Pub. Date:
The University of North Carolina Press
State and Revolution in Cuba: Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920-1940 / Edition 1

State and Revolution in Cuba: Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920-1940 / Edition 1

by Robert Whitney
Current price is , Original price is $37.5. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807849255
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 05/28/2001
Series: Envisioning Cuba
Edition description: 1
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Robert Whitney is assistant professor of Latin American history at the University of New Brunswick at Saint John in Canada.

Read an Excerpt

State and Revolution in Cuba
Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920-1940

By Robert Whitney

University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2001 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0807826111


Between the 1920s and the early 1940s the combined pressures of mass mobilization, revolution, economic crisis, and the threat of foreign intervention from the United States compelled Cuban politicians from across the ideological spectrum to come to terms with the clases populares (popular social classes) as a factor in national and international politics. In 1920 an oligarchy of wealthy landowners, professional politicians, merchants, bankers, and sugar mill owners had a tight grip over national politics, and the idea that the state should be "popular" was an anathema to the ruling groups. By the early 1930s, however, social protest from the clases populares became so widespread that the established mechanisms of social and political control no longer functioned. Yet at the time, it was by no means clear how "the masses" were to be incorporated into the political process. It was one thing for political elites to recognize that the popular sectors were a force to be reckoned with; it was quite another matter to create new political institutions and discourses that could harness their energy. Before anyone could accustom themselves to the idea of "the masses" as political actors, in the summer of 1933 Cuba exploded in social revolution.

For the eight years prior to 1933 Cuba, had been ruled by Gerardo Machado y Morales. Between 1925 and 1930 Machado's rule faced no serious opposition. By 1929, however, the economic crisis sparked by the world depression threw the established political and economic order into chaos. All factions of the Cuban elite were increasingly besieged by social forces that were outside the traditional political circles. Prior to 1933 the occasional student march or worker's strike was violently and sometimes easily suppressed by the police or the rural guard. From the late 1890s to the 1920s the Cuban population was too socially and economically fragmented to present a sustained threat to the ruling elite. By early 1933 the intensity of popular protest had reached unprecedented levels. Machado was increasingly isolated from other sectors of the political elite, and economic crisis and labor unrest challenged the political and social order.

With the revolution of 1933, the young and relatively inexperienced revolutionaries found themselves pushed into the halls of state power by worker and peasant mobilizations. Between September 1933 and January 1934, a loose coalition of radical activists, students, middle-class intellectuals, and disgruntled lower-rank soldiers formed a Provisional Revolutionary Government. This coalition was directed by a popular university professor, Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín. The Grau government promised a "new Cuba" with social justice for all classes and the abrogation of the Platt Amendment.[1] While the revolutionary leaders certainly wanted diplomatic recognition by Washington, they believed their legitimacy stemmed from the popular rebellion that brought them to power and not from the approval of the U.S. Department of State. To this end, throughout the fall of 1933 the government decreed a dramatic series of reforms. The Platt Amendment was unilaterally abrogated, and all the political parties of the machadato were dissolved.[2] The Provisional Government granted autonomy to the university, women obtained the right to vote, the eight-hour workday was decreed, a minimum wage was established for cane cutters, and compulsory arbitration was promoted. The government created a Ministry of Labor, and a law was passed establishing that 50 percent of all workers in agriculture, commerce, and industry had to be Cuban citizens. The Grau regime set agrarian reform as a priority, promising peasants legal title to their lands. For the first time in Cuban history the country was governed by people who did not negotiate the terms of political power with Spain (before 1898) or with the United States (after 1898).

The Provisional Government survived until January 1934, when it was overthrown by an equally loose antigovernment coalition of right-wing civilian and military elements. Led by a young sergeant, Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, this movement was supported by the U.S. State Department. To many Cubans at the time, it appeared that the country would revert to traditional methods of state domination. Previously, whenever the struggle for state power got out of hand, U.S. diplomats brokered a compromise among competing factions: there was no indication that anything would be different this time around.

Yet Cuba after 1933 was a very different country from what it had been only a few years earlier. The experiences of revolutionary struggle and mass mobilization became a part of the Cuban political landscape. The revolution of 1933 politicized Cuban society in fundamentally new ways. Between 1934 and 1940 a new political and economic consensus based on authoritarian and reformist principles emerged. After the revolution of 1933 most political groups in Cuba—from the far right to the communists—drew the conclusion that a new and modern state should intervene in society to modernize the country's political and economic structures. This reformist impulse culminated in 1940 when a new constitution proclaimed political democracy, the rights of urban and rural laborers, limitations on the size of sugar plantations and the need for systematic state intervention in the economy, while preserving the supreme role of private property.[3] Ironically, many of the demands of 1933 became the constitutional edicts of 1940. The 1940 Constitution signified a collective acknowledgment by the economic and political elite, the middle class and the working class, the army led by Batista, and the United States, that they had to live together, no matter how much they disliked this fact. Although Cuba had several civilian presidents from 1935 to 1940, it was clear to all that "the strong man [Batista] was the ruler of Cuba while the shadows flitted across the political stage in his direction."[4] Following seven years of controlling Cuban politics from behind the scenes, Batista became president of Cuba in 1940. Batista supervised Cuba's transition from a military dictatorship in 1934 to a nominal constitutional democracy in 1940.[5] This book will examine how and why this remarkable transformation in the Cuban political process came about.

Ideas of Social Class in Early-Twentieth-Century Cuba: Workers, the Middle Class, and Oligarchs

In this book I want to explore the major developments within Cuban class structures, especially the expanding middle class and the working class. I will accomplish this task by examining the formation of social classes within the context of mass mobilization, government corruption, political dictatorship, economic crisis, and American policy toward Cuba. The problem, of course, is that we must be reasonably clear about what is meant by "social class," as well as more specific terms such as "oligarchy," "middle class," and "working class." In the case of Cuba, and Latin America generally, any discussion of the meaning of social class must first acknowledge that class formation was a very uneven process and that the middle and working classes were highly fragmented social groupings.[6] If class identity is defined in reference to a group's social relation to the means of production, then in Cuba between 1900 and 1940 such identity was highly unstable. Mass unemployment and underemployment, periodic economic crisis, combined with the large scale importation of migrant labor, served to undermine any long-term or stable access to jobs, land, education, and financial stability.

In early-twentieth-century Cuba, journalists, politicians, and social commentators dealt with the problem of naming social classes by using the terms clases populares (popular classes) and clases económicas (economic classes) to describe the two main social groups within society. The clases populares comprised all social sectors outside the political elite and large sugar, commercial, and industrial sectors. The clases populares were the urban and rural wage laborers, peasants, the lower-middle-class groups of students, government employees, and those involved in petty-commerce.[7] The clases económicas were made up by the professional politicians who dominated the traditional political parties (Liberal, Conservative, and Popular Parties), as well sugar-mill owners, large-scale sugar growers, and Cuban and resident Spanish commercial and banking interests. For the purposes of this work, and especially in the first four chapters, I will use the term clases populares in the sense just outlined, with the important proviso that when I use the term "working class," I will be referring specifically to manual wage laborers, both urban and rural. One of the important features of class formation in Cuba was that by the 1940s a stronger sense of working class identity did develop. After 1933 politicians and the press began to drop the use of the term clases populares and replace it with "working class." The Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) was formed in 1939, and the CTC grouped together the largest and most important unions in the country. The Cuban population as a whole numbered just over 5 million in 1945, and the total number of organized workers was around 500,000.[8] In the 1940s and 1950s Cuban workers were organized as never before, and though trade union life was wracked with sectarianism and violence, the Cuban working class was a political force to be reckoned with by all national politicians.

In a similar way, just as the notion of clases populares had incorporated lower-level white-collar employees in banks, retail stores, import-export firms, insurance companies, students, or small-scale business people, after 1933 the term "middle class" was increasingly used to describe people working in these areas of the economy. This change was certainly influenced by the rapid growth of the middle class between the 1930s and 1950s. Between 1931 and 1953, the number of government, commercial, and service employees grew to represent some 50 percent of the middle class, with the other half made up of self-employed small business owners and small-scale proprietors. The amorphous makeup of the middle classes meant that scholars and census takers in the 1940s and 1950s had classified as much as half the Cuban population as belonging to the broad category of the "middle classes."[9]

Which brings me to the issue of what it meant to be "middle class" in Cuba between 1920 and 1940. In the ever-changing world of export capitalism, the middle classes found themselves in a constant struggle to locate themselves, both socially and economically, between the extremes of the very rich and the very poor.[10] Office clerks, bank tellers, salespeople, printers, junior army officers, schoolteachers, mid-level town officials and lawyers, medium-sized farmers, small-scale landlords, and journalists worried that they could all too easily "descend" into the ranks of the popular classes. Once again, before 1933 the vague term clases populares included at its upper limits people we might call "lower middle class" Cubans; "upper middle class" Cubans, on the other hand, could more easily claim membership in the lower limits of the clases económicas. It was precisely this vagueness and insecurity of middle-class identity that underlay their collective desire for better and more practical education in the sciences, technology, medicine, law, and commerce. They wanted the state to create the conditions where their class position would be secure. At the same time middle-class people aspired to be economically secure, they tried to distance themselves socially from the clases populares by being culto ("cultured") and gente decente. Consequently middle-class political leaders came to believe that Cuba urgently needed a modern and democratic state which would serve as a buffer against the volatile forces of unrestrained export capitalism and class polarization. This reification of the modern state and of "culture" tended to make the middle classes see themselves as the best representatives of national culture and of modern economic development.

Yet the day-to-day reality was different: classifying oneself as being "upper middle class" or "lower middle class" had much less to do with a person's qualifications for any given job than it had to do with successfully cultivating personal ties with influential employers. The best and most secure employers were often American businesses, since these tended to be less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the export economy. A clerk working at a large American-owned sugar mill or bank had more chances of keeping his or her job than a clerk in a small Cuban-owned retail store. Young professionals who could speak and write English had far more employment options open to them than did unilingual Cubans. Skills mattered, but competition for reasonably secure jobs was fierce, so the better you knew people in the right places, the better were your chances of getting and keeping a job. Such personalistic ties were a way to obtain some measure of security, and along with security came the possibility of maintaining an "upper middle class" lifestyle, as opposed to those semiproletarianized employees living in constant fear of losing their jobs. Typically, a middle-class lifestyle meant being proud to be a white Cuban and admiring and acquiring things North American.[11] Yet image and reality would often clash. Landing a job through "friendship" and "loyalty" could just as easily be seen by those denied employment as "corruption" and "cronyism." At another level, working for a large and modern American business could be seen as either seizing a rare opportunity for personal and professional advancement, or as turning one's back on building Cuban-owned and -run businesses. For middle-class Cubans in the 1920s and 1930s, personal choices could easily have political consequences, whether intended or not. Both the ideas of middle-class and of working-class identity were social constructs forged in the political and economic struggles of early-twentieth-century Cuba.

One of the central points made in this book is that the revolution of 1933 undermined the institutions and coercive structures of the oligarchic state. What was the "oligarchic state," and which people made up the "oligarchy" and the clases económicas? Following Laurence Whitehead, I define the "oligarchic state" as a state "in which such public authority as existed was broadly at the service of a restricted sector of the population, which derived its coherence from the various nonstate sources of social power, such as land ownership, family lineage or a position of advantage in international trade and finance."[12] For the purposes of this study, within the Cuban context, "oligarchy" refers to the Cuban political and sugar-growing elite and not to foreign capitalists resident in Cuba. Alternately, I will use the terms "upper classes" and "elites" to refer to Cubans who were professional politicians from the traditional parties, the large-scale sugar growers (hacendados), large-scale commercial and import-export capitalists, and factory owners. What about a Cuban bourgeoisie? As with the clases populares and the middle classes, before the 1940s the clases económicas were too divided among themselves to be a coherent and self-conscious social class. Certainly there were Cuban commercial capitalists, factory owners, and agrarian capitalists who struggled to gain a solid foothold within the shifting fortunes of the Cuban sugar economy. But they were unable to establish any significant independent presence until after 1940.[13] The dominant economic class in Cuba was made up of North American capitalists who used their ties with the United States to maintain American hegemony. The Cuban political class, on the other hand, used both their clientist networks of followers and the mechanisms of the Plattist state to accumulate wealth and exercise power. By doing so, the Cuban political classes threatened, but without success, to become a rival bourgeoisie that could challenge or compete with foreign capitalists.[14]

The term "oligarchy" might give the impression that this group was socially homogeneous and clearly separate from "nonoligarchic" sectors. They were neither, and we should be wary to not see oligarchies as a monolithic social class or as an abstract historical category. Sugar planters, large-scale urban capitalists, import-export merchants, bankers, professional politicians, regional and local power-holders, and high-level army officers had distinct interests, and each group often promoted policies that were at odds with other members of the dominant classes, or even with the United States. There is a tendency in much of the scholarship dealing with Latin American political elites to lump all these groups together as if they were members of one social class with common interests.[15] As Louis Pérez Jr. has pointed out, there was no economically dominant national class in Cuba during the early Republic.[16] American capitalists dominated the all-important export sector. In the pages to follow I hope to give some indication of just how complex Cuban oligarchic political economy was, though we still need much more information on exactly who the upper classes were and how their clientistic networks functioned. It will nonetheless be clear from the Cuban case that oligarchic rule was far more resilient than we have given it credit for. One objective of this study is to highlight in greater detail what the goals and interests of the dominant groups were and how they influenced policy decisions at certain critical moments of the country's history.

Despite these internal differences within the Cuban upper classes, I will retain the terms "oligarchy," "oligarchic power," and "oligarchic capitalism" as broadly descriptive concepts that stand in contrast to the politics of the modern state. Oligarchic power in Cuba was not nationally based. What made the state oligarchic was that ruling groups appealed to real or fictitious bloodlines and kin ties as the source of their status and authority. Political power was therefore not centered at any particular group or institution; rather, power was defused in a complex hierarchy of national, regional, and local networks of caciques and caudillos. The power of these caciques and caudillos derived from their ability to provide their followers with access to state revenues and to distribute local resources, both human and material. Oligarchic capitalism, in other words, was capitalist in the sense that relations of production in Cuba were increasingly characterized by the proletarianization of rural and urban labor; it was oligarchic in the sense that the allocation and distribution of wage labor often relied upon precapitalist and highly localized mechanisms of social control. Caudillos and caciques did own land and capital and were often very entrepreneurial; yet their power was also extraeconomic in that their ability to distribute wealth, jobs, land, market access, and political office derived from their careful cultivation of personal authority, reputation, and loyalty. In Cuba this meant that political leaders required a close relationship with the largely foreign-controlled sugar companies because it was the sugar economy that generated most state and nonstate revenue. While it was true that after 1898 the Cuban economic and political elite were denied direct control over most of the production of national wealth, it was equally true that the caciques and caudillos who manned the different layers of political society proved to be very effective at the redistribution of wealth for both economic gain and political influence. In contrast to the defuse nature of oligarchic power, the idea of the "modern state" rested on the principle that the whole population should be mobilized by state leaders in the cause of the nation.[17] While oligarchic rule was arbitrary, the modern state existed to implement and legitimize the principles of democracy and nationhood. The privileged status of the nation merged and became identical with the idea of the state, and the state became the collective patrimony of society. These were the main sentiments behind the constitutional consensus of 1940.

Mass Mobilization and Political Change

The main argument of the book is that the transition from oligarchic rule to the modern state came about primarily because of the mass mobilization by the clases populares against oligarchic capitalism. To be sure, the modern state in Cuba, as in many other formerly colonial countries, never had a strong foundation. While it is true that the 1940 constitutional consensus reflected a significant change in Cuban political culture, it was still the product of a unique set of international and national events. The combined factors of the world economic depression in the 1930s, the coming war in Europe, the rise of antifascist popular frontism, the growth of leftist and rightist populist and corporatist movements in Latin America, and Cuba's own revolution of 1933 set the terms of state formation in Cuba between 1930 and 1940. After 1940, however, the war and postwar economic boom, the defeat of fascism, and the emergence of cold-war geopolitics redefined the character of political discourse and practice in Cuba and in the rest of Latin America.[18] Throughout the continent, the left-leaning populism of the 1930s gave way to an anticommunist conservatism in the 1940s and 1950s. In Cuba, while it was true that Batista gave cabinet portfolios to two communists in the early 1940s, after 1944 it was no longer convenient for Cuban governments to be too close to the Communist Party (CP). Soon gangsterism, violence, and corruption were far more effective political tools than were the high-minded statutes of the constitution. Despite this disappointing outcome there was a widespread and popular consensus that a "modern state" needed to be established in Cuba. From the 1920s to the 1940s politicians and political activists were bitterly divided over what "popular" and "modern" state power meant: mass participation and democracy meant very different things to different people. Yet no politician, regardless of his location on the political spectrum, could ignore the powerful idea that a modern state should produce a new and democratic Cuba. Caudillismo and caciquismo continued to plague Cuban politics, but they were no longer the only political mechanisms available to Cubans. Party politics, mass meetings, electoral campaigns, and constitutional legitimacy also mattered.

In the broadest sense, then, what changed between 1920 and 1940 was Cuban political culture. I use the term "political culture" in a broadly anthropological sense and not in the way used by modernization theorists. For the modernization school, and one might add for present-day neoliberals, political culture refers to rather abstract values, beliefs, and traditions that either positively or negatively influence a people's ability to attain liberal democratic (modern) "civic values" or "civil society."[19] The explicit or implicit assumption is that some societies and social classes "have" more political culture than do others and that the reference points for being "modern," "democratic," and "politically cultured" are Western capitalist political values. In contrast, I take the view that political culture is about the ability and the power to bestow meanings on things, people, social relations of production, and ideas within specific historical contexts and social struggles. This power to bestow meanings, in turn, is often realized within the context of historically specific collective action and mass mobilization. In other words, political culture is not defined exclusively by its relation to the modern capitalist state. Political culture refers to the living collective memories, struggles, and values of social groups who create their own identities and political meanings not only to resist dominant political discourses and practices but also to create alternative ways of living.[20] To use the modern state as the only standard by which to measure political culture ignores the reality that there are a whole range of human practices and discourses not covered by the material reality of state power. Popular political culture cannot be completely contained by state power because no one has ever agreed about who "the people" are and which sectors of the people should have full (if any) political rights. State leaders aspire to be left in peace to mold citizens into "responsible" and "rational" subjects who accept the rules of political and economic power. This form of political and social engineering is carried out just as much by liberal democratic states as it is by more authoritarian forms of government. The problem was (and is) that those who are denied a political voice and/or economic power occasionally refuse to be quiet, and by their refusal they simultaneously undermine and transform the meaning of politics.[21] Political culture is about the way people make sense of their day-to-day struggles. The importance of the revolutionary upheavals of the 1930s and the 1940 constitutional consensus was that they represented an attempt to make sense of the changing balance of power in Cuba.

The Historiography

Historians usually view the events of 1933 as part of Cuba's "long revolution" for independence and social justice.[22] This long revolution "began" with the independence wars against Spain in 1868-78 and 1895-98, continued through the "frustrated" revolution of 1933, and "culminated" in the revolution of 1959.[23] Scholars hold varied opinions about how the revolution of 1933 fits into this longer historical process, but there is a general consensus that the 1933 revolution is important because it set into motion a political process that would eventually—perhaps inevitably?—lead to Castro's victory.

For example, one group of historians views 1933 as a frustrated liberal democratic revolution that, had it been successful, would have preempted the more radical socialist revolution of 1959.[24] Grau was not a radical politician. On the contrary, the Cuban press often referred to Grau as the "Roosevelt of Cuba" who simply wanted a "new Cuba" controlled by Cubans and not by foreign capitalists. Though deeply nationalistic, Grau and his followers were far from anti-American. They were, however, anti-interventionist. From the perspective of many Cuban nationalists, a clear distinction could be made between, on the one hand, the avaricious capitalist "trusts" of Wall Street, and, on the other hand, the fair-minded New Deal liberalism of president F. D. Roosevelt. Ever since the U.S. military intervention in Cuba in 1898, the "trusts" of large sugar companies, banks, land companies, and other private interests did more or less what they pleased in Cuba. In early 1933, however, the recently elected American president promised that the United States would be a "good neighbor" and respect the sovereignty of Latin American nations. This shift in direction by U.S. policymakers seemed to bode well for Cuba's future. Grau and his backers found much to admire in the state-sponsored social policies of the New Deal administration, and they saw no reason why the United States would not recognize the new government in Havana. So when the United States failed to recognize Grau, and when Ambassador Sumner Welles backed Batista's coup in January 1934, it seemed to many Cubans as if the Wall Street "trusts" had once again determined U.S. policy in Cuba. Reformist optimism was shattered. An additional reason why the revolutionary regime collapsed was that it did not have a political party which could channel popular support in an effective way. Instead, factionalism and indecision undermined the government's ability to rule. At the same time, the Communist Party and its trade-union cadre vehemently opposed the government. Meanwhile, the army was being reorganized by Batista without cabinet control. The government was a house of cards ready to collapse.

The explicit or implicit perspective of these historians is that the defeat of 1933 "frustrated" Cuban nationalist sentiments and Fidel Castro would eventually exploit this sense of frustration in the 1950s. For example, Luis Aguilar, in the concluding chapter of his book on the 1933 revolution, sees the link between 1933 and 1959 as "obvious." After the frustration of the corrupt and violent 1940s and 1950s, Castro "spoke the language people wanted to hear"; in the early 1960s, however, he shifted direction and took Cuba in an "unexpected" and "tragic" direction.[25] Ramón Bonachea and Marta San Martín introduce their book on the Cuban insurrection of 1952-59 by saying that the generation of the 1950s had essentially the same ideology as the frustrated generation of the 1930s, but this time Castro and his followers were more determined and better led.[26] In a similar way, Andrés Suárez states that Castro's success can be explained by his crass manipulation of the "atmosphere of tragic frustration" dating back to the defeat of 1934.[27] Castro's success was therefore not so much of his own making as it was due to the inability of reform-minded Cubans to succeed during and after 1933.

A closely related position on the events of 1933 places greater emphasis on the unwillingness or inability of the United States to understand the implications of the 1933 revolution. Had the United States supported Grau's moderate government, subsequent Cuban history might have taken a very different turn. American policy, however, was locked into a short-sighted vision of maintaining Cuban stability at any cost. Even though Grau and his Partido Revolucionario Cubano (Auténtico) (PRC-A) became noticeably more moderate after 1933, U.S. diplomats felt that they could not fully trust the Auténticos to maintain order and protect American investments. Despite the fact that the Platt Amendment was abrogated in 1934, Cuban sovereignty continued to be limited by American hegemony. While this problem was nothing new to Cubans, after the dramatic upheavals of 1933, Cubans as a whole were far more hostile to U.S. intervention in their internal affairs. Accordingly, American policy should have adapted to Cuban nationalism, but it failed to do so. This failure by Washington to adapt meant that another confrontation between the insurgent forces of Cuban nationalism and the United States was inevitable. A young Fidel Castro would take up the challenge in 1952.

Another group of historians does not see the revolution of 1959 as a negative or tragic result of the failures of 1933. Rather, they interpret the events of 1933 as a "prerevolution" or a "prologue" in a positive sense to the Castro revolution. The revolution of 1933 becomes a kind of dress rehearsal for the revolution of 1959, even though the "objective" and "subjective" conditions for victory did not exist in 1933. According to this perspective, "objectively" the balance of social and class forces in 1933 was not propitious for a successful social (and socialist) revolution; "subjectively" the radicals of 1933 were too divided among themselves and too ideologically immature to develop a clear political strategy to seize power. As a result, the desire of the Cuban people for national liberation could not be realized at that time. Much of this writing, especially by Cuban scholars, contrasts the political weaknesses of radicals in 1933 with the leadership of Castro in the 1950s. The failure of the 1933 revolution proved that reforming the neocolonial system was impossible and that only socialist revolution could bring freedom to Cuba. The political chaos and corruption in Cuba between 1933 and 1959 was therefore symptomatic of the unresolved crisis of neocolonial rule. The line between 1933 and 1959 is a direct one, and the events of 1933 become part of the historical narrative of 1959.[28]

While this brief overview of the literature does not do justice to the important insights of individual authors and the subtleties of their interpretations, all of the writing on the 1933 revolution shares the central idea that its significance is found largely in reference to what happened (or failed to happen) in the 1950s. On the whole, I see nothing wrong with this position: if our objective is to understand the origins of the 1959 revolution then we must come to terms with the legacy of 1933. My objective, however, is different. I start from an earlier vantage point, the political and economic conjuncture of 1920, and I use a different and more immediate outcome, the constitutional consensus of 1940. It is important to recognize that our choice of historical outcomes does determine the way we construct our narrative; by doing so, the sequence and relative importance of events changes significantly. We gain a heightened appreciation of how people saw their country change in more concrete and immediate ways. The fact that Cubans in the 1950s felt their political hopes and expectations had been betrayed tells us little about how their sentiments were raised and encouraged in the first place. If we focus too much on the failures and disappointments of the 1933-40 period we risk underestimating what actually did change in Cuba between 1920 and 1940. I conclude the narrative in 1940 because thereafter a new phase of Cuban political history begins. Between 1940 and 1959, political adversaries and a new generation of radicalized youth would use the constitution's edicts and principles as ideological weapons against one another, and they would constantly attack each other for betraying the popular aspirations of the past decade; they did these things not to overthrow the modern state but rather to improve the state and make it more representative of the popular will.

It is important to point out that noticeable advances have been made in the historiography in recent years. For example, research on the complexities of worker and peasant mobilization before and after 1933 have shed more light on how popular political activity engaged Cuban capitalism and U.S. imperialism in qualitatively and quantitatively new ways.[29] In a similar way, historians and social scientists writing on the process of state formation in Latin America have made important observations about the connections between popular insurgency and the social and historical foundations of political power.[30] The state is increasingly viewed by scholars as more than a set of reified institutions "above society," and revolutions are more than a series of dramatic "events" that undermine state power. Instead, both states and revolutions should be studied as socially and historically constructed processes through which people struggle over issues of political, economic, and cultural power. This way of seeing the state, and, one might add, of politics and culture in general, seeks to avoid reducing the state (and politics and culture) to economic determinants, simplistic class analysis, or teleological models of social and economic development.[31] In the words of political scientist Joel Migdal, I want to investigate "the transformation of people as they adopt the symbols of the state and the transformation of the state as it incorporates symbols from society."[32] This study is an initial attempt to take up this challenge for Republican Cuba. By incorporating many of the important insights of this new scholarship, I hope to shed more light on the complex interactions between popular mobilization in Cuba and the process of state formation between 1920 and 1940.[33]

In Chapter 1, I lay out a social map of how politics functioned under the oligarchic state in Cuba circa 1920. Then I will discuss a specific example of how a popular rebellion challenged the oligarchic state. This rebellion, known as the Veterans' and Patriots' Movement, occurred between 1923 and 1924. Its objective was for the "moral regeneration" of Cuban politics and for political and economic reform within existing state structures. The Veterans' movement failed to achieve its objective, but, as we will see, it was precisely because the movement failed that many of its younger participants began to rethink the relationship between society and the state and to increasingly question the meaning of the political process within the context of Cuba's neocolonial condition. A new generation of radical students, workers, and middle-class Cubans increasingly looked to newer political doctrines and ideas, such as socialism, populism, and fascism, as alternatives to oligarchic politics. To be sure, Cuban radical's knowledge of these ideologies was often vague and impressionistic, but they certainly knew enough to appreciate that they were part of a worldwide movement for social and political change.

Chapter 2 continues the narrative from the previous chapter by focusing on the ideological crisis provoked by the defeat of the Veterans' movement. From 1924 until the end of the decade, there was a wide-ranging debate about what many viewed as the cultural and political crisis of Cuban and Latin American modernity. In particular, a new generation of Cubans tried to come to terms with the political implications of capitalist modernity and how to respond to the "masses" as a social, political, and economic force. The political existence of the masses was a recent phenomenon for everyone on the ideological spectrum. No one really knew who the masses were, though many leaders claimed to articulate their interests. The basic questions about the social composition and inclusiveness of "the people" or "the masses" could not be answered with precision because the interwoven processes of class, state, and national formation outpaced people's ability to explain what was happening around them. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the ideological implications of mass politics were rarely laid out in detail. This chapter will examine how Cuban radicals grappled with these issues in the 1920s. These debates would also set the tone for similar controversies in the years to come.

Chapter 3 is concerned with the growing crisis of oligarchic rule in Cuba between 1929 and 1932. This chapter demonstrates how a combination of economic and political crisis fueled mass insurgency against the oligarchic state. By 1932 the Cuban political class was besieged by a population in revolt. These experiences would prove decisive in forming the political consciousness of large sectors of the clases populares, as well as providing the formative political experiences for a new generation of activists from across the ideological spectrum.

Chapter 4 deals with how new and nationalist visions of the modern state emerged within the context of the crisis of oligarchic capitalism between 1930 and 1933. Middle-class political groups formulated new conceptions of the state that were intended to be truly national and therefore capable of providing an alternative to oligarchic capitalism. At the same time, communists, trade unionists, and independent leftists tried to harness the insurgent energy of the clases populares for more radical objectives, yet they, too, were as much the products of mass mobilization as they were its leaders. Of course, ideas about what should replace the oligarchic state varied considerably: those on the political left of center thought "the people" should lead the revolutionary democratic political process, while those on the right developed corporatist and paternalistic conceptions of the state that were designed to contain the popular sectors. But within the context of mass insurgency the difference between these two conceptions of state formation was not as clear as might be supposed.

Chapter 5 focuses on the revolution of 1933. The emphasis here will be on how mass mobilization undermined oligarchic rule and placed a revolutionary government in power. The organizational weakness of the popular sectors, combined with factionalism among middle-class and leftist radicals, undermined the strength of this short-lived government. The revolutionaries were forced to take power before they had a chance to systematically work out what "taking power" meant. The revolution had unleashed forces that the regime could not control. What took place was less a transfer of power than a transfer of crisis. Yet, as this chapter will show, the dramatic experience of the prolonged revolutionary struggles of 1930-33 succeeded in shifting the balance of political power away from the oligarchy and toward other social classes. Cuba would never be the same.

Chapter 6 discusses the situation after the revolution of 1933. What at first appeared to be a restoration of oligarchic rule was in reality a continuation in the process of postrevolutionary state formation. This chapter follows the emergence of Fulgencio Batista. Batista's political ideas fit nicely into a corporatist vision common to many Latin American leaders during these years. In order to understand the early Batista, however, it is necessary to take him at his word when he said he was continuing the revolution of 1933. After all, the colonel's former allies in the Grau government of 1933 accused Batista of "betraying" the revolution: one has to be first part of the revolution in order to "betray" it, and from Batista's perspective he was bringing "order" to the revolution, not betraying it. Before Batista could implement his ideas, however, he first had to use the army and police to "discipline" the insurgent clases populares and the "idealistic" and "impractical" elements encouraging "chaos." This chapter will argue that it is impossible to understand Cuba's evolution to a nominal democracy between 1937 and 1940 without taking into account state violence. This state violence had the effect of destroying, at least in the short term, any political and organizational autonomy the clases populares had managed to win during the recent social and class struggles. The masses would have to be "disciplined" before they would be ready to be a part of what Batista called an "organic" and "renovated democracy."

Chapter 7 focuses on how Batista changed from a shadowy military figure with conventional corporatist ideas into a very public political leader with populist pretensions.[34] The colonel wanted to be a legitimate president of a democratic Cuba, and he succeeded in 1940. Batista employed a populist political style and strategy to obtain his objective. Populism arose as a politic and economic response to the growth of a mass work force that had been released from traditional personalistic and clientist ties of bondage and dependence. Populists acknowledged the reality that the masses were a new force in society and that "the people" were at the center of the nation and the state. Populist discourse, in other words, functioned to construct "the people" out of fragmented and scattered populations.[35] Batista was very aware that in order to rule Cuba, he had to appeal to the people and to the revolutionary sentiments of 1933. This chapter will examine how Batista made the transition from a military dictator to a populist leader between 1937 and 1940.

The conclusion will provide an overview of the main themes discussed in the book and make some suggestions about areas and themes for future research on this period of Cuban history.

Excerpted from State and Revolution in Cuba by Robert Whitney. Copyright © 2001 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Represents not only an important contribution to the historiography of Cuba and to the literature of state formation more generally, but also suggests ways in which our knowledge of the Cuban republic can be furthered.—Latin American Studies

A landmark study of Cuban state formation. Whitney offers profound insights into a country in the midst of a major identity crisis in the 1930s. Mandatory reading for all seeking to understand pre-revolutionary Cuba.—John M. Kirk, Dalhousie University

This book reminds us how crucial and formative the 1930s were in Cuban history. Drawing on Cuban, U.S., and British sources Whitney gives us a rich and penetrating examination of Cuban state formation and a pioneering reconstruction of the origins of Fulgencio Batista's authoritarian corporatism. Obligatory reading for historians of twentieth-century Latin American history.—Barry Carr, La Trobe University

Whitney provides a useful addition to the historical literature on Cuba from 1920 to 1940 with this classical political history.—Choice

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews