Review of A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory

A permutation of the research project I’d designed for myself in hopes of getting a year-long grant to study at the University of Havana, A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory by Steve Cushion focuses on the factions within the trade union movements and their relationship to the Batista regime. Its publication came at a perfect time, as I learned of its existence shortly after the new criteria for the IB History Period and Theme focuses were released.

Cushion’s primary research documents were the union, official and underground newspapers, student and radical journals and letters of participants that could lead to arrest, assault and increasingly in murder by beating. Given the need to keep documentation of participation in these subterannean movements against the current government, there are gaps in ability to give full accounts in all regions of Cuba from this alone. In order to make up for this dearth of material he also includes the recorded speeches and published positions of the union leadership as well as government documents stemming from police documentation of the lives of those ran for office and were kept out by corruption, but no matter as they later found de facto rather than official leadership positions in factions of other ideologically oriented groups. It is the groups within these unions would come to create make connections with MR-26 and facilitate the martial overthrow of the Batista Regime through concerted community support.

Cuba’s political and economic turmoil stemmed from advances in processes of transportation, production and financial pressures wrought by secular, cyclical capitalist crisis. During this period of an employer offensive against wages, workers rights and and the work done there was a general rebellion against the conditions proffered as the new status quo. The Batista regime became an adjudicator of industrial struggles and so consistently sided with the “non-Cuban” international investors that the came to be correctly seen as the enforcer for the needs of American capital. That such a belief was held by workers, students, radicals, farmers and revolutionaries alike should be seen as no surprise given that Cuba was the primary producer of sugar on the global market by weight by far and by 1958 U.S. capital owned 42% of the production capacity of the sugar industry. As large as that sounds this says nothing else of their other investments in railroads, docks, public transportation busses manufactured from Detroit, banks, clothes, medicine, etc.

Cushion’s analysis of regional leadership pockets of the M-R- 26 showed how they were at times at odds with the political aspirations of their erstwhile supporters. A number of the subterranean leaders of organizing activity in the coastal shipping regions were Trotskyists and Communists. The fighting force of MR-26 was a distinctively nationalistic based organization. Cushion documents the change in their published positions from making populist style appeals for land redistribution and other programs to generalities that merely state that devastating effects that advances in capitalist production and transportation of raw materials had on the population must be addressed and that the current government had no legitimacy and should be ousted.

While other nationalist groups published broadsides against the government that similarly documented abuses, they differed in that they also combined jeremiad’s with political platforms to raise awareness of what members in the organization were seeking to accomplish by overthrowing the government. It’s in this, and not in the military fighting, that working class socialists played a large role – helping to get enough people to resist the brutality of a government that would force strikers to work at gunpoint and would beat to death students and organizers for their activity.

It’s because of all their work, documented here by industry, region and organizations with operational strength, that the great strike which paralyzed the entire island of Cuba came into fruition. It’s as a result of their alliance building, political development, organizational structures that the barbudos were so easily able to come in a conquer a much larger, better equipped army. It’s because of them that the romantic ideal of the revolutionaries have been so fawned upon in revolutionary circles – for if they’d have to spend multiple months fighting over key city control points than they’d seem dirtier on a moral level rather than just a jungle living level.