People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 01

January 01, 2012



R Arun Kumar


THE triumph of the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro and the transition to socialism during the following three to four years, signalled the beginning of a new era in Latin America. Until then, a socialist revolution in that region, above all in the Central America and the Caribbean – the classical backyard of US imperialism – was unthinkable.


Contrary to popular perceptions that the Cuban revolution was a result of a handful of guerrillas, it involved the participation of a vast majority of the population. Of course, it is true that the  barbudos, the bearded guerrillas, led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro and Camillo Cienfuegos played an important leading role in directing and deciding the course of the revolution. This, however, should not obscure us to the fact that Cuban revolution was a popular mass movement in which tens of thousands of people participated in different ways.




Fidel Castro, together with Raul Castro and Che Guevara landed in the Granma yacht from Mexico, where he was living in exile after his release from the prison following the attack on the Moncado garrison. They started with 82 people on board but many lost their lives immediately in the attack that followed on their way towards the Sierra Maestra mountains. According to Fidel Castro, the fight resumed “with seven armed men, who managed to reunite on December 18”. After the addition of some more members of Granma yacht who joined the group, “A small force of no more than 18 expedition members and a number of young campesinos from the Sierra achieved the first victories on January 17 and 22, 1957.” It is because of this heroism and never-say-die attitude, even in the face of fierce repression that Fidel Castro became famous for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.


Although the rural guerrillas and the July 26 movement in Sierra Maestra under the leadership of Fidel Castro were militarily and politically decisive, the movement also had many thousands of urban militants and sympathisers in Havana and throughout the island, functioning clandestinely in the urban armed resistance, in the trade unions and many other organisations like the Civic Resistance (Resistencia Civica), which brought together thousands of members of the liberal professions like the lawyers, doctors, engineers and lecturers in opposition to Batista. Activists and militants of other groups like those from the Directorio Revolucionario and the Communist Party, Partido Socialista Popular collaborated with the revolutionaries. The presence of the Communist Party,PSP cannot be ignored; although it did not participate directly in the revolution until mid-1958. It had organised large sections of the proletariat and disseminated Marxist and Leninist ideas among the intellectuals since 1920s. Thus, it becomes apparent that the entire country between the period 1955 and the fall of Batista in January 1959 was in revolutionary turmoil.


With Batista's hurried departure in the early hours of the New Year's Day and the triumphant entry of the barbudos into Havana and Santiago, the country was swept by scenes of extraordinary euphoria. In the following weeks and months, with the consolidation of the new regime and the avalanche of decrees by the revolutionary government imposing change in all aspects of public life, it began to become clear that this was a situation without precedent in the history of Cuba and Latin America. At local level, the people began to seize control in neighbourhoods and work places and provisional revolutionary town councils replaced the representatives of the dictatorship. With the collapse of Batista's army and police and the purging of batistianos from the civil service, the State apparatus was already being transformed.


In the first nine months of 1959, some 1500 decrees and laws were issued. “The government decreed the purging of the batistianos, the compulsory reduction of urban rents, the reduction of telephone rates and – when the US owned company refused this– the legal intervention of the company, the reduction of the electricity rates, wage increases for low-paid workers, and the first agrarian reform law. The US State department condemned these measures, but the Cuban response was to reject any interference in the country's internal affairs and to press ahead with more reforms. From August 1959 onwards, armed attacks on Cuba began to be mounted by Florida-based exiles with the connivance of the US officials; on 5th September, the US ambassador was recalled for fifteen days as an expression of Washington's displeasure with the agrarian reform and the measures affecting the telephone and electricity companies; on 21 October, a Cuban Air Force deserter flew over Havana dropping leaflets and incendiary bombs, and in Havana itself counter-revolutionary terrorists planted bombs and machine gunned people in bus queues; and Fidel Castro announced in response the formation of a popular armed militia. This tit-for-tat pattern culminated with the Cuban expropriation of the Standard Oil, Texaco and Shell oil refineries in June-July 1960, the US decision to cut the Cuban sugar quota, and the Cuban expropriation of a series of industrial subsidiaries in August, until in October all remaining US properties were nationalised and Washington imposed its trade embargo, soon to become a virtually complete blockade, which has continued ever since.”


In April 1961, when the inevitable armed intervention came at the Bay of Pigs – an invasion by 1600 counter-revolutionaries sponsored by the CIA, with the US navy just off the coast waiting to land – the Cubans resisted and crushed the invaders, in an act of revolutionary affirmation which won the admiration of entire Latin America. It was at this moment that Fidel Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution, after two years and three months in power. Till that point of time the revolution, which was the work of Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement was: a broad, nationalist, democratic and anti-imperialist movement, remained as such, at least in terms of programme and systematic doctrine (although a significant number of its militants were familiar with and sympathised with one or another version of socialist ideology).




The question of socialism was resolved in practice between June 1960 and April 1961. In the course of this practice, a key ideological statement, the First Havana Declaration, was adopted by a mass assembly of more than a million people in the vast Plaza de la revolucion on September 2, 1960. Though it was not explicitly socialist, it was a militant anti-imperialist proclamation denouncing US interventionism throughout Latin America and defending the revolution in the name of the Cuban people. “This National General Assembly of the people of Cuba expresses its conviction that democracy cannot consist only in an electoral vote, which is almost always fictitious and handled by big landholders and professional politicians, but in the rights of the citizens to decide, as this Assembly of the people is now doing, their own destiny. Moreover, democracy will only exist in Latin America when the people are really free to choose, when the humble people are not reduced – by hunger, social inequality, illiteracy and the judicial systems – to the most degrading impotence. In short, the National General Assembly of the People of Cuba proclaims before America:


The right of the peasants to the land; the right of workers to the fruit of their work; the right of children to education; the right of sick people to medical and hospital attention; the right of youth to work; the right of students to free, experimental and scientific education; the right of Negroes and Indians to ‘the full dignity of man'; the right of women to civil, social and political equality; the right of aged to a secure old age; the right of intellectuals, artists and scientists to fight, with their works for a better world; the right of states to nationalise imperialist monopolies, thus rescuing their wealth and national resources; the right of nations to trade freely with all peoples of the world; the right of nations to their full sovereignty; the right of nations to turn fortresses into schools, and to arms their workers, their peasants, their students, their intellectuals, the Negro, the Indian, the women, the young and the old, the oppressed and the exploited people, so that they may defend, by themselves, their rights and their destinies”.


It is important to realise that the US hostility did not begin when the revolution was declared to be socialist, but it was there from the very beginning. In 1823 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams had declared that with the passage of time Cuba would fall into the lap of the US like a ripe apple. Even on January 1, 1959 when Batista had just fled and the revolutionaries were in control of Santiago and marching to Havana, the US supported an attempted coup by General Cantillo to prevent Fidel Castro and the 26 July Movement from taking power; it failed because Fidel Castro had immediately called for a general strike and confirmed his orders to Camillo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara to march on the capital. It was later revealed that plans for a counter-revolutionary invasion, that materialised in Bay of Pigs invasion, April 1961, had actually began in May 1959. “...the agrarian reform law was signed on May 17, 1959 and just two days later president Eisenhower signed the Pluto Plan, which aimed to destabilise Cuba. Pluto was CIA's code name for the comprehensive program of subversion that culminated in the Bay of Pigs invasion”. All this goes on to prove that the US always had its eye on Cuba and wanted it to become one of the stars in its flag, but Cuba had became a thorn in its flesh.


Despite its repeated failures to subjugate Cuba, the US is continuing with its efforts. The US, which wanted to isolate Cuba is now isolated in the world. The US expected the collapse of socialist Cuba after the collapse of Soviet Union and other socialist countries in East Europe. It expected it to collapse under the weight of the economic embargo post Soviet Union disintegration. Cuba successfully overcame, what was called the special period. It expected Cuba to collapse after Fidel Castro had fallen ill and relinquished all his official responsibilities. Even now it is expecting it to collapse, placing its hopes over experience and never willing to learn and give up its imperialist hegemonic ambitions.


As history had proved time and again, socialist Cuba withstood all these attacks and defended its freedom, sovereignty and socialism. The recently concluded Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba and the plans it had unveiled for the further strengthening and consolidation of socialism in Cuba are expected to lead the country into the future with increased strength. Pledging our solidarity let us join our voice “Hasta la victoria siempre”! (Until the eternal victory)