enormous dangers; the situation in the open field is not so difficult, the inhabitants supporting the armed guerrillas and in places where the repressive forces cannot reach.”

Developing his point further, Guevara specifies that since guerrilla action is best conducted “in wild and little populated places” the struggle for the demands of the people is centered

“... preferentially and even almost exclusively, on the plane of changing the social composition of land tenancy; that is, the guerrilla is above all an agrarian revolutionary. He expresses the desire of the great peasant mass to be owner of the land, owner of their means of production, of their animals, of all that they have dreamed of for years, of what constitutes their life and will also constitute their cemetery.”

Of the two types of guerrilla warfare, Guevara sets aside the one which is complementary to the struggle of big regular armies “such as the case of the Ukrainian guerrillas in the Soviet Union.”

“What interests us,” he continues, “is the case of an armed group which continues progressing in the struggle against the constituted power, whether it be colonial or not, which establishes a single base and which continues progressing in the rural surroundings. In all these cases, whatever may be the ideological structure that animates the struggle, the economic base is given by the aspiration to possess the land.”

Seeking other examples to support his generalization, the Cuban leader points first of all to China:

“Mao’s China begins as an eruption of workers’ nuclei in the South that is defeated and almost annihilated. It becomes established and initiates its ascendant march only after the long march to Yenan when it settles in rural territories and places as the base of demands the agrarian reform. The struggle of Ho Chi Min in Indochina is based on the rice-growing peasants oppressed by the French colonial yoke and with this force it continues progressing until it defeats the colonialists. In both cases there is an interruption of patriotic war against the Japanese invader, but the economic base of the struggle for the land does not vanish. In the case of Algiers, the great idea of Arab nationalism has its economic replica in the exploitation of almost the entire arable land of Algiers by a million French colons; and in some countries like Puerto Rico, where the particular conditions of the island have not permitted a guerrilla outbreak, the national spirit, wounded to the depths by the discrimination committed daily against them, has as its base the aspirations of the peasantry (although in many cases it is already proletarianized) for the land which the Yankee invader seized; and this same central idea was what animated, although in different projections, the small holders, peasants and slaves of the haciendas of eastern Cuba who closed ranks to defend together the right to possession of the land during the thirty-year war of liberation.”

Guevara does not rule out the action of the city proletariat altogether. But, since city terrain is the most unfavorable for guerrilla warfare, only limited acts are possible. In other words, reversing the situation of the Ukrainian guerrillas, the workers can only complement the struggle of the guerrilla fighters in the countryside. At a final point in the civil war, however, when the guerrilla forces have swelled into a peasant army capable of regular battle, the city proletariat can find it possible to engage in mass actions “whose final result is the general strike.”

IN THE closing section of his book, Analysis of the Cuban Situation, Present and Future, Guevara offers some additional considerations. After more than a year in power, it is necessary, he thinks, to take “the exact dimension” of the Cuban Revolution.

“This national Revolution, fundamentally agrarian, but with the enthusiastic participation of the workers, the people of the middle class and even today with the support of the industrialists, has acquired great continental and even world importance ...”

The Agrarian Reform, “extremely harsh” for those whom it displaced from ownership, put in motion INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform) which now “advances like a tractor or tank” breaking up the big landholdings. The Agrarian Reform was “anti-feudal” but occurred in “capitalist surroundings” and against the monopolies. Thus it had to help the peasants and agricultural workers with credit and with machinery and “People’s Stores.”

“Of all the characteristics distinguishing it from the other three great agrarian reforms of the Americas (Mexico, Guatemala and Bolivia), what appears most important is the decision to carry it through to the end without favors or concessions to any class.”

Production of such important items as rice, grain and cotton is developing rapidly, constituting “the center of the process of planning.” Cuba’s rich subsoil resources have been retrieved through petroleum and mining laws which may turn out to be “as important” as the Agrarian Reform. The profits of foreign monopolists have been limited. The small island of Cuba is leading the anticolonial struggle in the Americas and has been permitted to take “the heroic, glorious and dangerous post of the vanguard.”

“... Small countries have sought before now to maintain this position; Guatemala ... which fell before the direct aggression of the colonialists; and Bolivia ... which yielded before the terrible difficulties of the struggle despite having provided three of the examples which served the Cuban Revolution in a fundamental way: the suppression of the army, the Agrarian Reform and the nationalization of the mines ...

Cuba knows these examples, knows the pitfalls and the difficulties, but knows also that we are in the dawn of a new era in the world; the colonial pillars have been swept down by the popular national struggle in Asia and in Africa. The tendency today toward unification of the peoples does not come from their religions, from their customs, from their appetites, racial affinity or lack of it; it comes from the economic similarity of their social conditions and from the similarity of their eagerness for progress and recuperation. Asia and Africa shook hands at Bandung; Asia and Africa will shake hands with native and colonial America through Cuba here in Havana.”

Guevara notes the decline of the old colonial empires in face of the popular upheavals.

“Belgium and Holland are two caricatures of empire; Germany and Italy lost their colonies. France debates in the bitterness of a war she must lose, and England, diplomatic and skillful, liquidates her political power while maintaining economic connections.”

The United States has replaced some of the old capitalist colonial powers but knows that this is “transitory.” Wall Street’s main field is Latin America. But if “all the Latin-American people raised the banner of dignity, like Cuba,” the monopolists would tremble and have to accommodate themselves to a “new politico-economic situation and to substantial pruning of their gains.” That is why the monopolists today attack Cuba as a “bad example.” They accuse Cuba because of the road it has pointed out, “the road of armed popular struggle against the supposedly invincible armies, the road of struggle in wild areas to consume and destroy the enemy outside its bases, in one word, the road of dignity.”

Guevara winds up discussing the possible variants of imperialist aggression against Cuba and the means of combatting it. For defense he counts heavily on “international solidarity” and guerrilla warfare. Finally, he suggests, “The cult of labor, above all collective labor and with collective aims, must be developed.” This together with a people in “international solidarity” and guerrilla warfare makes Cuba’s future “brighter than ever.”

LEON Trotsky remarked in 1940,

“The life-and-death task of the proletariat now consists not in interpreting the world anew but in remaking it from top to bottom. In the next epoch we can expect great revolutionists of action but hardly a new Marx.”

Cuba, it would seem, has done her share toward verifying this observation. In their pattern of action, the Cuban revolutionaries feel certain that they have pointed the way for all of Latin America. The proof is their own success. But when we seek to determine the exact meaning of their deeds, Marxist clarity is not easily found.

Are we to understand from what Guevara says that the peasantry has displaced the proletariat as the leading revolutionary class – in the underdeveloped countries at least?

If so, what does this signify for revolutionary perspectives in the highly industrialized countries? Must the perspective of proletarian revolution be considered unrealistic there? If so, how does this affect the defense of revolutions like the one in Cuba? And what does it signify for humanity on such an issue as the possibility of a Third World War? Can the proletariat by revolutionary means hope to prevent a nuclear conflict or must this possibility be relinquished as Utopian – unless the farmers take the lead by mounting guerrilla warfare?

Guevara insists, quite correctly the facts testify, that Cuba now stands in the vanguard of the Latin-American revolution. This would seem to impose an obligation to examine the theories and programs affecting that revolution, particularly if Cuba has made a new discovery. Why did the others happen to go wrong? How did the Cubans happen to stumble upon the right road? If for no other reason, such an examination could prove fairly decisive for the defense of the Cuban revolution. Yet even Guevara seems to evade such questions, confining himself to a cryptic reference – the “quietist attitude of revolutionaries or pseudo revolutionaries.” What revolutionaries or pseudo revolutionaries? The Stalinists? The Apristas? We are left in the dark.

It is quite true that the Cuban revolutionaries do not have any time for spinning fine theories. They are practical people, swamped with tasks. They scarcely have time to look up from the day-and-night schedules they have had to follow since they came to power.

Yet there are some questions about which the Cubans should be able to say a good deal. For example, how did it happen that the once-powerful Communist party proved incapable of leading the revolution? How did it happen instead, that a handful of dedicated students were able to build a revolutionary movement from virtually nothing and accomplish what the Communist party failed to accomplish? The answer to that should prove instructive to all of Latin America and the entire world for that matter.

Such topics, however, are not very high on the agenda of the Cuban revolutionaries. Their boldness and sureness of touch in the field of action have no corresponding reflection in the field of theory. Despite Guevara’s sweeping conclusions, the theoretical lessons of the Cuban Revolution have not yet been drawn.

By way of beginning this task, let us establish some preliminary points of departure.

The founders of the July 26 Movement started as petty-bourgeois democrats. Fidel Castro, for example, ran for Congress in the 1952 elections as a member of the Ortodoxo party (Partido del Pueblo). After Batista’s March 10 coup d’etat, Castro shortly set out on the road to insurrection. This led him within a year to the famous assault on the Moncada fortress and then to prison and exile. On March 19, 1956, he declared his disillusionment with the Ortodoxo party and announced the July 26 Movement as an independent revolutionary organization. This proved to be primarily a party of action, dedicated to the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship. Although occasional blocs were made with other groups and parties, the essence of its politics was to remain independent and not to swerve from its primary objective. It was a revolutionary youth movement much closer to the campus in the beginning than to either the factories or the fields, although later it came powerfully under the social influence of the poorest peasants and agricultural workers.

Why weren’t these youthful revolutionaries attracted by the Communist party? The answer would appear to be quite simple and even obvious. The Communist party was not revolutionary enough. In fact, it was not revolutionary at all. It was tainted by its support of the Batista regime. Moreover, neither Stalin nor his heirs were exactly magnets to youth burning with the will to smash the dictatorship. Among other things, Moscow’s policy of “peaceful coexistence”; i.e., maintenance of the status quo, which was faithfully echoed by the Communist parties throughout the world, was repellent to revolutionaries seeking above all things to alter the status quo.

The models and inspirational guidance they might have found in the early Soviet leaders were not available to them, or were at least obscured under the successive layers of Stalinist mud.

The Cubans turned to what was closest at hand – the leaders of the independence movement of the past century. These figures had a virtue lacking in the Stalinist movement: honesty. Implacable foes of tyranny of any kind, they were dedicated men capable of accepting martyrdom to advance the cause of freedom.

Thus it came about that the July 26 Movement marched under the banners of freedom, equality and independence, as if the main problem of a modern revolution boils down to re-enacting 1776, 1789, or – in Cuban history – 1868 and 1895. The 1956-59 struggle closely paralleled the struggle of 1895-98, including the opening landing and the final advance of the guerrilla forces. Although they did not consciously plan it that way, the Cuban revolutionaries, with their beards, even bore close physical resemblance to the heroes of the past century.

Moreover, they took power, as Guevara stresses, not at the head of the modern proletariat but at the head of the peasantry, a class that is vestigial from the pre-capitalist era.

The pattern seems to defy the Marxist theory that the proletarian revolution has superseded the bourgeois. Yet does it really invalidate the main laws of the world revolutionary process as much as it appears to when you look at the Cuban Revolution merely in isolation? If we connect it with the main international events of the past forty-odd years, two outstanding facts of contemporary history at once offer a key:

  1. the deepening decay of capitalism, which impels revolutionary outbursts no matter what the barriers;
  2. the decades of defeats of the proletarian revolution in the capitalist centers due to the pernicious influence of the Communist parties under control of the bureaucratic caste that usurped power in the first workers’ state.

That the main thrust of the Cuban Revolution from the beginning was against capitalist imperialism is well understood among those who overthrew Batista. When McKinley intervened in the civil war in 1898, the freedom fighters had virtually won independence from the Spanish colonial master. McKinley aimed at blocking Cuba’s independence and bringing the island into the orbit of Wall Street. American capital soon became dominant in both the island’s economy and politics. Under the State Department, Batista, like Machado before him, ruled in the style of a gauleiter. Consequently, it is not difficult to see that the main motor force in the Cuban upheaval was American capitalism.

It is perhaps not so easy to see that Batista’s rule of a quarter of a century was no more necessary than the similar span of Chiang Kai-shek’s rule in China. Had the Cuban Communist party responded to Batista’s seizure of power in 1933 with one-tenth the energy and singleness of purpose later displayed by the July 26 Movement, there can be no doubt that among Roosevelt’s headaches would have been a socialist Cuba. Instead the Cuban Stalinists used their influence in the working class to rally support to Batista just as the American Stalinists utilized their influence among the American workers to spread the debilitating cult of “FDR.”

The pattern was fundamentally the same as that followed by the Communist parties throughout the world prior to World War II. This is the true explanation for the fact that more than forty years after the October 1917 Revolution, not a single Communist party has led a revolutionary struggle to success anywhere in the world save in China and Yugoslavia; and in both these instances the leaderships disregarded the line laid down by Moscow. Stalinism proved to be the most powerful brake on revolution in the experience of the proletariat. This was so not only in Germany, France and Spain before World War II, to mention only the most outstanding examples where the workers could easily have taken power, but after the war, when millions of workers flocked into the Communist parties in France and Italy and other countries. If twelve determined men on Pico Turquino proved sufficient to start the avalanche that buried Batista, what couldn’t the Italian Communist party accomplish with its millions of members if it displayed similar revolutionary determination and devotion to the socialist cause which it claims to represent!

On a world scale, taking the entire span since the advent of Stalinism, it is the same default of leadership in the working class, due to Stalinist exploitation of the proletarian tendency to turn toward the first workers’ state, that finally resulted in the extraordinary spectacle today of revolutions breaking out in dozens of countries – not under Communist, but under petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois nationalist leadership. One may imagine what Lenin might say of a Soviet Union capable of putting satellites in orbit about the sun and photographing the other side of the moon, yet incapable of giving direct inspiration to revolutionary-socialist struggles in other lands; on the contrary, sabotaging them, and thus creating a vacuum in revolutionary leadership!

However, the extension granted capitalism did not remove the objective necessity for transcending the system. The great new fact in world politics is that neither Stalinism nor imperialism, nor the combination of the two proved capable of suppressing the revolutionary process indefinitely. They could not prevent it from breaking out finally on democratic issues that might even mask the proletarian direction. They could not prevent the revolutionary process from finding leaders capable of at least making a beginning even though they might fail to meet the objective need – or oppose it – at the very next stage.

Unable to blast away the Stalinist obstacle, the revolution turned back a considerable distance and took a detour. The detour has led us over some very rough ground, including the Sierra Maestra of Cuba, but it is clear that the Stalinist road block is now being bypassed.

The Main Lesson

It is not necessary to turn to Moscow for leadership. This is the main lesson to be drawn from the experience in Cuba. And it is the lesson to be drawn above all by the working class in other countries, especially the underdeveloped ones where the revolutionary potential is high. Once this lesson sinks home we will witness an acceleration of the revolutionary process that will not leave the slightest doubt that the main power in society resides with the working class and that it will not forfeit its manifest destiny of leadership in the decisive battles now looming.

A single revolution under the guidance of the working class anywhere in the world today will reveal such energy and dispatch in breaking out of the old society that in retrospect even the dynamic Cuban Revolution will appear drawn out and grossly out of proportion in toil and agony. That, however, will not detract from the debt the working people of the world owe the Cubans. To finally break the hypnosis of Stalinism, it became necessary to crawl on all fours through the jungles of the Sierra Maestra.

Men and women capable of that, will prove capable, we think, of transcending the bourgeois limits set at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution. Already indications of this are visible. The July 26 Movement came to power not in 1898 but in 1959; and within a few months it became amply clear that not even the simplest democratic aims could be achieved without far-reaching alterations in the economy. Here the revolutionary models taken from the past century could offer little in the way of guidance. Their theory was inadequate.

But economic planning, thanks to the October 1917 Revolution, is no longer a matter of theory. Models exist and a vast practical experience, both good and bad. To help solve their own problems, the Cuban leaders are evidently seeking to come abreast of modern times and are turning in this direction.

Thus the inherent tendency of the Cuban Revolution to develop in the proletarian direction has been accelerated and there is every possibility that in an indirect way the fate of Cuba will be profoundly affected by the proletarian revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky. As this pattern of action cuts its way to consciousness, we may hope that the influence of October will be reflected directly in the ideology of the Cuban Revolution.



1. La Guerra de Guerrillas, by Che Guevara. Published by the Department of Instruction of MINFAR (Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces), Havana, Cuba. 1960. 187 pp. $1.


Last updated on: 7.3.2006