Part I (CHALLENGE, 1/14/09) described the mass strikes and naval uprising that, along with the Castro-Che Guevara-led guerrillas, helped overthrow the Batista dictatorship in Cuba 50 years ago.
The July 26 Revolutionary Movement (J26M), formed to support the guerrilla fight against the Batista regime, included different forces, students as well as businessmen, who just wanted to eliminate Batista without changing much else in Cuban society.
However, the J26M had no base among the unions, which the Popular Socialist Party (PSP) did. The PSP was the old Cuban Communist Party. It had followed the CPUSA, which had been dissolved by Earl Browder during World War II. Browder was later attacked and removed from the leadership. It was then that the Cuban CP, loyal to the CPUSA, changed its name to PSP. The PSP’s policies were always very opportunist, even supporting Batista in the early part of his regime.
The J26M’s urban leadership decided to call for an insurrectional general strike for April 19, 1958, to overthrow Batista. The PSP — while advocating armed struggle in the mountains, opposed it in the cities — was not part of the building for the strike.
While many cities were totally shut down, the strike came up short in Havana. By mid-afternoon it was finished because of its premature call, the sabotage by the PSP and some right-wing J26M leaders and because of repression by the regime. The PSP leadership was hoping the strike’s failure would force the Castro-led movement to include in a post-Batista government followers of former Presidents Grau and Prío Socarras, and hoped the guerrillas would tone down their anti-U.S. stance.
The strike’s failure was a set-back for the mass militant actions in the cities but reinforced the guerrillas’ leading role in the anti-Batista struggle. Batista figured the strike’s failure meant the movement was near collapse, so on May 24 he launched a massive military campaign — with 17 army divisions, planes, tanks, napalm bombs and U.S. advisors — to crush the 300 guerrillas in the mountains.
The Batista offensive lasted only 25 days, suffering heavy losses from guerrilla ambushes and attacks by the peasant population. Within a month, the Army had retreated in disarray from the Sierra Maestra mountains. Troops deserted and refused to fight, marking the end of the Batista regime. In six months, the powerful Batista army totally disintegrated. On Jan. 1, 1959, Batista fled to the Dominican Republic, ruled by fellow dictator Rafael L. Trujillo. A January 1st insurrectionary general strike in Havana — with support of the PSP trade unions — crushed the plan to maintain the old society, just without Batista and without Fidel and the guerrillas in control of the new government. A few days later the triumphant Rebel Army entered Havana, greeted as liberators.
The Movement’s program was basically radical-nationalist, but some forces in the anti-Batista movement just wanted conditions to remain the same. The most pro-U.S. forces in the J26M refused to let the PSP into the new ruling coalition — since Washington feared it despite its opportunist politics because it was pro-Soviet — even though Fidel fought for it. The PSP was only admitted to the coalition’s union section because of its leadership role in the labor movement.
Eventually, the workers and peasants wanted more than just cosmetic changes. They seized factories and sugar mills owned by U.S. multi-nationals and were pushing the revolution to the left. But the PSP began to play a bigger role in the government and basically followed the Soviet pattern. By then, the Krushchev-ruled Soviet Union, the right-wing of the communist movement, was becoming increasingly state capitalist.
The Progressive Labor Movement, later becoming the Progressive Labor Party, was born in that period, breaking with the CPUSA and its opportunist politics. We were the first one to break the U.S. travel blockade to Cuba and carried out many activities opposing the attacks against the new Cuban government. But as the latter became more and more pro-Soviet, PLP sided with the forces in the international communist movement attacking what became known as “Soviet revisionism.”
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) in China was the last mass attempt to reverse the move to the right of that movement. The GPCR was defeated and now China, as well as the former Soviet Union, are completely capitalist.
Fifty years later, the world capitalist crisis is hitting Cuba hard. It is trying to deal with it by forcing workers to sacrifice even more. If the goal was a real communist-type society, that sacrifice would be worthwhile. But it’s basically an attempt to maintain a state-capitalist system. And capitalism by any name means exploiting the working class.