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New International, October 1935


R.S. de la Torre

The Situation in Cuba

From New International, Vol.2 No.6, October 1935, pp.204-205.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE PROLETARIAT of Cuba faces a situation at the present time which is more or less analogous to that of other colonial or imperialist countries, only more difficult. The Mendieta government, arrived in power under the pressure of the ambassador of the United States, Jefferson Caffery, has been converted into a very efficient instrument of imperialist oppression. To accomplish this destructive mission against the aspirations of the oppressed masses, the government has organized the largest apparatus of oppression ever known in Cuba, under the direction of Batista, the head of the army. It spreads over every inch of the country, from the large cities to the remotest sugar plantations.

The army of Cuba (a country without national frontiers) reaches the exorbitant figure of 18,000 soldiers, with a budget of $18,000,000, which means, consequently, per capita expenditures higher than in Europe or in America. To this must be added several thousands of men of the technical and secret police who devote themselves exclusively to the political persecution of every person and organization opposed to the government. In addition, there is the rural police, controlled by the municipal governments, which is only an appendix of the general staff of the army and which collaborates loyally in the persecution of all opponents. In general, the soldiers as well as the police are recruited from the most degenerated social strata, the slum proletariat of the cities and the famished peons of the country. They are very generously paid and enjoy all sorts of privileges which assure their unconditional submission to the government.

To supplement the oppressive apparatus, directed essentially against the working class, exceptional tribunals have been created which judge all affairs of a political nature. These tribunals have put into practice a series of laws of a Fascist nature, like the prohibition of strikes, of trade unions, the suppression of proletarian propaganda. They have likewise prohibited the right of free speech, free assembly, etc. This series of laws, put into effect by the regime of Mendieta and Batista, wipes out all democratic rights and puts the working class of Cuba in a position known only in the completely Fascist countries.

The exceptional tribunals have pronounced sentences of from six months to ten years against members of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party and have condemned our trade union militants for the sale crime of possessing a membership card. At the present time, thirty of our comrades, eminent political and trade union leaders for the most part, are in prison. With the rank and file members of our trade unions, a total of nine hundred workers have been imprisoned, including a minimum of sixty women. These figures refer exclusively to the city of Havana.

Outside of those mentioned above, hundreds of students and petty bourgeois revolutionists have been imprisoned. The repressive conditions are at present undoubtedly much more violent than in the years of the Machado dictatorship. In addition to imprisonment, the number of workers assassinated rises every day.


In the month of March, the forces of the working class, assembled around the Committee of Proletarian Defense which is under the influence of the university heads of Havana, and under the pressure of the petty bourgeois oppositional organizations who have an appreciable influence on certain parts of the working class (drivers, railroad workers, printers), engaged in a political general strike supported by the quasi-unanimity of the functionaries, paralyzing all the activity of the governmental authorities.

Our party, conscious of the weakness of the proletarian organizations, concentrated all its forces on strengthening the Committee of Proletarian Defense created previously (united front) so that the general strike might have a centralized leadership and a chance of victory. But in this proposition we encountered the flat opposition of a part of the Stalinist party which, in the desire to maintain its own hegemony, called for a strike separately from the Committee, and on the other hand, the opposition of the leaders of the students and the petty bourgeoisie, who wanted to precipitate the movement.

Under these conditions, the workers launched themselves spontaneously and without centralized leadership into one of the most extraordinary strikes in the history of the Cuban proletariat. They joined with the functionaries to obtain for themselves the security of job tenure (in Cuba, every faction that takes power proceeds to a new distribution of posts, discharging the former employees).

Martial Law

The government immediately mobilized its entire apparatus. The state of war was proclaimed, thus placing into the hands of the military the power of judging all acts of sabotage resulting from the strike. For three days complete terror reigned. All the inhabitants were invited to stay home after nine o’clock. Even in the day-time it was considered a criminal misdemeanor to walk the streets by twos or more. The police and the military hordes invaded the streets and fired on the workers wherever they dared to assemble. The headquarters of every proletarian organization were raided, sacked and demolished. Our trade union center, the Havana Federation of Labor, was raided, all the furniture in it smashed, the documents taken, and all found there arrested and beaten. The government admits a total of thirty dead, although the figure is actually much higher. Among the dead was our comrade Cresencio Freire, the head of the bakers’ union; the student leader Armando Feito and the leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, Enrique Fernandez, who was a member of the Grau San Martin cabinet. After the general strike, the military tribunal sentenced to death the young revolutionists Jaime Greenstein, who was executed at Santiago de Cuba, and condemned comrade Eduardo Galvez and others to perpetual incarceration.

The strike, for lack of the central leadership which the Bolshevik-Leninist party sought to give it, was unable to resist the formidable attack of the reaction, and terminated in failure. Thousands of workers and thousands of civil employees lost their jobs. The government decreed the dissolution of all the trade unions and sped the condemnation of the arrested. All the foreign militants were expelled. The new civil employees are obliged to belong to the Military Reserves, thus assuring the government a strict control over them. The persecution is becoming increasingly intense. Our comrades imprisoned in the penitentiary of the Isle of Pines are forced to work in the swamps and quarries that surround the prison.

It is under such conditions that our young and weak party is forced to work, but in spite of its relative numerical weakness it is the only party that can lead the Cuban masses to victory.

The Organization of the Workers

In order to understand our problem, account must be taken of the specific characteristics and the social composition of the Cuban people. In Cuba, proportionately speaking, the proletariat is not very numerous and it is only in the large cities that it presents a picture of cohesion and militancy in its economic struggles. The political struggles of the proletariat are of fairly recent origin (the communist party was organized in 1925, but had no influence on the masses until 1929). The proletariat of the sugar plants, in spite of its participation in strikes since 1914, did not engage in the struggle, properly speaking, until during the years 1924-1925 and after the fall of Machado. It constitutes, in general, an unstable group. The sugar worker is engaged in the industry for only three or four months out of the year; the rest of the year he lounges around or begs in the neighboring towns. Agricultural peonage on the sugar cane and tobacco planations, where the work goes on throughout the year as a rule, is considerable in scope. The peons work under terrible conditions. Despite their low cultural level and their lack of class consciousness, they are nevertheless susceptible to organization, as was proved in the four months of the Grau San Martin government during which there was a certain minimum of democratic rights.

The other factor determining the social composition of Cuba is the petty bourgeoisie. But the Cuban petty bourgeoisie is distinguished from that of other countries by the fact that it does not have an economic base of its own. It is not rooted in small business, in small industry and in small-scale property, but consists exclusively of state employees. It can be defined exactly as a petty bourgeois bureaucracy.

The Parasitism of the Middle Class

The origin of this anomaly derives from the specific interests of American imperialism in Cuba. The principal industries (sugar, tobacco, transportation) belong to United States capital. Wholesale trade belongs to the Spanish bourgeoisie. After the war of independence, the American mediator, faithful to the policy of imperialist penetration, prevented the rehabilitation of the Cuban petty bourgeoisie by making it dependent upon the budget of the new republic. Since the Charles Magoon government, during the second intervention of the United States, the national budget has mounted every year with the sole object of nurturing the growing petty bourgeois bureaucracy. With the prosperity engendered by the high price for sugar during the world war. all went well, but the collapse of prices since 1921 caused a reduction of the budget in spite of the loans contracted on the North American market.

The effects of the crisis were felt very severely by the parasitic petty bourgeoisie. Removed from their bureaucratic positions, they rapidly descended into the ranks of the degenerated slum proletariat. At the cross-roads of life and death, the most courageous nuclei flung themselves into battle and a number of militant organizations of the petty bourgeoisie came to life. The first was the ABC which made its debut under Machado with a democratic program aud ended by reaching as openly Fascist ideology. After the fall of Grau San Martin, the Revolutionary Party of Cuba, led by him, seemed to express the aspirations of the petty bourgeoisie, but the relative consolidation of Mendieta, the reactionary, and the lack of faith in electoral methods, caused this social layer, in blank despair, to its only way out in ... insurrection. It then approached the revolutionary organization, Joven Cuba [Young Cuba], led by Antonio Guiteras, the Secretary of the Interior in the Grau San Martin cabinet.

The Position of Guiteras

The Young Cuba organization is in essence an amalgam of all sorts of heterogeneous forces of the petty bourgeoisie: conservatives, Centrists, Leftists. The basis of its program is the “anti-imperialist” struggle and it advocates a broad reformist program in favor of the working masses. Guiteras had a broader view than his successors. He had an international perspective for the Cuban revolution. To achieve this goal he had the intention of convening a continental congress in Mexico of all the parties of the Left and he insisted a good deal on inviting all the sections of the International Communist League on the American continent, as he informed our party.

But early in May, Guiteras was taken by surprise by the army near the town of Matanzas, just at the moment of embarking for Mexico. Together with the Venezuelan Colonel Carlos Aponte, he was assassinated.

The death of Antonio Guiteras created a different situation on the Cuban political scene. Our penetration into the ranks of Young Cuba, the sympathy that its members have for our party, open up good perspectives for our organization. The petty bourgeoisie does not want to call a halt to its insurrectionary intentions. It is a question of life or death for it. Here is offered a brilliant opportunity to the proletarian party to demonstrate its abilities of leadership. On the one side, in the terrible situation in which it finds itself, the Cuban proletarian will draw the petty bourgeoisie in its train in whatever insurrectionary movement may come. If our party knows how to mobilize its forces and to take on the form of a vanguard whose voice is heard by the masses, then we shall be able to say that the revolution will be saved.

* * *

But under the present prevailing conditions, the work is very difficult. Our party is lacking in financial resources, cannot publish its press legally, can conduct no legal campaign for collecting funds and must address itself to the proletariat of other countries with the immediate request to come to its assistance. This appeal is addressed in particular to the North American proletariat with which we are united by common fetters of exploitation.


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