The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959-1980

The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959-1980

by Michael J. Bustamante (Editor)

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What does the Cuban Revolution look like "from within?" This volume proposes that scholars and observers of Cuba have too long looked elsewhere-from the United States to the Soviet Union-to write the island's post-1959 history. Drawing on previously unexamined archives, the contributors explore the dynamics of sociopolitical inclusion and exclusion during the Revolution's first two decades. They foreground the experiences of Cubans of all walks of life, from ordinary citizens and bureaucrats to artists and political leaders, in their interactions with and contributions to the emerging revolutionary state. In essays on agrarian reform, the environment, dance, fashion, and more, contributors enrich our understanding of the period beginning with the utopic mobilizations of the early 1960s and ending with the 1980 Mariel boatlift. In so doing, they offer new perspectives on the Revolution that are fundamentally driven by developments on the island. Bringing together new historical research with comparative and methodological reflections on the challenges of writing about the Revolution, The Revolution from Within highlights the political stakes attached to Cuban history after 1959.

Contributors. Michael J. Bustamante, María A. Cabrera Arús, María del Pilar Díaz Castañón, Ada Ferrer, Alejandro de la Fuente, Reinaldo Funes Monzote, Lillian Guerra, Jennifer L. Lambe, Jorge Macle Cruz, Christabelle Peters, Rafael Rojas, Elizabeth Schwall, Abel Sierra Madero

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781478002963
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Michael J. Bustamante is Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University.

Jennifer L. Lambe is Assistant Professor of History at Brown University and author of Madhouse: Psychiatry and Politics in Cuban History.

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Cuba's Revolution from Within



"When this year comes to a close," the Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera observed in the newspaper Revolución on November 11, 1959, "what has been written about the Revolution will comprise little more than a novelette, a couple short stories, a dozen poems, and a few hundred articles. No one would downplay the importance of this panoramic production about the Cuban Revolution. Nevertheless, the organic book, the history of the Revolution, has yet to be written."

As Piñera reflected upon "the Revolution" in 1959, he was referring to the anti-Batista struggle that had unfolded before that year of insurgent triumph. Today, in contrast, "the Revolution" generally denotes a historical age that only begins with Batista's flight — for some ongoing and unbroken, for others inconclusive or even terminal. Neither could we categorize what has been written about the 1959 Revolution as a mere "novelette." Sixty years later, that event has received as much attention as any other in recent Latin American history. Moreover, as self-interested academics dependent on the "wheel of revisionism" (per Florencia Mallon), we would be hard-pressed to stand behind Piñera's plea for one "organic" book that might present "the History of the Revolution." Certainly, the Cuban Revolution has not wanted for a constant stream of experts, churning out decades' worth of observations, analyses, and critiques.

Yet in spite of the profusion of work about the era in question — both critical and deferential, serious and superficial — our knowledge of the social, cultural, and political history of revolutionary Cuba remains fragmented and, in many places, underdeveloped. In recent years, the scholarship has gained a fresh vitality, spurred by a more receptive, if still politically constrained climate for researchers on the island, as well as the emergence of a new cohort of senior and junior scholars abroad. Nonetheless, historians continue to be challenged by a dearth of primary sources, the vagaries of archival access, and the broader politicization of the field. "In more than one respect," noted the Havana-based historian Oscar Zanetti in 2010, "the Cuban Revolution has yet to be historicized." Or, as the expatriate intellectual Rafael Rojas put it in 2008, "fifty years is enough time for a historiographical school to emerge, and yet the Cuban Revolution wants for canonical studies." Historical work published since then does not fully address these concerns, even as the 2009 fiftieth anniversary of the Revolution, and now the sixtieth, have brought renewed attention to what has been — and has yet to be — written of its history, particularly on the island.

How can a historiographical school be simultaneously overpopulated and underdeveloped? In this context, what might it mean to write histories of the Cuban Revolution anew? This tension between analytical saturation and historiographical absence stems from the myriad ways in which history itself was central to the revolutionary project. After all, the barbudos not only assumed political power; they also effected, as Louis A. Pérez has written, an "appropriation of history": "Central to the claim of historical authenticity was the proposition of the triumphant revolution as culmination of a process whose antecedents reached deep into the nineteenth century." The Revolution's master narrative (and the exile variations that emerged to counter it) thus yoked the past to its vision for the present, collapsing Cuban history into the teleological arc of an overdetermined future. Official discourse, in turn, helped set the stage for its scholarly counterpoint. For years, researchers have had little choice but to take revolutionary leaders at their word, either to laud or to criticize them. From official claims and statistics, they have often generalized to popular experience more broadly. Those temptations still confront scholars today.

It is this old, often intramural conversation to which more recent critics, including some represented in this volume, have been responding with renewed energy. Taking inspiration from pioneering scholars in the past, commentators across the ideological and geographical landscape have rekindled the call for a historiography that might overcome partisan differences, whatever the obstacles. Without rejecting the imperative to revisit old debates with new evidence in hand, this volume embraces the need to move beyond preexisting polemics — whether questions about the Revolution's success or failure or the root causes of its evolution over time. Nonetheless, it also challenges the idea that analytical synthesis, or apolitical scholarship, is the necessary result. The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959–1980 thus meets Piñera's call for an "organic" history of the Revolution with an assertion of plurality and antiteleology — what we might characterize as an essentially historicist spirit. This emphasis on diversity, however, should not be taken for an analytical free-for-all.

What connects all of the essays in this volume is their insistence on a Cubacentric approach to the first two decades of the island's post-1959 history. Decades of scholarly production have brought us sophisticated accounts of the influence of major Cold War power brokers — the United States and the Soviet Union, especially — on Cuba's revolutionary path. While gesturing to the importance of these and other transnational connections, however, these essays are instead oriented to the internal dynamics of revolutionary process. In this, they build on and open up several important areas of thematic inquiry. The authors work to further pluralize our understanding of the revolutionary state beyond its most public leaders. And, through the insights of cultural history, they seek to restore the Revolution's basic historicity and heterogeneity, highlighting the experiences of everyday actors without losing sight of the force of state power — at once overwhelming yet diffuse, persistent but also quotidian.

Yet these essays also engage, implicitly or explicitly, the political stakes of Cuban history itself. On one hand, contributors historicize the uses made of Cuba's past by the revolutionary state, dissecting the political weight with which officials invested historical narratives. Several essays capture such claims in their historical construction, as state actors fashioned the Revolution as the fulfillment of past political dreams deferred. But these works likewise compel us to consider the impact of official narratives on what is known, and knowable, about the Revolution, particularly for scholars. In that, they force a reckoning with the political uses to which academic historical knowledge about the revolutionary era can still be put.

In what follows, we further detail this volume's contributions to the field of revolutionary history at a vibrant, nodal point in its development. First, however, we try to understand the weight of official paradigms in the construction of historiographical narratives about the Revolution over time. How, we ask, have revolutionary processes of state formation shaped what popular, official, and, finally, academic voices have had to say about the Revolution's history? Overall, we argue that the construction of a revolutionary and counterrevolutionary canon of historical knowledge has thrown even purportedly "neutral" scholars into a polarized minefield. The political function with which the state ascribed historical knowledge has thus endowed all historical scholarship on the Cuban Revolution with an inevitably ideological cast. This, we argue, is not just a historiographical problematic but an essential historical question in its own right.

Building a Revolution: The Uses of History

In its analytical approach to official paradigms, The Revolution from Within can be classified as a revisionist project. But to call the essays in this collection "revisionist" begs the question: Revisionist relative to what? Most obviously, they push back on the parameters governing official narratives within Cuba's public sphere. They are not uniformly reverent; they do not celebrate the Revolution's emergence, nor sugarcoat the conflicts that came in its wake. Yet they are also invested in exploring the Revolution's lived meanings, diverse subjects, and internal complexities. These imperatives are not exclusively or even primarily targeted to antagonistic political aims.

Debates about the purpose of historical revisionism are far from new when it comes to Cuba. As we explore below, historiographical rupture in the early 1960s once represented a revolutionary response to the apolitical scholarship of the past. Historical "revisionism," however, was far from a uniform project, and the political significance ascribed to it varied considerably over time. As the bounds for ideological diversity narrowed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, heterodox perspectives on Cuba's past would be conflated with "ideological diversionism" and other political sins. In Cuba today, "revisionism" continues to be read as constitutionally subversive, particularly in its presumed challenge to official narratives and the revolutionary state.

The essays in this volume thus evoke a question that has long haunted historical knowledge of the revolutionary period. Namely, can even the most rigorous accounts of Cuba's post-1959 history evolve beyond a game of opposed mirrors, one standing in the discursive and ideological space of Havana's Revolution Square, the other planted in front of Miami's Freedom Tower? To return to Piñera's insightful prognostications from 1959, can scholars of the Cuban Revolution be anything but historians of a "court," beholden to one or another master narrative? Should — could — historians of the Cuban Revolution find an analytical path out from under the shadow of official (and counterofficial) paradigms?

The problem is perhaps elucidated by an anecdote from a different, not unrelated context. In her essay "The Material Existence of Soviet Samizdat," Ann Komaromi relates a joke that would have been familiar to its Russian audience. "A Soviet grandmother is having trouble interesting her granddaughter in Lev Tolstoi's beloved classic War and Peace," Komaromi narrates. "The problem is not that the novel is too long. It just looks too official." So the grandmother decides to get creative. Drawing on counterhegemonic visual codes, "the poor woman stays up nights retyping the work as 'samizdat,'" a term for clandestine literature in the late Soviet Union. Suddenly, the classic remade with alternative trappings has become palatable — tantalizingly forbidden — to the granddaughter weary of tomes of all stripes.

Essentially subversive, samizdat drew its force and sustained relevance in the Soviet context from the fact of critique: a "resistance to mythologizing ideology in general." In that, there is much that endears the concept to a volume focused on the Cuban Revolution. An enduring notion of history as critique has likewise shaped popular and scholarly accounts of Cuban history after 1959 — including some of those in this volume — largely in response to the teleological narratives woven around revolutionary authority. In this formulation, the "difference" of historiographical critique lies in its heterodox stance vis-à-vis Cuban political officials and institutions or, more rarely, their counterparts in the Cuban diaspora. Where Fidel Castro declared "100 Years of Struggle," for example, stretching from the first outbreak of the independence wars all the way through his revolutionary present, his critics (Cuban and not) have stressed incompatibility with — and even betrayal of — those same principles and points of origin.

The grandmother's parodic act, though, begs for another interpretation. However pleased her granddaughter might be to receive this remake of an old classic, behind the cover she will still be confronted with the same story. Tolstoi remains Tolstoi, adorned yet fundamentally unadulterated. For twenty-first-century Cubans and Cubanists, that act of mimicry masquerading as opposition would feel both immediate and significant. Trapped in the enduring terms of a Manichaean ideological field, revisionists of the present, like those of the past, find themselves hard-pressed to reach beyond fragmented half-truths, tepid deflections, and revolutionary just-so stories turned inside out.

Perhaps the correct response, then, is to aim for postrevisionism: to claim, however dubiously, that we can transcend the political fault lines that burdened the telling of history in the past. It would be tempting, if disingenuous, to raise the shield of guild "objectivity," of historical "professionalism." Claiming scholarly "neutrality," as has long been the practice in U.S. academic historical production, seems to offer one potential response to charges of politicization. Yet we are too aware of how newer scholarship might recapitulate polarized debates — how we might, in purporting to shed partisan trappings, actually endow them with renewed force. In the place of the revolutionary master narrative, do we risk erecting another, essentially mirroring, even when negating, the central tenets of official discourse?

In the early 1960s, however, Cuba's history represented genuinely subversive material to those who sought to build a new revolutionary society. Much as contemporary critics of the revolutionary government now claim history as a mode of critique, so revolutionary intellectuals once called for a new history to speak to a transformed present. For its most radical proponents, a new history would not only overturn the "bourgeois," pro-U.S., and nationalist mythologies they claimed to discern behind prior historiographical work. It would also respond, quite explicitly, to the demands of the revolutionary moment. As Manuel Moreno Fraginals famously declared from the vantage point of 1966, "There is a general clamor for a new history, for a distinct way of looking at the past." Importantly, this "new history" would not just detail events immediately preceding or following 1959; it would also revisit and reinterpret the independence era and beyond.

How new would the new history be? For Moreno Fraginals, it could not stop at the rejection of old paradigms, though it would be necessary to overcome "petty polemics ... debating Saco, Martí, Céspedes [luminaries of Cuban national thought and the long Cuban independence struggle] time and again." "Destroying the old categories" represented an act of initial but ultimately futile "iconoclasm." In their place Moreno Fraginals called for a "true history," committed by definition, that would break all "bourgeois" rules in clearing the path to a Marxist, dialectical approach: "We must head towards those truly rich sources that the bourgeoisie eliminated from our historical inheritance because they were precisely the most significant ones. And with the support of this new and essential research we must discover the dialectical laws of our history."

That is, what defined the new revolutionary history was that its authors (both state officials and professional historians) made historical production responsive — or, critics might say, beholden — to political concerns. Undoubtedly, the commitment of revolutionary historians yielded important contributions to Cuban historiography, from new attention to marginalized "people without history" to critiques of slavery, imperialism (Spanish and U.S.), and political corruption in Cuba's past. Moreover, as Kate Quinn charts, in the 1960s historiographical ferment provoked contentious debates over how Cuba's past should be interpreted in light of its revolutionary present. These battles pitted a nationalist camp that continued to lionize Cuba's "heroes" against Marxist scholars invested in uncovering economic processes and structures. Yet by 1970, Quinn points out, this "critical historiography" was supplanted by a "culture of consent," dominated by a more conservative nationalist school. For later historians, this pivot rendered earlier, more heterodox work off limits.

Also of interest for this story of shifting samizdat is the fact that many classic official texts were in fact written before 1959 and later repurposed for a revolutionary context. This was true, for example, of longtime Cuban Communist Party leader Blas Roca's Los fundamentos del socialismo en Cuba (1943), which after 1959 helped make the argument that Cuban history led inexorably to both revolutionary struggle and socialism. Yet, in hindsight, the revolutionary resurrection of this document is rather surprising. After all, Blas Roca could boast a sustained history of militancy in the Communist Party, which spanned its early years as a contestational and revolutionary force, particularly leading up to the Revolution of 1933, but also a period of comparative success when it functioned as one of a number of progressive blocs cooperating with and tolerated during Batista's only elected presidency (1940–44). It was Batista himself who legalized the Party in 1938. Subsequently, Roca's career saw the discrediting of the Communist Party for its collaboration with Batista; the resumption of anticommunist persecution in the late 1940s and under Batista's pro-U.S. dictatorship of the 1950s; and the tentative and often conflicted dance between the Communist Party and Castro's revolutionary movement well into the 1960s. And so the shifting political fault lines between Roca and his one-time ally Batista were rewritten in the revolutionary canonization of Roca's text, which had been penned at a strikingly different political juncture. The transformation from countercanon to canon thus brings us back to the samizdat Tolstoi: the same text (Roca) could in one context be read as counterhegemonic, only to be appropriated and made "official."


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix
Part I. Stakes of the Field
1. Cuba's Revolution from Within: The Politics of Historical Paradigms / Jennifer L. Lambe and Michael J. Bustamante  3
2. The New Text of the Revolution / Rafael Rojas  33
3. Writing the Revolution's History out of Closed Archives? Cuban Archival Law and Access to Information / Jorge Macle Cruz  47
Part II. Case Studies: The Revolution from Within
4. Searching for the Messiah: Staging Revolution in the Sierra Maestra, 1956-1959 / Lillian Guerra  67
5. "We Demand, We Demand . . .": Cuba, 1959: The Paradoxes of Year 1 / María del Pilar Díaz Castañón  95
6. Geotransformación: Geography and Revolution in Cuba from the 1950s to the 1960s / Reinaldo Funes Monzote  117
7. Between Espíritu and Conciencia: Cabaret and Ballet Developments in 1960s Cuba / Elizabeth Schwall  146
8. When the "New Man" Met the "Old Man": Guevara, Nyerere, and the Roots of Latin-Africanism / Christabelle Peters  170
9. The Material Promise of Socialist Modernity: Fashion and Domestic Space in the 1970s / María A. Cabrera Arús  189
10. Anniversary Overload? Memory Fatigue at Cuba's Socialist Apex / Michael J. Bustamante  218
11. "Here, Everyone's Got Huevos, Mister!": Nationalism, Sexuality, and Collective Violence during the Mariel Exodus / Abel Sierra Madero  244
Part III. Concluding Reflections
12. Cuba 1959 / Haiti 1804: On History and Caribbean Revolution / Ada Ferrer  277
13. La Ventolera: Ruptures, Persistence, and the Historiography of the Cuban Revolution / Alejandro de la Fuente  290
14. Whither the Empire? / Jennifer L. Lambe  306
Contributors  319
Index  321

What People are Saying About This

The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo - Lauren Derby

“Moving beyond the black and white polemics that have long governed Cuban scholarship, The Revolution from Within considers more ambivalent and ambiguous forms of identification and belonging. Eminently readable, this volume will cause major reverberations within Cuban revolutionary scholarship that will stimulate sustained conversations about how events from the revolutionary period have been experienced and lived outside of canonical national spaces and characters.”

Louis A. Pérez Jr.

“A balanced blend of voices from within and beyond the island, together with a proper mix of disciplinary perspectives, makes The Revolution from Within an important early twenty-first-century scholarly demarcation point. This is the state of the art at the moment: the vantage point from which to look back and especially to advance forward.”

The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo - Lauren H. Derby

“Moving beyond the black-and-white polemics that have long governed Cuban scholarship, The Revolution from Within considers more ambivalent and ambiguous forms of identification and belonging. Eminently readable, this volume will cause major reverberations within Cuban revolutionary scholarship that will stimulate sustained conversations about how events from the revolutionary period have been experienced and lived outside of canonical national spaces and characters.”

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