Thursday, August 14, 2014

Castro's Promises Betrayed: Theodore Draper's Classic Analysis

Since August 13 was the 88th birthday of Cuban dictator emeritus Fidel Castro, it is  appropriate to revisit the classic and brilliant 1962 analysis of Castro's original revolutionary promises by historian Theodore Draper in his book Castroism, Myth and Realities. Particularly since Cuba is undergoing a distorted, centralized discussion of Constitutional changes.  Democratic left forces are trying to intervene in the process and some are raising the issue of whether the 1940 Cuban Constitution should be the basis for  new changes.

by Theodore Draper

Was the Cuban revolution "betrayed"? The answer obviously depends on what revolution one has in mind--the revolution that Castro promised before taking power, or the one he has made since taking power.
[Leo] Huberman and [Paul] Sweezy have written: "Fidel had made his promises and was determined to carry them out, faithfully and to the letter." But neither they, nor [C. Wright] Mills, nor [John-Paul] Sartre ever says what these promises were. The oversight has been a necessary part of the mythology.#

I have made a brief inventory of the promises, political and economic, made by Castro from his "History Will Absolve Me" speech (at his Moncada trial in 1953) to the end of 1958.*

 These promises so soon became embarrassing that some of his literary champions began to rewrite history (after less than two years!) by avoiding all mention of them. **


Castro's 1953 speech predicted that the first revolutionary law would be restoration of the 1940 Constitution and made an allusion to a "government of popular election."

Castro's manifesto of July, 1957, his first political declaration from the Sierra Maestra, contained a "formal promise" of general elections at the end of one year and an "absolute guarantee" of freedom of information, press, and all individual and political rights guaranteed by the 1940 Constitution. Castro's letter of December 14, 1957, to the Cuban exiles upheld the "prime duty" of the post-Batista provisional government to hold general elections and the right of political parties, even during the provisional government, to put forward programs, organize, and participate in the elections. 

In an article in Coronet magazine of February, 1958, Castro wrote of fighting for a "genuine representative government," "truly honest" general elections within twelve months, "full and untrammelled" freedom of public information and all communication media, and reestablishment of all personal and political rights set forth in the 1940 Constitution. The greatest irony is that he defended himself against the accusation "of plotting to replace military dictatorship with revolutionary dictatorship." 

In his answers to his first biographer, Jules Dubois, in May, 1958, Castro pledged "full enforcement" of the 1940 Constitution and "a provisional government of entirely civilian character that will return the country to normality and hold general elections within a period of no more than one year." In the unity manifesto of July, 1958, Castro agreed "to guide our nation, after the fall of the tyrant, to normality by instituting a brief provisional government that will lead the country to full constitutional and democratic procedures." 


In the 1953 speech, Castro supported grants of land to small planters and peasants, with indemnification to the former owners; the rights of workers to share in profits; a greater share of the cane crop to all planters; and confiscation of all illegally obtained property. His land reform advocated maximum holdings for agricultural enterprises and the distribution of remaining land to farming families; it also provided for encouragement of "agricultural cooperatives for the common use of costly equipment, cold storage, and a uniform professional direction in cultivation and breeding." In addition, the speech expressed the intention of nationalizing the electric and telephone companies.

The manifesto of July, 1957, defined the agrarian reform as distribution of barren lands, with prior indemnification, and conversion of sharecroppers and squatters into proprietors of the lands worked on. 

The Coronet article favored a land reform to give peasants clear title to the land, with "just compensation of expropriated owners." It declared that Castro had no plans for expropriating or nationalizing foreign invest was based on the principle that those who cultivate the land should own it. This law, signed by Fidel Castro and the then Judge Advocate General, Dr. Humberto Sori Marin, made no mention of cooperatives" or "state farms." 

Its entire intent was to implement the hitherto neglected agrarian-reform provison in the Constitution of 1940.* 

Such were the promises that Fidel had made.  The near unanimity with which Castro's victory was accepted in January,1959, was the result not merely of his heroic struggle and glamorous beard but of the political consensus he appeared to embody. This consensus had resulted from the democratic disappointments in1944-52 and the Batista despotism of 1952-58. There was broad agreement that Cuba could never go back to the corrupt brand of democracy of the past, and the Cuban middle class was ready for deep-going social and political reforms to make impossible another Prio Socarras and another Batista. Castro promised to restore Cuban democracy and make it work, not a "direct" or "people's" democracy but the one associated with the 1940 Constitution, which was so radical that much of it, especially the provision for agrarian reform, was never implemented. 

It is, moreover, unthinkable that Castro could have won power if he had given the Cuban people the slightest forewarning of what he has presented them with--a press and all other means of communication wholly government controlled, ridicule of elections, wholesale confiscation and socialization, "cooperatives" that are (as Huberman and Sweezy admitted) virtually "state farms," or a dictatorship of any kind, including that of the proletariat. It was precisely the kind of promises Castro made that enabled him to win the support of the overwhelming majority of the Cuban middle and other classes; a "peasant revolution" would hardly have been expressed in quite the same way.

The least that can be said, therefore, is that Castro promised one kind of revolution and made another. The revolution Castro promised was unquestionably betrayed. 


•Its full text, which became extremely rare after Castro took power, may be found in Enrique Gonzalez Pedrero,La Revolucion Cubana (Mexico: Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Politicas y Sociales, 1959), pp. 143-56. 

**Castro's pre-1959 promises are dealt with by Huberman and Sweezy in a peculiar way. They cite twelve and a half pages of the 1953 speech but omit the five-point program on which Castro said the revolution was based. This program began: "The first revolutionary law would have restored sovereignty to the people and proclaimed the Constitution of 1940 as the true supreme law of the state, until such time as the people should decide to modify it or to change it." The others provided for grants of land to small planters and peasants, with indemnification to the former owners; the right of workers to share in profits; a greater share of the cane crop to all planters; and confiscation of all illegally obtained property. 

Although the speech makes other important points, this is the only itemized program in it, and it is hard to see how its omission can be justified. The unity pact· of July, 1958, is handled in the same way. It contained three points: a common strategy, postwar "normality," and "a minimum governmental program." I have quoted the second point in full in the text. Huberman and Sweezy cite a paragraph in this unity pact that asked the U.S. to cease all military and other types or aid to Batista, but ignore the three-point program, which might have put Castro's promises in a somewhat different light.Mills simply ignores the whole collection of Castro's prepower pledges.

#The three books Draper discusses are

  • Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezey, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1960 
  • John-Paul Sartre, Sartre on Cuba
  • C. Wright Mills, Listen, Yankee : The revolution in Cuba

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