To analyse the Cuban revolution is one thing: to understand its present reality and its possibilities, another. This interview helps to fill out the actual conditions of the revolution, and highlights the problems which it faces. The speaker is Saul Landau, one of the editors of the American “new left” journal, Studies On The Left, who has recently come to England after five months in Cuba. The questioners were Ralph Samuel, Denis Butt, Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn and Stuart Hall.
One of the most important aspects of the Cuban revolution has been its development from one stage to the next. Would you say something about this?
Let me make a somewhat artificial division. To begin with there was the Insurrection: this began in 1953 with Fidel’s attack on Moncaca, although, of course, Cubans had fought for an independent island for many years before that. After Moncada came jail; then exile in Mexico; then the return to Cuba in 1956 to wage a war against the tyranny. Fidel had not clearly articulated a programme that covered everything. He was going to bring down the Batista dictatorship by waging civil war because that was the only way to do it. His army would grow—from the 12 survivors—and would engage the Batista army on rugged terrain, always by surprise, so long as the guerrillas were at a disadvantage. The city dwellers could help by not co-operating with Batista, by sabotage, by strikes, by using every opportunity to discredit the regime and its claim of stability.
To fight this kind of a war Fidel had to count on the guajiros, that section of the Cuban population that was most exploited, that had least faith, in anything, that previously had been dismissed as “rural idiots”. To bring these people into a civil war, to bring them to the point of being willing to die for a cause, for an ideal, Fidel had to stand for something special—he had to be a special man. He accomplished both: his ideal was honesty, not democracy or socialism, or do-goodism—it was simply to do the things that had to be done. The problem of Cuba was first and foremost an oppressive tyranny—it had to be done away with; all traces of it had to be wiped out once and for all. Then there was poverty, disease, and squalor, most pronounced in the countryside. This had to be eliminated—the vice and corruption that had infused all Cuban life, the gangsterism, the “anything-for-a-buck” attitude, all the material and psychological aspects of life that had demoralised and devitalised Cuba —it had to be done away with.
But Fidel could not programise these things away. They were, after all, effects, not causes. He had an insight into the root of the problem by the time he made his History Will Absolve Me speech in 1953. His years in the Sierra Maestra, his intimacy with the guajiros, his dependence on them not only for the defeat of Batista, but for his day-to-day life—all this greatly sharpened that first insight. The real problem was Cuba’s dependence on sugar, but more than that, it was the dependence, in every way, at every level, on the United States.
This realisation had not fully come in the days of the Insurrection. The problem, first and foremost, was to get rid of Batista. To do this meant becoming a different type of man: a guerrilla. Being guerrillas had a profound effect on the Fidelistas. One could not be a guerrilla and maintain illusions about oneself and one’s world. One could not be abstract or metaphysical. To live meant to fight; life and combat became interchangeable words.
The second phase was the finding of the means to do away with the immediate injustice, with corruption and misery. Batista fled and with him went many of the old institutions and the men who administered them. New ones with new men had to be organised to deal with each problem. This was done quickly. The obvious corruption and vice, the gangsters, the pimps, the perverted sex shows, the drug peddlers, were obliterated.