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International Socialist Review, Spring 1960


Henry Gitano

First Year of the Cuban Revolution


From International Socialist Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring 1960, pp. 38–42.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Proofread by Scott Wilson.
Marked up by David Walters for ETOL.


Henry Gitano, correspondent of The Militant, recently returned from a seven-week tour of Cuba where he observed the profound changes taking place as a result of the Agrarian Reform

* * *

“If you are afraid, go get yourself a little dog” is a popular saying among the masses of Cuba, who are now confident they can change the world. Havana, “one of the wickedest cities in the world,” the “Monte Carlo of the Americas, a paradise of tropical joy,” skyscrapers and luxurious mansions—this tourist conception, never truly reflected Cuban life; for behind the romantic postcards sold for the benefit of visitors existed the very real misery of millions.

A survey by the Cuban Catholic Association in 1957, based on 2,500 rural families, found that 60% lived in huts with thatched palm roofs and bare dirt floors without running water or sanitary facilities of any sort. Kerosene lighting was used by 70%, with the remaining 30% having no illumination at all. Basic foods consisted of rice, beans and vegetables, with only 11% drinking milk, 4% eating meat, and 2% having eggs. The result was a caloric deficiency of 1,000 units daily.

These figures are substantiated by the Cuban government’s own 1953 census. The census also showed that in rural dwellings, 96.5% had no refrigeration, 90.5% had neither tub nor shower and 85% had no inside or outside water piping.

Accentuating the poverty is the terrible insecurity. According to Investment in Cuba, a US Department of Commerce study of July 1956:

“The specter of unemployment affects all thinking on labor ... Some affirm that unemployment normally reaches a total of one million; others that it reaches a total of one and a half million; and even the conservative estimates range between 500,000 and 800,000.”

This in a country of 6,500,000 inhabitants. The “investment” study which is “basic information for US businessmen” notes a “distinct improvement has occurred in recent years, however, in the atmosphere of labor-management relations.” Alongside the Cuban government’s role, “declining economic activities have also had an influence in moderating excessive demands.” A starving people and a corrupt puppet dictatorship provide an ideal atmosphere for US investors.

Robert Taber’s competent study of Castro’s Cuba in The Nation, Jan. 23, 1960, reviews the island’s history:

“From Cuba’s founding as a Republic in 1903 until Dec. 31, 1958, when the Batista regime abruptly collapsed, the country was for every practical purpose a US colony, captive both economically and politically ... The greater part of its resources—sugar, mineral rights, public-utility concessions, cattle lands—were controlled by US capital. In such circumstances, it can scarcely be doubted that the succession of rapacious professional politicos who ruled Cuba during most of the half-century or so of its republican existence were necessarily the caretakers of a vast amount of American, rather than Cuban, wealth. And whatever else he may have been, the dictator who fled to Santo Domingo on the first day of 1959 was one of these—a discredited, dispossessed custodian of the Yankee dollar.”

Batista’s overthrow marked not the end, but a beginning of a revolution which lashes out against imperialist domination. The power of this revolution can be best gauged by a sketch of the economic and social changes it has already accomplished.

“Those who work the land shall own it,” says the Land Reform Law, which was enacted on May 17, 1959 abolishing latifundism (huge plantations). Land over 995 acres, or 3,300 acres if it is used for cattle, rice or sugar, is “intervened” (taken over by the government). The 1946 census showed that less than 1.5% owned 46% of all farm land. Landowners are to be indemnified with 20-year bonds carrying 4% interest. Compensation is based on the owners’ evaluation for taxing purposes two years ago. So far over seven and a quarter million acres have been expropriated. Article 43 states that “whenever possible the INRA (National Institute for Agrarian Reform) will promote agrarian cooperatives.” To date, 485 cooperatives have been established. Article 64 is widely used to provide flexibility: “It is the interpretation of this Law that in case of doubt, the decision should be in favor of the person working the land.”

The Law’s objective is to break up the plantations and put the land to use growing diversified crops. Cuba has been importing thirty per cent of its food needs, according to Fortune magazine, September 1959. Co-ops are to be the vehicle for eradicating malnutrition, providing employment and saving hard currency for mechanization and industrialization. There is a central plan by INRA outlining production quotas and resources to be expanded in every zone.

Chester Manly of the Chicago Tribune Press Service visited a co-op.

“Los Pinos is an impressive, modern, large-scale agricultural operation ... the first tomatoes produced there were coming in for boxing in a new packing plant for shipment to the US. Near the packing plant, work was in progress on a large maintenance station for the tractor and other modern equipment used ... The farmers have no land of their own but will own and work the land collectively ... INRA is starting to build houses for the farmers. We visited a small group of unfinished concrete block houses and a warehouse full of excellent roofing material made from cane fiber ... INRA plans to build a canning factory at Los Pinos ... Two thatched roof ‘people’s stores’ have been opened at Los Pinos, INRA also is building school houses and roads.”

Alan Levy, Louisville Courier-Journal staff writer, wrote Jan. 2, 1960,

“Everywhere in Cuba, INRA experts are putting the rich soil to its most efficient use. Property is methodically being taken from the exorbitantly rich and used for co-ops. In Manzanillo, my wife and I visited a fishing cooperative. The 250 fishermen were building their own homes with unlimited aid from soldiers and government architects. A small factory on the co-op was producing the blocks and bricks the fishermen needed. Other fishermen were building a fleet of modern fishing boats and a mother ship that will receive and distribute the fish that are caught.”

Nearly 3 million acres of expropriated land has been turned over to co-ops.

World Wide 60, Castro’s Year of Power, NBC-TV Jan. 23, 1960 reported:

“Everywhere a co-op is established a school springs up. It may be in a new building, or an old one, but it is formed ... This is a cooperative tobacco farm in Pinar del Rio Province. Tobacco is Cuba’s second largest crop. This land now belongs to the workers ... And these are new homes that have been built for the co-op workers. The same people who will live in these now live in thatched and palm-planked boh’os. There are people in Cuba today moving into homes with plumbing who must be taught how to flush a toilet.”

Alongside the agrarian reform, 700 other revolutionary decrees have given American millionaires the creeping jitters. One law authorizes the Labor Ministry to take over any business which discharges workers, goes bankrupt or has a serious labor dispute. Law 635 creates a Cuban Petroleum Institute which regulates the refining and marketing of petroleum products. It is working three shifts daily copying exploration data obtained by oil companies, whose files have been sealed and placed under armed guard. Other regulations confiscate all property that was stolen or belonged to Batista and his henchmen. A ruling on Dec. 22, 1959 authorized the nationalization of all creased belonging to persons convicted of counter-revolutionary activities or who leave Cuba to evade trial or conspire from abroad against the Revolution.

La Calle, a Cuban revolutionary daily noted Dec. 13, 1959, “The Cuban Revolution is something entirely different as revolutions come. Previously revolutions were a dime a dozen throughout Latin America, and meant nothing at all to the people, just one man replacing another.” In previous revolutions after those who lost power made their rendezvous with stolen funds deposited in foreign banks, another new regime fell under Wall Street domination.

That explains the big smear in the American press and the threats by the US government—the attempt of Cuba to rid itself of American economic exploitation might be emulated throughout Latin America. As the New York Times admitted on April 26, 1959,

“If we didn’t have Latin America on our side, our situation would be desperate. To be denied the products and markets of Latin America would reduce the US to being a second-rate nation and cause a devastating reduction in our standard of living ... Latin American raw materials are essential to our existence as a world power.”

Uncle Sam has a beard, but he is hardly a Santa Claus for Latin America.

Direct investments by the US in Central and South America, increased from $4.8 billion in 1950 to $9.1 billion in 1957. In addition holdings of US corporate stocks in the same area, increased from $296,000,000 in 1950 to $632,000,000 in 1957. In Cuba, direct US investments increased from $686,000,000 in 1952 to $850,000,000 in 1957.

Cuba’s note of Nov. 13, 1959 challenged Washington’s profession of philanthropic interest.

“In the last ten years the balance of payments has been adverse to Cuba by more than a billion dollars ... North American investments in Cuba have always been characterized by their extremely lucrative returns.”

In its editorial on the Cuban note, the Nov. 15 New York Timesconceded that

“some of the things Dr. Castro says certainly merit examination ... We cannot ignore Dr. Castro’s charge that investments in Cuba have given ‘the Cuban economy a semi-colonial character.’ “

The Revolutionary Government’s note declared

“its unvarying determination to carry out ... a program of deep economic and social transformations in the interest of the Cuban people and, particularly its Agrarian Reform Program, which is indispensable for the industrial development, the social advancement and the consolidation of the democratic institutions of this country.”

The Revolution is breaking the back of imperialist control and replacing it with an economy based on national planning.

INRA spent $75,000,000 in 1959 and has a 1960 budget of $156,000,000. Textile mills, charcoal co-ops, rice and sugar mills are being sponsored by INRA; also they are building boats in nationalized workshops for the fishermen co-ops. It has become the sole buying and selling agency for beans, potatoes, fruits, eggs, coffee and minerals in Cuba’s largest province, Oriente. Electric rates have been reduced by 30%, public phone rates halved, medicines cut 20%; 800 miles of new roads built, 35 bridges constructed, 133,000 acres reforested by the army; $400,000,000 of stolen property confiscated from Batista henchmen.

Ten thousand housing units have been completed, with a four-room apartment going to those earning under $100 monthly. The cost is $15.92, which is not rent, but the monthly payment for buying the house. Rentals were slashed in half. Ten partially constructed hospitals and six thousand new classrooms were completed during eight months, including more rural schools than in the previous 56 years. Student enrollment mushroomed from 660,000 in 1958 to over 1,000,000 last year. The beaches have been opened up for the benefit of all the people. (Sources: Transcript, World Wide 60, NBC-TV. Jan. 22, 1960. Revolution, Jan. 1, 1960).

The New York Times, Oct. 25, 1959 complains about the regime’s “organizing cooperatives, financing and managing practically all the land in the island.” It is the introduction of economic planning, the building and plowing to smash hunger and unemployment, the tractors and bulldozers working 22 hours a day for the benefit of the Cuban people, that Washington is aghast at.

On Feb. 20, 1960, all private enterprise was placed under the revolutionary government’s direct control with a central planning board to “supervise and coordinate” in order to “rebuild the general economy of the country.” Che Guevara, president of the National Bank, and part of the top leadership, hurled defiance at backers of “free enterprise” over Havana’s Union Radio Feb. 5, 1960:

“During the past seven years Cuba has lost $450 million in reserves, that is, more than nine times the reserves we held on Jan. 1, 1960 (reserves had dropped to $49 million). This proves that we were paying out of the nation’s reserves for the privilege of having a so-called free enterprise ... That was free enterprise during Batista’s time ... This is why some time ago I said that we are not interested in free enterprise ... Money cannot be given out indiscriminately. We serve the Cuban people and profits are invested in works beneficial to the nation ... What the Diario de la Marina [Havana’s leading reactionary daily] advises in its editorial, (that the country’s policy must be an open economy) then, is that we continue with a type of colonial economy. They do not like the idea that the revolutionary government has cut its colonial links, both economically and politically.”

The road from the victory of the bearded rebel army to Cuba’s planned economy has been marked by conflict. In a cabinet shakeup last Nov. 25, Major Ernesto “Che” Guevara was named head of the National Bank, replacing Dr. Felipe Pazos. The Times of Havana reported Nov. 26: “The replacement of Pazos by Guevara came as a stunning blow to businessmen and bankers.”

Along with the shifting of Guevara, the Public Works Minister and the Minister for the Recovery of Stolen Properties were also replaced. The new Cabinet members are expected to give their fullest support to a high speed agrarian reform program with the National Bank saving hard currency for mechanization and industrialization; Public Works stepping up its pace in building roads to transport crops; Recovery of Stolen Properties working to make itself obsolete by transferring seized properties to the INRA. Previous to this the moderate Labor Minister had been replaced. The first president of the Republic Urrutia was forced out because he was too slow-moving and hesitant. Major Huber Mates was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment on Dec. 15, 1959 for attempting to utilize members of the Rebel Army against the Revolution. He had combined red-baiting with acts to slow down the agrarian reform.

Parallel with the shifting of power from middle class intellectuals who believed only in fighting dictatorship and making a place for themselves under the Cuban sun, to those who are presently speaking in the name of the workers and farmers, the 26th of July Movement has been relegated to minor importance: making toys for children who have none, collecting funds for arms and tractors. According to Tad Szulc in the New York Times, Dec. 18, 1959, INRA “has become Cuba’s most important economic and political entity ... On the provincial level, the 26th of July Movement has been replaced by the army and the INRA. This is a combination of supreme importance to Dr. Castro as he busily shifts the base of his national support from the middle class to peasants, workers and soldiers in what seems to be the prelude to a class struggle.”

This shift towards building a new type of society results from the fact that the Cuban masses have been drawn into the revolutionary arena in ever greater number.

The Federation of Cuban Sugar Workers has trained and armed 55,000 sugar workers in the interior “to defend the sugar crop.” About 300 Havana University students, including 80 girls, completed their military training last month with a climb up Cuba’s highest mountain, the 6,569 feet Pico Turquino. The New York Times, Jan. 16, 1960 reports “the sound of marching feet is echoing throughout Cuba ... students, workers and peasants are being trained and armed in every district of the Island ... [they are] enthusiastically spending hours drilling. There are said to be about 35,000 militia members being trained in Havana.”

On World Wide 60, Jan. 23, 1960 NBC-TV bemoaned that “one of the most frightening aspects of Castro’s year of power is the people who are marching, not the least frightening is that they march voluntarily.”

While the people are being armed, the Army is fighting for the Revolution with pick, shovel and tractor. This writer, on a recent visit to Cuba, saw soldiers building houses for farm workers, constructing roads, laying out drainage systems, reforesting the denuded land, farming on the co-ops; and building an entire school-city which when completed will accommodate 20,000 children from the Oriente mountain range, where illiteracy and poverty predominate.

Since soldiers work and the workers are armed, there is no need for military fortresses. R. Hart Phillips in her book, Cuba: Island of Paradox, states that “Camp Columbia controls not only Havana but the entire island and the government.” Today Columbia’s name has been changed to “Liberty City” and its function has been reversed: from housing 30,000 soldiers of death it is being converted into a technical school. The fortress at Agramonte is already functioning as an educational complex. All the big army posts are being transformed into educational centers.

There are cooperatives where workers elect their own leadership. The Rebel Army does not salute. Committees from the cooperatives discuss their problems at INRA’s regional headquarters, and plan together with INRA technicians how best to utilize the earth’s potentialities. A worker at Bayamo, Norberto Pantoja, told this writer, “the days that come will be good for us. Everything that is being done is for our benefit.” As he guided me through the countryside, everything was either “de nosotros” or “particular”; if it had been intervened, it was “ours,” otherwise it was “private.” Throughout Cuba, outside of the wealthy sections of Miramar and Varadero, the people identify the Revolution as theirs.

Castro has turned increasingly to the workers and peasants as the government is faced with counter-revolutionary opposition. Last Oct. 26, one million Cubans gathered on three days’ notice after attacks by US based planes. He drew class lines:

“Because our Revolutionary Laws have an adverse effect on privileged classes inside Cuba and outside Cuba, they attack us ... Since they know that civilians with military training could defend all they have won for themselves, the old privileged classes are allergic to everything that is implied by the military training of workers and farmers. On the other hand we believe that the best allies of the soldiers are the farmers and workers ... We are their targets but it is the revolutionary reform program that they oppose.”

Raul Castro, head of the armed forces, in attacking Mates said:

“He speaks of a Revolution which satisfies all interests at the same time. This would not be a Revolution. How can anyone consider the exploiting latifundista the same as the exploited farmer?”

The real power in Cuba today resides in the workers and farmers who are armed and organized in cooperatives. The top leadership has been moving away from the vague middle class program of the July 26th Movement. The new organs of power are the army which works and the INRA which nationalizes and plans. The real top governing body appears to be the monthly INRA conferences where delegates from the twenty-seven zones meet with top government leaders, while INRA itself is fused with the army.

Where is the Revolution going? The social program of the Revolution has been hammered out on the run; Castro has, thus far, responded to the pressure of the oppressed for whom the overthrow of Batista was a mere prelude to independence from hunger and degradation which was brought to them with the compliments of American colonialism. Empirical actions have deepened the social revolution and dealt heavy blows to the imperialist control of the economy.

Today, the real power is in the hands of the armed revolutionary people, but this power remains to be consolidated by a necessary act. The top leaders have said that this government is of the workers, peasants and students; what remains to be done is to certify this reality, i.e., to make the mass revolutionary organizations the legal form of state power. The masses had the power to bring the Revolution to its present stage, but they are not yet the supreme power; for their strength is not yet conscious and organized. What political form will replace the current de jure cabinet and de facto INRA conferences? An entirely new type of state apparatus is needed if the masses are to hold on to the power. All authority would have to pass to the revolutionary mass organizations, which elect their own representatives and forge their own program. Otherwise, the bourgeoisie can regroup, and take advantage of the vagueness of the “power” situation. Through some new parliamentarism the privileged classes will attempt to bypass the mass organizations and reestablish their former alliance with Yankee imperialism. This will remain possible as long as the question of power remains vague and uncertified.

We observe that there is, as yet, no working class party on the scene which is consciously preparing the mass movement for this decisive step. The discredited Communist party of Cuba abandoned its previous policy of support to Batista only to adopt a policy of unqualified acceptance of the status quo.

There are many happy conditions which would favor the working class in power. Cuba’s soil is exceptionally fertile and level with a year around growing season. What imperialism was exploiting now offers opportunities for expanding and diversifying agriculture as well as utilizing the increased income to mechanize and industrialize.

The colonial revolutionary movement, the downtrodden of Africa and Asia asserting themselves gives the Cuban freedom fighters natural international allies.

The world contest of the Soviet orbit in conflict against Western imperialism gives Cuba opportunities along the line of the February 1960 commercial agreement whereby the Soviet Union will buy 5,000,000 tons of sugar over a five year period and give Cuba a credit of $100,000,000 for the purchase of Soviet agricultural and industrial machinery. This world contest also restrains the US State Department and Pentagon, who must consider international repercussions. Just as the Negro children in Little Rock could find protection in the world’s eyes focusing on them, so Cuba benefits from Washington’s vulnerability compounded by its whole rapacious history in Latin America.

America’s ruling class and its press representatives have threatened to cut Cuba’s sugar quota, to reduce subsidies for Cuban sugar (which are provided to benefit the inefficient American sugar producers), to isolate Cuba through American economic and political influence in other Latin American nations. Washington has encouraged Cuban criminals by making the US an open house for them and their bombings with Florida-based planes; it has armed and befriended Latin American dictators while at the same time preventing Cuba from purchasing arms for its defense; it has attempted economic blackmail, sabre rattling and character assassination. But that is not the total picture. Castro’s visit to the US last year demonstrated the friendship of sections of the American people for Cuba’s rebirth. The Negro press has given favorable treatment to the Revolution (Pittsburgh Courier: Why is it that “everybody is against Castro ... but the people?” Chicago Defender: “There is no racial discrimination in Cuba. That is a resounding and important declaration.” Cleveland Call Post: “The Cuban people are shaping their democracy.”) Vitriolic attacks by the American capitalist press have met with little success. Wall Street has realized that while Cuba’s revolution has the backing of the people, direct intervention is not feasible, much as they would like to land Marines and launch an Army of Cuban Pacification. An imperialist-backed overturn, such as we saw in Guatemala, is not in the cards at present. The Guatemala coup was engineered successfully because the revolution had halted short of bold social and economic changes; the working masses had been restrained by the Stalinists from undertaking such revolutionary measures and as a result the people were in the background. The situation today is entirely different in Cuba. In Cuba the revolution is showing its enormous democratic sweep through the direct participation of the masses in a social transformation that has opened a new vision for the Cuban people. They will not easily be pushed into the background.

In Cuba there are signs proclaiming: “If you are fearful, go get yourself a little dog.” This epitomizes Revolutionary Cuba. Millions of the poor and wretched who have been pushed around and exploited by Yankee imperialism have acquired tremendous self-confidence. This is the vitality of the men and women who are making a successful revolution, conscious of their strength, confident that they can change everything.

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